An online survey aimed at readers of the UK Web Focus blog was announced on 1 November, the fourth anniversary of the launch of the blog. The survey was open for three weeks and attracted 27 responses. In comparison a survey carried out in 2007, shortly before the first anniversary, received 39 responses during the four week period the survey was open.

A couple of particularly noteworthy comments received were:

  • Excellent content, among the very best in the field.
  • Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.
  • The attention this blog generates for UKOLN’s activities are worth a great deal – buying that attention through more traditional forms of marketing would be very expensive. Seen that way, it’s easy to justify the effort that goes into it.
  • This blog is consistently thought-provoking and helps me to formulate my own ideas about the use of technology in libraries and HE. Definitely a leader in its field.
  • I have followed this blog for about four years and it is consistently ahead of the game – without alienating me with too much “early adopter” zeal. I respect Brian’s judgement and if he mentions something I know I need to find out about it; so he acts as a filter for all the other tech info on the Web – and his impartiality is vital to this role (unlike, say, Wired who need to keep their sponsors on side). Who could we rely upon to do the horizon scanning for us without this blog?

The complete set of responses is available with a summary of the findings and accompanying discussions given below.


From those who were willing to have their name and affiliation published is was pleasing to see a diversity of institutions represented. There were three responses from overseas (Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada and Wendell Dryden from Canada and Alistair Grant from Australia) and responses from well-known figures in the JISC development community (Kevin Ashley, Director of the DCC, Les Carr and Chris Gutteridge from the University of Southampton and Tony Hirst from the Open University). Other respondents were based in research departments closely involved with JISC work (Jo Alcock, Evidence Base, Birmingham City University and Virginia Knight, ILRT, University of Bristol) together with those responsible for the provision of institutional Web services (Anthony Leonard, University of York, Drew McConnell, University of Glasgow and David Williams, Sheffield Hallam University), library services (Mark Clowes, Faculty Team Librarian, University of Leeds), other researchers (Jethro Binks, University of Strathclyde) and those involved in dissemination work across the sector (Martin Hawksey, JISC RSC Scotland N&E). These individuals provide a good cross-section of the main target audiences for the blog so that if this is representative of all those who completed the survey this should provide an indicative views of the main audiences of the blog.

The Content

I was pleased to see the positive comments made about the content of the blog. I was particularly pleased that Stephen Downes, an internationally renowned Canadian e-learning guru had found the time to respond with the comment “Excellent content, among the very best in the field.” who also added “Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.

Other comments included:

  • very pertinent and insightful
  • Open notebook approach with an aim of demonstrating/illustrating the practice preached. Handy round-ups of what’s going on across the HE sector
  • Very relevant to me. Always thought provoking and interesting.
  • I’ve found your blog useful as it covers some of the same issues that we’re dealing with in our project (MeCAT, and have been able to use it to help clarify some of my thoughts.
  • A great range of content – some of which is outside of my main areas of interest/technical knowledge, but much of which is very interesting and has inspired me to blog more exploring my own experiences with various technologies
  • Often sparks thought / interest.
  • Interesting and varied
  • I have yet to have found anything not worth reading. I enjoy the fact that it has wide scope.
  • For me the content hits the spot covering topics I’m interested in.

But what didn’t the respondents like:

  • Occasional political and rapper dancing mentions add colour, though they may jar with some readers.
  • A bit variable in the depth of thought/research included, but this is to be expected for such prolific output on a wide number of fronts. Perhaps a little too much about Twitter, much as I love that particular channel!
  • Lots of times the blog talks about things I don’t understand, using terminology I’m not familiar with, so there are probably many other aspects of the site that I’m missing.
  • It’s good reading; it’s often messy, but it’s consistently messy so I don’t find that a problem. I know what to expect. The fact that I sometimes don’t agree is what makes it worth reading.

I wouldn’t disagree with these comments. The open notebook approach I take does mean that the quality of content is likely to be variable.

Regarding the frequency of publication most of the respondents felt that this was about right:

  • The frequency of posts is about right for me
  • You’ve got it about right.
  • The frequency feels about right to me.
  • I dip in and out and read a bunch of articles at a time, rather than most every day as published, but publishing frequency is fine.
  • Again frequency is fine
  • The posts are frequent enough that I check daily – no pressure LOL!
  • It’s OK.
  • Just about right
  • about right
  • Probably wouldn’t be able to keep up if it were more frequent.
  • I like the high frequency. It’s an impressive output, and gives the thoughts an up to the minute feel. It’s to Brian’s credit that he adds unthinking and value to very recent news, rather than simply regurgitating it like so many blogs.

although one respondent commented that:

  • Can’t always keep up with the frequency of the posts so occasionally miss some (if I’m behind on my RSS/Twitter)

Other comments related to the content of the blog included:

  • Don’t stop. This is a fabulous resource.
  • I’m afraid I don’t read blogs as much as I used to – I could blame twitter or the number of other commitments I currently have…
  • There’s a LOT of text on the home page – plus 4 other tabs which I’m sure I’ll never read.
    It’s none of my business, of course. But there’s a LOT of text.
  • Thank you for providing both informative and challenging posts over the last 4 years.
  • How often do you comment on other blogs? Is it an important part of your practise?
  • Sustainability is I think the elephant in the room of many IT services, including web-based ones. It needs more discussion. Brian always promotes accessibility also, which is very important and too easily ignored.
    The key benefit of this blog for me is that I think it’s the primary channel for web managers to discuss with each other. I rarely use email lists these days, and see greater benefit from a led discussion on blogs such as yours, with more free form heads-up messages happening via Twitter

Accessing The Blog

There some interesting comparisons in how people are now accessing the blog in comparison with the findings published in the last survey carried out in 2007.

Back then 59% read the blog using an RSS reader and 20% visited the web site, with 10% reading the blog at an alternative location (e.g. the Emerge, OSS Watch or MyBlogLog blog aggregators). This year 56% of those responding used an RSS reader; and 37% visited the blog site.

In 2007 64% used a MS Windows platform, 26% used an Apple Macintosh, 10% used Linux/Unix with nobody reporting use of PDAs, mobile devices of digital TVs. This year 67% of those responding used MS Windows; 26% used an Apple Macintosh; 4% Linux and 4% Android.

Whilst these figures do not indicate any significant changes, the changes were highlighted in a new question this year which asked about secondary platforms used to read blog posts. Here we found that 18% of those responding use MS Windows; 12% use an Apple Mac; 18% Linux; 41% iPod; 18% Android Smartphone; 6% Other Smartphone; 12% iPad and 6% Android phone.

What seems to have happened in that in 2007 people read the blog whilst at work using their office computer. This year this pattern of usage seems to be the same but, in addition, people use a mobile device to read posts at home, whilst travelling, whilst at conferences, etc. Such additional ways of accessing the blog may be, in part, responsible for the increased traffic to the blog.


A question about the sustainability of the blog sought to gain feedback on the value placed on the blog and its relevance at at time when blogs are supposedly no longer being read. The sustainability issues also covers sustainability of the service and, of course, prioritisation of work activities at a time of change across the higher education sector. The following comments were made:

  • I think your policy is very sensible
  • It’s more about the ‘sustainability’ of your job, isn’t it ? This is now a very personal blog, and it survives or not because you want to do it (and are able to do it.) The attention this blog generates for UKOLN’s activities are worth a great deal – buying that attention through more traditional forms of marketing would be very expensive. Seen that way, it’s easy to justify the effort that goes into it.
  • I don’t think it matters where the blog is hosted and often this becomes transparent as RSS is the delivery mechanism for me. Your biggest overhead is you, how do you make your post sustainable or would to continue UK Web Focus regardless?
  • I sustain my blog through use of free tools (Google Blogger, etc.) – but it’s not an official blog; i.e., it doesn’t represent an institution or organization. (I’m also interested in seeing how others use free tools.)
  • Good question. You should maintain it no matter what, if only because it will be a major calling card when you apply for your next job.
  • If you think communication is an important part of your role, and the keeping of an notebook something you need to do anyway, what’s the overhead?
  • I think it is very sustainable! Cloud services are the apotheosis of server consolidation, and the data should be portable meaning the effort involved in re-use / archiving is as small as it can be currently.
  • Wish I had a solution.

Other Indicators

In addition to the comments which have been received it should also be noted that there has been an increase in the number of visits to the blog every month for the past six months with this month there being 9,500+ visits, over 335 per day.

The blog is also listed in 41st place in Wikio’s list of top technology blogs – and although the relevance of such indicators may be questioned I’m happy to be positioned between two other blogs I rate highly: Tony Hirsts’ OUseful blog and Martin Weller’s The Ed Techie blog. For sake of completeness Technorati gives the blog an overall authority of 518 and a ranking 3,261 and, in the Technology category, an authority of 543 and a ranking 397 and, in the Info Tech category an authority of 578 and a ranking 167. Again whilst the relevance of such figures may be questioned I feel it is worth keeping a record in case of, for example, requests for indicators of the the value of this work.