All entries for January 2005

January 31, 2005

Yet more Warwick Blogs statistics

Follow-up to Warwick Blogs statistics from Kieran's blog

I've not looked at the stats for Warwick Blogs in a little while, so I thought it was time to publish a few bits of information for anyone interested.

I'll start with page views. Following an obvious Xmas holiday drop in page views, we are almost climbing back up to pre-Xmas levels…but not quite. I guess things are pretty much in steady state now.

As for actual writing activity, following the very same Xmas drop, we are back up to as active as ever almost. 150 or so entries a day is pretty good, but still lower than I would have hoped. Still, we have 17,500 entries in total now.

Comments do seem to have dropped below pre-Xmas levels now. No doubt this is partly down to the loss of the old style homepage which shows "Hot topics". Hopefully it is then made up for by the inclusion of favourites pages for people since just before Xmas. We now have around 34,000 comments. That's 2 for every entry. A good ratio.

It is interesting to see that there is still a nice steady influx of new blog requests. What is nice is that we are starting to see different uses we'd not really thought about. In the last week or two we've seen a lot of requests for blogs by candidates for the Union elections. Hopefully blogs will give them an easier way to communicate and get feedback from the voters.

Galleries continue to be used heavily this term. With around 150 new images uploaded per day, we now have 23,000 images!

A few other little stats.

  • 300 people have created favourites page now.
  • 670 people have created profile pages.
  • There are 400 blogs with more than 10 entries
  • There are 3 blogs that more than 40 people list in their favourites
  • We list just 232 external links in our favourites, but over 1500 local Warwick blogs.
  • Over 8000 distinct Warwick staff and students have visited Warwick Blogs when logged in since it started (that's a great ratio of total staff/students)
  • Only two users have made more than 1000 comments!
  • 1300 distinct logged in users have posted comments

Most popular blog designs:

  1. pink
  2. coolblue
  3. standard
  4. bluetones
  5. black
  6. coolblue2
  7. simplegreen
  8. icywow
  9. toned3
  10. grungy

Other and better quality images are in the Stats gallery

January 26, 2005

Lava lamp project status

Writing about web page

This really appeals to the geek in me. The guys at have used Cruise Control, X10 and lava lamps to create a green light, red light project status system.

It's difficult to describe, and if you're not a programming geek like me, you won't appreciate it. But if you are, go have a look.

January 24, 2005

BBC News article, a Warwick Blogs mention

Writing about web page

We were contacted by a BBC News Online reported the other day regarding an article they were going to write about the use of blogs in UK Higher Education.

We answered a few questions via email and waited…

The article came out today at last. Almost half of the article is about Warwick, but it doesn't really go into much detail unfortunately. It is nice that we were acknowledged as being the key University doing this, but they failed to mention the fact that it is custom software rather than just a MovableType install like others have done. Oh well.

I hope that if an article like this is done again next year, we would have more to say about the real educational uses of blogs. How to do that? Not a clue just yet.

Quite an amusing mention of Birmingham Uni at the end of the article.

David Supple, web strategy manager at Birmingham University, says while blogs offer significant benefits for academia as a strong tool for rapid knowledge development, their unstructured nature also creates further problem.

"Universities have to be cautious," he warns.

"This type of technology is very open and easy to instigate and that often means in the rush to use it, the bigger questions on the most effective ways to use the technology without creating legal and reputational issues for the institution are forgotten or end up being asked too late."

To put those comments in perspective: Campaign to defend Personal Websites at Birmingham University and University bans staff websites after anti-semitism row

January 20, 2005

Project just got bigger! Damn standards.

Well, I was happily working my way along over the last week, getting ready for my new project, reading lots and writing all the specs and stuff…all fine and well.

Then (as does happen with these things) someone has a bright idea, it's a good idea and initially seems sensible that we should try and integrate with an external partner, bringing great benefits to us from doing so. Great idea. However, that means we're going to have to start adopting some standards.

So, off to the web I go and get reading about the relevant standards. Turns out everyone loves that idea of this standard, but not that many people have implemented it. Now I know why. Hundreds of pages, literally hundreds of that damn things. Page and pages of specifications. It's horrible.

These big groups get together and write these tomes that specify every possible use case under the sun. 90% of people would make do with probably a third or so of the actual spec. Only problem is, to work out which third, you have to read it all. Yay!

So, what was going to be a slightly complicated, but simple to implement type project has just become a bit of a different beast.

Working better with the outside world is definately the way forward (I wish I had done it a bit more with BlogBuilder) as it will really future proof us (as long as more people take up the standard). It's just really hard!

January 14, 2005

Mediachest – Federated identity and trust

Writing about web page

This is not a hint about my new project by the way :) Just something I thought up whilst browsing over lunch!

Mediachest allows people to inventory their collections of books, CDs, DVDs, and video games. On top of this inventory management application is a social software layer that allows friends to keep track of their friends' collections. This social inventory tracking application extends to two degrees of separation beyond friends (friends of friends of friends). Using a zip code database, Mediachest also allows people to find other people in the same geographic area that have items in their collections that are of interest.

The potential problem with Mediachest is trust. You can setup groups and lists of friends to try and manage the trust issues, because at the end of the day you might be giving something you own to a stranger and hoping they give it back. There is nothing stopping someone registering with a fake name and email address, building up a bit of trust and then stealing someones stuff when they lend it.

However…what if it wasn't just any old person who could register. What if Mediachest and Warwick had an agreement that Mediachest would auto-register and login users who were logged in securely at Warwick. I'll not go into the details of how this works, but basically you can let a user login to Warwick (where we really do know who you are) and then essentially tell Mediachest who you are. Because of our agreement and the technology that ensures you can't cheat, Mediachest trust us to tell them who is logged in.

This means that you could perhaps automatically join the Warwick group on Mediachest just by logging into the Single Sign On system at Warwick. Then when you borrow something or lend something, you really know who you are dealing with.

Because of the standardised way the identity can be federated, Mediachest or any other 3rd party could very quickly create an agreement with Warwick or any other standardised party. The other big advantage is that you never actually login and give a username and password out to Mediachest, so you have one less login to worry about, which is always nice.

The barriers to entry for using and registering this new service are also much lower because you don't have to go through such a length registration process.

Now, some people will no doubt worry about the privacy implications of this. It is important to note that this does not involve giving a hugh database of all our users over to Mediachest or any 3rd party. All it means is that we will confirm to Mediachest that a user is securely logged in and give them your name and perhaps email address, nothing else.

I really think this is the way forward, and lots of other people do to because there is a lot of work going on out there around this area of identity management.

This is all theory by the way and is not currently implemented either by Warwick or by Mediachest. This is also kind of what Athens is all about.

New year, new project

Looks like I'll be dedicating a lot less time to blogs in the coming months. As we are pretty happy with the stage BlogBuilder is at right now, we are going to wind down the amount of work put into it for the time being.

This definately doesn't mean it is being abandoned, it just means that I've got a more important project to work on right now. If there are particularly pressing problems, they will most likely get fixed, but new features are on hold right now.

Hopefully people will continue to use Warwick Blogs and find it useful and find new ways of using it. I feel it needs a bit of time to settle down and for more usage patterns and needs to emerge.

So, onto my new project. It's kind of strange working on something new when I've spent the best part of a year working on BlogBuilder.

This project is very different, I've found myself writing more documents in the last week than I have done since I left Uni. BlogBuilder was a very organic project because we didn't really know exactly what we wanted at the start. I worked on the project in a very Agile way, preferring code over documentation.

However, my new project has some very important and tight specifications and processes. I'm going through and documenting these now and specifying interfaces up front like I've not done in a long old while. It feels quite old fashioned almost compared to the "Agile way". But it is the right way of doing things. I don't think you can really apply the code over documentation type philosophy to every project.

I was very tempted to dive in and start coding up prototypes, but resisted and with a little bit of prodding was persuaded to do it the "old fashioned way". The reason people used to and still do things like this is because when you truely know what the system is meant to do, you may as well spec it up properly. I guess the problem is that often people know what their customers want, but are way way out. That is when the rigid up front design can come back and bite you in the ass.

I'm just hoping that I really do know that this spec isn't going to change :)

January 11, 2005

Google thinks Warwick bloggers are experts on…

According to Google, Warwick Blogs contains the writings of experts on many areas. In terms of numbers of referers from Google, the following are the most searched for pages in Warwick Blogs.

But the one that really got my attention was the fact that I have the 7th most relevant page in the world on bathroom renovation which points to this gallery

So, what's the moral of the story. If you don't want the world to find your stuff, make it private, Google will find it and think it is really important!

January 07, 2005

I want one of these houses

Writing about web page

In a sight departure from my usual talk about Warwick Blogs, I've got to mention houses. It's been a while since I've mentioned my DIY efforts at my new house (new being 6 months ago now).

However, I can't help but be jealous of some of the setups showcased in the above Wired article. These things are so packed with gadgets, the USS Enterprise would be jealous.

I like these little notes:

To help visitors rest easy, an oxygen line supplies master and guest bedrooms, ensuring sea level conditions at nearly 8,000 feet.
The chef can watch a live feed from the dining room on a 9-inch fold-down monitor to know when it's time to offer seconds.
A concealed scanner under the doorbell reads fingerprints and unlocks the door for family members and regular visitors.
Door and window sensors tell the central automation system whether something is open or closed. To check status, the family calls up layouts of the house on one of the in-wall touchscreens or via the Web.
A Lutron lighting system with six presets can create an intimate candlelike effect or wash the walls to highlight the paintings.
The bedside nook houses a custom multimedia panel with six ports. Joy can plug in earphones to the home's music system, pipe in tunes from an iPod or laptop, or add new tracks to his 1,600-album inventory.

Not sure I could knock together any of that stuff :(


January 04, 2005

2500 blogs!

Yay! I can't be bothered to go into my usual disclaimers about the number of actual active blogs or anything like that. It's just a nice landmark :)

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