Maximising Institutional Webmaster Impact

UKOLN’s IWMW 2011 event takes place at the University of Reading next week.  We’ve always felt that this event should not be constrained to the physical space and time. The event amplification will be provided again this year, with dedicated support providing an official Twitter stream for the remote audience watch the live video stream. In addition we have encouraged speakers and workshop facilitators to summarise their sessions on the IWMW 2011 blog. I was particularly interested in George Munroe’s post on his session on Maximising Institutional Webmaster Impact.

As can be seen from the accompanying slides the focus of George’s session is “how institutional webmasters can be more effective at their work“. As described in the accompanying abstract:

This workshop session will explore how institutional web managers can be most effective at their work by considering a number of areas that influence a webmaster’s effectiveness, including (but not limited to):

  • Users—ensuring empathy with users, conflicting requests, ambitious or difficult users
  • Process—introducing and maintaining disciplines, embracing change methodically
  • Technology—adopting appropriate technology (HTML5, CSS3, RDFa, linked data…)
  • Skills—learning and sharing with others, being aware of what is possible
  • Metrics—for measuring the service, indicators of success
  • Authority—dealing with non technical superiors and making the case for resources

The goal of the session is to compile a maximising institutional webmaster impact (MIWI) checklist that will draw from the experiences and views of those attending. Part of this goal is to ensure that the checklist is informed by the views of practitioners from many institutions and could therefore serve as a commonly accepted cross-institutional guide to webmaster best practice.

The Web Management Community of Practice

I am also running a 90-minute workshop session at IWMW 2011. The title of my session is The Web Management Community: Beyond IWMW and JISCMail Lists and it appears that this session complements George’s nicely. Rather than looking at institutional approaches for maximising a webmaster’s effectiveness, my session will explore ways in which engagement with one’s peers outside the host institution can also maximise one’s effectiveness.

The session will explore the notion of the Web Management Community of Practice (CoP). But what is a Cop? According to Wikipedia a Community of Practice is:

a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and / or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.

CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunch room at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment.

This definition seems to reflect the approaches which have been taken by the Web management community over the past 15 years or so, with the IWMW series of events having been “created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field” and complemented by, for example, the web-support and website-info-mgt mailing lists which support “the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other“.

But as reported in a recent survey use of the JISCMail lists have dropped significantly over the past five years. Does this signify the decline in the community or has the community migrated to other online environments?

Twitter as a Tool for Supporting Communities of Practice

A post on TWITTER AS A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE FOR EDUCATORS published in 2008 pointed out that “communities of practice are not static but subject to evolution” and described how “Membership of a [CoP] is voluntary and a community often grows informally around a need“.  The second part of the post provided examples of ways in which “educators find meaning in their enterprise through twitter and this is linked to their identity in very interesting ways” and concluded “Twitter is the platform of choice for many lifelong learners and, as a community of practice, it presents us with learning opportunities and presents a welcoming way to enter a network“.

A more recent post asked IS TWITTER A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE? Daniel Hooker felt that:

And even though now that Twitter (and many communities of practice within it, including #hcsm/ca/eu) has matured and is being used effectively by so many people, I am growing concerned about its future and about the deep reliance that we have on it for much of our day to day practice. The paradox of social media is that we are currently slave to the tools at our disposal.

But concluded that:

… framing Twitter as a transforming Community of Practice may help to contextualize the position that we are all in as we build and invest our communications strategies on top of tools that are often less interested in freedom of information and communication than we may care to think. Because I believe in the collaborative power of social media, however, I look forward to seeing Twitter and the communities within it transform. And I also look forward to whatever it is that comes next.

Beyond Twitter

Although the potential benefits of Twitter have been discussed for a number of years, there may be other technologies which complement or, perhaps, replace technologies such as Twitter. As Daniel Hooker concluded in his post which was published in March 2011 “I also look forward to whatever it is that comes next“.  Might Google + be that tool?  I think it is too soon to answer that question, especially as, from a personal0 perspective, I am in the phase of adding people to my UKWebFocus Google+ account (for which I have also claimed the shortner and and have yet to see how (and, indeed if)  it will be integrated into my daily working practices – as Twitter is.

It will be interesting to see how the 25 or so participants in this session feel that the Web Management community of practice may develop in the future.  But since the workshop will take place next week I’ve welcome suggestions on ways in which emerging new technologies may be used to support communities in other areas of work.