Blogging web teams

We’ve been blogging in the web team for over a year now and it’s become another part of the work I do but some conversations I had at IWMW 2008 got me thinking about the wider Higher Education Community.

Blogging web teams are rare. I suspect you could count them on one hand:

There’s a larger number of individuals who work in web teams who maintain a blog – Gareth Saunders (St Andrews), Matthew Bull (Kent), Michael Webb (Newport) for example – but the purpose of those is somewhat different so I’ll leave them to one side for now.

So back to web team blogging! When I asked people why they don’t have a blog there were a couple of reasons that came up regularly. One was that they’re not used to writing like a blogger and would find it hard to come up with the right type of posts. I can understand that, but there’s no one single type of blog post – variety is the spice of life – and there’s value in short posts, maybe just some links to cool websites or embedding a video.

The other main reason given by people for not blogging is that they don’t have time and I’m less convinced by this argument. Blogging has lots of uses both for the individual and team, and for the wider community both inside and outside a University.

Communicating what you’re doing. One of the best uses of a blog is to talk about what you’re doing within the Web Services team. Informing colleagues of current projects, changes to sites, even reporting on problems that have happened to the website keeps them in the loop and it’s less likely to be a surprise at the end of the day. A blog can complement and support other methods of communication. Many IT Services (or Marketing, or Communications, or wherever-you-are) departments have a regular (if not necessarily frequent) newsletter and often blog posts can be adapted for use there.

Personal Development. Universities are big on staff development and a blog is a great way of sharing knowledge with colleagues and turning some of your ideas into a more concrete form. Social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us can help here by making it really quick and easy to post links to useful resources to a blog.

Community Engagement. Most – if not all – web teams rely on the wider non-highered community to support the work they do. Whether it be a simple Google search to find out what’s screwing your CSS design or plugins for your web framework, the web is full of people willing to help! While consuming this is great, you can get more out of it by actively engaging in the community. At Edge Hill, we use the symfony web framework and it has a great community of bloggers and developers built around it. Part of the community is a blog aggregator so whenever we post an entry tagged symfony it gets sent to the symfony website as well. By contributing back to the community we get much more out of it.

Practice what you preach. For years, many web teams have been promoting the use of blogs within our institutions but how can we do this with any authority unless we engage ourselves? Blogs are now an important tool for researchers, marketing, applicant communications and within a teaching environment and web teams need to be able to advise on the systems and services available and prepare themselves for the demands that are coming from colleagues. If we don’t, then they will go elsewhere for advice and service provision with the potential risks that involves.

Networking with peers. We have the IWMW, some regions have additional regular meet ups of web folks, but often this can be a lonely game. JISCMAIL’s Web-Support and Website-Info-Mgt are useful, but they only go so far. Blogs can open up the highered web community by allowing us to share our experiences on a more regular basis. One of the joys of working in this industry is how willing to share people are and there’s no reason that should be restricted to just a couple of times per year. Together with the suggestion from Alison Wildish for an area to share project ideas and increase visibility between institutions, blogs can really help develop the community beyond the key events.

I’m in danger of this starting to sound like a broken record, so I’ll leave it there. If I’ve missed anyone out from the lists of blogging departments or web developers then please post a comment and I’ll be sure to check you out. If you think I’m talking rubbish, then I’d be really interested to hear about the challenges you think you’d face blogging your web team.

Updates – I’ll add extra blogs below:

Migrating WordPress

WordPress LogoWe’re moving some websites to a new server. Hi has already been done except for the databases and this post is actually a test to see if the blogs have moved over successfully! Let us know if you see any odd behaviour!

The move will bring several sites onto newer hardware which may make them a little faster and will get rid of the blips of downtime we’ve had over the last month. We’ll also be upgrading to a newer version of WordPress MU in the very near future so if you blog with us look out for a fresh new control panel.

Happy Birthday Web Services blog!

Today, exactly a year has passed since Alison’s first post on the Edge Hill University Web Services blog:

As we’ve spent the last couple of years talking about blogs, showing people how to use them and advocating their usefulness we thought it was about time we started our own!

It’s been a busy year with developments on GO last summer, and most recently a brand new design for the corporate website.

There have been changes in the team with Alison moving to the University of Bath in January (and they’ve recently started blogging too), Andy Davies starting in November last year and yesterday Steve Daniels joined us to work with the Faculty of Health on an extranet project.

We said from the start that we’d try to cover a wide variety of subjects and just looking at the tag cloud shows some of the key issues we’ve considered over the last year. From social networking to symfony, we’ve tried to balance some fairly techie topics with things that might be more broadly interesting – let us know how you think we’re doing and what you’d like to see in future.

Everyone likes statistics, so I’ve been digging and come up with a few numbers:

  • 141 posts
  • Over 10,000 comments
  • 276 non-spam comments – thanks Akismet!
  • Over 33,000 page views
  • 60+ subscribers to our feed

Thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to read and comment here – I hope you’ve found our blog useful and interesting and it’s great to get feedback.

Creative Commons Licence by robokowOne final thing… this entry is my one hundredth post – you’d think I’d planned it – so Happy Birthday blog, and here’s to the next twelve months and 100 posts!

Top of the blogs

The Web Services blog only started in April but in that time we’ve posted over 100 entries. As seems to be common around these times, I’ve done some digging into our Google Analytics stats and come up with a top ten list of popular posts. First the list then maybe I’ll talk a little about them!

1. Web development with symfony

2. Facebook > MySpace

3. Go PHP5!

4. Facebook Applications

5. The Paris Hilton effect…

6. Where Am I?

7. We’re still being used

8. Release Early, Release Often!

9. Jobs Website Live

10. University email from Google

So what does this show us? It shows the continued interest in Facebook. It’s just over a year since Facebook opened the doors to non-students and in that time growth has been massive. They’ve continued to innovate with their developer platform but have perhaps misread their users on the Beacon advertising system.

About half of the top posts are technical in nature including many about our use of the symfony framework. In the last year we’ve developed several symfony-powered sites including Hi, the applicant community and the brand new GO portal. Work is well underway on a couple of new parts of the corporate website – look out for more in the new year!

Better Blog Day 8: Comment on a Blog that you’ve never Commented on Before

Well I thought today’s task was going to be really easy – I’ve just been forced to comment on my Dad’s new website for Southport Table Tennis Club but that doesn’t count:

Go on a blog hunt today to see how many new blogs you can find in your niche.

I think it’s a bit off topic! But as Brian Kelly has pointed out, there’s not a whole lot of blogging going on in our niche. There’s a bit more across the pond – College Web Guy and collegewebeditor.com are a good read – but it would be nice to see more. So any web teams out there – practice what you preach and set up a blog!

Better Blog Day 4: Interlinking Posts

Today’s task is to link blog posts together so that users can find information more easily.

As you add more and more content to your blog there will be more and more opportunity to link your posts together so that readers can view more pages of your blog. It’s also won’t hurt the search engine ranking of those posts that you interlink as internal links count in SEO (not as much as an incoming link from an external site – but it still helps).

While we’re pretty good at linking new posts to older ones – and hence creating a trackback on that post – there might be other things of interest that aren’t directly linked. The manual way seems a little bit too much like hard work right now and the plugin suggested (once I found it – the link was dead) doesn’t seem to play nicely with WordPress MU so I went looking for other alternatives.

We already have a way of linking posts by topic – we use tags – so it makes sense to use that somehow when deciding what posts are “related”. A quick search found the UTW Related Posts widget which does pretty much what I was looking for -picks out a number of posts and puts them in a list. It’s written as a widget so at the moment it has to appear in the sidebar but maybe that’s something we can take a look at when developing the blog system in the future.

If you’ve got an Edge Hill blog then you can install it too – just install it from the Plugins menu and add it to your sidebar. It required UTW to be installed and working first.

Write Articles, Not Blog Posting

The web guru Jackob Nielsen in a recent article is arguing that people should write articles and not quick blog posting entries, but he’s actually focusing on business blogging if they want to make money.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

Read his article ‘Write Articles, Not Blog Posting‘ , as the way he handles the matter is quite interesting and he’s backed his argument with some impressive stats.

I Am Not A Blogger

I just followed a link in a comment from Phil Wilson to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog. The first entry caught my interest:

But I’d love it if we one day eliminated the term “blogging” from the web lexicon (and that we stopped pursuing “CEO’s who blog.”). CEO’s who have cell phones aren’t “cell-phoners,” those who have email accounts arent “emailers,” those who give interviews on television aren’t “TV’ers” – they’re all leaders using technology to communicate.

I wonder if some people get too caught up (or put off) by the blogging and don’t concentrate enough on the message. Blogging is just about communication. It’s not the only way to communicate, but equally it’s not invalid simply because it’s different to a message sent by email or published in a newsletter or given as a presentation.

So I’ll carry on communicating as a web developer, not as a blogger, and not only on blogs. You might even see me in the real world from time to time!

Happy Birthday Blogosphere

The WSJ has decided that blogging is 10 years old. Their article, while having a bit too much of a US bias, is interesting reading to see the kinds of people who produce and consume blogs – it’s no longer the reserve of the tech community with all areas of life opened up to blogging.

It’s also interesting to see some of the blogs that other people read. Most people don’t openly publish their reading list and the web is often a very solitary experience – you can’t sneak a look at what magazine someone is reading like you could on a train. Sites like del.icio.us help sharing of individual pages but more often subscribing to a blog feed is about more than just an individual post – you’re in it for the long term!

So over the next few weeks – while I’m away from the office – I’m going to try to share with you, dear readers, some of the feeds I subscribe to, the reasons why and what I’ve learnt from them! Of course I will be self-censoring and picking mostly feeds that might be of interest to more than just me but hopefully it will spread the message about some useful sites.

Feel free to join in at home or work – post your own blogs about interesting feeds or leave a comment, and if you’re not yet taking advantage of the power of RSS, then why not log on to Google Reader* and get started!

Via GigaOM and The Guardian.

* Other listings magazines are available.

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