Has Google replaced your website?

If you perform a search for your organisation’s name in Google, you may be directed to a new results page containing links to the main sections on your website accompanied by a site search box within Google.

IFPRI entry on google results

Google will drive your potential user directly to their page of interest without passing through your website home page.  This of course improves as your complete site is indexed in Google, a process which can be controlled by the creation of a Google site map.

And now onto the So what? part.

At IFPRI, we have found that over 30% of visitors to our website are coming from Google (compared to only 7% of visitors entering the site through our front page). Once we accept that our homepage is no longer the main conduit directing traffic to our site, we need to rethink how we work with the web. For example, many users now bypass our front page altogether choosing instead one of the landing pages under the section headings or going directly to documents of interest from the Google search results.

The organisational website struggles even more when it comes to featuring all the activity the staff have in social media (web 2.0) such as presentations loaded onto Slideshare, videos on Youtube and tweets on Twitter and blogs. This is not bringing into account the presence the scholarly world has created using Google Books and Google Scholar. In contrast, the Google results page features them all.

These findings have convinced us to change our outlook toward conceptualizing the role of our website in connection with Google and other search engines that are now playing a bigger role than ever in directing users to the content they are looking for. In particular, we highlight the following 6 changes to our approach:

1)      Every page should now be considered a “landing page.” By indexing your whole site, visitors come directly to the page or file they are looking for without ever coming through your organizational home page so linking to other relevant content from each and every page becomes more important than ever.

2)      No site search is as good as Google in many users’ eyes, so whatever you try with your site search, you need to pay particular attention to how Google search results for your site are being displayed.

3)      You need to use other web publishing platforms in order to heighten your profile in Google and other search engines. Google promotes YouTube results over others so having an online presence in Youtube has become more important than ever. And, if you consider each video as its own landing page, you should always remember to link back to your organizational website from YouTube and other web 2.0 services (e.g., blogs, Slideshare, Twitter, etc.).

4)      Google AdWords allow you to control where your organisation will appear in the new subject portals (Google search pages on specific topics now act as a mega-portal).

5)      Google’s Custom Search Engine (CSE) product brings the benefits of Google to your own site search. If you can’t afford the time to manually index your entries on YouTube, Slideshare and other social media platforms, you can get Google to do it for you by including these channels in a customized search box appearing on your website. See our first attempts here.

6)      Boost the visibility and accessibility of your scholarly content by include your books and monographs in Google Books and let  Google Scholar crawl your articles and publications site.   

In conclusion, the website is still essential but we encourage you to rethink the role of your institutional website. Namely, we now envision our website’s primary role as the institutional repository that requires putting related materials in context- i.e., linking YouTube videos and Slideshare presentations to relevant publications and research theme pages on our website. Perhaps our various online platforms are fast becoming a series of interconnected mini websites that present our work in various formats to the different audiences of potential users. And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a it seems that Google will be a main entranceway for directing them to our diverse online content.

And now more than ever, it seems essential to “be present at the right place and at the right time” when a potential user seems to search the web, Google will be directing them to our diverse online content.

Chris Addison

Social reporting: Lessons from the Rights and Climate Conference

Here, finally the lessons from the social reporting experience we had at the Rights and Climate Conference in Oslo last October. Our objective was to create a live account of the conference, so people could access and search all materials (including power points, videos and photos). A second objective was to allow interested people who could not attend in person to comment and ask questions.

Why?

  • Reporting from the conference is much faster. The summaries of the presentations were usually posted within 30 minutes following the sessions and included links to the power points and other related material.
  • The blog is much richer than many of the traditional conference reports, you usually get several months after an event. In addition to the sessions summaries, all the presentations and related briefs and other materials, the blog contains links to related news, short interviews, commentaries from people who could not attend the conference, and photos from the event.
  • Unlike traditional reports this format allows people to participate and shape the outcome of the conference and it allows people who are not there to participate.

What?

  • Sessions summaries and commentary were posted directly on the blog, which also become the central place linking to all other content;
  • We also posted running commentary, questions, and information (including logistical information) for participants;
  • Presentations were posted on Slideshare;
  • Photos were posted on Flickr;
  • We posted videos to Blip.tv;
  • News were tagged and bookmarked on Delicious; we posted our own press releases on the blog and broadcasted them in other media outlets.

Lessons:

1. We had too little wo(man) power. Our conference had about 100 participants and we were two to blog the sessions. We had help to take pictures and conduct a few interviews, but had to take care of a lot of the small things like collecting an uploading the presentations which is very time-consuming. Those who live-blog or summarize the sessions should not have to do anything else!
Here are the things that need to be done:

  • Live-blog or summarize the sessions;
  • Conduct interviews;
  • Collect quotes;
  • Take pictures;
  • Collect and post presentations;
  • Collect and post photos and videos;
  • Search and tag relevant news stories.

Depending on the size of the event one person can obviously take care of a couple of these. To minimize the amount of people you need to hire, you can train some participants beforehand. We would have liked to involve participants more, but ended up doing many of these things ourselves. One essential thing is to make it easy for participants to contribute (e.g. email in comments), but you can also integrate with the conventional reporting and use note takers to post to the blog.

2. Start discussion on the blog and other media before the conference (2-3 weeks) and help people to already contribute. Prior to the conference, we only used the blog for logistics, but not for content.

3. A good internet connection is crucial to upload all the materials and to allow participants to contribute.

4. Be aware

  • Is the blog open or closed? this will influence how much participants will be willing to share; sensitive subjects will not be discussed if participants feel their commentary is not private.
  • Rights to content (photos, ppts): make sure you have the rights to display all the content.
  • New tools can be dominated by few people who use them. Just as with offline conferences (or maybe even more so), you need to support the voices that would normally not be heard. This relates to peoples comfort level, but also to their skills (computer literacy), and to their connectivity.

Additional ideas for the next conference:

This list comes from our own discussion following the conference but also contains many useful ideas, I picked up from a talk by Chris Addison:

  • Build a participants wall; take pictures as people arrive and post them on a wall;
  • Create Conference proceedings from blog (cut and paste);
  • Ask participants to interview each other (need to have a few (cheap) cameras on hand for this);
  • Get non-F2F attendees to send in questions/ comments/ expectations before the event;
  • Integrate twitter as it is very easy to post and conversations develop easily. If you work with twitter make sure you define a unique tag (or hashtag) for your conference so others can follow the related updates more easily.
  • Use wikis or online whitepads (e.g. etherpad) for working groups. Some of these will allow remote participants to contribute so they can not only follow the discussions but also add comments and questions.
  • Communicate your conference tag to participants so that can use it for other services, such as Flickr or social bookmarking (e.g. delicious)
  • Use tools such as http://www.coveritlife.com for live-blogging.

Also from Chris’ presentation here are a couple of conference reporting styles. You will most likely use a mix of these:

  1. Central reporting – contractual;
  2. Facilitated reporting with guidance: a few selected participants and organizers will be responsible for reporting;
  3. Social reporting/ commentary: always happening, e.g. Back-to-Office-Reports; just need to find ways to tap these sources of information and commentary about your conference;
  4. Integrated content production – need training to build literacy otherwise a few are likely to dominate.

Technical lessons:
The Rights and Climate Conference blog is hosted on wordpress.com, which had a couple of limitations for our purposes: the statistics are not good enough as you cannot see a geographical breakdown; people new to the platform had to get used to menus and interface, and wp.com does not allow emailing in posts, which makes it more difficult for non-tech participants to contribute.
For my part, I used ecto (a blog editor) to post my updates, since I was afraid that I would lose content blogging on the web-interface in the event of connection problems. Using ecto worked well for me, but it might also not be the solution for everyone. I do like Windows Live Writer for computers running windows.

Other Examples:

Experimenting with Social Media for Change

I just posted some background on an online event I am helping to organize to the SustainableTeams blog.

The conference will happen this coming Saturday (May 9, 2009) and is an experiment in realtime virtual collaboration and will try to answer the question What tools and principles do we need to help change to unfold? Social and technological development as means for better organizations, and a better world.

Go to the Change Management Toolbook to register and to find out how to participate. Another way to get news and follow the conference is to tune into twitter hashtag #rtvc.

Why researchers should embrace social media

Great introduction to social media, and why everyone should take advantage of these tools by Simone Staiger.

Let’s Really Go Online! The Potential of Social Media for Improving Organizational, Project and Personal Impact.

IAALD also wrote and interesting commentary on social media for agricultural research.

Project Management 2.0: It’s not about the tools

Looks like flooding our colleagues with information about new ways of working together is showing effect. More and more of them are asking for help to improve the way they share information and to take down the email and network drive silos we have been building up over the years.

Several projects are trying to deal with this at the institute level (Pete has written about the intranet project), but there are also a few research teams that are trying to find new approaches and tools to best match their needs. One of these teams is on a good way of changing how they work and communicate with one another. This group identified three factors that have been crucial for their success so far: (1) early on in the process the group reached an agreement about the need for change, (2) everyone was asked to be involved in identifying the new way of communicating, and (3) they have a team leader who is committed to this new way and who forces everyone to come along.

In other words, creating the demand for our support put us right in the middle of a number of change processes. What an opportunity, but now what?

For one, I had to learn that it is counterproductive to start talking about tools right away, even though it is easy (and thus very tempting). Focusing on tools gives the impression that there are easy fixes without ever addressing the underlying communication problems of the group. Rather, we have learned to try and encourage conversations with and within these teams to help them find out what they need to change to communicate more effectively with each other by asking how they typically share information, if they feel that they get all the information they need, and what bottlenecks they have encountered when communicating within their team.

With more and more groups not working at the same place at the same time, part of the answer to improve team collaboration and communication will lie in adopting new (web 2.0) tools, but for some groups the answer might simply be to meet regularly.

As you can imagine these are not easy processes to go through, in particular if the team leaders do not fully buy into them, and it is quite a challenge to try and support these processes. We are learning as we are going but would love to hear about others’ experiences. Have you been there and want to share the experience? Any specific advice on how to guide these processes? What are good ways to help teams to identify their communication bottlenecks?

Taking del.icio.us for granted

Thanks to Chris Addison’s teachings and some serious futzing on my own, I’ve been able to learn over the past year and a half about many of the things del.icio.us can do. Namely, it can help you create an online database of your favorite resources, generate collaborative lists, share links with other del.icio.us users, and embed link rolls and tag clouds in your blog or webpage, among other cool tricks.

But the more I think I know about such tricks, the more dismissive I became. “I’ve seen all that before,” I would say to myself.” But all in a single tool?! Well, that’s where the title of the post comes in…

The other week, I was showing a colleague from the CGIAR what del.icio.us could do in a very hands on way. We started by uploading a list of bookmarks from her browser into del.icio.us. This was something I’d done for myself when I first started playing around with del.icio.us, but upon my arrival to Ethiopia and subsequent “misplacing” of my recently bookmarked pages in my work computer I suddenly realized that I needed to update my del.icio.us account more regularly. “I can’t find some of my bookmarked pages,” I explained to her. “I should be updating these bookmarks in del.icio.us more regularly.” (Let’s call this “aha moment number 1″…)

Next, we started playing with some different tags. She’d already done this before and got the basic gist of RSS, but wasn’t aware that each tag in del.icio.us had its own RSS feed. “You can think of tags like folders,” I explained. “Each time you tag a resource, it saves it to a folder by that tag’s name, along with every other tag you assign to that resource. And every page that you can view in del.icio.us- whether it’s by account name, your tags or even a common tag used by others, it has its own RSS feed.” Once again, I was struck by how special this feature was. Not many other services I could think of have this type of tagging, page view and RSS interoperability as part of the standard, free service. (And this was “aha moment number 2”)

Next, we visited her blog at WordPress. I explained that this del.icio.us widget she had in WP could be configured to display all her links from del.icio.us or just those belonging to certain tags. We configured the widget and voilà!- her del.icio.us items showed in her blog. Needless to say, we both were highly impressed.

Next, I showed her an webpage whose entire content was driven through del.icio.us. Euforic members bookmark in del.icio.us and they are pulled into the website (note: this is now done using feedburner as an intermediary step). “Amazing,” she said. By clicking through the links, you are taken to their del.icio.us account. And by clicking on the ‘save this’ link to the right of an item’s title, you can easily save it to your own bookmarks- “Amazing!” You can even see their tags for that item, or popular tags from more than 2 million other del.icio.us users and add your own already used tags with just one click.

“If i find someone who has a lot of interesting bookmarks,” I explained, “I can simply add them to my network.”
“What- no friend request?,” my colleague asked.
“Nope. In del.icio.us, these are all public and sharing is the default.” There is a way to hide individual items, if you like though…”

“What else?” I asked myself. “Maybe you’re all excited because you fnd great link and want to share it with a friend. All you do is tag it as as for:yourfriendsname and voilà! it shows up the next time she logs into her account. Moreover, if you and your friends create a unique tag, you could take the feed from that and add it straight into a webpage so that whenever one of you tags a new item, it gets automatically pulled into your website or blog…”

It’s my own damn fault for not remembering how cool and dynamic del.icio.us was. As I mentioned before, Chris Addison helped turn it into the content management system for the Euforic website and Peter Ballantyne uses it to tag all his posts in the IAALD blog (thereby driving up incoming links, overall traffic and even their Google ranking). In many ways, I came to realize that del.icio.us had become the poster child for Web 2.0 functionality (whatever that means). Thanks for reminding me of this, Alexandra.

Any other tips or tricks I forgot to mention?

Crafting an Intranet 2.0: If you build it, will they come?

First, a disclaimer: we haven’t built anything yet. Unlike other posts, I can’t share any examples of what we’ve done so far toward building a collaborative intranet since we still are very much in the planning phase. That being said, however, I think it’s still an opportune moment to reflect on some lessons learned and solicit advice on what others think about our proposed ideas. After all, if knowledge sharing has taught us anything thus far, it’s that we all have something to learn from one another…

Recently, I was checking out a Knowledge Sharing Wiki, which mentioned four different applications for institutional intranets. They included:

  1. Document sharing across an organization;
  2. Organizational staff directories;
  3. Online conversation space; and
  4. Centrally organized company policies, human resources information, etc.

Of the four, I would label 2 and 4 as the more conventional intranet functions while an increasing number of organizations (IFPRI included) now are clambering for 1 and 3- though not always through the intranet platform. For us, the question quickly became: Why not combine all four to create an all-in-one intranet?

When we first brought up the idea of having features such as customizable staff bio pages and RSS feeds on the new intranet platform, it was met with much skepticism from our IT department. “No one will use it” was their short answer to our proposed ideas. After conceding that it would take time for most staff to become actively engaged, we pointed out that many staff already have such profiles in Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking software and some are using newsreader software such as Google Reader to stay up-to-date on current journal articles and websites of interest. Rather than building a new Facebook-like platform, we are proposing allowing staff to simply be able to update their bio information on the fly (they currently do so via web-based forms in Access), parts of which would also be automatically published to their public profile on the web. This, we argued, would reduce the time and effort of updating these pages in multiple locations while also giving staff more ownership and greater incentive for keeping the content current. Default content for these pages would simply be imported from the current staff directory, thereby avoiding the duplication of data entry and leaving it up to individual staff members to decide when to adopt the new way of updating their bio pages. Moreover, the addition of RSS feeds and the ability to follow their colleagues’ updated information would create a social networking type environment that would facilitate internal communication.

For online communication purposes, an internal blog using WordPress was launched last year (along with several public blogs), which is now featured on the intranet home page and used by staff for staying up-to-date on both work and non-work related news. Our goal is to fully integrate the blog into whichever intranet platform is decided upon (IT currently favoring Sharepoint due to its ability to be integrated with the Active Directory) and to make the posting of announcements and events as easy as posting a blog entry. Moreover, this type of information also would be shareable via RSS, calendars, etc.

As for document sharing and the online storage of company policies, HR info, etc., some of this already is being uploaded into Sharepoint, which seems to be able to handle document and form libraries rather well, includes RSS feeds, and supports full-text searching. Our concern here (and it’s a big one) is that Sharepoint does not perform well in low bandwidth environments, such as those faced by most of our outposted staff (see KM4dev online discussion of Sharepoint). Other document sharing platforms currently being used by IFPRI staff include Teamspace, wikis and Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Rather than limiting all staff to using a single platform, our idea is to be able to link to all of these services via the intranet portal. In the case of Teamspace, integration with Sharepoint would be quite straightforward while the different wiki platforms could either be integrated directly into whichever platform is used or simply by having their content displayed on a given page either via an iFrame or embedded RSS feed.

In sum, although no single tool or platform fits all the needs expressed by staff and management, Web 2.0 applications allow for outside services to be pulled in, remixed and displayed in various ways within a dynamic intranet platform. These new developments have caused some to predict that the lines between intranet and internet will become blurred and that the “classical intranet” will become history in a few years. At IFPRI, we are banking on such predictions coming true, taking stock in the idea that if information is easier to find, update and share, user behavior will adapt accordingly.