We are pleased to offer another content release for our Virtual Tours site. This one is relatively small, but makes some important changes.
First of all, we have added a new feature section — Residence Halls. Working with Res Life, we have managed to get sample rooms in most of the residence hall types. Included are still photos as well as panoramas for most dorms. We did miss a few because of scheduling conflicts, so we will come back and catch those in the Fall when the rooms are occupied and decorated.
The second content addition is the expansion of the audio podcast section. We have added a few new locations, as well as adding text transcripts for each podcast. Some of the existing podcasts have also been updated with new voice talent to add a little variety to the mix.
Probably the most striking update has been with the photos. We have some spectacular photos on the site and we want to highlight them as much as possible. We have therefore replaced the front-page cartoon image with a striking image of campus and have added feature photos on each of the major category pages. Most importantly, we have completely overhauled the photos page on each of the buildings. Instead of having to flip through a carousel to see each image, they are now laid out grid-style on the page much like you would see on Facebook. This will hopefully make them much more accessible and thereby much more viewed.
We will continue to make additions in the Fall and Spring. We have several more major building updates to add, hopefully a few partnerships with large campus groups to feature their locations, as well as the opportunity to display user-generated content.
This yesterday evening we went live with a major update to the content on our Virtual Tours site. We have added many of the everyday locations that students will see and experience on an everyday basis. As an added treat, we are also including a section that features some historic photos that we have dug out of the archives.
We intend to continue expanding the site both in terms of content and features for probably the next year at least. Please take a look, enjoy the tour, and send along any suggestions that you have for how we can make it better.
I have already had several people ask “Virtual tours was a big project. Now that it’s over what do you have planned next?” I pretty much answer the same. The virtual tours have been published, but they are far from finished. In fact, we were starting Round Two before the first generation was even ready to go online. We have over 1,000 buildings on campus. While many of these are ancillary and will never be included on the tours, the first round consisted of less than two dozen locations. We are already planning releases (hopefully spring break and summer) to increase that dramatically.
Which brings me to the real point of this post, now that I have you hooked with a status report. All to often we take the wrong approach to our projects. We are so used to developing and providing services that we forget that what we are really providing is experiences. Users come to our sites because they want something out of them. We can provide them an experience that blends in with any other university, or we can make them remember us by providing something spectacular.
While the implementation of the campus tours isn’t something I would call spectacular, the original vision was…and you can see parts of that in what we accomplished. The photos are absolutely stunning, and the way we tied them together with audio and supplemental content like Foursquare worked out well. Future content releases will further enhance this mix by providing 360-degree panoramas.
This is why we decided to launch the first generation of the tour like we did, with only limited content. If we had waited until we had all of the locations, and all of the media content, it would have taken another year. Or, as is more often the case, we could have rushed something out the door that would have been unremarkable.
The “experience” is said to be that something extra that is added beyond the requirements of the service itself. It is why Starbucks can charge $4.00 for a cup of coffee…you are buying the brand, or the experience, in most cases more so than the actual product.
That is what I am challenging our team to do on all of our projects. If you don’t think big, your accomplishments will remain small. We will surely struggle with this, timelines and other pressures will at times force us to settle, but I hope we never will be satisfied with rolling out something that is forgettable.
If possible, try this first on several small projects, where the effect will be more noticeable and magnified. Doing this lots of times on small projects will allow the effect to add up so that cumulatively you achieve as much as one large release. We are in the middle of several big projects, so this is going to be difficult for us.
So if you ever question why our postings here have slowed down or why we don’t seem to be releasing as many new projects, right now we are focusing on how to enhance the user experience across the board.
This one has been a long time coming. We have been talking to people across campus about publishing a virtual tour for two years now. We have finally got something on line and are opening the doors for public consumption. See http://campustour.tamu.edu/
The content currently online is only a fraction of what we plan to publish, but we didn’t want to wait until we had all of the content because that could be another six months. As many of you recall, the original plan was going to be to have a vendor produce the core of the site and we would add material from specific areas on campus to supplement and compliment what they had done. Negotiations with the vendor fell through, though, leaving us to produce the entire site. The first round of content, what you see today, is the areas of campus that the vendor was to have provided. Over the course of the Spring and Summer we will be introducing additional content covering other areas of campus. We already have buy-in from several departments, and will be approaching others in order to flesh out the tour site.
The goal of the site was to incorporate all of the tours that we offer on campus, so it is not strictly a self-contained virtual tour. It also links over to walking tours that the Visitor Center offers, tours of the Bonfire Memorial, the university’s FourSquare program, audio podcasts that can be played from the site or downloaded, and many more.
We also realized that one of the primary users would be people here in town walking around campus. We therefore made the page views accessible to both phone and tablet size devices.
We invite your feedback on the site. Tell us what works and what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t. Because we have so much content left to publish we fully intend to use the feedback that we get from this round to modify and improve the site as we go through each new phase of development.
We have just launched a completely new version of our Visitors’ Website. As you may remember, the former version was devoted primarily to the Visitor Center and official campus visits from prospective students. While we recognize this is indeed an important audience, we have expanded the scope of the site to make it more welcoming of visitors in general. This move comes as part of our overall campus realignment to the SEC. We want to feature Texas A&M more as a feature destination…some place that you can come for several days and experience not only campus but the entire area.
The Visitor’s site will be what we consider the flagship for all of our sites that deal with people visiting campus. All of the others — Tailgating, Maps, Virtual Tours, etc. — will be created or recreated using this same general page look. This will let viewers be able to visually tell right away that they are within the same family of sites.
As promised, our major project for this spring is going to be working with Admissions to provide a campus wide virtual tour. A third party vendor has been selected to supply the central campus tour, but we want to flesh out the site beyond their offering and provide our own supplemental information on the areas that they don’t cover.
Our team is in the process of collecting locations to add. We will then start creating photos, panoramas, and videos of the selected locations. We need your help with coming up with this list. We can’t tour each and every building on campus looking for the interesting spots to feature, but you are in those building every day. If your building has some sort of interesting feature, collection, or display — either inside or outside the building — please let us know.
Also let us know if you already have some sort of tour, photo collection, or anything else that highlights your part of campus. We plan to make this system extensible enough that we can link to or otherwise include your content. If you have old content but think it is time to upgrade, also get in touch with us. We are actively looking for partners in providing online content.
We are in the pre-production stages of our big spring project, which as I mentioned before will be the creation of a campus virtual tour site. This is something that the university has long needed, and we are finally in a position to work on.
As well as a central campus tour we foresee there being several modular subcomponents which focus on a particular area (whether geographical or topical) of campus. We will shortly begin contacting some of you to see if you want to become partners in the process and have your areas featured.
We also want to make sure that any of you who already have some sort of tour also get links in the site to your pages. I have already found a few of these, but please send us anything that your office already has online so we don’t leave you out.