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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Calendar Features – RSVP Lists

August 17th, 2016 by Erick Beck

One feature that is entirely new to the LiveWhale calendar system that we have never had before was the ability to create RSVP lists directly within a calendar event.  While we have never had the need for such an event within Marketing and Communications, other colleges were quite interested in the feature when we were evaluating calenadaring products.

The RSVP list is quite easy to set up.  When you create an event, one of the options on the web page will be to add an RSVP form to the event.  If you do select that option, it will then let you choose how many people to allow on the list, give you the option of having a waiting list once that fills up, allowing you to add information for a custom message to registrants, and many other options.  You can also choose to get an email notification whenever someone registers.

To view and manage your list of responses is just a matter of going to the “Event RSVPs” within your dashboard.  This page will give you the full breakdown of responses as well as an option of adding your own notes to any of them.  When you are ready for the event, there are built in options to email all registrants, print the list, or export it to CSV (which would normally be put into Excel.)

I have already had questions about whether this is compatible with other campus systems.  As of right now there is no interactivity, but this is something that we can explore as a second phase addition.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Calendar Features – Images and Maps

August 15th, 2016 by Erick Beck

The first time I had seen the LiveWhale calendar system that powers our new university calendar was last October at the HighEdWeb conference.  In particular, Jason Pontius gave a presentation which really resonated with me.  He advocated for a calendar system being more than just someplace to post times and dates.  Instead it should be something that we use to tell about all of the wonderful things that happen on our campuses.  To market our events, and thereby market our university.  The calendar system that they built did that better than any of the ones we evaluated.

One of the things you will notice on the new calendar is that there is an increased use of imagery.  This is true on both the calendar view itself as well on on the specific event information pages.  As we visited with the people across campus who would be entering events, increasing their use of visuals was always the first thing we stressed.  The images pull in a visitor’s eyes, making them more interested in digging deeper and reading about the event.  Photos can also give a much deeper concept of what the event is about than any text description or contact information will ever do.

Keeping on the theme of visuals, another great addition is the use of Google maps to show locations.  Given the size of our campus, having these maps embedded on each event page can be vital to showing people exactly where the event is being held.  Almost all of the official locations on campus have been pre-loaded into the system for event planners to select from.  Because the system is based on Google Maps, off-campus events can easily be added to the map by simply pasting in the address and letting Google create a new pin.

We have already started receiving feedback on the new calendar, and both the public and the local event managers have recognized the focus that it puts on making the experience more useful and enjoyable for the user.

Monday, August 15th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

University Calendar Presentation

August 12th, 2016 by Erick Beck

I have posted the slide deck for those of you who missed Friday’s presentation on the campus calendar. This presentation covered the process by which we chose LiveWhale as our campus calendar, how we expect the system will be used, and an overview of some of its features.

Friday, August 12th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Calendar Features – Importing and Exporting Events

August 12th, 2016 by Erick Beck

One of the biggest complaints that we had about the previous calendar system was that it did not import from other calendar systems.  That was a big disadvantage because many departments on campus used (whether through choice or mandate) another system for their departmental events, and no one wants to have to enter the same event into multiple systems.  So when we first started evaluating calendar products, the ability to import through feeds was one of the most important things on our list.

LiveWhale is able to do this very nicely.  By going into your “Linked Calendars” option you can point your calendar at an external iCAL feed and pull it into LiveWhale.  You further have your choice of linking the event to an entry within LiveWhale or to the original URL in the external system.  We have also had a few extra customizations added.  You can now set your linked calendars to automatically recommend events to the university calendar, and you can add custom images to your imported events.

LiveWhale also has several ways in which you can export events.  If you want to process and format the content yourselves, there is a complete REST interface that allows you to pull information out of the system through RSS, iCAL, or JSON formats.  Through structuring your URL call, you can pull your entire calendar or just specific pieces.

As well as feeds, LiveWhale has the concept of built-in widgets.  These allow you to create and store quite detailed queries and formatting which can be placed on your web page by the simple addition of a javascript call inside of a <div>.   Widgets can be quite complex.  The public facing side of the university calendar is, in fact, made up of widgets rather than native code creating the page look. This in effect allows you to use the calendar system as a back end and format the public-facing view however meets your needs.

Friday, August 12th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

A New Campus Calendar

August 11th, 2016 by Erick Beck

After almost a year of knowing we need to implement a new calendar, evaluating vendors, and customizing our final selection, we are happy to announce that our new web calendar is now online.

Powered by LiveWhale Calendar, this new system represents a significant step forward.  The new software is much easier to use and administer than our previous system, and offers many new features that make the calendar more valuable to both departments on campus and our website viewers.

Even more important than the new features is a new philosophy for what the calendar is all about.  Rather than being just a list of everybody’s events, we want to use the calendar as a platform to market the university by showing off all the wonderful things that take place on campus.  We want no not just give a time and date for every meeting on campus, but also to showcase things like the world leaders that the Bush School brings to campus, the prestigious authors that the libraries host, Fortune 500 CEOs that speak at the Mays school, and so forth.  Showing the types of events that occur here reinforces with our audience the concept of Texas A&M as a destination school.

To that end, we want to produce a calendar that not only gave event details, but does so in a highly visual manner that makes viewers interested in reading the event – and therefore more likely to attend.  The LiveWhale calendar system is beautifully set up to do this.  During several vendor conversations it became evident that they were in sync with what we want to do and that they have built a platform with exactly that in mind.

We will post a series of articles going over the new features of the calendar, how we hope to use it, and how you can contribute to the process.

 

Thursday, August 11th, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Mobile App Update

August 10th, 2016 by Erick Beck

We have launched what I would deem to be a mini-release of the campus mobile app this week.  This release is intended to circle back and get some of the content that was not ready for the Phase I launch, as well as to add some timely information.

  • Modo has updated our app to the latest version of the software framework.  This will give us slightly more flexibility in how content is managed.
  • A Move In Day module will be added to the home page (coming later this week.)  Content was coordinated through Residence Life and Parking & Transportation, along with others having input or providing services during that time.  This module will be removed once Move In Day is past.
  • Aggie Works will be added as a link in the Report a Concern issue.  This will be a link to their responsive website.
  • Aggie Print will be added as a linked icon on the On Campus persona. This will be a link to their responsive web application.
  • A Perspective Student persona will be added, with content created in cooperation with the Office of Admission
  • An Important Phone Numbers page will be added to both the Welcome and the On Campus personas.
  • While not technically part of the app update, we will also be updating the software powering calendar.tamu.edu. This update, which will be done in early August will affect the Events section of the app
Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 Mobile Web No Comments

Lead by Example Campaign Website

August 8th, 2016 by Erick Beck

Many of you are aware of the new Lead by Example comprehensive campaign.  This is a multi-year effort to raise awareness and funds for the university.  We launched the campaign website earlier this week at a presentation by President Young.

While the website was created by the campaign agency rather than by the Marcomm web team, it does mark an important milestone in moving forward.  The Lead by Example site, along with an upcoming reputational campaign website, will begin a shift toward a new set of brand guidelines which will be enforced on university websites.

We will shortly update the brand guide website with an overview of the new style changes, and will later be publishing a completely new brand guide.  If you are in the process of launching a new website, or soon will be, please reach out to Kim Miller or Laura Root at brandguide@tamu.edu in order to find out what the new style guidelines will look like.

Monday, August 8th, 2016 Branding No Comments

Web Developer Master Contract List

July 13th, 2016 by Erick Beck

Do you have web projects that need to be done but you don’t have the staff to do them?  Have you been thinking about submitting an RFP to have a website developed?  If so we have good news for you.

Several month ago Marketing & Communications submitted an RFP to create a pool of vendors to be granted a master contract for web development.  We, along with members of the GoWeb team, evaluated the submissions and came up with a list of vendors who we believe will do high quality work at a reasonable price.  University Purchasing has now gotten everything approved and into the BAM system, so we are ready to announce the pool to the campus community.

Having these master contracts in place means that if you have a web project you can contract directly with any of the vendors in the pool for any project without having to go through the RFP process.  The list and a brief description of each firm’s specialties is located at http://marcomm.tamu.edu/toolkit/web/web-development-vendors.html.

 

If you have questions or would like more information about one of the vendors on the list please let me know.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016 Multimedia No Comments

Google Data Studio

July 8th, 2016 by Erick Beck

Google recently released a limited access to Data Studio, which allows us to create highly visual analytics reports.  Their product description page shows two examples of how different – and how impressive – the reports can look.  We all know that presenting the standard Google Analytics dashboard to our decision makers is largely ineffective.  There is simply too much information formatted in a hard to read manner.  Data Studio can make your analytics effective simply by making them read by the people who need to be reading them.

Creating a Data Studio report is similar to using such services as Gliffy or Visio.  You can select whatever metrics that you want to display, position them on the page, and style them to reflect your own preferences or office branding.  Almost any metric that you can access through the GA dashboard should be accessible from within the Data Studio interface.

I have recently created a few reports and given them to my decision makers, and the results were beyond spectacular.   One administrator spent several hours looking at the Data Studio report on the day that I sent it, probably more time than had been spent in total on the typical dashboard reports that I had been sending for two years.  This review resulted in a meeting of that particular project team and decisions being made to change plans on how to proceed on it.   The idea of “data driven decisions” suddenly made sense…because now they had data that was accessible to them.  Of course this result will not be the typical response, but it does show that repackaging our analytics data into easy to read reports is an effective way of increasing its perceived value and even the amount of attention and use it receives.

Friday, July 8th, 2016 Analytics No Comments

Adding “Email Opened” to Google Analytics

July 5th, 2016 by mdmcginnis

One of the basic claims of many bulk email platforms is the ability to track when the email is opened, which they call the number of “opens.” They usually do this by adding tracking codes or transparent images that are tied to the recipient’s email address. The Maestro system on campus does not have this feature activated, which is probably a good thing. At the same time, we have not been able to gauge how many of our readers open the Texas A&M Today newsletter when they receive it.

Even those platforms that do keep record of “opens” do not always make this available to your Google Analytics.  Not a requirement, but it is convenient to have all of the information in one place when you start to look at your site usage.

By adding campaign tracking codes to links in the email, we were able to see that many of our news stories became popular just because they were featured in the email newsletter. But until now, we couldn’t tell how many people open this email newsletter when they receive it.

We recently built a method within Google Tag Manager that does allow us to track when (but not by whom) our emails are opened… at least if we define “open” as opening the mail and downloading images. Using the Google Analytics Measurement Protocol, we created an “image” (really just a URL) that stores an Event Category of “email,” an Event Action of “open,” and the title of the news story as the Event Label. This works because the email thinks it’s a real image and tries to download it, sending the information to Google Analytics.

Our analytics show that recent issues of the Texas A&M Today newsletter were opened by more than 20,000 people the first day they were sent, 3,000 the next day, and 1,000 the third day.

 

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016 Analytics No Comments

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