How Not to Launch a Website, Reprise… (incl. the OUseful.info Blogging Policy)

So it seems that there’s a backstory to the launch of Re-launch/Outsmart the Recession (as, err, critiqued in “Re-launch” – How Not to Launch A Website): the planned release date for the site was brought forward to fit in with a PR opportunity (the invitation of our VC to Gordon Brown’s jobs summit), which resulted in a Friday afternoon request to get the site live before the following Monday morning (even though at the time the site was nowhere near the state it would normally be expected to be in for a launch)…

…and, as is the way of these things, some of the planned tidying-up didn’t make it through in time to the site that went live.

And then I blogged about it…;-) So apologies to the team behind the site for any distress caused – maybe there’s something from that confusion that we can beneift from as a learning institution?!;-)

Anyway, given all that, I guess now is as good a time as any to complement the How OUseful.Info Operates… post from last year with a few remarks about the, err, “editorial policy” I sort of apply to OUseful.info, the blog…?

Firstly, I blog about things that interest me – OUseful.info is my notebook, a record of things I’ve tried to do, seminars/talks I’ve been to, and so on.

Secondly, OUseful.info is probably the primary way in which I engage with my “peers”, in whatever ad hoc wider academic/ed tech community it is that I am a member of.

Thirdly, OUseful.info is an inside-outside look at the OU in particular, and bits of HE and the academic library sector in general. This is probably the most contentious aspect of the blog, and the one that causes internal readers to twitch a bit, so it’s probably worth clarifying the stance I have towards writing OU focused posts:

– no ad hominem attacks, there’s just no point;
– stuff that appears on public OU websites is generally fair game; some of the time I will try to get in touch with people who developed a site, or a page, via email to point out my “concerns”, rather than writing a blog post. In those cases, if a site remains broken for a week or two, (and is in public), then it’s “in play”;
– stuff that appears on internal, behind the firewall sites is more of a moot issue. Problems that I know are widespread, either within the OU, or that are likely to be familiar to people from other institutions, are in play. Like the OU intranet search. Which sucks…. big time. (I dread to think how much time is wasted by people not finding things they are looking for on it.)
– OU processes are fair game, except maybe where the process is best not talked about in public for whatever reason (legal, ethical, personal identifiability or commercial reasons, for example). Many OU processes formalise a snapshot of how the OU did things at some time in the past, when things were different. For example, the legacy of T171 can be seen in the design of many of our current online courses, such as in the way we present the materials to students, and in the design of the OU-XML schema used in the structured authoring workflow. Much OU work is only possible because people know how to get things done outside (or in spite of) the official processes, which I suspect is one reason why many appointments to OU positions go to internal applicants.
– “roles” and decisions are sometimes in play, for example where the role of a person in a particular workflow is constrained by the workflow, internal management structures and so on, to make a decision in a particular way (or default to a particular decision when it’s not clear what the actual answer should be). For internal readers of the blog, sometimes posts that focus on these issues are seen as ad hominem attacks – they’re not intended to be; they’re intended to sympathise with the person who made a decision a particular way, particularly ones they may not personally agree with, or ones they feel they were not really in a position to answer or explore in a properly informed way, whether through lack of knowledge, training, an appreciation of the “wider context”, and so on. If the “system” forces a person to answer a particular sort of request in a particular, default reasoning way (particularly when then the original premises or assumptions behind those default reasoning models are no longer valid), then I feel almost duty bound to criticise it! Sometimes, I try to raise “issues” internally, via email, meetings and so on. Sometimes I resort to the blog, because then I know someone will be forced to respond…
– sometimes a post hits a nerve with internal readers, and they don’t know how to respond, or don’t feel they are in a position to respond, for example because of how a line manager might respond to their response (or a feeling that it’s up to the line manager to handle it). In terms of how to respond, there are a couple of good ways – via a public blog comment or tweet (I’m @psychemedia), or via a private email. I’m happy to post corrections and clarifications, though I’ll rarely pull a post (one it’s posted, copies are out there anyway). I’m happy to use different devices to reference internal sources (or not, as required;-) in posting clarifications, including posting updates to posts, comments to posts, tweets about posts and maybe even follow-on posts;
– sometimes internal readers feel they can’t tell me something “because you’ll blog it”. Not true. I don’t blog lots of things (such as about the Register debacle last year, for example… doh!). I draft posts for some things then delete them (maybe because I can’t find a way of posting something that would almost definitely be seen as an ad hominem attack). And I respect embargoes (for example, holding off on posts about Platform, or other OU sites I’ve seen in staging). Recalling a point made earlier, though, if a site is in public, it’s potentially in play…
– sometimes I use content from emails, or email conversations, in posts. But I try to do this in a fair and reasonable way, and employ various literary devices and appropriate citations (or not!) for including such content when the words aren’t mine, or when something I’ve said is in response to, informed by, or building on something someone else said. If I’m uncertain as to whether I can blog something covered in a meeting, seminar, conversation or email, I will typically ask them if it’s “okay to blog that?”. (You can trust me…. heh heh;-)
– very occasionally I may go a little too far, and post something I’m maybe not totally comfortable with. (In such cases, I may also take a sounding from other OU bloggers and staff before publishing a post.) These rare posts are done deliberately, in order to test the edges of what’s acceptable, and they can make me feel as queasy as the people reading them! That’s how you know the post is on the edge, right?!
– and finally: whilst OUseful.info is a personal blog, and not an official OU communications channel, I am happy to get the message out about OU initiatives if they are likely to be of interest to me now (or in the future) and/or the readers I think I have. And as mentioned above, I’m happy to respect embargoes…. but just remember, the posts contained in this blog express the personal opinion of the author, and the author’s decision is final about what actually goes into a post..;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

One thought on “How Not to Launch a Website, Reprise… (incl. the OUseful.info Blogging Policy)”

  1. The other one I might add is one I adhere to – if it’s on the open web, it’s fair game. Personally, I do not blog things that I would have to break some trust to do so, or ‘out’ private information, but things like published websites, whether the owners like it or not, are, well, public, and thus seem to me to be worthy of discussion. Seems obvious, but maybe worth stating explicitly. It’s my ‘official’ line at least, and saved my bacon a few times.

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