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[JISC] Weeknote 28/33

August 27, 2010
tags:
by Matt

Another week flies by. The closer it gets to the end of my time at JISC the faster things seem to be moving.

The week was pretty good though – I spent alot of time in Balsamiq trying to find a way to make our team area on the JISC website a bit more useful & less muddled. This is a weird challenge really as alot of things I would do usually ‘break’ the automated aspects of the CMS as regards pulling content in from other areas and also there is little controls over the URL structure so me messing with things leads to broken links and random redirects.

I also got my hands dirty and actually dusted off my CMS skills in the Dev environment to see what I could and couldn’t get away with – despite the problems with the CMS (and there are a multitude) it isn’t quite as evil as it is sometimes portrayed and I enjoyed poking around in it again. I also find that my preference for writing all my WP posts in the code view means I have rediscovered my long lost HTML understanding – which helps.

I also wrote what can best be considered an ‘opinion piece’ that was strictly for internal circulation that was the sort of thing you can really only produce with one foot out of the door. I stand by what I wrote and it wasn’t a personal jibe at anyone but it certainly lacked subtlety.

Also had some fun building some basic forms using Google Forms – which is probably my favourite aspect of Google Docs these days. I just remember when even the most basic form was a royal pain to produce and form builders were expensive extras bolted on to your CMS – now you can knock something up in minutes and embed it anywhere..for free!

Something that has been happening alot lately is that I have been invited in to bits of meetings or for 1 on 1 chats just to give my unvarnished opinion on certain subjects. It is like being an internal consultant and I do enjoy it. This week I was harping on about the way the Bristol City Council is approaching the procurement of its new website as I think it is an impressively innovative idea.

Eventstreams is rocketing along – we are only 2 weeks or so from inviting ‘alpha’ testers. This is about a month further along than I was expecting and we’ll be offering more functionality as well. Stef really has outdone himself. I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks working up the business side in more detail.

Been a slow week for Bettr as I was pretty busy with the day job but I’ll give that a boost next week as well – it is further along than I expected but I do need to lock down some extra startup speakers quick smart.

I have now got one interview which has pleased me no end but I also was knocked back for two jobs I applied for without even getting an interview – one of which was no surprise but the other was a bit of a shock. Freelance life is looking more and more likely.

Books vs eBooks in Newsweek

August 22, 2010
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by Matt

I really like this infographic via Newsweek – no idea if all the facts are correct I’ll admit but I totally agree with the sentiment. I have a real interest in the idea of eBooks and digital publishing in general (let us be honest – my main interest is digital comics!) and in a few days I will receive my new Kindle and then in a couple of weeks I’ll finally get hold of my iPad. Will ownership of these gadgets change my reading habits? Almost certainly. Will I stop buying books (and comics) entirely? Really can’t see that happening any time soon. That said maybe if I revisit this topic in a years time I’ll have a very different view but I am one of those rare people who still buys newspapers rather than relying on the web or app versions so there remains a place in my hard for the experience of reading something that is print and pulp..

books vs ebooks newsweek

Explaining Eventstreams

August 21, 2010
by Matt

As I have mentioned a couple of times recently Stefan and I have embarked on a pretty ambitious side project based on a number of ideas I have had over the last couple of years about using the web to support events and conferences.

As you would expect the roles have split pretty cleanly down the Maker/Manager line. Stef actually is doing the building (and when the time comes also the design) and I am responsible for coming up with and then testing features, writing copy, working out the business elements like pricing etc, doing some IA work (though it remains to be seen how much notice Stef will take!) and eventually things like sales and customer service.

Stef is seriously pushing ahead and every morning I awake to emails from Pivotal Tracker announcing new features being delivered and needing testing. Stef is building the platform using Ruby on Rails and it does seem to lend itself to truly rapid development. The fact that for some of the key features Stef had essentially prototyped as WordPress plug-ins for an earlier project doesn’t hurt and also he has been able to slightly cannibalise another, prior personal project that didn’t launch. We haven’t given ourselves and deadlines but I think we’ll be calling on the ‘alpha’ testers I have lined up earlier than I expected.

So what is Eventstreams? Well the idea is that it is a platform that will allow event or conference organisers to easily build themselves attractive, usable, function rich websites without needing additional technical support. I’m calling these sites ‘virtual venues’. We will offer functionality that allows the creation of agendas or schedules without the need for clumsy tables (similar to Sched.org I have realised since we started but unique enough to be relevant I think), integrated Twitter streams, support for tools like Eventbrite & Amiando for registration and offering a choice between free or premium themes (the premium themes – hopefully – being designed by some of the various talented local designers we know). I see this as being one of those times when the superficial is key to the success of the product so these ‘themes’ are vital – as is the look and feel of the entire platform. Just as well Stef has some pretty serious design chops then :)

There are a few extra functions I have in mind for further down the line that I’ll keep up my sleeve for now and I’m sure once we start letting people lose on the system we will have to rethink a few things but that is part of the fun.

I’ll be honest it has been alot of fun so far and it is good to have a project that is genuinely interesting to get my teeth into at the moment as the 9-5 is more than a little, well, dull at the moment. It does make me wonder whether I was to quick to leave Jiva last year though as I do miss working closely with developers in an agile way. Then again you never know maybe something will come up that offers that level of interaction again.

[JISC] Weeknote 27/33

August 21, 2010
tags:
by Matt

This week was mainly defined by meetings.

I met up with Dan Sutch, who is Head of Development at Futurelab to talk about various things but EventEye in particular. I’ve always been a little envious of Futurelab as they seemed to run so many cool projects and EventEye is destined to be another example of that. It was interesting to hear Dans’ plans for the product and my brain was whirling away during and after with ideas about taking a tool like that to market (especially with events tools being my main preoccupation already!). Futurelab have the benefit of a great innovative product, a strong reputation and access to some big names in media, industry and education so I have no doubt it will be a success.

Dan also very kindly agreed to speak at Bettr – which is shaping up rather brilliantly at the moment – I now have nine confirmed speakers all of whom will have interesting stories to tell. I am going to spend the first two weeks of September pretty much work on Bettr fulltime so I’ll be launching it properly around that time.

Thursday I had back-to-back meetings in London – kicking off with some light handover stuff with Ben who will be taking over the last remnants of my project activity – we talked at some length about the place for usability in the e-infrastructure work JISC is funded and I think/hope it was a useful discussion.

Then we had a team meeting that was a little strange for me as it was very much focused on various activities I won’t be involved in at all. In particular the large funding call that is going to be released in six weeks or so. It does look as if there is going to be some meeting organisation and some social web publicity work that I’ll get to do but the timing of my leave isn’t perfect for that so we’ll have to see what I can do next week.

I was then lucky enough to meet up with Alan Levine, CTO of the New Media Consortium and author of the CogDogBlog as he is briefly in the UK (though I did manage to miss him when he was actually in Bristol!). The NMC has been an organisation I have followed for many years and their Horizon Reports have been regularly on my reading list since they first started. In fact Alans blog was one of the first I subscribed to. It was really interesting to have a chat over a couple of pints of Bombardeir – especially hearing about some of his epub stuff first hand and also the distributed way in which the small NMC team are able to work (and their lack of formal meetings!)

Eventstreams has been going full steam ahead with Stef releasing new functions on a daily basis – I have written the blog post about it which I will publish this weekend sometime. I am also, along with Grace, going to push ahead with another event idea we have been discussing assuming we can get a financial backer for it.

I got a couple of knock-backs for jobs this week – one of which I really did expect to get an interview for so it does look more and more like I’m going to need to strike out on my own. I have had a very kind offer of free desk space back at Jiva if I do go in that direction which will make life much easier (despite the distraction of the effing table football!)

[JISC] Weeknote 26/33

August 13, 2010
tags:
by Matt

The week isn’t quite over but I’ve got a busy weekend ahead so I have jumped the gun a bit.

If last week felt quiet then I don’t really know how to describe this one – it has been like the Marie Celeste.

I seem to have spent most of the week doing the kind of admin tasks that you should really try and keep on top of as you go along but which I always allow to build up. It is dull work but it does give a nice feeling of accomplishing something when it is done.

I also made some progress with the Comms project I’m working on – a meeting with Rachel yesterday clarified a few things for me and now I have a plan of action I can get behind – need to get my survey head on and also start thinking about manipulating JISC Involve to my will :)

I’m also going to be doing a little thinking about how to represent the new areas of work starting in a month or so on the JISC website which will mean thinking about so IA issues and also about what information people actually expect to find on our various platforms.

Oh and I’ve got a load of links to various Gov policies and initiatives that may be JISC related to see where I can map our work across – that is going to make for some fun reading.

As far as the side projects go it is all systems go – Stef is steaming along on Eventstreams and I’ll be blogging about that this weekend. Also the new Bettr site has launched and is looking lovely so I will be pushing ahead to invite speakers and do publicity on that starting next week.

I am also thinking very hard about taking on another conference and will start polling people in private about interest over the next couple of weeks – I think it is a decent idea but need to run it by a few more people and also see if anyone is interested in bankrolling it.

On the job hunt side – I did have some positive news about a job that was previously withdrawn due to Gov cuts coming back into play so I should be interviewing for that one but everything else is still very quiet.