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Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

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New Student Conference 2017

New Student Conferences (NSC) app welcomes new students and family members to Aggieland. This is the first year NSC was included in the TAMU app and also the first time we have used the Modo Labs Agenda Module. The Agenda Module lets us import events from a single Google Spreadsheet CSV file. This specialized calendar for NSC is for multi-day events, with support for multiple tracks and personalized user schedules. We look forward to helping users and events like NSC with the TAMU app in the future.

Monday, June 5th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

Why we need Solr?

Apache Solr is a java based open source enterprise search platform. Many of web applications have some form of text searching. Given the fact that most applications are based on MySQL, the normal approach is to use some sort of SQL ‘LIKE’ query.

So, why we need Solr?

  • Performance: Solr is faster than using MySQL comparison, it achieves fast search responses because, it searches an inverted index not the text directly.
  • Scalability: Sorl can be setup on different sever from web/database server. Which allow search functionally to scale independently from your web/database servers.
  • Smart Searching: Solr has the ability to handle spell check and correction, auto suggest, results highlighting, similar key word suggestions, facet navigations, synonym search results, and much more.

Apache Solr is proven in terms of search engine, it has all the core features to perform any type of search functionality. Solr has been widely adopted, also it has a large community of supporters. For more information about Solr, please check http://lucene.apache.org/solr/

 

Thursday, May 18th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

Tech Summit 2017

Had a great time at the TAMU Tech Summit this week in Galveston. It was my first time attending, and I have to say I was pretty impressed overall with the tracks and the level of expertise gathered. There were some really good keynote speeches, and I finally got to meet a number of people I had only known by name before. Personally, I’d like to see at little more in the system administration or networking areas, but that just means there are areas of opportunity to grow in the future.

Thanks to all our leaders on campus who worked to facilitate and make this possible.

Friday, February 24th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

Campus Analytics Team Revisited

After losing Chase Friedman as the leader of our GoWeb Analytics Special Interest Group, we have rebooted the group and are starting fresh.  We have now met twice and plan to be more active than we have for the last several months.

The goals we have set for the team are:

  • Learn analytics ourselves so that we can be a local resource
  • Create a plan to get a central tracking code on top-level university sites
  • Survey university units to determine their needs
  • Create a local documentation hub that web professionals on campus can reference
  • Set up training and consulting opportunities so that the team can share what we learn with the rest of campus.

Obviously there are many sub-points to each of these, but this gives you an idea of the direction we are going.

Monday, February 20th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

Let me introduce myself

Howdy, my name is Joseph Prather.

I previously worked for Texas A&M as an independent consultant for the Department of Information Technology (DOIT), Division of Student Affairs, for over a year. In 2015, I became a full time staff member of the DOIT team as a Senior Software Applications Developer.

I am thrilled to be the new Web and Information designer for the Marketing and Communications(Marcomm) team. My job will be a combination of web developing and marketing strategies. I will be taking over the day to day operations of Google Business products, as well as Maps and Google Analytics.

My goals involve using my experience as a web developer to lead the efforts in creating a more coherent environment for Content Management Systems (CMS) used at TexasA&M. To achieve this goal, I plan to aid in providing additional centralized resources for widely used CMS, such as Cascade and WordPress. This strategy combined with marketing tools and better practices, will result in a more coherent experience for the end users of the Texas A&M University brand.

I look forward to contribute in upholding Marcomm as the premiere resource/leader for those under the TAMU brand.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

WordPress CAS Authentication Issues

So apparently several of us around campus simultaneously experienced a similar issue recently with the CAS authentication plugin many of us use. The basic issue was that we were getting “Application Not Authorized” when trying to log into an HTTPS protected WordPress site using the CAS Maestro plugin. Our friend Donald St. Martin over in Engineering wrote up this great walk through of the problem and how to fix it.

HTTPS and the CAS Maestro WordPress plugin

 

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 CMS, Systems, Uncategorized, Web Security No Comments

Ansible

So over the last several months, I have been dedicating a fair amount of my time to updating our configuration managment system. Several years ago I started using Puppet for this purpose. Due to some of the limitations of both my knowledge and the SUSE Enterprise version we have been using, our methods and implementation have been in need of a good update. After spending longer than I care to admit evaluating what was out there, I finally decided Ansible is where I wanted to start.

So far… Ansible is awesome.

I have only begun to scratch the surface, but I can definitely say I’ve been able to get much further and much deeper, MUCH faster than I ever did with Puppet. Now to be fair, my experience with Puppet certainly helped give me a good jump start, but I feel like its been much easier to get in and do things quicker with Ansible. Certainly the iteration process is many times faster.

There is a few reasons for that.

Its agentless. This is so awesome, and honestly probably was the single biggest reason for deciding to try Ansible. In the grand scheme of things, I admit, its not a huge deal. However, the fact that you don’t have to authorize and manage an agent on each server is just one more layer you don’t have to worry about, or troubleshoot. All you need is a relatively up-to-date version of Python (2.6), and SSH. Simple. Being agentless also implies another awesome feature…

Its serverless. No server to run on a centralized machine. You can run all your scripts from your own workstation… or ANY workstation for that matter. That’s two less things to worry about.

Developing with Vagrant. Now this isn’t part of Ansible itself of course, but we have been slowly working Vagrant into our workflow, and it is a huge help. I can run a complete copy of whatever server I’m currently working on and test, re-test, and test some more, very quickly. If I totally screw something up, all I have to do is delete the virtual machine and re-deploy it. All on my local machine. This speeds up things dramatically with out the worry or hassle of connecting to a remote machine.

One last thing I’d like to mention is that Ansible is now owned by Redhat. Now this may not be a big deal for some people, but I feel like its nice to have some backing by a longstanding, trusted company, especially when it comes to using new technology on production machines. So far it seems that Ansible has been left to do what they do best. We will see, but for now I see this as a nice bit of insurance that it will be around a while. This also coincides with our decision to move everything to CentOS 7.

That is all I’m going to go through at the moment. There are a million posts and articles out there on “Ansible vs.” whatever configuration management flavor you’d like if anyone is curious. I’m looking forward to how far and deep we can take our Ansible implementation, and hopefully I can share some more knowledge about it in the near future.

 

 

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 Uncategorized No Comments

New Mobile Website

Earlier I mentioned that we had updated the university’s mobile app.  Part of that same project was to bring our mobile website into line with the app’s content.  In the past the two had been separate, and in some cases competing, platforms.  Now they include the same content, presenting a consistent user experience for mobile browsing on our campus.

This was accomplished through the framework that powers the mobile app.  In many ways it should be thought of as a content management platform rather than an app publishing platform.  It allows us to create the content in the back-end application and then publishes both to a native app and to a mobile website.

Screenshot of the university's mobile website

Monday, May 2nd, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

GoWeb Campus WebTalk on March 11 – Search Engine Optimization

GoWeb is excited to announce our first campus WebTalk on search engine optimization!

In today’s world, over half of a website’s traffic originates from search. As a web developer, we must optimize our pages for search in order to stand out and be found. Attend this presentation and learn what you can do to ensure your sites don’t go unlisted and unused, while avoiding the snake oil treatments that are associated with this topic.

The WebTalk will be held at 10:30 a.m. on March 11, in General Services Complex room 2605, inside suite 2601.

Please join us for the presentation and conversation around this important topic.

 

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

HighEdWeb Takeaways – Part 5

The typical way university websites are redesigned is to go look at what other universities have done and build something like that. There has been buzz about looking at corporate sites as part of the design process, but little of that has actually been done. In today’s world, though, we probably should take a page from the corporate playbook.

The trend online in business is to have everything online. Look at car insurance, for example. The website for any insurance company does not just describe the products and give you a number to call a local agent. It instead offers you the opportunity to create an account and sign up right away.

The corporate world is also much better at identifying and agreeing on the customer (i.e. the target audience.) They define measurable goals and set benchmarks for what successful completion of the goal is. The site has a defined purpose. The example insurance company website, for example, might have a goal of increasing policy purchases by 7% over the next six months. How many of us have that precise of a goal? How many of us instead have a goal of just providing information to whoever is interested in looking at it?

Whoever the target audience is, the goal should be to engage with them. Active engagement leads to conversions. Drive customers to your products, whatever they may be. For a university this might be a completed application, registration for a campus visit, or even the completion of a “send me more information” form.

Take a look at some of the for-profit educational institutions. Because of their profit motive they have been among the leaders in applying these principles. Compare their navigational elements to yours and see where they are putting their focus (not that this is something we should strive toward, but it is important to consider.)

There has been a focus shift in the role of websites. They originally centered on the organizational structure, then moved to focus on the user, and they are now becoming about the engagement process and driving conversions. Many of us are in isolated IT or communications groups. In order to effectively migrate our sites to this new paradigm, we must reach out to those who are setting our mission goals and find out what our priorities should be.

Friday, October 23rd, 2015 Uncategorized No Comments

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