10 things I learnt at IWMW 2019

IWMW Conference 2019, Advisory Group Shirt

Last month, we welcomed web and digital professionals to Greenwich to reflect on the changing face of digital in Higher Education. It was the event’s first visit to London in 20 years, and the first to be opened by a Vice Chancellor, which gave it the impetus for success from the start.

After speaking at my first IWMW last year, I was pleased to be a member of the Advisory Group this year, and to support another great event at my home institution. Below are 10 things I took away from this year’s event.

1. All of us are old …

Only 3% of Higher Education employees are under the age of 25, Gareth Edwards revealed. That’s remarkable from a marketing viewpoint. Not only are 18-24-year-olds the closest to those we’re attempting to speak to, they are also among the most digitally literate. And as if I need a reminder of my advancing age, I’ve put on a decade since last year in Kevin Mearso’s fabulous sketch work (which has zero connection with the choice of ‘lead lesson’ – honest).

2. … And some of you are nuts.

I must admit, I wasn’t optimistic about the take-up of some of this year’s social elements. Boy, did the IWMW crowd prove me wrong. A scavenger hunt unleashed some competitive spirit (and fabulous photos) and a 7am run around Greenwich Park attracted a dozen runners. Once, I would have been first in the queue for that run. Now, you are the yardstick to how far I have fallen. Bravo!

IWMW 2019 Conference, Thursday Sketchnotes, by Kevin Mearso
IWMW 2019 Conference, Thursday Sketchnotes, by Kevin Mearso

3. Taxonomies are on the agenda …

At Greenwich, we’re big advocates of taxonomies and content types, so it was pleasing to hear Pamela Agar from St George’s, University of London, giving this some additional airtime. Once we understand the inefficiency of manually-driven content, it’s easy to create the case for taxonomy-driven approaches. Gather your content needs, then break it down as much as possible to maximise the flexibility from it. Great for complex institutions like ours.

4. … But accessibility is really not.

Accessibility is the biggest elephant in the room. We know it. The stats prove it. A punchy presentation from Oliver Emberton of Silktide showed how far behind the sector remains on WCAG standards. Those with issues are going to have a lot to fix in a short space of time. And as we discovered, maintaining can be just as hard as implementing. The clock is ticking.

5. Web 101 is still useful…

Ever thought about the technical process behind browsing the web? Around 75% of the room needed a whistle-stop tour from Chris Gutteridge (University of Southampton). His short talk covered languages to protocols, and even ‘the all-important IP Version 5’. I was helped along by the neat allegories of postmen and postcards, “which don’t even say thanks, so it’s pretty rude”. LOL!

6. … But PDFs are for Room 101.

Perhaps my anti-PDF rant last year has earned me a specific reputation (for as Brian pointed out at the time, the last person to rant about them as strongly left his job soon afterwards ‘and was never seen again’). This did crop up a few times, including the ‘Ask us Anything’ panel, so perhaps I’m not alone in my gripes. Ironically, I’m starting to soften my stance on PDFs, even though my ‘criteria’ would make them fewer in number and less maintenance heavy.

IWMW Conference 2019, Shot of Tower Bridge from the Thames
Tower Bridge, from the cruise along the River Thames.

7. London is wonderful…

I’m one of those people who lives in London without enjoying the best of it. Despite living less than two minutes from Woolwich Pier, I’ve never once taken the Thames Clipper. A three-course conference dinner and cruise down the Thames was something I will remember for a long time. A shame that the Elizabeth Tower is currently in bandages – but we were in rude health!

8. … But hosting and attending is not.

It was a real challenge to host and attend. Our Web Team were amazing and did so much work. My issue was that I felt unable to make those days ‘free’ because if you’re still on-site, you’re still at work and dealing with stuff in the background. I envied those who had a clean break. Control is a big problem, and if I am accepted to speak next year, it will be around that topic.

9. Beware Google translate…

Google translate is a rudimentary tool, but it’s fun when something really goes awry. The University of Derby discovered that the midlands city had been translated as ‘the hometown of arrogance and prejudice’. The laughter was at anyone thinking this was a mistake! (I jest.) On a serious note, I was pleased to meet the Gateshead-based Recite (a touch of home) and learn about their accessibility work with the University of London.

10. … Git duin fur th’ stoatin host.

Dundee will be a fabulous host city for next year. The first IWMW talk I saw was Andrew Millar’s ‘Having a Good Crisis’ in 2017 and it was instantly something I wanted to emulate. Andrew and the Dundee team are encouraging, engaging, gracious, good fun, and a really uniting presence at these events. Nowhere deserves it more. I’m really pleased that IWMW will get its first Scottish venue in eight years and I sincerely hope to be a part of it!

IWMW Conferece 2020 host revealed as Dundee

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