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Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

SiteImprove Registration Process

February 4th, 2014 by Erick
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Things have been pretty quiet on the SiteImprove front. We still have plenty of pages available, so those of you who haven’t signed up yet still have an opportunity. Reaction from those who have, even those who were initially on the fence, has been overwhelmingly positive once they started using the software.

We are making it a little easier for campus units to join in. The vendor has created a landing page that you can use to either join the contract or request a demo. If you request a demo, one of the SiteImprove customer reps will get in touch with you and give you a walk-through of the product. This will include a scan of one of your sites so that you can see the product in action on your own content.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 Miscellaneous Comments Off

Digital Asset Management

January 24th, 2014 by Erick
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Our photos team asked us to look into a Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution for organizing our departmental photo repository…or at least that portion of it that we want the public to have access to. After looking at several proprietary and open source solutions we came upon ResourceSpace. As luck would have it, our colleagues over at the Foundation already use the product and were able to give us a preview.

We are currently in the process of putting an installation onto our servers to give it a more thorough run-through. One thing that I have found is that it appears to only be a back-end manager. If that winds up being the case we will have to build a front-end public view, that will wind up replacing the current Photos website that pulls from Flickr.

I have already talked to one other person on campus who was looking for their own DAM solution and asked about getting a test account set up. We will be happy to share our installation if another campus unit wants to review the software and share their experience with it.

Friday, January 24th, 2014 Image repository Comments Off

Next trip through the Cycle

January 23rd, 2014 by Erick
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Many of you have heard me describe the process of development since I moved to Marcomm as a life cycle. We started seven years ago with an environment, process, and code base that is best described as broken. The first stage of the cycle was to go through each of the sites that were online and simply fix them, making them functional but not necessarily what we wanted them to be. The next stage moved us from being functional to working well and heading in the right direction. As we tackled this cycle we also added a lot of new offerings like the campus calendar, university mobile site, and most recently the campus tour site. As we were doing each of these we were looking over the fence for the time that we could take that final step and “do things right.”

Last week we got those marching orders. We were told that we need to start reworking the TAMUtimes web site and expect to have it ready by the Fall. Given how integrally tied TAMUtimes is to the main university website, and since should be the cornerstone of the new cycle of development, we are going to tackle both of them over the spring and summer. That is a pretty lofty goal, but I am sure we will be able to get it accomplished.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 Future Projects, Comments Off

Web App Migration

January 22nd, 2014 by Erick
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Next week will mark a major milestone in our transition to a more enterprise-level web solution. We have already migrated our static web sites over to the CIS virtual cloud, now we are about ready to start moving our web application sites as well. We will move several over in the course of the next week …,,,, and Those remaining are in the process of being rebuilt and will be migrated over as they are finished.

This change has already been an interesting one. The environment features several load balanced nodes, each with a copy of each web application. We were attracted to this setup by the redundancy factor it gave…we have already been saved on other sites by having that second machine to pick up the load. One unexpected consequence has been applications that deal with files on the local machine. In the load balanced environment you have to make sure to keep these files synchronized so that each node serves out the same information. We had to rewrite some of our code in order to take this into consideration, but I think we have it now and will be going live shortly. We look forward to the stability and robustness that this setup will provide.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 Future Projects Comments Off

Where do we go this year?

January 3rd, 2014 by Erick
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Welcome back from the holidays, I hope everyone enjoyed the time off.

I am trying to go over my list of what we have planned for this year, but I seem to be thwarted at every turn. As many of you know, Marcomm has lost both our Vice President and Director for Marketing in the last few months. Many of the big projects that we have on the list really need to be aligned with the new people’s vision, so those are pretty much on hold until those positions are filled. If you don’t hear much from us that is largely why.

In the meantime, we do have some other pieces that we will continue working on…some of which will likely involve us asking for your input.

  • Web Branding – I am pushing to get this settled within the division so that we can get an all campus group working on it. Hopefully we will have some movement within the next couple of weeks.
  • Mobile web site – We were among the first universities to have a mobile web site, which means that it is now woefully out of date. We have begun building Version 2, and will undoubtedly be contacting some of you for help in content.
  • Server architecture – We have migrated about 2/3 of our sites into the virtual cloud resource pool hosted by CIS. I would like to us be completely moved over within another month.
  • Visitor Center Registration – We are close to having Version 2 of this ongoing project finished. We are in final logic testing, and still have to finalize the administrative functions. I had hoped to go live in January, but May now seems more realistic.
  • Virtual Tours – We will continue updating content (if your area isn’t already featured give me a call so we can discuss how to get it done) and are already looking at plans for a significantly boosting the amount of features within the existing site.
  • uWeb – not an actual project, but I do want to see if we can get this organization going again. I will start trying to put something together and hopefully have a presentation for February.
Friday, January 3rd, 2014 Future Projects Comments Off

Digital Signage Shared Service

December 4th, 2013 by Erick
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Does your building have digital signage yet? This might be a flat panel on the wall welcoming guests… showing things like office locations, event schedules, departmental information, or any number of such things. If you have digital signage but are on an old system, or if you haven’t made the move yet at all, there is a project underway on campus that you might be interested in. Student Affairs, along with over a dozen other units across campus, has contracted with Four Winds Interactive to bring their display product to campus. View their gallery for a good idea of what can be done, from museum quality, interactive touch-screen koisks to static displays that rotate on a loop.

By joining together in a larger campus license we are able to employ enterprise leading services while significantly reducing the cost of doing it on our own. Specific information on this initiative, including who to contact if you are interested in joining, can be found on the project page maintained by Student Affairs.

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 Miscellaneous Comments Off

Testing retina display if you don’t have a retina device

November 22nd, 2013 by Michael
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Since everybody is getting new smartphones except me, I need to add high-resolution images to the sites I design – but until now, I couldn’t see what they looked like on a high-resolution device without borrowing somebody’s phone. We use media queries to serve larger images to retina devices, and zooming my browser won’t trigger these media queries.

But there is a way to simulate a retina display on a Firefox browser.

  1. Go to “about:config”
  2. Find “layout.css.devPixelsPerPx
  3. Change it to your desired ratio (1 for normal, 2 for retina, etc.)

When I run these tests, the pages get so big it’s hard to use Firefox for anything else, but I can quickly tell which images will work on retina (the crisp ones) and which images need to be swapped out (the blurry ones).

I learned another retina solution from Monty Dickerson: use larger images that have half the quality (Photoshop 50) but four times the pixels (100 x 100 instead of 50 x 50).  It’s counter-intuitive, but they aren’t much heavier than traditionally-sized images, yet look much better, even on normal monitors.

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 CSS, Mobile Web Comments Off

uWeb Meetings

November 19th, 2013 by Erick
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Over the past couple of months I have been asked by several web developers new to campus about whether we have some sort of group for web professionals to meet and discuss projects, problems, and other matters. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is both a need and a desire for this sort of thing. Those of you who have been here for a while might remember our earlier effort to revive uWeb. I think it is time that we take another stab at it.

I would therefore like to invite you all to the first meeting of the reconstituted uWeb on Friday December 6 at 3:00 in room 2406 of the MSC. We will try to meet roughly monthly after that and present on topics (both ours and yours) that affect us all.

Killing two birds with one stone, we will be talking about the SiteImprove contract that we recently signed. The vendor will be presenting the service through a live webinar and will be available to answer your questions. I know several of you have talked to me already about joining in but have to convince others who are in charge of the budget. I hope that being able to look at real sites on campus will give you the leverage that you need to show how useful the service will be. If any of you would like to volunteer your site to be one of the demos please send me the url.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 Ongoing Projects Comments Off

The Impact of “Sharing” News Stories

November 13th, 2013 by Erick
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We made a minor change to one of our sites last week that had a dramatic effect on me, and really brought home how powerful the social media movement is…and thereby how important it is for our marketing efforts. At first glace the change looked innocuous enough … we were asked to move the “share” icons on our news stories from the bottom of the page to the top so that more people would be tempted to click the button.

The news site is built in WordPress, so of course these icons were part of a WordPress plugin. An old one as it turned out, that didn’t make it easy to change the location of where it gets displayed on the page. The icons were a bit small too, so we decided it would be easier to simple drop it and go grab a different plugin instead. The difference was night and day.

The old plugin simply displayed the icons for people to click. The new one, (AddThis), went a whole lot further. I had used AddThis several years ago, but its capabilities have grown immensely since them. Now it lets you set up an account so that you can log in and view the analytics of how your content is being shared. Not only can you track the actual clicks and shares on your site, but it shows the added reach that your content gets from being added to social media platforms.

The “viral lift” is the extra clicks that your story gets from those social platforms. One of our stories from this week, for example, has been shared 114 times. Those 114 shares have led to an additional 4,454 visits to that story, which was 75% of the total page views.

Looking across the board, links from social media dwarf all of the other avenues by which people find content on the news site. For most sites, Google is far and away the largest referrer. For the entire news site it is Facebook instead, by a wide margin.

I will be the first to admit that I would have never imagined this kind of shift had we not been asked to make that one seemingly insignificant change. Now, I really have to step back and completely re-evaluate our strategy for integrating social media into everything that we are doing. If sharing can boost visibility on these news stories, we have to start looking at how much it can add everywhere else.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 Social Media Comments Off

SiteImprove web monitoring now available

October 24th, 2013 by Erick
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Good news, the SiteImprove service is now ready for us to start using!

The long term plan will be to have it administered by the system, and have the system bill users directly. A web-based order form will eventually be created, but until In the meantime Mark Stone and the SiteImprove vendor rep have asked me to start coordinating with users on campus who would like to subscribe to the service to get your sites into the system.

The rate that I have been given is $0.54 per page per year.

We are encouraging anyone who wants to subscribe to the service to go ahead and send me your information. I will pass it along to SiteImprove and they will add your sites and users to the system so that you can start using it.

Please send me (

  • Your organization’s name (Your college, department, division, office, or whatever)
  • Name and email address of staff who will be users on the system
  • The URL of all sites that you want monitored
    Note that you can also exclude parts of sites from being monitored, so include any directories within each site that you want to be excluded
  • A maximum page allotment that you want to pay for (for example, if there are 11,000 pages in your combined URLs but you only have funds to pay for 10,000 we can set a limit on the number of pages crawled.)
Thursday, October 24th, 2013 Miscellaneous Comments Off