A talk on The Next Steps for Institutional Web Services was given at the JANET User Support Workshop held at the University of Plymouth on 14-16th September 1999.
The talk took place from 11.00-11.45 on Thursday 16th September.
Note that Brian will also be running a workshop session.
The Web continues its rapid development. Many institutions have an awareness of the development of new standards (such as XML) and new application areas (such as e-commerce and personalisation) and know why they are needed, but are, perhaps, concerned at the resources and support implications of changing from a web service based on providing information providers with simple HTML authoring tools. This talk will focus on developments and approaches taken within the UK Higher Education community. The talk will reflect discussions and themes covered at the Institutional Web Management: The Next Steps workshop, held at Goldsmith College London in the week prior to this JUSW workshop.
It is not possible to provide the summary of the talk in time for inclusion in the proceedings of the JANET User Support Workshop - for the simple reason that the talk will be based on the key topics which are discussed at the Institutional Web Management: The Next Steps workshop, which will be held at Goldsmiths College, London on 7-9th September, the week prior to JUSW! However it is possible to speculate on some of the issues which are likely to emerge, based on the programme of speakers and the discussion groups sessions which have been organised.
Although technical issues tend to dominate many web conferences, experienced web managers, support staff and policy makers are, no doubt, aware that the provision of effective institutional web services requires support from senior management and the provision of adequate resources. The optimistic - and perhaps naive - web manager might feel that ensuring that senior managers are made aware of the strategic importance of the web and the resources needed to do the job is all that is required. Senior managers might have a different view, however! John Slater, Professor of Computing and the PVC for Learning and Teaching at the University of Kent at Canterbury, will give the opening talk at the Institutional Web Management workshop, with the provocative title Who Will Rid Me of This Troublesome Beast? He will argue that senior management have become aware of the web manager as someone who they are being asked to finance- but corresponding savings elsewhere are not being offered. It looks like another drain on hard pressed resources with at best a catching or keeping up result. This talk should help to stimulate debate at the workshop, and a report of the outcome will no doubt be appreciated by delegates at JUSW.
The JANET User Support Workshop features several sessions on video-conferencing. Increasingly multimedia is becoming present on university web sites. Although used initially in specialist areas (e.g. medicine) and in teaching and learning applications, there is beginning to be more interest in the use of multimedia on the corporate web site. Institutions are asking a variety of questions: How do I add background sound to my online prospectus (and do I really want to?) How do I create a streaming video presentation by my Vice Chancellor to my web site? What technologies should I use? How much will it cost? Is SMIL (Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language) the answer? Feedback from the recent JISC-funded Moving Image Pilot Project and experiences in the use of SMIL will provide useful food for thought.
Continuing the theme of new developments, the Web offers opportunities for building relationships online. Many companies are using personalisation techniques to tailor web information for customers but little consideration has been given to the nature of these relationships. Are they following the patterns suggested by the relationship marketing literature or are they virtual relationships? What are the implications of these relationships for University's use of the web? Indeed are University web sites capable of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Web or are they used as another publishing medium?
Another area of increasing interest to institutions is the development of transactional-driven web sites - for example selling goods, or registering students on courses and letting them update their own records. Once web sites have been linked into corporate databases we can get serious about personalisation and begin to tailor the information we provide to fit the needs of our users. This involves many technical, behavioural, political, cultural and organisational issues which have to be tackled in order to get the inevitably rich mixture of systems, individuals and departments to work together to achieve this progression.
As institutions start to deploy more sophisticated services on the web web managers will realise the need to progress from the traditional approach of a mixture of labour intensive translation from print to web or creating web front-ends to existing databases. A new breed of system has been promising a solution to managing content on a institutional scale. Often with roots in document management and SGML, such systems bring the power and flexibility of databases to the amorphous and delicate domain of words and pictures. They promise a common system for managing everything from memos and press releases to the undergraduate prospectus.
As well as these exciting new applications institutions still have to maintain the services provided on their current web sites. As the volume of information and the numbers of servers within an institution grows, accessibility of the information will deteriorate if there is no searching service. A wide range of indexing software is deployed within UK HE web sites. The functionality provided by the software, the costs and the maintenance of the software are important issues which web managers need to address.
Installing a high-quality search engine locally is not the end of the matter, however. How do you get your web site known? How do you ensure that global search engines index the key areas of your web site? How do you stop them from indexing the junk? Another set of issues for the web manager to address.
As well as management of software on servers (HTTP server software, indexing software, CGI scripts, etc.) institutions are increasingly taking a more pro-active role in the management of browsers. A legacy of the browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape has been problems in inter-operability and support for legacy browsers and legacy data. Should instituions aim to provide complete backwards-compatibility or should they define a supported browser version? How should they deploy new technologies (such as CSS) which are not fully supported by older browsers?
Behind the scenes there is the issue of web security. Web sites are the public face of the organisation on the Internet. As everyone from the Department of Justice to the Conservative and Labour parties now knows, that makes them both an obvious target for others with different views and a great potential embarrassment when things go wrong. Issues of how web services can be compromised and what you can do to prevent the worst happening will be outlined.
This paper has outlined some of the issues which will be addressed at the Institutional Web Management. Although this paper does not provide any solutions it is useful to get a feel for the issues which web managers are facing. I look forward to skeapking at JUSW and providing a summary of any conclusions reached at the workshop.
This paper and the accompanying talk will be based on the contributions made by the speakers at the Institutional Web Management workshop and the contributions made by the delegates.
Brian Kelly is UK Web Focus, a national, JISC-funded web coordination post based at UKOLN (UK Office For Library and Information Networking), University of Bath.
Brian has been involved in the development of web services since early 1993 - the web service he supported at Leeds University was one of the first 30 organisational web services available. As most Universities at the time were convinced that Gopher was the most appropriate technology for distributed information systems, between 1993 and 1995 Brian (who was worried that he may have chosen the Internet equivalent of the Betamax system!) gave presentations about the Web thoughout the UK.
In 1995 Brian joined the Netskills project at Newcastle University where he was involved in development of network training material.
In November 1996 Brian took up his current post in Bath. His responsibilities include monitoring web developments, information dissemination, providing advice and representing JISC on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Brian presented a poster at the WWW 8 conference. He has attended WWW conferences at Toronto (WWW8, May 1999), Brisbane (WWW7, April 1998), Santa Clara (WWW6, April 1997), Paris (WWW5, May, 1996) and Geneva (WWW1, May 1994).
Dissemination of information on web developments is one of the important aspects of Brian's responsibilities. In addition to organising the annual web manager's workshop, and participation at events such as the JANET User Support Workshop, Brian publishes articles in a variety of publications, including the Ariadne (see <http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/>) and Exploit Interactive (see <http://www.exploit-lib.org/>) web magazines.