Friday 7 November 2008

Repositories Making Life Easier For Faculty?

Could it be that repositories will help make life easier for faculty? "Pull the other one" I hear the repository-weary skeptics cry. "We've heard it before!"

Well, if there's one chore that academics are bad at - aside from depositing items in to repositories - it's keeping our web pages up to date. About 1/3 of our lecturers at ECS don't have working home pages - and neither did 20% of CS professors at MIT the last time I checked against the internal staff list. And those who do have working pages seem to keep them several years out of date. Certainly mine had its last major update three summers ago!

Now the school provides me with a set of official portal pages which are generated by its internal databases, but they are a bit, well, impersonal. If only there was a way to keep my personal pages updated as effortlessly, but in a way that didn't look too corporate and databasey. I'm caught between regularly-updated/dull and individual/bespoke/stale.

I think that the answer (or something like it) may be found at PageFlakes. It's a personalised content aggregator that is typically used for pulling together news feeds from a variety of sources (CNN, Yahoo, Youtube etc) but with luck, if you can find the right set of information feeds about YOU and YOUR SCHOOL then PageFlakes can do a very passable job at creating a home page about you.

The example page that is illustrated above (the actual URL is is formed from an RSS feed from my school press releases, a feed from our student bloggers and two feeds from two repositories - the researchy repository which gives the latest set of papers/presentations that I have written and the materials that I have most recently made available for my teaching. It also has a short description and photo that I put in by hand. All in all that makes a good current description of my status - research outputs, teaching outputs, student activity and school activity.

Because the repository has created preview images of all the documents it holds, that makes the RSS feeds much more visual and interesting (and personal) than a simple table of contents. It feels like a home page, rather than an aggregation of syndicated content.

I know that all the cool dudes discovered PageFlakes 18 months ago, but I'm quite jazzed about it as a vehicle for personalised repository content. And I do think that as institutions get to grips with marketing themselves through the web, the repository can have a role as a content provider for building rich media Web content for widgets, mashups and all kinds of social network applications.

Without getting too carried away, the repository will start to make my online life easier by managing all my research and teaching material, so that I can use it to create a bespoke web presence - my home page.

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