Posts tagged directory

If you’re a member of staff at the University you will soon be hearing loads more about the Directory, the planned replacement for the University’s phone search system and staff profiles.

Whilst the Directory itself is rather cool, how it’s been built is of somewhat more interest. First of all, it’s driven entirely by data from other sources. The Directory itself doesn’t store any data at all, save for a search index. This means that unlike the old staff profiles on the corporate website it helps to expose bad data where it exists — since we soft-launched the Directory we’ve been barraged by requests from people to ‘fix their profile’, when in fact the thing that needs ‘fixing’ often lies at a far higher level. In some cases it’s literally been a case of people having misspelt job titles in the University’s HR system for years, data which is now corrected. This whole cycle of exposing bad data and not attempting to automatically or manually patch it up at the Directory end helps lead the University to have better data as a whole, making lives easier and people happier.

Secondly, the Directory is a perfect example of why iterative development rocks. The very first version of the Directory arrived over a year ago, and since then has been improved to include semantic markup, a new look, faster searching, staff profiles, more data sources, open data output formats and more. Over the last couple of weeks as it’s started to be integrated with the corporate website it’s been subject to even more refining, fixing formatting, typos, incorrect data and more. These changes happen quickly – a new version is released with minor changes almost daily – and are driven almost exclusively by real users getting in touch and telling us what they think needs doing.

The upshot of doing things this way, harnessing data that already exists and letting people feed back as quickly as possible, leads to products and services which reach a usable state far faster, are a closer match to user requirements, and help to improve other systems which are connected or exist in the same data ecosystem.

Told you it was awesome.

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.


Hot on the heels of my Staff Directory Search, I decided this lunchtime to make it even more awesome. “But wait Nick!” I hear you cry. “How can you make it even more awesome than it already is?”

Well, how about avatars for everybody (using the awesome Gravatar system), adding tel: links to phone numbers so users with compatible software can dial with one click, kitting out everything with semantic markup using the microdata spec and adding OpenSearch descriptions?

I’ve had a couple of people ask how my lunchtime project today actually works behind the scenes, so here’s the lowdown in easily-digestible speak. I should point out that I am relying heavily on two frameworks which we’ve already built at Lincoln. These are Nucleus – our heavy-lifting data platform – and the Common Web Design – our web design and application framework. These two gave me a massive head-start by already doing all of the hard work such as extracting data from our directory and making the whole thing look great. Now, on with technology.


Today on my lunch break I enjoyed a creamy chicken and broccoli bake from the Atrium, and then decided to muck about with code and see what I could come up with.

Turning to the power of Nucleus, our one-stop-shop for data, tying it together with the Sphinx search engine we’ve used previously in Jerome, and wrapping it all up in the CWD I was able to come up with a glossy version of our existing Staff Directory.

Give it a whirl at

Staff Directory v2, complete with Bakelite rotary dial phone.