Is the University of Southampton setting a new challenge for other institutions with their new iSoton service, I wonder? Or is this merely an attempt to be stylish by bolting on a variety of Web 2.0 features? What will the users make of it, I wonder?  And what about accessibility, interoperability, compliance with standards and the other issues which the providers of Web services tend to emphasise?  

iSton page at University of Southampton

I came across iSoton via an RSS alert from Lorcan Dempsey blog.  In his post Lorcan expressed a particular interest in the four (out of six) panels which provided content from Web 2.0 services:

The other four are more interesting. One displays the University’s wikipedia entry. One displays photos from Flickr (I am not sure how they are being selected: is it more than the ‘university of southampton’ tag?). One displays videos from Youtube (again, I am not sure if these are any videos which show up on a ‘university of southampton’ search or if some other selection criteria apply).

I would agree with Lorcan’s comment that “this seems like a sketch for what one might do, rather than the fully worked through presence. For example, why not display the full del.icio.us tag cloud which gives richer access to the Southampton pages?“. 

However I suspect that “The site is designed by Precedent, ‘specialists in strategic thinking, digital communications and brand communications’” will be regarded with concern be some of the more traditional Web developers who have been sceptical of Web 2.0 style interfaces. And it’s true that the page does contain HTML errors – but these seem to be minor problems, such as unescaped  ampersands, which could easily be fixed. And, shock, horror, passing the page through the WAVE automated accessibility testing tool reveals that “WAVE has detected no accessibility errors“.

I’ve criticised reliance on automated accessibility tools previously – and here’s a good example which demonstrates the need for user testing on the accessibility and usability of the page.   

Is this, then, setting new directions for University Web sites? I don’t know, and I’m sure that further examination of the site is likely to reveal some problems – but it is good to see something new happening in the design and functionality of University Web sites.  And it would be good to get some feedback from those involved in commissioning and developing this Web site, and, even more importantly, feedback from users of the Web site. A potentially interesting talk at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, perhaps?