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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


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Homepage Elements

September 17th, 2007 by Erick Beck

As most of you know, we are in the process of creating a new university web page on www.tamu.edu. While there have been quite a few interruptions over the last few months that have slowed progress, we have got the first few milestones down. After doing a survey of other university and coprorate sites, we have pretty much narrowed down the features that we want to put on the front page. Some of these will be the ho-hum elements that you see everywhere, but some are a major departure from what has ever been done at Texas A&M.

  • Audience based navigation links. No surprise here. We had actually experimented with other navigation techniques when we were at CIS and the overwhelming response was that viewers want the traditional audience based links. Given that this is the front page of a university site rather than the CIS site, I don’t see any alternative other than to leave them in place.
  • Search box. Again, no surprise, this is almost a required element. What we are excited about, however, is moving away from the free public Google search to running our own search appliance here on campus. This should give us much greater control over what is indexed and the logical order of search returns. I expect this to produce a dramatic improvement in how useful the entire site becomes.
  • Spotlight section. We have already started looking at ways to improve the Spotlight on the current site. We like the latest version, which uses Flash and enables us to rotate through several stories at a time instead of posting just one. It is also much easier to update and maintain that the old manual version.
  • Services/Quick Links. The basic concept of allowing navigation through these subject-based links will remain, and most of the major categories will probably be the same. We do, however, intend to go over these with a fine tooth comb and add or subtract links where apprpriate. While we haven’t made a final decision, I suspect that the flyout menues that are on the page now will not appear in the next version.
  • News headlines. This is the first of the significant changes from the current site. We want to use RSS technology to pull in syndicated news feeds to populate a list of news headlines that will be shown on the front page. We know that many of the college and departmental communications offices already send news to the university Communications team, but nothing can really substite for direct access to the news through published feeds. Not only will this allow for the front page to seem full, active, and dynamic, but it is also a great opportunity for offices across campus to have their news displayed on the university’s home page.
  • Event headlines. This is the second major departure from past A&M web sites. We plan to use iCal and RSS technology to show a list of current events. This is actually going to be the hardest of the home page components. Because there is no unified university calendar we are having to look for other calendars which can syndicate content. While there are some efforts being made to pubish news via RSS, we haven’t found that many iCal feeds. If any of you publish calendars that allow for export, please let us know so that we can include you in the events list as appropriate. Also, from a technical standpoint, just managing the headlines means that we’ll have to have the bulk of a complete calendaring system in place behind the scenes.

We’ll be posting more as we get further into the process.

Monday, September 17th, 2007 www.tamu.edu
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