Mike Richwalski was very busy at IWMW 2009 (and beyond). Mike, Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Allegheny College, submitted a proposal to run a workshop session on “Using Amazon Web Services (AWS)” which we were happy to accept. In subsequent discussions with Mike I discovered that he was not only a techie who knew about managing Amazon services but had recently presented a webinar on Facebook & Twitter Recruitment Tools to Engage Prospective Students.

This was a topic which was directly related to a series of workshops I was involved with on behalf of the SCA (Strategic Content Alliance). When I discovered that Mike was arriving in London on the day of the workshop in London (they day before the start of IWMW 2009) I tentatively asked if he’d like to give a brief talk at the SCA workshop (I have to admit that I was particularly interested in any cultural differences between educational institutions in the US and the UK in a willingness to make use of Social Web environments such as Facebook and Twitter). Mike not only agree to take part, he was also able to participate in the workshop in Cardiff, as he was returning to the US from Cardiff airport. And Mike also gave a bar camp at IWMW 2009 in which he summarised the ways in which Allegney College is using Social Web services.

In the IWMW 2009 bar camp Mike described his college’s use of Facebook, Twitter (for general use, admissions, student orientation and sports) and YouTube. Amazon Web Services (AWS) also powers many areas of their Web site, such as their multimedia fund-raising activities.

Following Mike’s overviews of these services, I asked others in the bar camp whether UK higher educational institutions were taking similar approaches in exploiting such Web 2.0 services. The answer, it seems, is not yet.

But why, I wonder? What are the barriers? Is it because we are seeking perfection? Do we hide behind phrases such as ‘creepy tree-houses’ and ‘walled gardens’ when the evidence seems to suggest that institutions feel that they gain benefits from use of such services? And, secretly, are members of Web teams feeling threatened? Is there a view that if we don’t develop the services in-house, we’re not doing our jobs properly? And is it significant that members of UK institutional Web management teams  are leaning from the approaches taken by a small US college with 1 Web team, of 1.5 FTEs?

I recently suggested that The Recession Has Still To Hit the Public Sector! And I’ve heard rumours of layoffs and early retirements in University Web teams.  So it strikes me that it is now very timely to make use of the global infrastructure which various Web 2.0 services can provide to support our institutional activities. I was therefore pleased that Barry Cornelius, for example, ran a workshop session at IWMW 2009 on “Time for iTunes U“.

But will this provide an opportunity for the bean-counters in the institutions to ‘right-size’ the Web team? Possibly, but I also feel there is so much more that could be done to make in exploiting the potential of the Web to support our institutional objectives. Why waste effort in attempting to replicate in-house what is already working on a global scale?