So it seems as if hero.ac.uk – a website that was once a shining beacon of higher education collaboration, and one that still generates enviable traffic and Google rankings – is being allowed to quietly wither and die. As far as I know there has been no announcement but a quick look at the staff organisation chart 8 out of 13 positions vacant and Chris Harris the Executive Director since day one is retiring sometime this summer so I think we can assume the site will be completely shuttered sometime before then.
The site has struggled to find a niche in recent years and pressures from central government services like Directgov as well the increasingly distributed nature of the social web didn’t make life easy. HERO was very much initially built as a portal (in the old Yahoo sense) and over time evolved into an editorially driven site that sought to be a destination in and of itself. It had a team of talented writers and editors but I didn’t think it really kept up with the changing web environment in a technical sense nor did it embrace the softer, community elements of the social web. To be fair it wasn’t easy for the HERO team to be agile – the governance structure had to be seen to be believed.
I hear on the grapevine that a version of HERO may rise up under the UCAS banner and if so I hope they find a way to make it a success – it would be a real waste to let the recognition and pagerank be squandered not to mention the fact that it maintained the support of just about every organisation with a stake in HE right til the end. Even if it became a Netvibes style start page for HE making use of free tools like Yahoo BOSS search for instance and taking some of Tony Hirsts’ less insane Pipes experiments to aggregate content from across the sector it would be a useful site (and a nice sector led bookend to alot of the work Steph and team are doing at DIUS). I think the cost of a content generating team would be too much these days but a small, agile team with a remit to use innovative web tools to communicate the best of the HE community driven to that community could be a real winner and using the HERO name would help lessen the pain of building an audience in the first place!