Information Flows, the Internet & CS Department Homepages
This is fast becoming a trend, but this post is directly in response to a number of posts by Matt regarding the UKC CS department’s website. To give some context to my own take on this, it is worth noting that my business is heavily based around various web applications and web sites, and I have great interest in the use of both blogs and RSS as mechanisms for content publishing.
With all that said, I have to say that what Matt’s posts demonstrate is the recent paradigm shift in the way users expect to be both presented with content and the individual ease of publishing to the internet. Increasingly information flows are becoming more important, and the use of the internet as a two-way communications channel is vastly increasing the depth and quality of content available.
For example, If I decide to blog about a specific topic, with my thoughts, there is nothing stopping someone commenting on or posting a trackback to that entry to let me know what they think (either of the original idea, or my opinions/ideas), and that kind of open communication is public, out there for search engines or other people to stumble across and weigh in on. RSS steps in as a way for people to stay ‘in the loop’ on specific information flows, and acts to represent interest in either that person/group or topic (depending on syndication).
How is this relevant to a CS department website? The current website is very much a one way information stream, full of all kinds of information the user is supposedly ‘seeking out’ or looking for (given the current state of navigation on the UKC CS dept site, you would really have to be looking hard…) The only real feedback is supposedly e-mail links scattered around the pages for various people. This isn’t a fitting approach today in 2005 where dynamic web sites, commenting and trackbacks are several years old.
Getting information and ideas to the right people gets those people excited about the possibilities, or their own ideas. I can’t see how that is a bad thing in an educational institution trying to foster such development (especially as it breeds people who are truly dedicated to, and interested in their field). The reason I put forward the idea of Planet CSCS as a support to the collection of weblogs being maintained in CSCS last year was that I figured bringing the blogging population together would spur some thought and discussion on what other people were writing/thinking about (I can’t really comment on whether that worked out advantageously or not, and maybe people were already aggregating the feeds effectively enough to be achieving the same effect..)
Personally, I read Planet CSCS 4-5 times a week, and I’ve found a lot of material come my way through the content aggregated on it that has provoked thought and given me avenues to explore in terms of technologies and practice. From my limited experience, I’d put forward the idea that aggregating together content from people who do the same kinds of things, at the same geographical area, and in the same groups seems to be of great worth and I think its something that can be seen to underlie the ideas Matt puts forward in his posts.