, 10 years later

Posted on February 25th, 2011 by Alex Bilbie

University of Lincoln home page

Over the past ten years, the University of Lincoln’s home page has evolved into a monolithic repository of course descriptions, staff profiles, news items, policy statements, information for staff, students, parents, the media, and anyone else who may stumble across the site.

Using an online sitemap generator I have created an XML sitemap and and a plain text list of all of the publicly accessible URIs on the site. I’ve removed anything that isn’t an html document (i.e. if it doesn’t have a mime of text/html it wasn’t counted). This amounts to some 4189 pages on the site. I’ve parsed this out further to what essentially are the top level directories:

My immediate impression is that there are are a lot of directories – over 100! Also what on earth do all of these acronyms mean?

Some are URIs are obvious and you’d find them on most sites – /home, /webteam, /contact. However the library section is under /lr instead of /library (LR according to the page title means Learning Resources, however the pages talks about Library and Learning Resources – i.e. so should it not be /llr?). I was interested to discover /lsad is The Lincoln School of Art, /luac stands for Lincoln University Assessment Centre (aren’t we technically The University of Lincoln – Lincoln University is in New Zealand (or also in three places in the USA)), /shsc is Lincoln School of Health and Social Care (again, why not /lshsc) and finally /socs is the Lincoln School of Computing Science (*cough* not /lsocs – also sometimes student societies are refered to “socs” so there’s even more confusion here). There seems to be an awful lot of inconsistency here in terms of the acronym used for the directory and the actual acronym we use internally. However the main problem here is that an outsider doesn’t understand our internal acronyms – if I was a potential arts student I’d have thought an all encompassing /arts would be better understood than /lsad.

There also inconsistency in the directory hierarchy. Some information is a subdirectory of /home whereas everything else is in the root directory /. It could be that URIs that start /home/ are less important than others, but then you could subjectively say that /home/legal is more imporant than /surveys. Likewise why is /opendays not under /events/opendays.

There is also a lot of apparent repetition. Campuses are represented under /home/lincoln/brayford/, /home/lincoln/cathedral/, /home/lincoln/cathedral/, /home/hull/ but Holbeach is on the root at /holbeach, and then there is also /riseholmecampus and /hull. Should all of these pages not be under /campus/ or /locations/ ?

Every school or faculty page (what’s the difference between a school a faculty and a department if you’re a potential student? Is one better than the other? Do I need to apply to the school or faculty? Does a school represent the academic side and a faculty represent the administrative side, if so, what is a department?) has a section contains staff profiles e.g. (by the way /cjmh stands for Criminal Justice and Mental Health, which apparently is an entity of the Law school a research group). However some departments/faculties/schools/research groups have a the member of staff’s name in the URI (as above) whereas this member of staff’s page is just a number – (again with inconsistent acronyms – LISHPA somehow stands for Lincoln School of Humanities (surely LSH?)). Note how the first staff page is a .htm whereas the second is .asp (is there a joke here about one being more dynamic than the other?). Over in CERD (Centre for Educational Research and Development), one member of staff can be found at – why does this URI contain the word “staff” twice (likewise all the other profiles for CERD except one contain “staff” twice too)?

Whilst we’re on the subject of strange URI features, what’s with the funky underscores for course pages, e.g., and Some pages also don’t replace spaces in the file name with underscores or hyphens e.g.

To conclude, I’ve highlighted a number of big inconsistencies and problems with the current URI structure for the corporate site in this post. My opinion of the URI structure that is currently in place is that the website has been influenced by corporate policy and politics and a lack of understanding by some departments in how they represent themselves on the web has resulted in a messy collection of pages. This isn’t one person’s fault, it’s just the organic development of a site which has lost its message. I believe the Linking You project is an excellent opportunity to explore the reasons why this institution has a website in the first place and through the technical and blue sky consultations which we plan on having with different internal and external stakeholders, we can develop a plan for a new website which is consistent, obvious and relevant.

Following this post will be a post by Nick that describes a hypothetical corporate website that was developed from scratch with no preconception of how the current website works. Coming up, we’ll also be writing about the URI structures for some of the web based software we use at Lincoln such as SharePoint, WordPress and Blackboard. We’re also going to write a presentation to present at our first technical consultation that we plan on holding in March.

N.B. In this post all staff names have been redacted and all links have attributes of rel=”nofollow”. Also I realise that department names have changed over the years and the website hasn’t updated in some instances for legacy or SEO reasons, but an outsider or a search engine has no knowledge of this.

8 Responses to “, 10 years later”

  1. Chris Goddard says:

    “funky underscores” for courses. It’s a Front Page thing (I know, Front Page!) . Enables you hide stuff on the server you dont want people messing with by mistake.

  2. Paul – Cant do /library yet but I have put a redirect in so if used it will go to right place.

    Nice work Nick and Alex.

    In a way it would be nice if the web wasn’t so forgiving. I think people take advantage too much. If there was less flexibility, people would have to take a more considered approach. I’m mindful of the recent naming of Business Services as Enterprise@Lincoln.

    What we need is to separate the naming conventions from the reality of publishing. Nick mentioned CMS. This works but I’m still to be convinced that the sacrifice of flexibility, particularly in a large and complex institutional environment is worth it.

    Unfortunately it’s also not necessarily about what the visitor wants. The university homepage is now seen almost exclusively in terms of marketing. This might not be a bad thing as it declares a line of demarcation between the business of selling the University and business of running the University. This kind of presents opportunities.

    Will this affect the way we allocate URIs? i.e. /courses/undergraduate/module, would this be allocated to a marketing function, an academic function, an admin function, or any combination? Perhaps our top level should indicate this. i.e. /recruitment/courses/undergraduate/module. And of course, as soon as you call them courses, someone will complain that they run programmes not courses. We need more diagrams…

  3. I’m so glad people understand the insanity I have had to endure over the years. One day at a time…

    • Profile photo of Alex Bilbie Alex Bilbie says:

      You’ve done a great job Chris. I hope you’ve not taken any offence to anything I’ve written. As I said in the post, I was trying to write it from the perspective of an outsider who has no knowledge of the internal acronyms/politics/decisions that have been made.

  4. [...] impossible for me to redesign the entire URI structure of all the existing content, since we have so much. Still, I think I’ve laid out a framework for sensible structure which helps avoid the [...]

  5. Profile photo of Joss Winn Joss Winn says:

    Good work, Alex.

    Paul makes a good point, too, that in one sense it’s remarkable that this structure looks so good in retrospect. To underline the point Paul makes, I suspect it’s also benefited from having Chris Goddard, the Web Manager, in post for a number of years so that one person has been able to look after and steer the ship so well, despite different forces pulling and pushing him in different directions. Institutional knowledge counts for something here, I think.

    This post and Nick’s forthcoming posts are meant to be discussion pieces leading up to our first technical consultation. Alex doesn’t mention that neither he nor Nick talked to each other about their respective work and the posts they’ve written, so it will be interesting to see how they compare.

    Alex says that this project will allow us (including the Web Team, who are Linking You team members) to “develop a plan for a new website which is consistent, obvious and relevant.” That’s definitely the ultimate goal (although not ultimately our decision!), but it’s worth pointing out that we’re coming at it from the point of view of the ‘identifier’ – that is, the construction of the URL or web address. In our project bid, I suggested that we understand this project and the role and syntax of the identifier, as a way of understanding the structure, meaning and expression of our virtual space, taking it as seriously as we do our physical space. In that sense, we’re locating the project within the larger project of Learning Landscapes. In that project, we might consider architects plans and campus maps. In this sub-project, we’re looking at the identifier (e.g. as web architecture, and its structure as a way of mapping virtual spatiality in a way that is meaningful and useful.

    We’re hoping to demonstrate to staff and students that identifiers, although increasingly invisible as browser obfuscate them and search becomes the primary method of locating a web resource, remain vital architectural and spatial constructs in the development and use of our virtual research, teaching, learning and marketing environment. In business terms, each of these resources really is an asset and it’s how we manage those assets and develop them for the benefit of the institution and its community that this project is about, I think.

    What do you think?

  6. …and, given the repeated re-organisations and re-brandings that the University’s endured enjoyed over the years, in some ways it’s amazing it’s as logical as it is. Doubtless credit due to the Web team.

  7. Good summary.

    (But: isn’t the beauty of the Web that it’s extremely tolerant of noise like this?)

    For the record, ours should be /library (not /home/library, please!).

    “LR” and “LLR” are legacies. We’re just the Library now.