A year ago I published a survey of RSS Feeds For Welsh University Web Sites which reported on auto-discoverable RSS feeds available on the home page of 12 Welsh Universities. This survey was carried out over a small community in order to identify patterns and best practices for the provision of RSS feeds which could inform discussions across the wider community.
Trends in Use of HTML and RDFa
As described in previous analysis of usage of RSS feeds on Scottish University home pages such surveys can help to understand the extent to which emerging new standards and best practices are being deployed within the sector and, if usage is low, in understanding the reasons and exploring ways in which barriers can be addressed.
With the growing interest in HTML5 and RDFa it will be useful to explore whether such formats are being used on institutional home pages.
An initial small-scale survey across Welsh University home pages has been carried out in order to provide some initial findings which can be used to inform discussions and further work in this area.
The findings, based on a survey carried out on 21 October 2010, are given in the following table. Note that the HTML analysis was carried out using the W3C HTML validator. The RDFa analysis was carried out using Google’s Rich Snippets testing tool since it is felt that the benefits for searching which use of RDFa is felt to provide will be exploited initially to enhance the visibility of structured information to Google.
Only one of the eleven Welsh institutions is currently making use of HTML5 on the institutional home page and none of them are using RDFa which can be detected by Google’s Rich Snippets testing tool.
The lack of use of RDFa, together with previous analyses of use of auto-detectable RSS feeds, would appear to indicate that University home pages are currently failing to provide machine-processable data which could be used to raise the visibility of institutional Web sites on search engines such as Google.
It is unclear whether this is due to a lack of awareness of the potential benefits which RDFa could provide, an awareness that potential benefits may not be realised due to search engines, such as Google, not currently processing RDFa from arbitrary Web sites, the difficulties in embedding RDFa due to limitations of existing CMSs, policy decisions relating to changes of such high profile pages, the provision of structured information in other ways or other reasons.
It would be useful to receive feedback from those involved in managing their institution’s home page – and also if anyone is using RDFa (or related approaches) and does feel that they are gaining benefits.