My IWMW 2012 round up

Here’s a round-up of what for me were the highlights at IWMW 2012. Obviously I couldn’t go to all the discussion sessions, although certainly all the ones I could go to were informative and helpful.

Day 1

Low cost mobile (discussion session)
Some discussion of native vs web apps. Several people there were doing quite a bit of adaptive design too. One of the key points that came out for app development was the lack of good web services in most institutions. Gave a demo of

Managing a CMS (discussion session)
Lots of people here, most trying to manage big CMS with hundreds or even thousands of users. Terminal Four seemed to be really popular, although not necessarily particularly successfully deployed. We split into 2 groups: places with a single CMS, and places with a range of systems. I was in the latter group! We found that a big problem was managing workflow, which tended to become unnecessarily complex, basically because school editors weren’t trusted to write good marketing copy. Hardly surprising when you think that the people writing content for their schools tend not to have a marketing or copywriting background, and generally receive little training.

We kind of came to the conclusion that problems with CMS was not so much the technology as the organisational structure and ethos.

Interestingly it turned out that Edge Hill have moved toward a more devolved editing model with WordPress driving much of its content.

Day 2

Data visualisation (plenary)
Basically about converting vast quantities of data into useful information. The eye as a powerful analysis tool, which can often pick out outlyers and trends in appropriate visualisations far better than we can make sense of raw stats. Demos and links to a range of data analysis tools. Not sure how much use this is to me, but it was really interesting stuff, and plenty to think about.

Do universities really understand the internet (plenary)
Highly controversial and contentious presentation from the VC of Robert Gordon University. To be honest it wasn’t a particularly well-delivered presentation with a very long 20 minute intro in a 45 minute slot. However his main point was that university management don’t really have much of a clue about what they want their websites to do. Unfortunately this came across as an attack on the designers and developers rather more than an attack on senior managers. Not popular!

But in many ways he had some valid points about university homepage design. Weirdly he didn’t really mention mobile. Anyway I think he was trying to be provocative, and it worked. Hopefully it at least got some people thinking a bit more about their sites. But in the process I couldn’t help but feel that he just came across as one of those university senior managers who didn’t really understand the internet.

Do I need an app for that? (plenary)
Given by Rob Borley from Headscape, this talk followed on directly from the one about universities not understanding the internet. Rob basically did the same thing as the Robert Gordon VC but in a much slicker way. I was left feeling a little like this guy knew what he was talking about; the poor old VC didn’t.

Anyway the main drive of this plenary was that mobile is going to become hugely important in the next 3–4 years, and will overtake desktop use. In fact this was a recurring theme at this year’s conference.

However this focus on mobile has allowed a lot of people to get hypnotised by the idea of having an app which doesn’t do anything that a well-designed responsive web page couldn’t do.

Mobilising wordpress (discussion session)
A fairly short workshop and discussion about getting wordpress mobile. I’ve already blogged about this but in short we looked at ways of using plugins and responsive themes to get some really nice content delivery on different platforms.

An interesting point was that really mobile delivery was no different from accessible content. It’s just all about making your content accessible by as many people as possible.

Oh and I think someone mentioned how big mobile was going to become pretty soon…

Day 3

What do you really want? (plenary)
A great talk with a fairytale beginning by Dawn Ellis (Edinburgh Uni). Short and sweet. She described how they’d pretty successfully implemented and rolled out the Polopoly CMS between 2006 and now. Not a quick process! The key points she made were:

  • approach something like this gradually, getting buy-in bit by bit as people realise the benefits of the system.
  • don’t worry about reluctant adopters. Let them do their own thing if that’s what they want.
  • look to the future. Polopoly is clearly not quite there, and Edinburgh are making long-term plans to migrate to other systems, including Drupal. The long-term is perhaps not something we look at much at Kent – something I think very much highlighted by Dawn’s excellent talk.

Large scale responsive websites (plenary)
Some mention of antipatterns. In case you don’t know what these are (I didn’t) they’re commonly held practices which are counter productive or inefficient. Building an institutional app (because that’s what everyone else is doing) is a good example of an antipattern.

Also a really nice presentation from Paddy Callaghan about the kinds of things they did with responsive design and – most importantly – user testing at Bradford Uni.

Oh and I’m pretty sure there was some mention of just how important mobile is going to become very soon…

Measuring impact (plenary)
A great talk by Stephen Emmott from the LSE about how you might actually go about analysing your stats data. It’s all too often forgotten, or left as an afterthought. After all you’ve decided what message you want to give on your website. Why would you want to know if anyone’s actually interested? I exaggerate of course, but analysis doesn’t seem to be given anything close to the level of attention it deserves.

Mentioned the tableau stats visualisation tool which they use at LSE. This helped them pick out anomalies in their data which they wouldn’t normally, such as the fact that the stats for their podcasts were getting skewed.


If there was one key thing to take away from this conference, for me it was definitely that mobile is on the verge of taking over desktop in terms of popularity and importance.

It’s as well to start planning for this right now. This isn’t a case of building clever apps, although there is room for that if they fulfill a valuable function. It can be as simple as building responsive sites where desktop is no longer the primary (or only) means of testing. We shouldn’t assume that our users will be using a desktop, and then tweak things so our sites then work ok on mobile devices. We should build sites which work on mobile devices, and worry about desktop later. Mobile first.

And in case you’re wondering… yes I wrote this and all my other iwmw 2012 posts on an iPad.

One response to “My IWMW 2012 round up

  1. Yeah Matt, but when will you talk about mobile? Can’t believe the whole conference didn’t talk about it! Weird.

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