Last month, we met at JISC HQ with a number of people to discuss the work of the Linking You project. We compiled some rough notes that are available on Github. Overall, the project was very well received and our discussions led to a refining of the data model that we had produced. We’ll be updating the model and tweaking our recommendations soon.
It’s true. The “www.” part of a web address can be considered deprecated and unnecessary. There is no technical or logical reason for websites to have the “www.” in front of the address. So, why do we do it?
It turns out that Lincoln are actually quite forward thinking in this regard. Our website is perfectly accessible through “http://lincoln.ac.uk” and “http://www.lincoln.ac.uk”.
Some slightly more elaborate universities still fail this basic test though. As a result, we’ll be recommending that the “www.” part of addresses is deprecated in the Linking You framework as unnecessary, pointless, and a waste of four perfectly good bytes.
This is the last month of the funded project period and we’re aiming to have most of the deliverables completed by then. Alex and Nick will be working almost exclusively on Linking You for the month of May. Jerome (our other current JISC-funded project) is ahead of schedule and we can afford to focus on Linking You for the next three weeks.
The meeting revolved around a discussion of the data model that Alex and Nick have produced. On the whole, there was agreement among us about how it has been constructed. So far, it is a generic model, based on a comparison of five university websites, including Lincoln. The final model will be based on a comparison of 20 university websites.
A link to the model in progress will be sent to this discussion list in the next day or so.
There was often confusion about the distinction between logic and design. We are creating a logical model, based on the principles of ‘cool URIs’ (http://lncn.eu/fix), upon which various website designs can be developed. Clearly, we need to be careful not to confuse design matters with the data modelling. The example of ‘alumni’ was discussed, noting that Lincoln has a separate website for Alumni (http://alumni.lincoln.ac.uk) but in the model, this would most likely come under ‘support_departments’. This is entirely compatible and the use of sub-domains and other website structures does not necessarily
impact on the design of the logical model.
We then discussed the merits of creating a vocabulary for HEI websites. Although our proposed model will attempt to be representative of 20 existing HEI websites, clearly one data model will never be adopted across the HE sector. However, a shared vocabulary of terms used across the various data models is something that the sector might work towards. Our model might therefore form the basis of a vocabulary that is developed in the future.
We agreed that for the average user looking for information about a university, the URI syntax is decreasing in significance due to the evolution of browser design and the integration of search in to the location bar (http://lncn.eu/ak6). However, the significance of URI syntax is increasing for institutions as the web moves to being designed with data (i.e. a ‘web of data’ http://lncn.eu/mq4) and can introduce efficiencies in repurposing information and become a data source for innovative services beyond the presentation of web pages. As such, for this project, we no longer intend to do user studies of year 12 students’ use of the web as we feel their browsing behaviour is irrelevant to the primary focus of this project, which is the modelling of university website data and the construction of URIs.
By the end of May, we will:
- Complete the data model based on a comparative analysis of 20 university websites. We will look at sites across the university groups
(e.g. Russell, 1994 and Alliance)
- Produce a poster-sized infographic based on the model, along the lines of the Web Trend Map v4 (http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/web-trend-map-4-final-beta/) It needs to be something that is meaningful to non-technical staff and students at the university and demonstrates the ‘spatiality’ of the data model.
- A paper which includes a dynamic comparison of the university websites, a discussion of the project, our methodology, conclusions from this exercise and recommendations for further work in the sector.
- Beyond the end of this month, we will continue discussing the model and infographic with staff and students at the university and report back via the blog accordingly, as well as participate in a conference which is due to be arranged later in the year.
I’ve spent much of the day trawling through the list of resources that JISC provided in the briefing paper for the Information Environment programme call last year (i.e. the programme that is funding this project). There’s a lot of really well articulated and useful reports and blog posts that have been written over the last few years, but having reached the end of the list, it feels to me like there’s been a lot of repetition, too, and it can be summarised by the following:
- Know your domain
- URIs have a value that can be manipulated. Hardly anyone in an organisation understands this. That’s OK.
- Make the Web human. URIs should speak to us, in a language that people can interpret and understand.
- Persistence is relative. Society, institutions, people and our relationships change. The web is entropic in the long run. Get over it!
- Linked Data is common sense and fundamentally trivial.
- All recommendations lead back to Cool URIs
Right now, my own thinking about this project is that we simply have to articulate Cool URIs in a way that is meaningful and useful to our organisation. That’s all. The manifesto and technical specification have been written.
During the course of Linking You we’ve spent a lot of time looking at URI structures and how they could be improved to variously be faster to type, easier to guess and clearer to understand. We’ve have a peek at hierarchical structures and flat structures, and we’ve debated if people need to know what “socs” means, and if it’s better or worse than “computing”. The thing which amazed me most, however, was when we sat down with a few people and had a discussion about how a new URI structure could click with a proposed redevelopment. One line of conversation stood out for me:
Are addresses even important? Surely we’ll just tell everyone to go to lincoln.ac.uk and click from there.
This concerned me enough that I felt the need to write a quick post about it.
A URI can technically be used purely as a ‘click to’ point on the internet. There’s nothing stopping us putting a page on courses in the School of Computing at lincoln.ac.uk/bcwi83b. You plug it into a link, people click the link and off you go. Technically this is sound, but only in the same sense that you can technically address a letter to something like “10, SW1A 2AA” ((If you’re not up to speed on your postcodes, it’s 10 Downing Street)). Yes it’s compact and yes it works, but it conveys absolutely nothing in terms of context. It’s also a real pain to remember, and requires you to use additional bits of your brain if you’re ever writing it down for later reference or typing it into a browser address bar.
Imagine for a second that we send out a prospectus with the following:
Find out more about Computing at http://lincoln.ac.uk/bcwi83b
And then compare it with a ‘human’ address:
Find out more about Computing at http://lincoln.ac.uk/school/computing
Now, try to remember the first one without looking at it.
I rest my case.