Awards
Creative Use of Technology and New Media: University of Alabama at Birmingham - Silver Award

2008 Circle of Excellence Awards Program
Category 12. Creative Use of Technology and New Media
University of Alabama at Birmingham
UAB in Antarctica

Contact

Jeffrey Keeton
Web Communications Specialist
Marketing & Web Communications
AB 1370
1530 3rd AVE S
Birmingham, AL 35294-0113
jkeeton@uab.edu
(205) 975.2946

Contributors

James McClintock Journal author and photographer
Charles Amsler Journal author and photographer
Margaret Amsler Journal author and photographer
Craig Aumack Journal author and photographer
Philip Bucolo Journal author and photographer
Deborah Lucas Media Relations
Joseph Huffstutler Designer

http://antarctica.uab.edu

Background

As the International Polar Year began, leading marine researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) headed to Antarctica and invited the world to join them through the innovative Web site, http://antarctica.uab.edu. Their February-May 2007 mission made them among the first U.S. teams diving into the icy Antarctic waters during the IPY. The veteran team was in familiar waters as they explored undersea forests to collect macroalgae, sponges and more. The expedition, funded by a grant of the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, is part of their ongoing quest to understand predator-prey dynamics in the unique Antarctic marine plant and animal communities.

Objective

The interactive site reflects the university's role as an academic medical center that discovers, teaches and applies knowledge for the intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefit of humankind. This message is delivered to the world by combining the expertise of the researchers with cutting-edge communication strategies and user-friendly technologies.

Because the UAB-led expedition was set to coincide with the beginning of the International Polar Year (March 2007 - March 2009), the Web site also highlights the world-wide research being done in conjunction with the IPY. Visitors and other IPY researchers can contribute their own knowledge, images and viewpoints as well as follow the UAB team of researchers as they post pictures and blog. These resources go beyond the traditional media release and reach out to everyone who is interested in Antarctica, the environment, education, diving, etc.

Goals

  • Publication in a major, nation-wide, media outlet,
  • Be blogged about by influential bloggers with large numbers of readers,
  • Be an learning resource tool for K-12 grades, and
  • Be recognized for contributions to public outreach by funding sources.

Strategy

A one page "teaser" Web site was created and placed the Web site's ultimate location of http://antarctica.uab.edu. The purpose of the teaser site was so UAB Media Relations could direct media to the url in advance of the site's launch. The teaser site was created in the Social Media Press Release format and included information about the UAB expedition, as well resources for media on the IPY. Social media components of the teaser site included:

  • Videos on YouTube.com
  • Links to related information via del.icio.us
  • Submit this page to Digg

The site also included a form for people to sign up and be notified when the site was launched. The teaser site can currently be found here, http://www.uab.edu/images/web/Antarctica/smpr/index.html.

Top, "A" list bloggers are sent many Web sites and products for review everyday by people hoping they will blog about them. The site needed to make a very strong visual impact to appeal to these bloggers so they would write about it. If the Web site succeeded in being blogged by a few of these bloggers, it was hoped this would bring an increase in traffic and attention to the Web site.

Because most bloggers have wide format displays for their computers, the site was designed to display best in a wide, horizontal view. This displayed the majority of the Web site in browser window of the bloggers. The site also features a collapsible view for people with smaller displays, as well a mobile devices like the Apple iPhone. The homepage also has a simple, intuitive layout and extensive use of AJAX programming to allow visitors to explore the site without leaving the homepage.

The Web site also needed to include as many photos as possible from the team working in Antarctica to complement the design of the Web site and make it more engaging and dynamic with visitors. Photos and blogs, were going to be posted by the team from Antarctica. Because the team would be under many constraints for their time while working on the ice, the simplest and easiest method for them to post as many photos as possible was needed. Accounts on Flickr.com were created for each team member to use for this purpose.

Flickr (http://flickr.com) is one of the most popular photo sharing Web sites and it has a very simple and intuitive method for uploading and sharing photos. It also has an open API, which allowed the development team to create a script that displayed the photos posted on Flickr by team on the UAB Web site automatically and in the proper size. Additionally, because Flickr is so popular, it was an additional method to drive traffic to the Web site.

To highlight the international cooperative work of the IPY, an additional group was created on Flickr for people working in either polar region during the IPY. Photos posted to this group were also displayed on the homepage of the Web site.

The site also uses an RSS feed hosted by Feedburner,com that includes both the blog entries written by the team as well as photos posted on Flickr.

Resources

The project was a collaborative effort between the UAB in Antarctica research team, the offices of UAB Media Relations and Web Communications.

  • UAB in Antarctica Research Team: 5 people to blog, post photos, and reply to comments on the Web site. On average a new post was on the site everyday during the expedition.
  • Media Relations: 2 people to alert media of the site and its relevance to IPY-related stories.
  • Web Communications: 1 person working as the project leader as well sending the site to high-profile bloggers, and 1 person who created the design.
  • Estrada: 1 person to program the site in the Estrada content management system.

Results

The Web site was successful with all of its goals. The team and the site were featured in several media outlets and blogs, and were recognized for outstanding work by the National Science Foundation, the International Polar Year, and the Governor of Alabama. Below is a timeline of events related to the project:

  • 9/26/2006: UAB launched a teaser site on Antarctica.uab.edu, to allow audiences to preview the mash-up of social media technologies that would be used to cover UAB's Antarctic Research Team
  • 2/23/2007: UAB's Antarctic Research team, consisting of Dr. Charles Amsler, Dr. James McClintock, Margaret Amsler, and Craig Aumack reached the ice of the Palmer station in Antarctica.
  • 2/23/2007: UAB re-launched the Antarctica.uab.edu Web site. The newest version of the Web site included additional social media applications such as flickr photo postings, YouTube video, and RSS feeds.
  • 3/9/2007: UAB's Antarctica Web site is featured on the US IPY Web site (www.ipy.gov)
  • 3/9/2007: Antarctica.uab.edu begins to get its first hits in the blogosphere on such Web sites as hyperorg.com (the blog of influential blogger David Weinberger), mr-fisher.edublogs.org, gomojo.wordpress.com. and auburnmedia.com
  • 3/19/2007: UAB is recognized as a contributor on the International Polar Year Web site for the ability to teach students of all ages via the Antarctica.uab.edu Web site.
  • 3/27/2007: The UAB in Antarctica team is featured on the CNN.com Science homepage. (http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/03/27/polar.year.study/)
  • 3/31/2007: UAB in Antarctica is featured on Karine Jolly's blog about higher education Web sites, collegewebeditor.com (http://collegewebeditor.com/blog/index.php/archives/2007/03/31/uab-puts-a-human-face-on-research-with-its-antarctica-20-website/ )
  • 5/2/2007: Alabama Public Television Antarctica Virtual Field Trip event, an interactive videoconference allowing students to communicate with the Antarctica scientists as part of a live event. Bob Riley, Governor of Alabama, participates in the event and congratulates the team.