The Go Mobile website has been improved to help Texas A&M University meet mobile web demands.
- New Resource Center blog for learning mobile web best practices
- Mobile-ready web templates that are university brand compliant
The Resource Center blog (http://gomobile.tamu.edu/resource-center) allows users to comment and engage with authors about their posts. Authors are members of the university’s Mobile Team, which is tasked with guiding the campus strategy to maximize mobile’s potential (http://gomobile.tamu.edu/about).
The responsive web design templates are available at the Go Mobile Resource Center by selecting the Downloads icon. Responsive websites automatically rearrange content based on the visitor’s screen size, allowing one website to work on smartphones, tablets, and laptop and desktop computers.
To help remove barriers to engaging key audiences and become a higher education leader in mobile implementation, the team’s focus is facilitating mobile-friendly websites for colleges and academic departments. View the Go Mobile progress report for this objective at http://gomobile.tamu.edu/texas-am-mobile-strategy#tab_tab4.
The Mobile Team will be scheduling new outreach and training events. Join the GOMOBILE-L Listserv to receive updates (http://gomobile.tamu.edu/join-the-listserv).
Send questions or comments to Allison Oslund (email@example.com), Texas A&M Information Technology assistant director and Mobile Team leader.
Code Maroon’s hardware and software will receive a major upgrade. To ensure the newly upgraded system is functioning properly, the CIS Code Maroon team will test the system on Friday, May 17. The usual drill scheduled for the last Friday in May will be suspended if early testing is successful. Additional tests may also be needed in the coming months. The Code Maroon team apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.
Reminder for those who haven’t gotten this on any of your other lists yet.
ITAC will host a second Campus IT Conversation on May 15 at 3:00 p.m. in MSC 2400 (Robert Gates Ballroom). This forum will NOT be broadcast or recorded, to participate you must attend in person.
This candid conversation will focus on the challenges and solutions we face as IT professionals in our changing environment which now includes a new System CIO, Mark Stone, and the Deloitte review of IT entering its second phase. We hope to spur new conversations and also continue the conversation we started in October. Please join us.
Stephen Balfour, College of Liberal Arts
Adam Mikeal, College of Architecture
David Sweeney, Division of Student Affairs
For those of you who haven’t noticed, Michael has picked up our office Twitter account and has started tweeting out some interesting tidbits. Follow @tamuwww to see some of the ideas that are affecting the projects that we’re working on.
As we announced recently, we’re preparing to get rid of the Google Search Appliance (GSA) this fall and to start using the Custom Search Engine (CSE). Every website search box that has been using the Google Search Appliance will need to be updated. But with every change comes new possibilities. And I like it. I’m not the only one who suspects that Google has been more interested in adding new features to the CSE than to the GSA, so I think we’re going the right direction.
We have already imported all of our customizations from the GSA into our CSE, including KeyMatches, Synonyms, and our Do Not Crawl list. In the CSE settings, KeyMatches are called Promotions, and like Synonyms, you can set them up by clicking the Search Features link.
When setting up a Google Custom Search Engine, colleges and departments can specify which websites they want to include in search results, similar to a GSA Collection. For example, the CSE for the main university website is searching *.tamu.edu (all websites on the tamu domain) plus Aggie Athletics, AgriLife and TAMU Press. The CSE for our MarComm sites will return results only from those sites. In the CSE settings, click on the Setup link, then Sites to Search or Sites to Exclude (what the GSA calls the Do Not Crawl list).
If you have pages that you want to add to or remove from your index quickly, you can submit an on-demand indexing request through the CSE settings. Click Setup, and then click the Indexing tab. In the Index Now section, click “URLs in a Sitemap.” Or click “Specific URLs,” and then type the URL you want Google to index. Each CSE has an on-demand indexing quota of 200 URLs, but as a Google employee explained it, this quota is more like the maximum number of URLs you can submit at once. After the URLs are crawled and added to the main Google index, the on-demand indexing quota will be returned so webmasters can submit new requests.
I’m most excited about being able to use Linked Custom Search Engines. Of course, you can always let Google store your search engine settings. But since Linked CSEs are linked to files stored on your own server (and immediately cached by Google), you can write code to create CSE settings automatically – different ones for each page if you like. Or different results for different times of the day. Or for different users. “In fact,” says Google, “you can generate CSEs on demand, in response to a user’s query or a page on your site that your user is searching from.” For example, it’s easy to create a Linked CSE that searches only the links from a page.
After several months of thought, research and discussions with TAMU IT, we have decided to switch to the Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) and discontinue the Google Search Appliance (GSA) in November, when the contract with Google expires.
As a result, if your website search box uses the Google Search Appliance, it will stop working this fall. So we encourage colleges and departments to set up their own Custom Search Engines now. To make that easier, we will be posting details and code samples on our new MarComm website. Personally, I’ve found Google’s CSE documentation quite clear and helpful. However, if you only want to search all Texas A&M websites, you can copy our search box code.
A Google Custom Search Engine allows a webmaster to specify which websites to include in search results, similar to a GSA Collection. Like many other large universities, we realized that the Google CSE has almost all the features we’ve been using, plus quite a few more.
In our testing, we’ve found that CSE search results are almost indistinguishable from GSA search results. And since we’re a non-profit institution of higher education, our search results won’t show any ads.
Will we miss out on anything by switching? We never used Google Search Appliance’s fancier features anyway, such as OneBox. We’ll still have access to more on-demand indexing than we need. We’ve occasionally contacted tech support about our search box, but we will no longer have to do that if we no longer have a search box…
True, the free version of Google Custom Search doesn’t offer search results in XML format, and it only indexes public websites. But if you need to parse XML feeds, crawl intranet sites, or get tech support by email, you can always sign up for the paid version, Google Site Search - $100-$250 a year for the typical college.
On the other hand, the CSE includes options that aren’t available with the GSA, such as autocompletion/search-as-you-type, automatic thumbnail images, and enhanced KeyMatch (Promotions) descriptions.
So things are looking good. We welcome your questions, and I’ll provide more details in my next blog post. We’re planning a meeting after the semester ends, where webmasters can discuss tips and best practices for search.
Marcomm took an important step last week. We entered into a partnership with CIS that will move all of our production servers off of our individually hosted virtual and physical machines and onto the cloud. This CIS managed resource pool will allow us to be more flexible in configuring our server setups, but more importantly will add an extra element of redundancy and reliability.
Six years ago I came to Marcomm with a mission to modernize our web services and make them competitive with our peer institutions. We knew this was going to be a long process and developed a plan that would systematically improve our services over the course of several development cycles. This process included not only our web sites and applications but also the hardware architecture hosting them. We moved from having almost nothing to using individual physical servers, and then to a mixture of self-hosted and CIS-managed virtual machines. We see this move as the final stage of the upgrade cycles. We still have to move our services onto the new cloud resources, and we will still have a few tweaks even after that, but this move finally gives us a modern platform upon which to build our public facing web services. As we move into what I hope will be the corresponding upgrade of our web sites, I am comforted by knowing that we now have a backend environment that can support our vision.
This morning we launched the new iTunesU website. This is our spash page and training hub for the university iTunesU storefront. The project started as just a quick facelift to put the site into our content management system, introduce responsive design, and refresh some content, but it turned into a larger project fairly quickly.
The design team came up with a completely new page look modeled on our Twitter and other social media pages. It will serve as a master template for additional sites coming down the pipe that are related to social media.
We didn’t stop there, though. Since the entry page was getting a major overhaul we decided that the university’s iTunesU store needed one as well. We therefore created and uploaded a new set of album covers and other artwork to bring the site inline with our other offerings.
We are taught from elementary school when we first start writing compositions that the first thing we should do, before we ever start writing, is to identify our audience. The same thing holds true for building web sites. But do we really do it? Some do. At least in a rudimentary way. We put together a committee, ask that questions, and after a lot of argument come up with something. In today’s higher ed it is usually “prospective students and their parents,” at least when talking about the university’s main page. What do we do after that though?
We often write the chosen audience on our production documentation, check it off the list and cease thinking about it altogether. The web committee then moves on to deciding content (we are a modern selection committee, we realize that content must come before design.) We send out surveys, make sure we talk to every department on campus to get buy-in, maybe we even survey other universitys’ sites to see what they have that we don’t. What’s missing from this picture? Where in that process is the audience that we are supposed to be writing for?
I once attended a conference where one of the presenter summed up in one line what we should be doing…give your viewers what *they* want, not what *you* want. That completely turns our process on its head. It means we have to do research, make value judgments, and even risk alienating constituencies on campus who might not like what that means for their content.
The tricky part comes in determining how far to go with this new paradigm. Something like branding is definitely something that we want, but that doesn’t mean we should get rid of it. It doesn’t interfere with, and if done well should even support the mission of the site. We are still trying to attract those prospective students, and branding should reinforce the information they are trying to obtain.
One thing to watch out for is turning your site into an extended university org chart. Think instead in terms of navigating content by services…for example provide a link to “tutoring” rather than “The Office of Classroom Excellence.” The audience doesn’t care *who* provides the service, it is the service itself that they are looking for.
Also, be careful of the language that you use. We have our own extensive jargon, and fall into it too easily. Being at the university every day we are exposed to (so much so that we take for granted) a lot of terms, concepts, organizational makeups, etc. that mean little to the general public. Write for the audience using terms that, again, they place meaning on rather than what we hold dear.
We tried to take this approach in our last implementation of our university website. We removed most of the links that were previously aimed more at faculty/staff and an on-campus audience, even if they were the most popular link on the page. We took flack for doing so, but it was short lived, people adjusted, and the site is now much more aligned with its purpose of serving the prospective student and their parents.
PRESENTATION FEBRUARY 28
On February 28 at 3:30 in GSC 101A, join the Texas A&M Mobile Team for a presentation on implementing a mobile-friendly website. This follow up to January’s Go Mobile presentation will provide more in-depth technical information for web developers and designers. Buster Neece, Division of Student Affairs, will be the presenter. A panel of Mobile Technical Team members will be available to answer questions on going mobile.