Last week I headed off to a conference in London called Dev8D, where I met a few hundred other developers from the HE sector (and others) and spent my time brainstorming ideas, messing about with RFID tags, mashing data together, attending workshops on the future of data representation, writing an iPhone app, learning to use the Force, drinking far too much complementary tea and coffee and fighting the mess that is the Underground on a weekend. In short, it was awesome fun. Out of it I’ve gleaned loads of useful bits and pieces which I can now use to push the bits of the University that I can get my hands on into the future with impunity, because somebody else has already done the research and I now know who.

Next up, Posters. We’re still waiting for our new development server on which the Online Services Team can develop, stage, test and show off our latest inventions. Once that’s up and running you’ll be able to have a go at breaking it and we’ll be open for feedback. Posters will also be the first production University site (albeit beta) to use our new CWD 2.0, and will also be providing data as RSS in the initial release, with JSON and XML further down the line. The ability for groups such as student societies to add posters, along with a streamlined online approval process, will be in place ready for once Posters leaves beta.

The observant of you will have noticed the mention of CWD 2.0. This is something that we’ve been working on as an open secret for quite some time, and is the first real change in the appearance of the University’s online services in many, many years. It is a completely new web template, sporting (amongst other things:

  • A fresh new look, built to be easy on the eye, easily recognisable and easily navigable.
  • Improved site-specific branding, letting you know where you are within the University’s online systems.
  • Faster loading and rendering of pages, making use of cleaner code, shared resources and standard frameworks to let you work faster.
  • Future-proofed design using HTML5 with progressive enhancement to bring shiny new features where available, and degrade gracefully where not.
  • Browser compatibility for all major (and several minor) browsers including IE6 (Officially supported that is, the site works even in older browsers).
  • Dedicated mobile designs tested with Opera Mini, Internet Explorer Mobile, Mobile Webkit (iPod touch/iPhone) and Symbian browsers.
  • Accessibility features to the very latest standards and best practices baked in at the ground level and enforced in all content.
  • Improved navigation around and between sites using standardised elements which work the same way every time.
  • A new site directory to help you find what you’re looking for faster.
  • Hooks for advanced features such as single sign-on and integrated messaging.
  • The first inklings of integrated, University-wide search.
  • A complete new set of guidelines on how to write web content, keeping it consistent and easy to use.
  • In-house support for the new design, so web authors aren’t left to flounder helplessly on a sea of HTML.

We’ll be rolling CWD 2.0 out as quickly as possible to sites once it’s finalised and properly documented, starting with Posters, Print From My PC and LUNA. Other online services currently using the ‘Gateway’ design will be upgraded as part of the Online Services rolling upgrades. Once again as soon as our development server is up and running, we’ll be letting you prod, break and feed back about the new design.

But wait, there’s more! Alex and myself are also kicking around even more ideas, including improved timetabling, room-booking services, uses of new RFID-enabled ID cards, the beginnings of single sign-on for the University’s Get Satisfaction service… the list is endless. We’re calling these things ‘Labs’ (Sorry Google, but Lincoln Labs sounds awesome) which basically means “we think it would be cool, but it’s not officially supported, isn’t a high priority and may suddenly disappear into the ether and never be heard of again”. We want your ideas and suggestions, and we’ll pick up the best, most popular or most interesting and see what we can do.