Case Studies

Institute of Physics

The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society and charitable organisation promoting physics and bringing physicists together for the benefit of all. It has a worldwide membership of around 45,000 comprising physicists from all sectors, as well as those with an interest in physics, and represents a major voice within the scientific community.

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The Institute of Physics (IOP) works to advance physics research, application and education; and engages with policy makers and the public to develop awareness and understanding of physics. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in professional scientific communications.

Challenge

IOP had two existing social networks, TalkPhysics and MyIOP, which were built upon custom legacy software and were not offering an ideal user experience. IOP was seeking to replatform and relaunch these two networks. MyIOP in particular had drawn negative user feedback, so IOP were seeking a complete rebranding for this, under the new name MemberTalk. The wish was to create one centralised platform with two separate social portals, TalkPhysics and MemberTalk, for which they had a detailed set of requirements.

MemberTalk is a portal for members of the IOP, for the discussion and advance of science. It also includes an area for 16-19 year olds (future potential members), designed to foster and grow interest in physics and encourage teens to consider studying physics when they go on to university.

TalkPhysics is a site for teachers and teaching assistants to share and discuss ideas for teaching physics in schools, including download of teaching materials.The aims of relaunching the portals are:

  • To improve the user experience
  • To add new social features
  • To consolidate the functionality of the two existing networks into one platform
  • To increase community size
  • To increase usage of the social functions and facilities
  • To encourage collaboration and communication between IOP members
  • To introduce physics to young people with a burgeoning interest
  • To facilitate discussion between teachers and teaching assistants on how best to teach physics in schools
  • To provide teaching materials to teachers and teaching assistants

Solution

As experts in building and deploying web portals and information management solutions, Ixxus was brought in as the implementation partner to replace the two networks and consolidate their functionality into one platform with two separate social portals (MemberTalk and TalkPhysics), adding new features and improving the user experience. Open source technology Drupal was selected as a cost-effective, robust, future-proof alternative to proprietary software, and one that would meet many of IOP’s requirements off the shelf. The biggest benefit of Drupal from an end-user point of view is that it offers a huge amount of modules and apps to choose from.

IOP had a detailed list of requirements for social collaboration to be configured and delivered by Ixxus, including user groups built around content topics, discussion forums, private messaging, activity feeds, user profiles, blogs and email notifications. They also required powerful search functionality, allowing users to find relevant content easily from within the content repository. This included implementing folksonomy tagging, as well as custom classification to deliver advanced search and filter capabilities.

  • User groups – The whole site is organised around groups, allowing users to create groups about topics of their choice and invite people to join them. Groups can be either open (public) or closed (private), and contain a number of different features: discussion forums, blogs, pages etc. Drupal is very user-driven, giving users a lot of autonomy, joining groups, tagging content.
  • Discussion forums – Separate areas concentrating on different topics, which are created by users
  • Private messaging – Users can communicate with each other directly using a private inbox emailing system
  • Activity stream – Similar in style to Facebook’s news feed, presenting users with rolling news about what other users are up to
  • User profiles – Profiles for members, with custom IoP fields
  • Email notifications – Users can sign up for notifications to receive emails from groups they’ve signed up for.
  • Blogs – Blogs can be written by any member, and blog viewing can be easily configured
  • Social features – Community folksonomy tagging, rating of forum discussion posts to show a particular post’s popularity, ‘sticky’ posts
  • Admin control – Powerful tools enabling administrators to manage the site without developer intervention: configurable menus and content, add/removing blocks of content and functionality, managing user accounts etc
  • Security – Filtered content to ensure that users only see group content if they are a member of that particular group
  • Automated user registration and approval – Automated workflow processes for user registration, meaning no manual approval is necessary
  • Future proofing – As one of the world’s most popular content platforms, Drupal can offer longevity as well as ongoing evolution and improvement. As both portals are sat upon a common platform, upgrades can be installed concurrently upon both, ensuring minimal cost
  • Powerful search functionality – Folksonomy tagging, custom classification, advanced search functions, custom metadata feeds specific to the TalkPhysics domain which enable easy filtering and searching within the central content repository

Iterative Approach, Incremental Delivery

Using an Agile approach, Ixxus met regularly with IOP throughout the project to adjust priorities and requirements, allowing the client to benefit from incremental delivery of a working product and giving them a low-risk, value-for-money solution.

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Fortnightly meetings between Ixxus and the client gave an opportunity to demo the product so far, receive feedback, reevaluate and adjust priorities accordingly. This meant that there were no nasty surprises or resulting cost inefficiencies when it came to the finished product; a risk of the ‘big bang’ release strategy. The client also benefitted from a feeling of total control and involvement over the where the project was heading.

Results

The existing system has been successfully migrated and the MemberTalk portal went live in mid-March, with TalkPhysics following in September.

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The newly platformed social networks are set to improve the user experience vastly, increasing uptake; particularly for MemberTalk, which was very underused in its previous guise of ‘MyIOP’. New social functionality will empower communication and collaboration between members, and improved search capability will lead to increased discoverability of content, meaning that users can find what they need, when they need it.

Fully Managed Service Support

Ixxus are providing a fully managed service, including hosting, application and ongoing support, allowing the client the peace of mind that the system will be fully supported by a reliable team who understand the architecture inside out.

Initial feedback from IOP staff and portal users has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Usage of the new TalkPhysics is fantastic. The number of visits, posts and new registrations per week are all higher than the average for last year. Every way I can think of to look at it, TalkPhysics is doing precisely the job we were aiming for,” said Jon Clarke, Web 2.0 Publisher / Teaching & Learning Coach at IOP, “Relaunching the site has vastly improved functionality and user experience, as well as giving administrators far more control over site maintenance. This ensures that this resource, highly valued by our core audience, will be able to go on improving physics lessons across the UK and Ireland for years to come.”

Date Published : 23rd of October 2014