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    Archive for the 'General' Category

    Not every good writer can write for the web…

    By Sonja M Van Praag, on 20 June 2014

    Paul Boag writes about all things web-related. Sometimes the articles are of relevance, sometimes not, but I think this particular article is worth a read.

    You can listen to his post or read it. You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter. All up to you, but do read the one about writing for the web.

    WebNet05 – June 17th 2014

    By Sonja M Van Praag, on 17 June 2014

    Today, the 5th WebNet meeting was held in the Christopher Inglold XLG LT between 2pm and 3.30pm.
    Relevant presentations are available on the WAMS webpage

    The next WebNet meeting will be held in the Autumn term.

    WebNet June 17th 2 – 4pm

    By Sonja M Van Praag, on 5 June 2014

    Christopher Ingold XLG1 Chemistry LT

    WAMS will present the soon-to-go-live new Search feature on the UCL website and all sites using the Corporate Identity template!

    Please register on the WAMS webpage.

    Why did we choose Silva!?

    By , on 23 September 2011

    A question often asked of us here in Web Services!  The choice was ultimately made by me and Neil Martin, we were the two Web Support Officers at the time but our choice was severely limited.

    The Content Management System Project Group (CMSPG) was set up in April 2002 to look into the options available for a CMS.  Very early on in the process that group settled on Zope as the framework for the future development of the CMS.  I was initially unimpressed by Zope on my first dealings with it.

    Several other universities had already started using Zope but with different CMS built on top of it.  In November 2003 I organised a Zope users meeting at the UCL and we had visitors from Bristol, Birkbeck, Oxford Brookes, ICH and others.  They were using different CMSs including Zope’s Content Management Framework (CMF), Plone and EasyPublisher.  In February 2004 I demoed some of the options for Zope to Information Systems (IS).  To say they weren’t impressed is an understatement!  Just after that meeting Neil discovered that his former employers, Luton University were using a Zope based CMS that we hadn’t heard off, Silva.  I quickly installed it and we arranged to go visit them.

    Compared to other CMS on offer Silva provided out-of-the-box organisational workflow which compared favourably to the community based alternatives where we would have had to develop the workflows separately which was something that would have been difficult to achieve quickly given our, then, limited Zope, Python skills.  The templating system was also very simple compared to the others and Neil and I could reproduce UCL templating very quickly.  It was also easier to build simple tools into it for template menuing etc.  It was the obvious choice for us.

    IS signed up Debs Pollard in late May 2004 to give us sysadmin support for the CMS and we finally started up the live service in early 2005.  Jon Bowlas joined up shortly after as our Silva Developer and we made great progress after that.

    There are now around 540 sites in Silva and we have some promising new developments on the way for 2012!  More on that in an bit.

    Joke of the day…

    By Nick Dawe, on 19 January 2011

    ‘So this SEO copywriter walks into a bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish bar, bartender, drinks, beer, wine, liquor’

    Goodbye to Neil…

    By Nick Dawe, on 10 September 2010

    As many UCL readers will know, our Web Services manager left us last month in order to emigrate with his family to Australia. Neil’s been working in Web Services for 8 years – a time that has seen huge changes in the Web and the way that we use it. At the beginning of this year, Neil’s role extended to becoming manager of Design and Web Services, in which he also had to grapple with the areas of print and graphic design. As well as being a encouraging manager and an expert on Web standards, we’ve also consistently enjoyed his humour, enthusiasm, and the opportunity to play with his iPad.

    A rare image of the Web Services team smiling. L-R: David Gillies, Jon Bowlas, Neil Martin, Ralph Bartholomew and Nick Dawe

    Website terminology

    By Nick Dawe, on 12 November 2009

    Necessarily, development for the web is full of ‘jargon’, simply because most words relating to the web have not entered the popular dialect. Words like ‘blog’ or ‘Tweet’ have finally become household names, perhaps because they are the only words you could really use for that function, but the majority of web-related words are still deemed as obscure buzzwords, even though they describe things that people use every day.

    This can be a bit of a problem for us. As well as developing/maintaining CMS and Apache websites, we also provide support for such items. Usually this is fine, but every now and again, there are quite interesting ‘miscommunications’ with users regarding fairly simple website issues because of our different understandings of a web-related word. Our central training teams work hard to ensure that, for instance, CMS users understand what a ‘browser’ is, and can hopefully help people to understand what certain other web terms mean. However, there are obviously a great number of users who have escaped training, and so the miscommunications continue.

    Personally, I’ve noticed that there are certain terms that are repeatedly used in vague and erroneous ways, often giving rise to confusion and frustration for both users and support staff. Obviously users shouldn’t have to learn ‘computer-speak’ to feel that they can call a web support team, but equally they shouldn’t feel the need to use certain words in a phone call/email when they’re not sure what they mean!

    Anyway, these are a few of the most common culprits, but I’d be interested if there are further ‘problem’ terms that crop up for others who support IT/websites.

    1. Link

    The term ‘link’ normally refers to a hyperlink from one URL to another. However, this term, more than any other, is used to refer to:

    • Webpages
    • Websites
    • Redirects
    • Rewrites
    • Forms

    The confusion here is possibly down to what a link is for most people – something that you click on, which opens a new page. Sadly however, this is quite a big difference to what we would understand a link to be. Therefore, if someone asks us for a link in a certain location, we’ll add a hyperlink, while the user actually wants us to create an entirely new page.

    2. “Going live”

    If a user of a CMS asks for their site to go live, it’s fairly clear what that means: to change the URL of the site so that it’s not accessed in the CMS development area anymore.

    But if a user is working on a site elsewhere, this term could mean a number of things. It could most likely mean that they’re trying to upload a site from their personal computer to the web server. However (as is often the case), it could just mean that they want a link from, e.g. the homepage, to their new website, or that they want their site to be moved from a development location they set up to a more accessible location. It could also, and this happens occasionally, mean that they want their site to be ‘lively’, by incorporating swirly animated .gifs, or large images that change every 3 seconds on their homepage.

    3. Portal

    Portals are, to be fair, not the easiest concepts: they’re generally thought of as being websites that work as an easy entrance  to other services, like email, calendars, searches, etc. (check out iGoogle if you’re unfamiliar with the term).

    However, a portal has traditionally been thought of as the opening to a large building, like a cathedral. So it’s not too surprising that users will term any ‘thing’ that opens up into a bigger ‘thing’ with this word. Understandably then, If someone asks for a portal, this has often just meant a login box, that takes them to a single web application. On larger scale however, we’ve also heard the term used when referring to networks, virtual machines, and Staff WTS…

    Any other suggestions..?

    The end of the world was nigh…

    By Nick Dawe, on 15 September 2008

    According to the BBC, Tim Berners-Lee is a little nervous about the amount of misinformation spread by the web, particularly in recent months. If “the spread of rumours that the MMR vaccine given to children in Britain was harmful” wasn’t bad enough, perhaps the loud debate of amateur scientist bloggers about the universe ending last wednesday might have pushed his patience to the limit.

    Berners-Lee, among others, is creating a new foundation that will “brand sites that it has found to be trustworthy and reliable sources of information”.

    Of course, there will be many questions as to how this will be done, as well as the practical feasibility of judging so much of the web using detailed methods. But as researchers, students, and the general public increasingly rely on the web for vital information, this is surely an issue that needs to be dealt with asap.

    If nothing else, the reaction to the LHC experiment has highlighted the need for information on the web to be verified before it’s believed. Web-based speculation over whether a black hole was going to open up spurred even more speculation from other mediums. This ultimately caused a large amount of the general public to think of the LHC as the latest source of Armageddon, rather than care in the slightest as to whether it might locate the Higgs-Boson particle, among other things.

    Wikipedia has already had to deal with this kind of problem. Due to various controversies, the online encyclopaedia suffered a loss of trust, as users became less sure that what they were reading was genuine, rather than fabricated by sources with hidden motives to do with an article’s subject. To fight back and gain trust, a number of tools have been created that help a reader verify the article’s quality; from viewing a history of changes to an article, to using WikiScanner to see if any article editors come from institutions corresponding with the article subject.

    Anyway, instead of moaning about the state of the web, perhaps we should just be happy to have escaped being crushed to death by a big black hole…

    A quick look at Firefox 3

    By Nick Dawe, on 5 August 2008

    Firefox screenshot

    It’s now been a couple of months since Firefox 3 was released, the latest version of the incredibly successful open source browser. We’ve had interesting experiences with the software so far… Indeed for the first couple of weeks after its release, members of WS were busy trying to understand a rather serious alteration in its javascript implemenation. Silva, our central content management system, had a problem that pages were being written over with an error message after editors had tried to publish them. Thankfully the problem was resolved quickly enough, but it did seem like yet another irritation that comes with the release of yet another new browser.

    Anyway, aside from some initial negativity, FF3 really has turned out to be one of the best browsers yet. We thought it might be good to discuss some of the key changes in FF3 that could UCL developers may want to know about…

    The ‘AwesomeBar’

    'AwesomeBar'

    Anyone who’s used a modern browser will know that as they type a URL in the navigation bar, a drop-down menu of similar looking URLs appears below. FF3 has now updated this bar into the ‘AwesomeBar’ – a tool that allows users to also enter search queries, and get a drop-down list of relevant sites. The AwesomeBar bases its search results on your browsing history, bookmarks and tags. It also evolves over time by remembering not only every search you make, but also the results you ultimately select.

    Personally I love this, although I wish that it could be integrated with external bookmarking/tagging systems (e.g. del.icio.us). Still, it makes browsing an even quicker and more usable process.

    And after all that, the Open Source community are still set to improve this user experience by working on ‘Weave’ – a system allowing you to open your FF settings (including history, bookmarks, and of course your AwesomeBar settings) from any machine that has FF3.

    Performance

    Firefox 3 is noticeably faster (and more stable) than previous versions. Starting the browser up is a quick process, and browsing the web is generally a smoother process than has been experienced in previous releases. What’s especially noteworthy is FF3′s Javascript execution. Bearing in mind the massive splattering of ‘Web 2.0′ AJAX and Javascript sites appearing across the Internet, this has come just in time…

    CSS

    Apparently FF3 is said to have fixed a lot of CSS bugs appearing in FF2 – not that it had many compared to certain other browsers. It also has better support for CSS 2.1, including acceptance of the ‘inline-block’ property. ‘inline-block’ will hopefully make complex CSS layout development far simpler… although it’s pointless to get too excited as IE7 doesn’t accept it, and as for IE8… well who knows…

    Another nice inclusion is FF3′s allowance for negative z-index values… not arguably that important, but I think style development is clearer/easier when there’s the possibility of a full range of z-index values.

    To be honest, I’m still delving into the way that FF3 interprets CSS -  I’ve already noticed a couple of my sites that show unstyled elements in a slightly different way (e.g. file inputs becoming wider, text inputs having extra margins). This could of course just be my dodgy CSS, but I’m still investigating if it’s something else.

    Anyway, this is obviously just a very brief overview of some highlights in FF3, but if you get a mo, have a look at these for fuller details:

    MIT on the mobile web

    By Neil Martin, on 20 May 2008

    As technology is becoming increasingly mobile, it’s not surprising to see large organisations inventively rethinking how they can present their web content for devices like the iPhone and the BlackBerry.

    Most notably, MIT have launched a beta ‘mobile website’, and takes novel methods to restructure the site’s content. Rather than forcing the site user to sift through pages of text, the mobile site simply consists of a set of concise modules of useful information. Everything is easy to get at, using simple navigation aids such as icons to guide the user to the information that they desire.

    MIT mobile site screenshot

    What’s inspirational about the site is that MIT haven’t simply compressed their ‘normal’ website into a mobile-friendly format, but they’ve also embraced some of the features that mobile technology now supports. For instance, iPhone users can rotate their units and see extra information depending on whether certain pages are being presented horizontally or vertically.

    View the site at:

    http://mobi.mit.edu/about/