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SXSW Website

A&M is going to SXSW this year and we have a new website to support everything that’s going on. It will be updated before and during SXSW, so you should keep an eye on it if you’re interested.

Check it out at sxsw.tamu.edu:

#TAMUatSXSW | Texas A&M Logo | March 10 -15 | Austin, TX

Monday, February 6th, 2017 News No Comments

So long Texas A&M

As Erick mentioned today is my last day working with the Marketing & Communications team at Texas A&M. It has been my pleasure to help elevate Texas A&M’s web presence and data sources and I know that the team and each of you will continue to do so in my absence. There were significant steps forward in my tenure from 2009-2011 and I’ll be watching as those steps turn to leaps over the next few years.

I wish you all the best and much future success.

So long.

Monday, January 2nd, 2012 News No Comments

Introducing TAMUtimes

I’m sorry it’s been so long since our last post. We were given a new project several months ago that, for various reasons, we have not been able to disclose or discuss. Now that the veil is lifted, I can reveal the background of the TAMUtimes project.

TAMUtimes grew out of the need for updating the old TAMU News website and the Aggie Hotline email. It combines all of our marketing, communication, and PR efforts under one umbrella. It will effectively take the place of the old news vehicles and replace them with a centralized service.

The central mandate for the new service was that it should place Marketing & Communications in the role of aggregating content from around campus rather than being the source of publication. That allows communicators from within the colleges, who are closer to the actual story, to have a greater hand in getting our word out. It also adds a layer of efficiency since staff who had been tasked with duplicating effort could be reassigned to more productive duties.

The TAMUtimes project is a marriage between the traditional online website and subscription-based email. Using the Maestro platform from CIS we create and send out an HTML email twice a week with featured news stories from around campus. The features from this email are automatically added to the website as the feature block there, keeping the email and the website in synch.

In keeping with the mandate to aggregate content, most of the information on the site is pulled in through various RSS feeds. Only a small amount of content, mostly internal university news, is actually entered into the system by our staff.

The website itself is based on WordPress, though heavily customized. To be honest, if I had to start over on the project, I probably would have gone a different route, but we just didn’t have the expertise yet in our content management system to allow the level of custom programming that we needed in the time allowed. The end result is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster behind the scenes, but hopefully with enough cosmetic surgery that the outward appearance isn’t so frightful.

As we move forward we will soon be integrating elements of TAMUtimes into the university website and other sites we maintain. This will allow us to integrate one more major university component into our ongoing concept of creating a unified web presence out of our individual previously-disconnected web silos.

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Friday, September 2nd, 2011 News 4 Comments

photo.tamu.edu – Gutted & Rebuilt in PHP

Photo.tamu.edu is Texas A&M University’s Flickr presence on steroids. Combining the powerhouses of content around campus into one unified resource. Aimed at proving a solid media outlet for journalists and content providers alike, this refined tool started in .NET and is now completely built in PHP. My goal as the lead developer of this project was to migrate version one’s cover to a framework that could be easily maintained throughout the webmaster office. Although version one was an alright start, it failed at meeting customer requirements and was quite error prone.

Some larger improvements I have made to the system include:

  • “Search” now indexes all A&M Flickr accounts, instead of just one at a time. Check out Reveille.
  • A functioning CMS with integrated approval process and notifications for departments & organizations interested in joining the system.
  • Jeff provided the system with an excellent library for integrating CAS 3 into our login panel.
  • “Media Contacts” are now available for each Flickr account. Need to find out who to contact about a photo? Look no further.
  • Photo was re-structured using the Zend framework, a delightful tool I might add.

Some small improvements include:

  • Random homepage photo is now selectable. Before you had to guess where it resided 🙁
  • Top-level menus have been cleaned up and now reflect the pages that are currently loaded.
  • The drop-down list floats currently selected Flickr accounts to the top of the list.
  • Photo tags link to search appliance. Now you can compare tags of all Flickr accounts simultaneously.
  • URL’s now make sense.
  • Context menus have been added at the individual photo viewing level.
  • Terms “image”, and “photo” were littered all over the site. Let it be known, the site will only state “photo” now. This switch avoids confusion in the long run… photo.tamu.edu? or image.tamu.edu? Your dose of url marketing for the day 😉

As always, we appreciate your input. Email us your thoughts and opinions, or post up in the comments.

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Friday, July 2nd, 2010 Image repository, News, Programming 2 Comments

Seeking Input, New Project

We have had a lot of success with the new university News & Information site that was recently published.  Building on that success we have just been given the green light to develop an online version of the Aggie Hotline.  This will enhance the news site by finally bringing internal campus news releases to the web rather than requiring us to subscribe to a mailing list.

I’ve already got several ideas for what to do into the site, but I want to ask for additional input for what you would like.  Since we’re starting pretty much from scratch we have the opportunity to build it however will work best to deliver the information that we need and how we need it.

I know much of the audience here might not be regular subscribers to the Hotline, but if any of you do read it, or if you would be interested it in in reading it once it gets moved online, we want to know what you would like.

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Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 Future Projects, News No Comments

Images in News Feed

We are happy to announce a new, if minor, improvement to the University News and Information website.  In the new system, we are able to include thumbnail images associated with each story.  Now these will be included in the RSS feed as well.  Any story that has a thumbnail will now include a link to its thumbnail in an <enclosure> feed tag, which can be parsed out by most standard RSS libraries.

This doesn’t have any large immediate impact, but anyone who wants to include the news on their website can now do so with images.  In the long term we actually plan on using this concept on the front page of the university website to create some real “Feature Articles” and thereby add some visual spice to what is now a somewhat mundane text-list of headlines.

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Monday, April 5th, 2010 News No Comments

New: Mobile Photos – m.tamu.edu/photos

So you had fun over spring break?… I beg to differ. I got to sit down on the laptop and knock out some really fun code, finalizing version one of the new photos application on m.tamu.edu. If you haven’t discovered A&M photos on Flickr I suggest you pick up a phone or visit it on your computer because the content is always flowing. The Division of Marketing & Communications has done a great job of keeping recent A&M Photos available to the public with outstanding descriptions and tags. Even while I was in the process of developing this application I managed to ‘get lost’ in the limitless amount of content.

In version one, you will see two primary viewing types, albums and tags. Using these two types, you can filter literally hundreds of photos, from campus construction photos, photos of our new President Dr. Bowen Loftin, and even our First Lady, Revellie VIII.

Thanks to Flickr’s robust API, I was able to make this content mobile friendly. Individual photos have ‘full views’ when clicked so you can even save and use each photo as a phone background. In version two I will be looking into adding a custom search feature and map tags making campus tours even easier. As always, we are looking to hear more from you the user. If you have any ideas please write us, webmaster@tamu.edu. Thanks for tuning in!

Bob

Lessons Learned

I think it’s important to use events like last week’s weather advisory posting as a report card for how we are doing.  In this case, the incident revealed a few weaknesses in our procedure and server configurations that we need to shore up.

Within two minutes of the weather advisory being posted on www.tamu.edu we noticed the TAMU News server start to page incessantly, and within another minute it failed altogether.  This was largely the result of not devoting enough RAM to the virtual machine hosting the site.  We quickly changed the settings and the site did fine for the rest of the day.  This did alert us that we needed to check all of our other sites, especially emergency.tamu.edu, and make sure that they all were set to withstand traffic spikes.

It also made us re-evaluate how some of our pages are stitched together.  The TAMU News site, for example, generates much of its content from RSS feeds from across campus.  Assembling all of this dynamically slows the page down enough without having to take into consideration high traffic volumes.  I have therefore changed a lot of the code to pull the information into the page through scheduled jobs rather than on each page load.  I have also started introducing caching to the site to speed the overall load time.  Hopefully these will have noticeable benefits for everyday use as well as keeping the site viable while under heavy load.

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Monday, March 1st, 2010 News, Ongoing Projects, Programming No Comments

TAMU News Website

Two weeks after deploying the new TAMU News website I’m experiencing something rather novel.  Usually when I spend as much time developing a site as we spent on this one I’m burned out on it by the time it goes to publication — while everyone is is celebrating a fresh new site I’m already tired of looking at it.  Just the opposite has happened with the news site though; I have actually come to like it more after it went live than I did before.

I think part of this was that during development I was dealing with static content and graphics.  One of the best parts of the new site, though, is the equally new focus we’ve taken on using high quality photos and graphics for all elements of the site.  With each element changing on a weekly, and even daily, basis this means that the site continues to seem fresh rather than quickly getting stale.

Using the power of WordPress and RSS feeds, we were also able to add the “Texas A&M in the News” and the “Around Campus” sections, as well as the “Engineering Works” podcast series,  further making the site more dynamic and interesting.  We pushed WordPress to its limits, many times hacking a plugin and even writing our own PHP functions to do what we needed to get done.

The end result was well worth the effort though. Getting this site out the door as the first project of the year bodes well. As I look at some of the other projects,  we have really cool stuff lined up for this year.  If we can avoid getting sidetracked by other out-of-the-blue demands we should be able to make some big improvements on the university web presence.

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Monday, February 1st, 2010 News No Comments

New News Site

Tomorrow we will be launching a new Texas A&M News and Information site.  We will be moving away from an antiqutied article manager to a site build on the latest version of WordPress.  There will be many new features build into the site, many leveraging the power of RSS feeds to bring in information from outside sources.

We anticipate that there will be a little downtime with the transition but will strive to make it as minimal as possible.

One thing that webmasters around campus should be aware of – if you are currently subscribing to the “recent articles” feed from the old system you should update your links to either http://feeds.feedburner.com/tamuNewsFull or http://tamunews.tamu.edu/feed/.  If you already subscribe to the full version of the feed you won’t need to change anything (but might have a lag as Feedburner updates their links.)

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Thursday, January 14th, 2010 News 1 Comment

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