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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Future Projects

Spring is Here

Along with the new semester comes new projects needing our attention.  Here is a quick rundown of what is taking up the most of our time now and for the immediate future.

TAMUmobile phone apps

Our vendor contract for the current version of the apps will be expiring soon, and we have recently finished an RFP to select a vendor to create the replacement.  Modo Labs was selected, and the contract was executed right before the Christmas break.  We are now working with people from across campus to identify content needs and working with the vendor to get the app built.  Look for rollout in mid to late April.

Web Calendar

The current web calendar has become increasingly difficult to update and maintain.  We are in the beginning stages of selecting a new software product.  Our intention is to find something that meets all of the needs that our current system meets and extend the functionality to include many things that the current calendar cannot do.  We will hopefully be previewing several systems in late January to early February, with a selection to come soon thereafter.  Depending on complexity of rollout and competing projects, I hope we can launch in early to mid Summer.

Web Development RFP

Most of us have more work than we can handle ourselves.  Marcomm is therefore working with Purchasing to create a pool of pre-approved web development firms.  This will allow departments from across campus to contract with these vendors without needing to do an individual RFP for their project.   The RFP has closed, we should begin evaluating submissions before February, and hope to have a final pool established before March.

Analytics

We all collect these, right?  But how many of us do anything with them?  Do we even know what metrics to focus on?  A cross-college group is being put together to look at how we can roll out a truly campus-wide analytics program, identify important metrics, and discuss how to use data to drive decision making on website creation and updating.  I expect this will be a year-long project.  If you are interested in participating it isn’t too late, just shoot me a line.

Staff Appreciation Week

Along with our strategic projects, we always have things that come along that just have to be done. The latest is support for the upcoming Staff Appreciation Week.  This website, along with some HTML emails will be front and center for the next few weeks.

I am sure there will be more to come, and many things so small they didn’t make this list, but this will at least give you an idea of were we are putting our focus for the next few months.

 

Friday, January 15th, 2016 Future Projects No Comments

Yes, We Are Still Here

The last few months have revolved around special projects, committee meetings, and project planning for the future. Most of our focus has been internal during this time, so there hasn’t been a whole lot of project launches or other announcements for us to have posted.

A bit of a preview of what we have to  look forward to as we move into the holiday period and the Spring semester:

  • Web analytics – a campus wide team has been formed to look at creating a single analytics login, best practices for measuring web traffic, and identifying the most important metrics to include.  Work on this will be ongoing throughout the Spring and Summer.
  • TAMUmobile phone apps – the contract with our current vendor expires in the Spring.  We have gone through an RFP process to identify a new vendor, Modo Labs.  We are beginning to learn their development framework, and producing an update version of the app will be one of our major Spring projects.
  • University web calendar – the software powering the current web calendar is becoming more difficult to keep maintained and updated.  We have put together a group to evaluate requirements for a new software platform and identify a replacement.
  • Several websites, both internal and for other customers, are in various stages of production.  We will release them as they are finished and approved for publication by the site sponsors.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 Future Projects No Comments

Digital Asset Management

One of the projects we have been working on for a while is Digital Asset Management. Our photo team had evaluated several commercial products, and found that most, if not all, of them were too expensive for us to be able to afford as a single division. We therefore shifted gears and started looking at some of the open source solutions.

As we went through this process we found others on campus who were also looking at the same problem. Last week I sent a note out the the campus communicators’ list asking for feedback of who might be interested in getting a team together to investigate a central service. I was overwhelmed by the results; over twenty colleges, departments, or offices expressed an interest in joining.

In order to facilitate communication on this effort I have set up a local listserv list. If anyone would like to participate in the conversation please contact me and I can get you added to the list.

I look forward to this becoming a successful shared service that can befit the entire campus community.

Friday, January 30th, 2015 Future Projects, Image repository No Comments

Adopting a Framework

As most of you know by now, we are currently working on the next version of the university website.  We will be using this site a cornerstone for much of the work we do moving forward.  One of the elements that will be affected is how we build sites.  Currently we develop all of our CSS and responsive page looks by hand-writing our styles and setting our own media queries and break points.  Starting with the new site we will be shifting over to developing with the Foundation framework.

This is a big change for us, and frankly one that I am not yet wholly comfortable with.  Perhaps it is a generational thing, but I have never liked frameworks, or at least the modern interpretation of the term.  Rather than being a basic scheme upon which to build your own creation, modern frameworks push you down a pre-determined path – and deviation from that path can be difficult.  The GoMobile team even had a term for this, calling such sites “Bootstrappy.”   Further, because these frameworks try to be all things for all sites, the HTML and CSS required to use them can get enormously bloated.  (See Michael’s previous post on how to combat this.)

So, if we have a framework that we have to go to pains to override, and which includes a CSS file that is bigger than the entire page (including images!) should be, why did we decide to use it?

First, we wanted to create a standard that would be consistent across all of our sites.  While we have always been diligent about trying to remain consistent in the way we wrote our code, we inevitably  failed.  Every site had its own production cycle which systematically led to each site being different.  Even when two sites called for the same effect it often turned out to be done differently on each site. Standardization will let us resolve this issues, and thereby let us more easily maintain multiple sites.

We, both as a division and as a university, are experiencing increased staff turnover.  As new people come in it is easier for them to learn and maintain our sites if they are built on a standard codebase.

Probably most important, the multitude of new devices makes keeping up with technology easier when using a framework.  With new phones and tablets being released each month, and the ever changing capabilities of these devices, the framework makes it easier to maintain cross-platform support.  We no longer have to worry about knowing the latest specs on every device and knowing how to update our code based on those changes. Any needed updates can by incorporated through keeping the framework up to date as needed.

One thing that we have seen in adopting this new methodology is that you can’t follow the framework’s code to the letter.  It is a framework after all, which by definition is something that is there to support your code…not to determine it. Don’t try to do everything within the framework’s code — don’t fight it and look for ways to circumvent it —  but don’t hesitate to write your own styles on top of it.

So what does that mean for me personally?  I recently started editing a site that had already been built on Bootstrap and I honestly started reverting to what I knew, making hacks and overrides to effect the changes I wanted.   It is going to be a hard transition — probably on the order of moving from tables to CSS for site layout — but it is a necessary transition in order to remain current and relevant in our field.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 Future Projects, Ongoing Projects No Comments

Progress on Projects

Even though most of my posts lately have been about search, the team continues to work on other projects. We have two very large ones going right now, a complete overhaul of the tamutimes news site and a new version of the university website.

We have been given a deadline of having the TAMUtimes site ready before classes begin in the Fall, so we are starting the final push to get everything put together. Both the website and the email newsletter are being reworked and should be significant improvements on the current site.

The university website is currently scheduled to launch in January, before classes start for the Spring. We have been working and reworking content, and should have wireframes and color schemes ready in a couple of weeks. For those of you waiting on an announcement about web branding, that effort will probably pull considerable inspiration from the new design.

Along with the www.tamu.edu revision we are looking at how we can rebrand the visitors’ website and the virtual tours site into the same basic template. That will give our primary external sites a consistent look that is all university branded. With luck we will be able to launch these at the same time as the university site.

We also have several smaller projects on our plate that have to be worked in between these bigger ones. All in all we expect this trip through the redesign cycle to considerably elevate our collection of web properties.

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014 Future Projects No Comments

Next trip through the Cycle

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 www.tamu.edu 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, www.tamu.edu No Comments

Web App Migration

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 … photo.tamu.edu, experts.tamu.edu, campustour.tamu.edu, cal.tamu.edu, and calendar.tamu.edu. 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 No Comments

Where do we go this year?

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 No Comments

Inclusion Website

Our normal workflow is often interrupted with special projects that we are assigned. For the last several weeks we have been working on the “Fifty Years of Inclusion” website, which showcases many of the important steps toward diversity that the university has taken in the last fifty years. This project involved people from all over campus, so a special thank you to anyone who participated.

We will now be turning our attention back to making progress on the web branding guidelines, as well as beginning an overhaul of the TAMUmobile apps and web. You can expect to be hearing more about both soon.

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 Future Projects, Ongoing Projects No Comments

Virtual Tours

One of our big projects for next spring will be the publication of online virtual tours. We are currently partnering with the Office of Admissions and others to select a product.

One thing that we have been talking about is not limiting ourselves to whatever vendor product is chosen, but to surround that application with tour-related information of our own — panoramas and videos of buildings, campus maps, etc.

One of the potential items that was brought to our attention was tour sites that already exist within the various campus offices. We would definitely love to include these in the overall virtual tour site. If you have or know of an online tour site on campus, please send us a link so that we can consider it for inclusion.

Monday, December 5th, 2011 Future Projects 1 Comment

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