Well, who'd have thought it? Aberdeen was hot, sunny and beautiful!
Alison, Tom and I got back to the south-west some time after midnight having spent a few days in Aberdeen at IWMW 2008. Alison's already summed up the event and Ewan's excellent keynote talk (even if it was last!) in a previous post so here's what I came away with:
Firstly, nothing can replace the face-to-face experience of talking to other people doing a similar job elsewhere. I know it's a cliché to even say it these days, but although forums, mailing lists and blogs can play a part, nothing beats chatting over a drink. Ewan mentioned something similar when he spoke about getting into lecture halls to see exactly what was being taught and how - do we really expect to be able to deliver an effective service when we don't engage with our own audience as closely as possible (and that doesn't include YouTube videos!) ?
A revelation for me was putting what we're doing at Bath into a national context. It's always hard to tell from within the institution, where you have no larger frame of reference, quite how well we're performing and what the comparitive level for our service provision is - having spoken to a number of people I'd probably put us somewhere in the middle of the pack but it would be great to set some real leads - more on this in a bit.
Tom and I ran a nintey-minute parallel session where we tried to get a feel for the kinds of activities web services teams are involved in and tried to emphasise the use of third-party services both inside and outside the firewall to alleviate our workload and allow us to focus on more specialist software for target groups within the institution. We were hoping to generate a little more discussion but it was tough given that most people were exhausted from the previous day's exertions! The conversation we did have seemed to back up our suspicions, suggesting that institutional web teams might have to reposition to target multiple vertical markets inside the university rather than the traditional horizontal market.
There also seemed to be general agreement that since web software is now a commodity the quality of our offerings will have to go up in order to make to make it attractive to our audience, in particular making sure we use the ever-improving web toolkits for producing targetted web applications in a very short time frame (days rather than weeks or months). This was reflected in a discussion of the outsourcing of email to companies like Microsoft live@edu and Google Apps for Education and comparing that to our own services. Revisiting Mike Ellis' talk he seems to have found the perfect quote from Ian Rogers of Yahoo! Music: "Losers wish for scarcity. Winners leverage scale." - the days of scarcity on the web are well over, scale is here to stay - how do we adapt?