Last night I returned from a weekend trip to Gothenburg in Sweden (thank God for holiday weekends!) As a northern European city of average size, it pretty much fit the bill. Not a place for a raucous weekend on the tiles, but very pleasant in itself. It is impressively clean, easy to travel around (by tram, bus or bike) and very welcoming. It is also host to some high quality attractions, such as the Varldkulturmuseet (Museum of World Culture) and the Universuem - a sort of eco-dome. My personal favourite was the Konstmuseum which has a display of some superb Scandinavian art (as well as an numerous canvasses by Monet, Van Gogh and various other 'Galacticos'). The building itself is also something of a museum piece - with several rooms laid out in an overtly Edwardian-style, i.e. mixed displays of sculpture and painting, luscious velvet hangings and stucco plaster. The best part is a corridor that contains the self-portraits of several dozen artists. They all seem to have the same expression - a sidelong gaze with the hint of a smile - like they are sharing a joke about the viewers who walk past.
Brian Donohue (of IQ Content) has posted a review of my book on the IQContent blog. While Brian is positive on many points and makes some useful suggestions, his main concern is the lack of depth given to some topics. When producing this book, my aim was to cover the full spectrum of activities that website managers need to be familiar with. The idea was to equip them with the knowledge needed to discuss site administration in a meaningful way with Designers, Coders, Techies, Marketers, Directors, etc. As a result, the book is very comprehensive though sometimes lacking in depth*. This trade-off was necessary, otherwise it would be unfeasibly long! But don't despair - detailed literature is available on many of the topics that are introduced. A recommended bibliography is included in the appendices. (* Among the topics that are explored in detail are the processes of maintenance and governance. The areas I tend to avoid are associated with technology or other specialised/emergent disciplines.)
Anyone who has seen the Danish film 'Festen' will know of the shock of disbelief it can induce. Last Saturday night I had the opportunity to observe several dozen people going through this same trauma during a stage performance of it in The Gate Theatre. As the critical scene occured, many in the audience reacted just as those in the on-stage dinner party did - quizzical laughter, realisation and silence. How relieved we all were it was only make-believe! Imagine trying to cope with something like that in real life?!
A class of 25 'Multimedia Management' undergraduates hosted me as a guest lecturer today in Dublin City University. The topic of my presentation to them was 'Website Management'. The hour-long talk focussed on my role as Webmaster in ESB, as well as on many of the concepts outlined in my recent book. Many thanks to the class for their attention and to Davorka Naletilic-Quinn (lecturer in Multimedia Studies and film-maker) for the invitation.
Many thanks to Morgan and AnnMarie on the IQContent team for my invite to their excellent 'bootcamp' yesterday. I was delighted both to participate and to listen to the other speakers from VHI, NCBI and Daft.ie. The Daft.ie story was particularly interesting, given that it is one of the few Irish websites to have grown organically from humble beginnings and succeeded in the face of stiff competition. (Think two young students, a 'how to do HTML' book and a clever idea). If those boys had been born in the states, they would probably be millionaires by now! A PDF of my presentation from yesterday "The Principles of Successful Website Management" (674KB) is now available for download.
Today I am speaking at the annual IQContent 'Boot Camp'. The bootcamp comprises a series of intensive sessions on various aspects of website development. To close the last day of workshops, myself and some other guests have been invited to speak on topics related to the web. The subject of my own presentation is "The Principles of Successful Website Management".
Now that my own book is finished I have had the chance to catch up on some reading. The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis Although this book provides a good overview of the themes of the Cold War, I was somewhat disappointed at its lack of anaylsis of the main protagonists. Figures like Stalin, Kennedy, Mao, Gorbachev get less attention than I would like. Yet on the upside, the author presents in clear and objective language his own opinions of the factors that first led to (the desire of the west to limit Soviet influence in Western Europe) and ultimately what ended (economic contradictions and social pressures in the Soviet Union) the Cold War. The clearest lesson to me was that - no matter how bad the international situation seems now - we certainly do not face the same existential threat as existed in the latter 20th century. Imperium by Robert Harris As a true fan of Robert Harris, I was inevitably underwhelmed by his latest novel. Imperium simply fails to ignite the same moods of empathy and suspense as used wuccessfully in Fatherland, Pompeii or Archangel. I also feel that by telling the story through a narrator who is one step removed from the main character, we stray from the point of the book - to get inside the mind of the Cicero. That said, Harris does a typically superb job of building his fictional world. I could almost smell the streets of Rome. The deliberate parallel drawn between Pompey the Great and George W. Bush, and their joint desire for extended power, is also very entertaining.
Last Monday I stepped down as chairperson of Cantóirí. The two years I have spent at the helm have been fun but it is definitely time to hand over to someone else. Our glorious new leader is Maria Williamson (neé Nahua), the first Finnish chairperson! I have no doubt that her good Scandinavian sense will ensure the choir continues to prosper over the coming twelve months.
I downloaded Netscape 8.2 and have noticed a new feature that allows you to render the layout of a webpage as if the browser was Internet Explorer or Firefox. A button on the bottom left of the browser allows users to toggle between Explorer and Firefox. Quite weird! I have created some screengrabs to show what it looks like. I suppose it could be handy as a development tool.
Following on my last post, I note that Jakob Neilsen says pretty much the same thing in Chapter 3 of his new book "Prioritizing Web Usability". He refers to the document "Guidelines for designing user interface software, ESD-TR-86-278" created by the US Air Force in 1986. He says that he retested 60 of these guidelines in 2005 and found 54 that continued to be valid! A strong vote in favour of recycling and reuse. Indeed, I remember how the Flash designers in my last job relied heaviliy on those guidelines for creating e-learning applications.
Today I spent some time skimming through a book called 'Intranets - a guide to their design, implementation and management', lent to me by a colleague. I was happy to find several useful ideas in it that I can use in my daily work. What surprised me was that this book was published 'way back' in 2001 and so I had thought that much of it would be out-of-date. After all, intranets were quite new back then and we must have moved on in the meantime. Well, yes we have, but the manner it which this book so clearly described the reasons for which intranets should be built was quite refreshing. Perhaps rereading such 'original texts' at annual intervals would be a good idea in order to remind ourselves of the first principles that drive such developments. 'Intranets - a guide to their design, implementation and management' by Paul Blackmore. ISBN 0 85142 441 4.
In his latest newsletter Gerry McGovern discusses methods for organising the Information Architecture of an intranet. Given that I work for a company that has a fairly sizeable such site, this issue is close to my heart. In summary, I agree with Gerry's argument that a task-based system of organisation is more highly preferred than one based on an organisation-chart. Indeed, this is strongly borne out by other literature, e.g. the Neilsen-Norman Group Intranet Annuals. It is my own experience that the many staff have no idea how their business is structured or what divisions carry out what functions (except for their own). I hope to return to this subject in the coming months to share some of the experience I have had in managing an intranet.