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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Ongoing Projects

Retiring Campus Tours Website

Please be aware that in the near future we will be retiring the Campus Tours website at campustours.tamu.edu.  Everyone working on this site had the best of intentions, but implementation never lived up to expectations.  With the content growing stale and the site not aligned with the brand, it is time to take it down.

A new virtual tours project will be started, but in the meantime anyone whose pages are still linking to this site should update the links to the current panorama tours that we have in the Campus Bird map implementation – http://vr.concept3d.com/texas_am/

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Thursday, August 10th, 2017 Ongoing Projects No Comments

New Site – Office of Government Relations

Our latest site to get published is a special request from the Office of Governmental Relations.  This site was modeled on a template that was developed for the office of the president.  For various reasons, this one would up betting launched first.

This site layout is intended as a compliment to the university website.  We realize that many office don’t have the four or six navigation links that the university site needs, so wanted to create something that presented the navigation in a single row.  We do have the header/footer structure available in github.  If you are interested in code for the rest of the site please get in touch.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016 Ongoing Projects No Comments

New Site – Texas A&M Today

We went live earlier this week with our first major site of the year. The university news & information page, formerly known as TAMU Times, has been rebranded to Texas A&M Today. The accompanying email has also been rebranded, and successfully sent out on Wednesday.

This project was one of our major efforts for the Fall semester. It was a substantial challenge, because we had to not only build the site looking forward, but had to make the last several years of content from the current site compatible with the new version.

Many of the features of this site won’t be immediately visible. Rather than creating Texas A&M Today in a vacuum, the site was designed to integrate into our whole set of web properties. As our other sites get developed and rolled out you will how they increasingly rely on and support our other sites.

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 Ongoing Projects 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

A New Take on an Old Site

Yesterday we launched a new version of the Texas A&M Impacts site. The site was originally a republication of news articles from around campus that were collected and organized by theme.  This content is being removed from its own site and will be re-absorbed into a redesigned TAMUtimes site (coming soon!)

The current site is meant to serve as a call-to-action anchor for the TV commercial that will appear during Aggie football games.  The site was designed as a companion by the same firm that created the commercial.  It is similar to the old site in that it serves to showcase selected Impacts taking place at A&M, but it does so in a more modern and media rich format.

Friday, August 29th, 2014 Ongoing Projects No Comments

Visitor Center Registration Application

After a long, and often painful, process we are finally ready to launch Version 2 of the visitor center registration application. This was a project that was requested on my first day in Marcomm, and I am happy to have it now online.

Seven years ago the visitor center took registrations for campus tours over the phone and through email, and then manually recorded them in a Filemaker Pro database. This, of course, was an enormously cumbersome process which we were asked to streamline. Over the course of the last seven years we did this through a series of incremental upgrades.

The first iteration was to gather the information that was being fed into the Filemaker database and create an HTML file to allow people to register online. Filemaker was a desktop application similar to Access so we couldn’t write directly to the database. The form instead appended entries to a daily XML file that could be imported into Filemaker.

This system was a nice upgrade, but everyone recognized that it was not a complete solution. We therefore took on the task of creating an application that could feed a MySQL database in real time. At the same time the scope of the project widened as we were asked to not only include registrations for campus tours but also for meetings with academic advisors, freshman orientation meetings, and tours of residence halls. This project led to our previous site. It was well intentioned and did its job, but the development process was flawed. Changes were made throughout development that forced us to create a patchwork solution that left some gaps in usability.

The current site came about as a way of finally creating a unified system that was planned from the beginning to be modular and extensible enough to incorporate change requests during development. It also added options for both individual visits and group visits, which had been lacking in previous generations.

While this site currently exists as a stand-alone entity, so do have plans to make it more tightly bound — at least stylistically — to the larger visitors website and the common university branding.

Monday, August 11th, 2014 Ongoing Projects No Comments

uWeb Meetings

Over the past couple of months I have been asked by several web developers new to campus about whether we have some sort of group for web professionals to meet and discuss projects, problems, and other matters. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is both a need and a desire for this sort of thing. Those of you who have been here for a while might remember our earlier effort to revive uWeb. I think it is time that we take another stab at it.

I would therefore like to invite you all to the first meeting of the reconstituted uWeb on Friday December 6 at 3:00 in room 2406 of the MSC. We will try to meet roughly monthly after that and present on topics (both ours and yours) that affect us all.

Killing two birds with one stone, we will be talking about the SiteImprove contract that we recently signed. The vendor will be presenting the service through a live webinar and will be available to answer your questions. I know several of you have talked to me already about joining in but have to convince others who are in charge of the budget. I hope that being able to look at real sites on campus will give you the leverage that you need to show how useful the service will be. If any of you would like to volunteer your site to be one of the demos please send me the url.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 Ongoing Projects No Comments

SiteImprove Contract

The TAMU System has signed a contract with SiteImprove for their website monitoring service. This will allow access to their Quality Assurance and Accessibility modules. I have been able to have a few of my own sites enrolled during the negotiation process and can testify to the value of the service.

The System offices are still in the process of getting training for the administrators and getting billing information set up. Once they get that information I will pass it along and let you know how to get your own pages monitored.

Monday, October 7th, 2013 Ongoing 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

Marcomm Departmental Site

It has been a long time coming, but we have finally circled back around to re-launching our own departmental website. Those of you who remember the “old and busted” version will appreciate the “new hotness.”

The site used to be little more than a glorified contact list. It didn’t do a good job of telling what the department did or what we offer to the university. On top of that, it was designed in a rather un-aggielike shade of teal. We did a cosmetic upgrade to the site a few months ago to bring it back into the university branding model, but the content was left pretty much the same.

For this overhaul we wanted to make the site actually be useful for our campus constituency. We looked at all of the services that we offer and made them the centerpiece of the site. We now have easy to reach toolkits and resources for communicators across campus. The front page will also showcase a series of articles written by Marcomm staff on a number of topics that highlight departmental plans and accomplishments.

More content, such as group portfolios will be added to the site in the weeks to come, but I am happy to say that we now have something that will be a positive benefit to campus.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 Ongoing Projects 1 Comment

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