I noticed a recent tweet from Nicole Harris which announced that “programme for #FAM10 now available at:https://sites.google.com/site/jiscfam10/FAM10/programme“.

I was intrigued by use of a free third party Web site creation service such as Google Sites for creating a Web site for the JISC FAM10 event.

Nicole had previously written a blog post on”Counting the Costs of FAM10” in which she announced that “After a lot of soul searching with regards to the current funding cuts, I have decided that it will be appropriate to go ahead with FAM10 this year with a real focus on practical benefits for librarians and developers“.

Nicole went on to add that she “would love your ideas for keeping the costs down on what will be a face-to-face event“. In addition to thinking of ways of reducing costs of accommodation and entertainment Nicole described how she has “always been against event management companies“.  Although Nicole is not in favour of outsourcing events management she has decided to outsource the IT infrastructure for the event: “we will do all the event management in-house … using Google for booking forms, document management, presentation publication and event information“.

The FAM10 Web site provides a handful of pages about the event (programme, speakers’ biographies and details of the exhibitors), use of a Google Doc for signing up to the parallel sessions and the EventBrite service  for registration.

Nicole seems to be responding to the onset of costs across the HE sector by reducing the effort and level of technical expertise needed to provide an event Web site and process registrations.  I think this approach should be applauded.  But what is being lost and what are the risks?

The use of Google Site, Google Docs and EventBrite means:

  • The event doesn’t have the JISC branding which would be provided if the event information were hosted on the JISC Web site.
  • The event doesn’t have the JISC site navigation which would be provided if the event information were hosted on the JISC Web site.
  • There are risks of loss of data due to the dependencies on the Google services or EventBrite companies.

What other risks should be included?

But aren’t these risks relatively small?  Google, in particular, is unlikely to go bankrupt in the 48 days before the FAM10 event is held.  And although EventBrite is a much smaller company registration details are sent via email, so a backup of the registration details is available. I should add that we have used EventBrite for UKOLN’s workshops for the cultural heritage sector and have been pleased with the service. You should also note that EventBrite is free for free events, such as FAM10 and the events we have used it for.  In this respect use of the Google services and EventBrite can be used to demonstrate that the public sector is not “wasting tax-payers’ money” (to use the language of the Daily Mail) when similar free services are available.

In a recent blog post entitled “Web Development: Not Core and Ripe for Outsourcing” I referred to a discussion on the US-based University Web Developers forum in which it was pointed out “Web development is not a core mission of a university and is ripe for outsourcing“.

In response Anthony Leonard pointed out that “the core purpose of Universities is learning, research and public outreach, with knowledge at it’s heart” and asked “Surely the key knowledge tool of the age is the web?

Whilst I would agree of the importance of the Web as a key knowledge tool, that doesn’t preclude third parties from hosting various aspects of an institution’s Web services.  And what, after all, is to be gained from in-house development of event Web sites when there are a variety of alternative approaches.

At IWMW 2010 event Paul Boag argued that the recession provides an opportunity for institutional Web teams to identify the services they provide  which can be cut or provided in other ways. Shouldn’t Web teams in institutions be welcoming the opportunity to move away from developing Web sites for events in order to free resources to support ways in which the Web can be  used  as a knowledge tool?