All 130 entries tagged Blogging

Blogging about blogging. Specifically the BlogBuilder system that I've built for Warwick

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February 28, 2005

Dead before it started

In an E-Lab team meeting the other week, we talked about how we communicate with the outside world and let our customers and our colleagues know what is going on within IT Service.

We don't seem to be very good at letting everyone in the University know what we are up to. Sure, we sent out the odd newsletter or emails to departmental IT contacts and keep websites of varying quality/detail for most projects, but there isn't really an up-to-date single point of contact for details of upcoming projects in IT Services.

To someone like me, the obvious answer is a blog of course. Makes so much sense you might think. In a fit of enthusiasm, I created and wrote a brief introduction as to what to expect to find there.

That was 3 weeks ago. Today I de-activated it (with no entries). It never got off the ground because I realised (or more accurately, John and other senior management realised) that you just can't get people to write yet more stuff about their projects. Maybe we're doing our colleagues an injustice by not even asking them, but it just didn't seem worth it.

I had intended to ask various people from around ITS to write something about a project once or twice a month for the blog. If this was staggered out, there would be new content several times a week with a bit of luck.

It should have been obvious really, if you look around at our project pages and our other attempts at "what is everyone up to" type pages, they are not kept as up to date as they should be (I'm as guilty as everyone).

I've still got this lovely image of everyone subscribed by RSS or viewing a feed on the ITS homepage of regular project updates from across the department, but everyone is just toooo busy. Should I have given up so easily? Was it a bad idea in the first place? Who knows.

February 01, 2005

Comparing University blogging systems

Writing about web page

Ahhhh, it's nice when people notice :)

Jeremy Smith from Case Western Reserve University runs down a little review of different University blogging systems.

I'll quote him just in case you can't be bothered to read it.

Warwick Blogs

Well, we've hit the cream of the crop, it seems. Not only does this system use existing University credentials, but it is integrated with their Single Sign On system (something we, at Case, don't have). They have a blog directory and a "planet" site. And, if you noticed in the directory, they have blogs listed in there for courses and faculty divisions and services.

They have tons of documentation in FAQs, About pages, Tours, and a Glossary.

I wasn't able to play with it, but it seems they developed a piece of software called SiteBuilder (screenshot) that does all of the heavy lifting and handles the editing of a blog's templates and styles.

All and all, this is great stuff.

5 out of 5, no doubt.

He doesn't get it exactly right about how it works, but he is close enough.

Turns out that CASE themselves also now have a blogging system, that's another one for the list.

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 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 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 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 :)

December 22, 2004

Blogging at all hours of the night – some stats

I was asked in my previous entries about what time of day people write entries, well here you go.

This is a graph of all entries ever written in Warwick Blogs. What would be nice to see, but I can't generate it, is the difference between the time of day staff and students write entries. I imagine it would be very different.

A few favourites stats

It's been about a week now since we updated BlogBuilder to include a function to manage your favourites.

The usage pattern has been very similar to other features; that is, the core, regular users of the system have quickly put their favourites in, whilst the less active users probably have not even noticed they exist.

  • Number of users with favourites: 133
  • Number of folders: 155
  • Number of blogs as favourites: 776
  • Number of collections as favourites: 10 (Did anyone know you can add a whole collection to your favourites, so that you can get all the blogs in a module in one go?)
  • Number of external web pages as favourites: 121
  • Number of people who appear 10 times or more in other peoples favourites: 25

December 02, 2004

MSN Spaces (Microsoft blogging tool)

Writing about web page

So, Microsoft has finally jumped on the band wagon (a bit late if you ask me) with their newly launced MSN Spaces service.

First thing I noticed when signing up with my existing Passport account is that it is slow as a dog. I'm guessing this is due to it just being launched, but it is still surprising to see it so slow.

Signing up is a simple process of filling out a title and picking a url. You can then just get started or delve into deeper customisation.


Clicking "Customize" takes you to a style picker which has around 30 different designs. You also get to choose which different items get to appear in the different columns of your blog. A tick box list lets you select from stuff such as:

  1. Categories
  2. Archives
  3. Profile
  4. Photo album
  5. Book list

You also get to choose how many columns you have and where each of the above items appears in that list. Unsurprisingly IE6 users get to choose layout dynamically and see changes live whereas us poor Firefox users have to wait for a submit/refresh (we all know Firefox can't do clever stuff).

I would say I got to try this out, but getting this message on submitting was not promising:

The MSN Spaces network is being upgraded and is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Right, it's working again. Next thing to try out is the custom lists. This is very similar to the TypePad TypeLists, but not as nice because Spaces does not really do anything clever or help you out with the lists. You just enter a title/description/url/artist and so on to build a list. There are music/book/blog/custom type lists, but they don't really do much, no nice ISBN lookup or Amazon integration or anything. Shame really.

Hmm, scratch that. Although there is no help in searching for items to put in the lists. There is in fact some form of integration when displaying the lists. For the music, it basically just links to a search on the MSN Music website (run by OD2).

Creating entries

As for creating entries, the most basic and important aspect of creating a blog, it couldn't really be much simpler. There is simple a title field, a category drop down (with pre-defined categories and the ability to add new ones), the main body of the entry (a simple textarea) and that is about it. You can publish, save as draft or cancel. A little note at the bottom says:

Some HTML tags may be removed from your entry for security and formatting reasons.

That rings a bell. I wonder what they've done.

Hmm, that is annoying. There is no auto line breaking or paragraph support. You have to specifically put in your own br's and p's. That could be a problem for newbies.
Once published, entries look pretty normal with comments/trackbacks/date/permalink all listed under the entry.


There is quite a lot hidden underneath the "Settings" menu option. These all come under the heads of:

  • Space settings.
    Titles, date formats, time zones, RSS option.
  • Blog settings
    Archiving, comment and trackback options and categories
  • Permissions
    You can set your entire blog to be completely public, completely private or only viewable by people on your MSN Messenger buddies list. There is no per-entry permissions.
  • Mobile settings
    You can setup the facility to have entries published from your phone via email.
  • Storage
    Looks like there is 10MB worth of space, looks like it is only your photos in your photo albums are taken into account here.
  • Statistics
    Total page views, page views today, page views this week, page views within the last hour, a list of every single hit.

Profile page

Each user can have a profile page which it looks like is mostly auto-generated from your MSN info, some of which I really don't remember giving to them! Editting this takes you to the generic MSN member directory profile editor.

Photo albums

Strangely, I can only seem to be able to upload photos from within creating entries. Even going to the photo album screen (which shows you a nice slideshow) does not allow you to upload new images. It is pretty basic, you literally just upload a file from your system with no options for titles/descriptions/etc. I guess this makes things nice and simple, but might be restrictive for some. (On further investigation, surprise surprise, there are more photo upload options with IE because they use an ActiveX control! Sigh.)


It is clear that Microsoft have done quite a bit of work on this system, borrowing a lot of good features from every other blog system under the sun, nothing really new. The layout customisation is nice, but everything else is pretty standard or even sub-standard. I'm sure the system will improve, but at the moment it seems full of features, but each of those features is very basic in itself.

It'll be interesting to see what impact this has on the other blogging providers out there once they get themselves established, more reliable and performant.

The official word

According to the Microsoft press release MSN Introduces New Communication Service That Enables Blogging, Picture Sharing and More

The MSN Spaces beta version is a free service available in 14 languages and 26 markets worldwide. MSN Spaces was designed to make it easy for consumers to create and maintain a personal Web site, bringing the power and benefits of blogging to millions of Internet users, regardless of their level of technical expertise. More than a blogging tool, MSN Spaces is a dynamic online scrapbook where consumers can share photo albums, personal music lists and more. And more than an ordinary personal Web site, through seamless integration with MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail, MSN Spaces will automatically notify online contacts when a person's Space has been updated so his or her online community knows when it is time to pay a visit. People can sign up for MSN Spaces through MSN Messenger or by going to Key features of the service include the following:

  • Control your Space. Consumers can choose the people who visit their Space through three levels of permissions: public, MSN Messenger contacts only or private.
  • Use pictures and music to say more. MSN Spaces enable consumers to easily display their pictures via a photo album slide show. Consumers can easily share playlists through their Space with Microsoft® Windows Media® technologies. With just two clicks, people can sample or purchase a song on someone's playlist through MSN Music**.
  • Create an extension of yourself. Contact Cards – a new addition to MSN Messenger and Hotmail – are windows into a consumer's Space, mirroring its look and the most recent information posted. MSN Spaces also supports RSS, so consumers can publish their Space to others by way of RSS viewers and aggregators – including My MSN, coming soon.
  • Post remote updates. Consumers can post updates to their Space remotely via e-mail or a mobile phone.
  • Make it your own. Fifteen custom backgrounds and five layout templates give consumers a way to quickly customize and personalize their Space.

November 29, 2004

Warwick Blogs statistics

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

This morning I ran my little set of queries which give me an indication of BlogBuilder usage. We are now in week 10 of term, so perhaps now is a good time to publish a bunch of graphs showing how busy Warwick Blogs has been.

This more or less speaks for itself. We have been averaging around 20,000 page views (proper page views, images and robots not included) per day. Clearly traffic went up pretty quickly as term started but has hit a bit of a plateau right now. (Those dips are weekends by the way)

Entries per day is very similar to the page views in that there was a sharp rise around the start of term and then a real leveling off. The average is now sitting at around 150 entries per day, which isn't bad. However, when you think of how many blogs we have right now (almost 2300), then the figure doesn't look quite so good. There are clearly a lot of empty blogs out there.

I quite like this graph. The reason is that on most blogs and blog systems, the number of entries is greater than the number of comments. Unfortunately most people do not get comments, or don't get many comments on their entries. With an average of 350 comments per day, we can hope that everyone is getting a comment occasionally. Of course there is a core of entries out there that get the lion's share, but looking deeper into the stats, it looks like virtually everyone has had a comment or two at some point. I think the inclusion of our built in aggregations and now the "My comments" page will help keep up the commenting levels.

Don't really need to say much about this. However, I will note that I am pleased that the number of people still signing up for blogs is a nice surprise. I didn't think we would still have this constant stream of new people this far into term time. We may well hit 2500 by new year (maybe).

I don't think I published this graph before. It basically just shows the number of images people are uploading. We are constantly getting 200 new images per day. Obviously people are using their galleries, stuffing them with 15000 images taking up 1.5GB (we've got plenty of space for more). Knowing that the usability of image upload and galleries is not what we'd like it to be makes these figures all the more surprising.

So, what do I think overall? Well, I'm pretty pleased. Back in September we really did not know what to expect. Were we going to get 100 blogs or 1000? Were people going to love it or hate it? Was it going to blow up?

As it turns out, it has been quite a mixed reaction. A lot of people have registered blogs and left them empty or with a single entry. We have to work out why. But then there are people out there with a hundred or more entries.

There are clearly some people who get blogging and really enjoy it, not just writing, but also reading. However, for all our hard work advertising blogs and getting the message out, there are still plenty of people (the majority?) out there who don't understand blogs or know why they would want one, or even bother reading blogs. Are we not communicating to people well enough now the initial publicity and excitment is over? I suspect so.

Even in the last 9 weeks since term began we have added new features and improved various parts of the system. We have also learned quite a lot ourselves about what people want out of blogs and what kind of people use blogs, so perhaps we need to learn from this and have a fresh drive in the new year. Bring it on.

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