A blip on the institutional radar

As well as running workshops for Netskills, Will and I also get our hands dirty with some web development for our host institution. This mostly goes unnoticed, but recently a few of our activities have popped up on the institutional radar and been subjected to some scrutiny.

The latest was a ‘virtual open day’ we’re developing based on video interviews with students and staff [view a prototype]. As this is a fairly big development, we flagged it up with the institutional web team. After outlining our plans, I was asked “why don’t you use the university streaming video service?”. I had to confess that despite registering years ago, this hadn’t even occurred to me. So I looked into it and in the process learned a few things about institutional systems…

First off, even for someone who should know a bit about web video, the service documentation was somewhat off-putting  – which makes me wonder how many other staff fall at this early hurdle. The streaming video service is clearly a sophisticated system, but compared to putting a video on YouTube, using it seems like a lot of effort for little gain (even ignoring the benefits of social media).

A blog post I read recently on usage lifecycle of web services suggested some common barriers that prevent people becoming regular users – lack of awareness, complex registration, low motivation for return visits and no emotional attachment. Like many institutional systems, this one has most of those barriers.

Having ruled this system out, our client asked the reasonable question ‘why not put the videos on YouTube?’. It’s simple, reliable and offered all the features they needed. We passed this by the university, but they were not happy with YouTube’s terms & conditions, which give them a claim to ownership of content they host. Brian Kelly blogged about similar concerns at another institution, so perhaps this is common.

This led us to blip.TV – a lesser known video sharing service that’s as easy to use as YouTube, offers better features and allows you to control licensing of your content – which should keep everyone happy. We didn’t use them for this project, but it was certainly our first choice for the IRET project videos.

The more projects we do, the more we find that there’s an external service to cater for just about every need. What’s more, these are almost always simple to use and offer clear advantages over their institutional equivalents. That sounds great to me as a developer, but I do wonder if there are issues for institutions if more and more people stay under the radar and use external services?

How about you? Are there institutional systems you couldn’t do without? If so, what makes them so essential? Could you ever see a time when an external service comes along and changes your mind?

Steve Boneham, JISC-IRET support team.