As you’ll know if you follow the adventures of Alex and myself we’ve been playing around with our new-look staff directory (give the beta a whirl). We’ve rebuilt it from the ground up to be stupidly fast, using bleeding-edge search technology all wrapped in Web 2.0 goodness to deliver your search results as quickly as possible. After all, why would you want to hang around waiting for half a second when we can have the number you’re looking for in a quarter of that time?

Directory search is awesome, but we thought we could do more with this information. We could take a person’s staff directory entry and make it a little bit more epic, as well as a bit more useful on the internet as a whole. So we did, and we’re happy to introduce the (beta) of staff profile pages – for examples see mine, Alex’s, Joss’s and Paul’s.

Each staff profile page is designed to tell you about the person’s presence at the University, including what they do and how to get hold of them. It also includes a Gravatar for those who have associated one with their staff email address (sign up if you want one, it’s free and awesome), and then goes on to list the person’s participation in various things around the University. At the moment we’ve got their Repository content listed (pagination coming soon, some people have a lot), and soon we shall also list their public posts on the University’s Blogs platform.

Eventually we plan for people to be able to edit their own staff profile pages to include other bits and pieces such as a biography, information on published works or links to various other websites they may be responsible for. This is where we unleash the full power of the internet – we’ve marked up everything we can on staff profiles with semantic metadata.

The phrase “semantic metadata” probably won’t mean much to you unless you work in a web related field, so here’s an executive summary: Instead of just listing someone’s name and phone number as plain text we actively tell machines which are looking at the page that they’re looking at a name and phone number. Where we link to an article in a journal we explicitly state things like “the person who is described on this page wrote this article in this journal”, and for other websites we clearly say how it relates to the person.

The upshot of all this is that things like search engines can build a very rich and detailed picture of where the person fits on the Internet, letting them return much more accurate results when people are looking for things around a person. Take a look at the Google Rich Snippets Tester for my profile for an example of what’s being extracted. It also helps to bring our staff profile pages closer to the goal of 5-star data.

On top of semantic awesomeness the Staff Directory comes packed to the gills with the latest and greatest in discovery goodness. It sports an OpenSearch specification document, meaning web browsers understand both that the site offers search and how to get results. It also specifies a Sitemap which includes every staff member whether they link to their profile or not, forcing even more people into the world of search engine discovery.

We’re still coming across the odd glitch (the University is full of flaky data which we’re having to iron out or code around as we go), but we think it’s a good start.