Where are the University Web Team Blogs?
Last August I asked If Not Too Large, Are University Web Teams Poor Communicators?. The background to the question was a post on “Blogging web teams” published by Mike Nolan almost two years ago on the Edge Hill University Web team blog in a post on in which he pointed out that “Blogging web teams are rare. I suspect you could count them on one hand“.
Reasons Why Web Team Should Blog
Mike’s post identified a number of benefits to be gained by the provision of blogs by those involved in providing large-scale institutional Web services:
- Communicating what you’re doing
- Personal Development
- Community Engagement
- Practicing what you preach
- Networking with peers
The reasons he gave a year ago are even more valid today, especially in light of the recent announcements of large-scale cuts across the public sector. So I would build on Mike’s summary of reasons why Web teams should be blogging with the following additional reasons which are particularly relevant to the Web in turbulent times:
Effective communications within your institution: If you are failing to communicate with the large numbers of people within your institution who have an interest in the running and ongoing development of your Web services will they be supportive of your department when it is time to decide where cuts should fall?
Practicing what you preach: With the ever-growing relevance of Web 2.0 and the Social Web in supporting learning and teaching and research activities it would not be unreasonable for institutions to expect that central support services should have practical experiences of the tools, such as blogs, which will be used across the institution. The ways in which blogs can easily create RSS feeds of the content, which can be used in a variety of other applications (including mobile devices) also provide an example of content reuse which should be central to a Web teams approaches to the provision of Web-based services.
Personal development: At a time in which we might expect cuts, downsizing and even redundancies it will be important for members of Web teams to enhance their skills,
Networking with peers: The Web management community has had a longstanding tradition of sharing and collaboration ever since the establishment of the web-support and website-info-mgt mailing lists. But although the use of such mailing lists has shown significant decline over the past 5 years there does not seem to have been a take-up of blogs across the community which could prove valuable in the development of a knowledge base to inform discussions across the sector.
There was some discussion following Mike’s post on possible reasons for the failure of Web teams to exploit the potential of blogs. But now, two years on from the initial discussions, the lack of blogs describing the work of University Web teams is still very noticeable.
Web Team Blogs as a Shared National Resource
What could be gained if members of the Web management community were to engage in blogging activities? At this year’s IWMW 2010 event there are over 170 participants gathered at the University of Sheffield. If every individual agree to write one post per month there would be over 2,000 posts described their work by this time next year. If you include members of institutional Web teams who aren’t attending IWMW 2010 it would not be unreasonable to expect 3-4 posts per month from team members, which may include HTML and CSS experts, designers, user interface experts, information architects, software developers, user support staff and managers and policy makers. If all Web teams across the 166 UK HEI institutions were to write four posts per months we would then have over 7,500 blog posts!
This could potentially be a really valuable resource, not just for the individual institutions but for the entire community.
I have used the Google Custom Search Engine to provide a search across the handful of University Web teams blogs which I know about.
To illustrate the potential value of such a resource across the community imagine you are involved in work in one of the following areas:
- Writing a social media policy for your institution. A search for social media policy will lead you to a recent post published on the Birmingham City University blog which recommends the RICE strategy for social media.
- Considering purchase of a Google search engine appliance. A search for Google search engine appliance will reveal the experiences described on the UCL Web team blog.
- encountered a ERROR 2013 (HY000) MySQL error message. A search for ERROR 2013 (HY000) MySQL will reveal that you’re not alone (and you’ll also find a solution).
- You want to produce a job description for a web usability expert. A search for job description web usability expert reveals that this time, sadly, you are out of luck – no University Web team has ever written such a job description
There has been a failure, I feel, in regarding the Web team blog as another chore with marginal benefits. But rather than viewing the blog in isolation I feel that contributing to a Web team blog should be regarded as contributing to a national shared resource for the community. And if you write a post, you may well find that your post attracts comments, suggestions and new insights (this happens to me a lot on this blog).
Isn’t it time the Web community acknowledges that following the steady demise of JISCMail lists as a valuable resource for the community that providing a team blog and ensuring that it is part of a national index can be valuable both to the team and the community? If US Universities can provide a listing of blogs from their sector the smaller and more focussed community we have in the UK should be able to do even better, I would argue.