Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A couple of interesting posts

These are a couple of years old, but still worth looking at.

Best University Admissions Web Sites

Best University Web Sites

Michigan State Home Page Photos

Though I don't really like the MSU home page, I do like what they've done with the photos. By tying people and place in each photo, they connect directly with the viewer and tell a story. And it's nice that actually use some text to link the photos to the story. And, of course, clicking on the photo takes you to the full story.

This is personally how I think home page photos should be done. There is an effective triad of:

  • People
  • Place (or context)
  • Story

that needs to be part of every main home page photo.

I wish we were doing that. Hopefully, as things change and evolve here, we'll start implementing some of these best practices.

A few of the photos I shamelessly stole off their home page...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

HighEdWebDev - A Few Thoughts - Part 1

I just got back from the HighEdWebDev conference in Rochester, NY.

Here are some of my thoughts on some bigger picture issues....

Buzzword of the conference: Social Networking

I wasn't too impressed with social networking as something that we need to get into the middle of. Yes, I think that it's important for university's to be aware of the social networks growing up related to campus, simply to be cognizant of what students and others are saying. However, I don't think there's any reason for Web Services, or any other organization on campus, to get too involved in managing or providing or integrating social networks.

Content Management

Content management remains a big issue. The ad hoc round table that Pat and I hosted was the most well attended of the round tables at the conference.

My main take away was that, because we've had experience with a WCMS before, we have developed a very strong process for evaluating a WCMS. This is something that most of the campuses we talked with have NOT done. They are (as we were) basically stumbling in the dark. They know they need a WCMS, but they don't exactly know how they will use it.

In our round table, we emphasized two things from our experience that we felt we vital in selecting a product that would actually work:

  1. Understand you business processes, no matter how undocumented or dysfunctional they may be.
    • You have to select a product that is going to work with your existing cultural, organizational structure and business processes.
    • You dramatically increase the chance of failure if you are forced to change your organization or radically alter your business processes in order to make a WCMS "work".
  2. Never, ever buy anything that you haven't taken the time and effort to learn yourself.
    • We required vendors to provide us with a sandbox, and we took the time to actually implement templates and content elements in order to build a real live site using our templates and business processes. We then offered a training/demo of the products to the campus community.
    • From that process, we learned things that no vendor demo or series of vendor demos could teach us.
More thoughts to come on issues such a identity management and using your web presence to compete for new students.

Monday, October 15, 2007

HighEdWebDev - Session Summaries

Here's a summary of the sessions I attended at the HighEdWebDev conference in Rochester, NY last week. More detailed impressions to come later.

Monday Sessions

These Kids Today:
Usability testing with parents of new students and new students. Parents are slower, read more, but detect BS text faster. Students are fast fast fast, read with their fingers. Even split between searchers and browse-then-search-ers. Don't wait until the end to do usability studies.

The Accessible Video Interface
Great Flash tools for making video interface with captions. Captioning is a lot of work, and the "video better be worth the effort". Like that.

Supporting Web Presence with IT Comm Partnership
Cornell created virtual organization with IT staff dedicated to working on main campus site underneath the Director of Web Communications. They sold the idea of the partnership from bottom up, but obviously, the two directors work well together and have true collaborative relationship. Not sure such a virtual organization would work as well here, but it's possible.

Adding Google Maps
Mostly basic, but showed Geo-coding (based on addresses), and ways to tie into a database. Alumni locations based on Zip code locations and DB of alumni addresses. Way to do a campus map is to store data in DB and generate client-side JS code from that. Easier to maintain and update.

Lessons learned from Redesign and CMS
Used consultants to redesign site for political reasons.
  1. Everything is political
    1. move project buy in as high as possible
  2. Go where the money is
    1. Use the mission statement to cough up money
    2. Recruit money from all benefiting depts and units
  3. Develop your principles before you start
    1. scope
    2. goals
    3. target audience
    4. cost
    5. timeline
  4. Think of campus and site strategic direction
  5. Think of your infrastructure
    1. Do you have the people to support/implement project?
    2. Better to out source?
  6. Bus. processes are your problem too
    1. bad processes will bite you at every step
  7. Use Web Standards and ADA to your advantage
  8. Develop clear expectations
  9. Get campus on board (fac senate, etc.)
  10. Get Exec committee to sign off on visual design
  11. Conduct usability studies
10 Signs its time to Redesign
Pretty standard stuff
-site's ugly
-content's out of date
-audience has changed, etc.

Tuesday Sessions

Higher Ed Web Development Gets Flattened, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New World Order
Mark Greenfield is at it again with thought provoking ideas about how our jobs will change in the next five years. I wasn't really impressed though. Focus on crowdsourcing, outsourcing, contracting, etc. Interesting tho, the idea that menial stuff will be outsourced so that IT staff can focus on bigger issues. Maybe.

Building a Cohesive Website through a Collaborative Process
U Nebraska at Lincoln
Typical success story - they had buy in from the very top. Pres decided that they needed a unified look and feel and put someone in charge but let them determine what the structure, process and organization would be.

Put together lose network of web "developers" (mostly content editors). Came up with design standard. Developed time line for enforced implementation of standard. A few stragglers, but backed by Pres.

Monitoring Your Web Identity - Jay Collier
Interesting talk about all the different places information about your campus appears on the Web. From news sites to YouTube to blogs, social networking sites, Twitter, etc., etc. And how to use Google Alerts, RSS feeds and other tools to keep track of all of this chatter. Interesting stuff, but time consuming.

The Illusionist: Pulling Web Content out of Thin Air
How to write content for a client Web site when the client gives you no content. Very sad that some people are reduced to this. Pretty basic stuff. Pull stuff out of the catalog. Get print copies of the viewbook. Link to the campus directory. Pathetic that some people have to resort to this.

Google Analytics and Higher Education Web Development
Off the cuff presentation of the basics of Google Analytics. Nothing new here.

Content Management System Round Table
Pat and I hosted this. Interesting to hear other people's experiences. Not too favorable impressions of Collage and Ingeniux from campuses using them. Higher level of success from the few campuses that went to round two and had a better understanding of their needs and processes. Jay Collier expounded on their "one stop" open source solution (name??) that included, wiki, blogs, and all sorts of other tools as well as WCMS. Not the way we want to go. Good reports on Hannon Hill from the people who are using it.