Finding OpenSearch

Back in July at the IWMW 2008 conference — during those heady three days of summer we experienced in Aberdeen — I was introduced to a specification called OpenSearch, by someone I’d been following on Twitter who introduced himself as Mike Nolan of Edge Hill University, near Ormskirk.

What is OpenSearch?

If you use Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 then you may already have encountered OpenSearch without knowing it. You may be familiar with the built-in search box within Firefox:

Screenshot of the Firefox search box

Well, OpenSearch is the technology that enables folks to provide plugins for that search box so that you can search their website from within the comfort of your browser’s own search box.

In other words, the reason that you can select from Google, Yahoo! Amazon, Creative Commons, eBay.co.uk and Wikipedia from your search box’s drop-down menu is because each of these companies created an OpenSearch description (plugin) file which has been installed within the search box on your browser.

Create your own

OpenSearch allows you to do the same for your own website, and the good news is that it’s fabulously simple. All that is required is:

  1. A short, well-formed XML file, written following the OpenSearch specifications
  2. A link to that file, within the <head> element of your webpage

This week I created three opensearch plugins for the University website. One for searching the whole site, one for searching the Current Students section, and another for the Current Staff section of the site.

If you’re using either Firefox or IE7 then head over to www.st-andrews.ac.uk and you’ll notice that your search box glows a little, indicating the presence of a new OpenSearch plugin. (Check out Edge Hill while you’re at it, they’ve got one too.)

OpenSearch cheat sheet

While I was researching the OpenSearch specification I also took the trouble to create an OpenSearch cheat sheet — it’s spread over 2 x A4 pages, and the type is fabulously small, but it captures just about everything that I discovered was useful for me to successfully create and test the OpenSearch description documents that I created.

Feel free to download it:

  • OpenSearch cheat sheet 1.5 (PDF, 50 KB)

Scottish Web Folk

Tomorrow I’m giving a short presentation at the Scottish Web Folk meeting in Glasgow on OpenSearch, Microformats and adding search box hint text using the jQuery library.

My slides for the talk are embedded at the top of the page, and are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 UK:Scotland Licence.

We got slideshow of the day!

Screenshot of Slideshare

Since I posted our presentation on Mind Mapping for effective content management on Slideshare yesterday I woke to discover that

  1. “IWMW 2008, Aberdeen, Scotland” was the first “Spotlight” on our presentation sharing service of choice,

    and more remarkably that

  2. Our presentation was being featured as “Slideshow of the Day” on the homepage!

There have a few more developments resulting from delivering the presentation and posting it on Slideshare, but I’ll share those at a later date when things have been sorted out.

In the meantime, I’m heading to bed. It’s been a long, tiring, incredibly hot but satisfying trip to The Granite City for IWMW 2008.

Mind Mapping for effective content management

I’m currently in Aberdeen at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2008 conference, blogging this during a presentation by someone at JISC. Because you can do that at a geeky conference without it looking rude!

There are currently about 30 delegates (including one of the joint chairs of the conference) sitting in front of their PC laptops, Macs and mobile devices checking e-mail, Twittering (you can read all the #iwmw2008-referenced tweets at http://twemes.com/iwmw2008), adding content to the conference Ning social-network site: http://iwmw2008.ning.com/ and probably a bunch of other stuff.

Eduroam

I’m just delighted to have connected to the Web via Eduroam, which allows users from participating institutions to connect to the network on another participating institution’s network.

So because Aberdeen and St Andrews both use Eduroam I am now able to connect to the Aberdeen WiFi connection using my St Andrews username and password. It’s a great system and I’m delighted that it works.

Mind you I had to install a piece of software from St Andrews that automatically configured my networking settings before it would work properly, and I was relieved that I’d been long-sighted enough to have saved that application to my flash drive just in case I ever needed it.

Today I needed it.

  • Install.
  • Reboot.
  • Connect.
  • Happy user.

Glorious Aberdeen

The weather is glorious! Too hot for me, I must admit … is it always like this in Aberdeen? I thought “Aberdeen … cold!” so I packed two jumpers and a couple of coats. It looks like I’ve come for a month, to the land of the Polar Bears.

I’ve been in shorts (and kilt) since I arrived.

Workshop presentation

Yesterday my colleague and I gave a 90 minutes workshop presentation entitled “Mind Mapping for effective content management” which introduced the concept of mind maps, showed why it was a good tool for use with Web projects and then gave a case study on how we used it in our university project to migrate 3,000+ Web pages into a new information architecture.

The slides are now available online at SlideShare: Mind Mapping for effective content management (and embedded above).

The workshop was really well attended, we had nearly 30 people packed into a small, stiflingly-hot tutorial room, and we both enjoyed sharing our experience and getting great feedback and questions from folks. But then it’s quite easy talking about something that you love doing and are passionate about.

On reflection, both during and after, we realised that we could have presented some of the concepts much more clearly, or at least in a more step-by-step fashion. Particularly when we made the leap from auditing a website structure using mind maps to auditing the content of a Web page.

However, with only 90 minutes to play with I think we managed to pack in as much as we could, as well as we could. We even finished bang on time, not a second before or after.

And then we could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Update: You can see Mike Whyment’s photo taken during our session on Flickr.

Projects

Pebble beach

The antibiotics appear to be beginning to work, although I’m predictably now feeling a little rougher around the edges and more tired. But nothing that a handful of pills and a month in bed won’t fix!

Sadly, that’s not going to happen though.

Job satisfaction

Work is incredibly busy just now. (When is it not?) But I’m still loving it.

I was chatting to another Web developer today as we walked back from a meeting through St Salvator’s Quad. He works in Development — that’s the Alumni Office to you and me … that’s folks who’ve graduated from the University … oh, never mind! — anyway, he was saying just how much he loves his job too.

What’s not to love. We’re situated in St Andrews for one, which is one of the most beautiful towns in Scotland (after Selkirk, of course!), even on the dreariest of days. Every day is different, working with great people on exciting projects.

Folks often ask if I mind working in a job where I sit at a computer all day. But it’s not like that. The Web is about communication, which is about people. Most days I spend about as much time meeting with folks face-to-face, or speaking on the phone as I do sitting in front of a monitor. I actually get out-and-about more now than when I was in the parish!

Projects

I’m often asked what I do at work, so without trying to give away any industrial secrets here’s a list of the 17 projects I’m currently working on (in order of deadline):

  1. Finish RSS feeds
  2. Collaborate on Web strategy and policy documents
  3. Create pages for Deans and Pro Deans information
  4. Rework Staff Development ordering of courses, and develop podcast feed
  5. Organise Scottish Agricultural College and University of Aberdeen visit to St Andrews
  6. Career Bridges (Managing Operations) homework
  7. Lunch time Web feedback sessions
  8. Migrate Business Improvements website into content management system
  9. eVision (portal) categorization and redesign
  10. Library website design tweak
  11. University Website CSS – rewrite as modular framework
  12. Assist in restructuring of Erasmus site
  13. Plan migration of Freedom of Information (FOI) Publication Scheme
  14. Re-design School of Divinity website
  15. Create documentation / video guides for content management system training
  16. Write presentation for IWMW 2008 conference in Aberdeen
  17. Organize content management system developer training

Whew! Just as well I have Outlook and my PDA to manage and keep track of all these projects.

In other work-related news: my new work PC was ordered today. It’s a Dell Precision 690 — Dual core Intel Xeon processor, 4 GB RAM, twin graphics cards, 250 GB SATA2 hard drive: fast, solid and won’t crash on me every couple of hours. It should arrive tomorrow or Friday, seemingly. Yay!

There’s no place like http://127.0.0.1

Back home I’ve got two major Web projects that I’m working on: one for a client in Edinburgh, the other for my mother-in-law’s enneagram business.

I’m still getting my head around Joomla! 1.5 for the former; this evening I was working on graphics for the latter. For one of the images I settled on the beach scene above — I just hope that it’s close to what she was hoping for.