Reflections on #IWMW10 and "amplification"

Martin Hamilton at IWMW10 from UKOLN on Vimeo.

Here's a slightly cheesy video interview with me from the recent Institutional Web Managers Workshop at Sheffield, filmed by live blogger Kirsty Pitkin from TConsult.  In it there is the implication that events like this are worth their weight in gold, and the statement that I have had the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds of free consultancy from IWMW10 alone.

All fine talk, but let's spend a moment deconstructing this...  The highlight of IWMW10 for me was that I became aware of an open source product that will save my institution around £50K over a three year timeframe. In my view this alone amply justifies the £350 conference registration fee. I also consider the event to be a masterclass in "event amplification", which I look at further below.

Events like IWMW provide great opportunities to get together with like minded people and share experiences. Just now we are gearing up to launch a student portal (though it will probably have a jazzier name), working out a tractable approach to the mobile web, reviewing and updating our web infrastructure, and assessing the impact of disruptive technology such as the iPad.  And I didn't even mention the economy... The key thing is that we're not the only ones - these are topics of common interest.

But... you can't always attend an event that you would like to, and you can only be physically present at one parallel session (at a time!) Here's where amplified events come in. This is all about using the power of "Web 2.0" tools to engage with a wider audience, more deeply than through a simple video stream, and with a feedback loop. The latter ensures that remote participants can play a part in an event, and provides a handy backchannel that delegates can also use to share ideas and information. Brian Kelly's slides below take us through the origins of this approach, and provide feedback on some five years of practical experience:

At IWMW10 Brian gave an impassioned plea for Web teams to use the tools of their trade to communicate, solicit feedback and generally stay relevant and involved. Thinking beyond the core Web team's activities, I thought it would be interesting to try this approach out with some of the projects that I'm involved with, hence this blog. The combination of blog postings and the amplification tools discussed above is particularly attractive to me because it means that I can relate the work I'm doing to an existing conversation (e.g. using the #iwmw10 hash tag in reference to this particular event), and also reach out to an audience beyond my immediate colleagues and team members.

Now for a note of caution...  Non-Disclosure Agreements, tender confidentiality clauses and the like mean that there are certain areas that are off limits at any point in time. For instance, just now I am party to several discussions under NDA, involved in a couple of tenders and also conducting some quite sensitive initial conversations with potential partners. In many ways this mirrors the situation we see with e-Learning objects sequestered in the VLE (please note that I am not an e-Learning expert :-), and academic publications embargoed for months or years as part of journal publishing arrangements.

So, after having blogged for two months I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how well this has worked. Is there anyone there? Have I managed to reach a wider audience? Has there been a dialogue? And what about my chosen techniques for "amplifying" my blog postings? Let's have a look at some statistics for my blog, courtesy of Google Analytics and Google AdSense. These may also be interesting as a convenient illustration of the sort of data that service providers like Google are collecting about your browsing habits.

First off, my blog pages have now been viewed over a thousand times. This is no great shakes in advertising terms, and according to AdSense I shouldn't give up the day job just yet...

Google Analytics shows the expected peaks in page views as a new posting is promoted, and also provides some interesting insights into the behaviour of my readers...  For example, 77% of them read only the posting itself, 70% have never been to the site before (or cleared their cookies, changed browser etc), and on average people spend just over a minute reading my posts...

What's that, just over a minute? Averages can be misleading, so let's drill down to that one:

Aha! So when there is a new blog posting people are spending some three to five minutes reading it - that's perfect. The average is probably a bad metric for low volume sites, as it's skewed by all of the people dropping by to see if there is a new posting, or finding the site by mistake.

But who are my readers? They're from the green countries on the map below...

Bit disappointing that there haven't been any visitors from Greenland yet :-( One to watch for the future!

Let's look at the top countries and the proportion of page views they account for...

Will the knowledge that there is interest in my blog from outside the UK change my approach? It may be  interesting to look back in a few months time to see if the US and Canadian readers in particular have exerted a discernable influence, or whether there's a noticeably international feel to the postings. But what about the UK readers - is there a pattern here?

It probably won't come as a surprise that one of the two big red circles is Loughborough, where my home institution is based. There are quite a few Loughborough folk in my LinkedIn and Facebook networks, and in my Twitter followers. Interesting that the other big one is London though...

Now let's pause for a moment to consider the ramifications of this - a reasonable assumption would be that the work that I am blogging about is principally intended for a local audience, and that this would form the lion's share of my readers. In fact only 182 out of 858 site visits (21%) could be directly identified as coming from Loughborough. I think this nicely validates Brian's point about the potential of wider engagement through modern Web tools, and the principles of "amplification". The other 79% of my readers can't all be Loughborough folk coming in from home or their travels.

But are these just casual passers-by, or am I building a community of interest here? It's interesting to see that around a third of my visitors are returning to the site...

But where are my visitors coming from... ?

I have tended to promote my blog postings by sending the URL to Twitter, and posting to LinkedIn and Facebook. My understanding is that anyone following these links will show up in the "Referring Sites" section (Twitter itself presently accounts for 8% of referrals), whereas the "Direct Traffic" refers to URLs entered directly into the browser. Perhaps my 858 visits aren't all they appear to be, if 45% of them are actually indexing robots, spam merchants, security scanners and the like!

Finally, let's have a look at the platform breakdown for readers of the blog. At Loughborough our standard corporate desktop uses IE running on Windows XP. Is that typical of my readers?

As far as visitors to my blog are concerned, IE in all its flavours accounts for a mere 17% of visits. Of course IE is effectively Windows only nowadays, so it's interesting to see the combined stats for Firefox (29%) and Chrome (28%) here.

Looking at visitors to the site by operating system, I was struck that iPad, iPhone and Android together enjoy a 14% share of site visits - clearly it's worthwhile spending a little time to ensure that the blog is usable for these folk.

I'll come back to the blog stats from time to time to see if there are any trends (or surprises!) emerging, but I hope that the info I've presented here will help to get across Brian's message that there is value to taking a little time out to try get your message across to a wider audience. If you've not looked at Google Analytics before, then I hope the small sample of the available stats that I have presented here has whetted your appetite. You can apply Google Analytics to any web site, not just a blog, and your site doesn't have to be hosted by Google.

I've not written here about the comments I've received on my blog postings, but they are much appreciated, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you, my small (but select :-) readership for your readiness to engage and your helpful contributions.

Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.