Debbie NicholsonToday’s guest blog post was written by Debbie Nicholson, of the Web Support Unit at the University of Essex.

Debbie writes about the Institutional Web Management Workshop and the discussion group session she attended on “The Web Community” and the implications for the Web community.

I didn’t sign up for this discussion group … I signed up for one of the Greener Web discussion groups. I got a bit seduced by the idea of the whole Web community though. Having written my workshop session extolling the virtues of social networking and facilitating community of practice, it seemed wrong to suddenly change sides and start rooting for the environment … Also, Mike McConnell was chairing the session and he offered me beer if I would take notes for him … fair exchange, or so I thought!

From past experience, the discussion groups can be either really good or really bad. This year was no exception. I know of a few people who didn’t go back to their second discussion group session as they just didn’t think it was worth it. I know of one group where the chair turned up, said he wasn’t sure what they were supposed to be talking about, but that he wouldn’t be there the second day anyway… I think we actually had more people at our second session than the first. Word had obviously travelled that we were having a good discussion and really trying to come up with some answers … either that or someone had heard Mike mention beer.

We went into our session and did the usual … little eye contact, talk to no one. I suggested moving the chairs from classroom style rows, into a more discussion friendly circle-ish shape … and all of a sudden people started smiling and talking, and making eye contact! Mike soon put a stop to that with the regulation and totally hateful ‘5 minutes to introduce yourselves to someone you don’t know’. Now this one is a little tricky… I’ve been going to IWMW for 6 years now. There are lots of people I don’t *really* know, but so many people I’ve seen around. So many names I’ve seen on documents and mailing lists, but like I say, I don’t really know them … but I almost feel as though I do.

Once we started the discussion it quickly transpired that we had quite a bit to say on the subject … 11 pages of notes in fact. And that only included the stuff that I was quick enough to write down. I also discovered that it’s actually quite difficult to be part of the discussion and write the notes. I wanted to jump in so many times, however, by the time I’d written up what was being said, someone else had got in first – and I had to write up their comments (repeat as necessary)!

After the conference I got the train back to London with Mike, his parting words were “thanks for writing the notes babe, just erm, type hem up and post them to me”. I sat at my desk about a week later looking at 11 pages of scrawl … Note to self: this just has to be easier if you do it straight away. Meaningless lines joining up one half a sentence with a whole load of words I couldn’t read, and some I clearly couldn’t spell… Only one thing for it… put the coffee on! I’m such a bugger for vacuuming the cat when there’s a rubbish job to be done.

Some time later, the notes started to emerge. What was really lovely about doing this job, apart from finishing it obviously, was the enthusiasm of the session really came back to me. The fact that we actually came up with action points. Things that we wanted to achieve … nothing that could be classed as rocket science, just practical things hat we want to put in place to take the ‘Web Management Community’ from being an idea, to a reality. Maintain the Facebook for IWMW, either year by year or a general IWMW group that we can all subscribe to. Try to encourage as many people as possible to sign up and become a part of it, and to think how we can make it bigger (can we incorporate any of the ideas from the Innovation competition…?). Like I said, not rocket science, but at least doable, something we can put our hands on … unlike the beer I was promised!!!

The mailing lists serve a purpose, they’ve worked well for many years to provide information, solutions, a point of contact … can we really call that a community though? When we go to the conference, we are only ever one drink in the bar away from making a fab new contact or a bloody good friend. With Facebook (or something similar) we can put a face to all the names we’ve seen around, or indeed a name to the face (how many people do we see year in year out and just can’t remember what they are called…?), we can post a comment, or make contact with someone we’ve wanted to speak to but don’t feel we know them well enough, we can invite people to gigs that are half way across the country … they might not be able to go – but god it’s nice to be asked (thanks Claire) … In short, we can create a community.

IWMW was the reason I joined Facebook. I wanted to know who else was going to the conference, all the details and any gossip … It’s turned into so much more than that for me though, and clearly that is the case for others too. People are using it, posting work related questions, joining groups that will provide us with more information and more contacts. I’ve managed to get back in touch with people I haven’t spoken to in years, made some really useful contacts, and made some lovely new friends too.

It’s scary to contact someone you don’t know for advice – how much easier is it to just get in touch and say “Thanks for  turning me into a vampire, by the way, do you know anything about…?

Discussion notes are available on the IWMW 2007 wiki at

Debbie Nicholson
Web Support Unit
University of Essex

Debbie’s contact details are also available on Facebook.