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Back to Reality

August 2nd, 2010 by Erick Beck

The trip to eduWeb last week was well worth it.  I noticed several new trends and picked up some ideas that we can incorporate into our web presence.  I’ll post some of those observations once I have a chance to review my notes and organize my thoughts.

While catching up from the trip on Friday I kept running across the cartoon that somebody posted about what should be on a university website.

cartoon depicting topics of what is on a university website vs. what should be

I must have seen this cartoon on at least a dozen blogs, mail lists, personal emails, and Facebook posts.  When it started making the rounds of the local uweb listserv I figured I had to reply.  I know it was sent tongue-in-cheek, but it does bring up an important point that we (ironically those of us in the IT world more-so than others) tend to forget.

My thoughts are best summed up by a comment Brian Niles left on the highedwebtech blog. For better or worse, the main www.xyz.edu website at any university is now mostly about marketing the university to the outside world – particularly prospective students and their parents.  [Pardon me while I don my flame-retardant suit.]  Online resources for the campus community really belong on a campus intranet, in our case the Howdy portal, various divisional websites, and our departmental intranets.

Of course nothing is ever absolute and we should expect there to always be overlap.  Most of the elements on the right side of the image are already on our campus website, and I believe I can say that all of them were already being incorporated into the new version we’re creating.  That being said, when choosing the content for the site we do approach it largely with an external audience in mind, and this trend will likely grow more pronounced over time.

The main university website is no longer the primary method of conveying online information to all audiences.  As the internet has evolved it has gotten more sophisticated and allowed us to tailor the content to particular groups.  That doesn’t mean the on-campus audience gets left behind, it just means that we need to present their content separately from what we give to the public.

It also means that we need to take as much care in crafting the websites aimed at our on-campus audience as we do those aimed at the public.  I have no doubt this cartoon was drawn by somebody working on a campus and was frustrated at not getting the information he was looking for.   The problem, though, was that he was looking in the wrong place, and we as web managers didn’t have a complete university web presence aimed at filling his needs.

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Monday, August 2nd, 2010 www.tamu.edu
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3 Comments to Back to Reality

  1. You’re right about a lot of that information belonging more on the intranet (howdy) than being displayed prominently on our main page. And there is a link to the Howdy portal on the main page…but does everyone know what that is? Students (and, probably to a lesser extent, faculty and staff) who’ve never heard of Howdy probably DO go to the main site looking for the information on the right…because they don’t know where else they could expect to find it.

  2. Andy on August 2nd, 2010
  3. I’m sure you know the source: http://xkcd.com/773/

  4. Chris on August 2nd, 2010
  5. Andy – your point is dead on, and that does make the decision less cut-and-dry. As much as I would cringe at “mytamu” it is at least a convention that everybody would understand right away. I think as Howdy takes on more student features that were previously independent sites (admissions process, class registration, etc.) it is becoming more widely known and used, but there is a learning curve for those of us who have been here longer.

    I’m not arguing that the elements in the right-hand bubble shouldn’t be there. They definitely should. The inference from the cartoon, and many of the comments is that the elements on the left aren’t used and aren’t needed. I’m making the case that both sides are necessary.

    Chris – I know it was there. Not sure if that’s the original though, I’ve seen at least the concept elsewhere before this version got popular.

  6. Erick on August 3rd, 2010

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