Scottish Web Folk

Gareth Saunders
Tuesday 12 April 2016
With a teddy bear in front of my laptop, clearly I thought I was taking part in University Challenge.
With a teddy bear in front of my laptop, clearly I thought I was taking part in University Challenge.

On Friday 18 March, Carley and I travelled to the University of Edinburgh for the quarterly gathering of the Scottish Web Folk.

The Scottish Web Folk is a bit like a ceilidh. But there’s no music, and everyone there is from a Scottish university web or digital team. And instead of dancing we sit and talk about issues that are affecting digital in higher education, and we celebrate one another’s successes.

There were representatives from many of the Scottish universities: Aberdeen, Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, SRUC, St Andrews, Strathclyde, Stirling, and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), as well as one chap from the University of Sunderland, just over the border. There were 16 boys and only one girl — come on Scottish universities, you need to get that balance sorted out!

Recent successes

This meeting we were all invited to share “a recent success”, and were each given the floor for 15 minutes.

I gave a presentation on how we’ve reorganised ourselves over the last year or two, and how the adoption of a P3O (portfolio, programme and project office) model and the use of DSDM agile project management has transformed how we work.

As well the obvious networking opportunities that this regular event offers, and I feel very fortunate to have such good friendships with many of the Scottish web folk, it’s also a great opportunity to hear about technologies and techniques that you might otherwise not come across. Some might call this ‘industrial espionage’ but there is such a spirit of openness and collaboration between supposedly rival teams that we are always more than delighted to share what we’ve learned.

Slack educational discount

We learned from the Dundee team that our team chat app of choice, Slack, offers an 85% discount to non-profit educational institutions, which they call Slack for Education.

The normal price for a standard account is approx. US $80 per user, per year; the equivalent Slack for Education price is US $12. Thanks Slack!

User experience

The team from the University of Dundee also reported a strong focus on UX (user experience) resources and recommended Lookback which is currently available for free, but limited to iOS, Mac (OS X) and Android. Lookback can be used for usability-testing as it allows you to capture the screen, face, voice and all the touches and clicks on a device.

Another tool they recommended was Inspectlet which records videos of your visitors as they use your site, allowing you to see everything they do. You can see every mouse movement, every click, every scroll, and every keypress. You no longer need to guess what they are doing: you can watch it.

Server security

How well do you know SSL? asks the Qualys SSL Labs website that Frank, the web manager from Heriot-Watt University, was recommending. He’s been getting familiar with secure web servers. That website will allow you to run an SSL server test for free.

Protocol-relative URL anti-pattern

I knew it wouldn’t take long before things got geeky. During the above discussion about forcing all web traffic to a university web server across a secure HTTPS connection, David from SRUC brought it to everyone’s attention that the practice of omitting a resource’s protocol was now regarded as a bad one (an ‘anti-pattern’).

So, for instance, it is a bad idea to link to a JavaScript library like this

<script src="//"></script>

This URL has no stated protocol, meaning that if you were viewing the site over both HTTP and HTTPS then it would simply serve up the non-secure or secure version of the file, accordingly.

This blog post about protocol-relative URLs by Paul Irish from 2010 explains why this is a bad idea.

Global experience language

Edinburgh spoke about the work they are doing in developing a new website, content management system and their global experience language (gel). This is similar to our digital pattern library and digital standards.

Personalised experience

Sunderland shared with us the work they are doing to provide personalised web experiences for their students. One of the key components they use is Visitor.js which gives you a wealth of information about site visitors, including “location (country, city), source (referring website, search keyword, time of last visit), device (browser, operating system),” etc.

IWMW 2016

As Duncan from UHI and Andrew from Dundee are on the steering committee for the institutional web management workshop (IWMW), which this year meets at Liverpool John Moores University, they were strongly encouraging teams to both attend and submit plenary talk and workshop sessions. We’ve now submitted ours.

…and relax

Then we poured out into Edinburgh’s busy Chambers Street and retired to one of my favourite pubs in all of Edinburgh, the Pear Tree House, where we caught up with one another more informally, including with our former web editor extraordinaire Duncan Stephen, who is now the web manager at SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College.

Scottish Web Folk is a great resource for us, filled with wonderful, bright friends. I can’t wait until the next one I get to go to.

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One reply to "Scottish Web Folk"

  • Kayleigh Woods Harley
    Kayleigh Woods Harley
    Wednesday 4 May 2016, 12.53pm

    This blog gave me a warm fuzzy feeling - it's great that the web teams can be so open, sharing best practice and experiences, encouraging those south of the border to join in and not forgetting about staying in touch with old colleagues. It sounds like you squeezed a lot into one day.


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