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TAMU Webmaster's Blog


Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Website Optimization

August 8th, 2017 by Erick Beck

After being online for two years, we had noticed the university website starting to take longer to load.  We have therefore started a project to identify any bottlenecks and start re-optimizing the site for speed. As we identify issues we are also making adjustments to our other sites to maximize our users’ experience.

We won’t claim to have done anything extraordinary.  There are hundreds of websites that detail the steps you need to take, many online services that will analyze your site and offer suggestions, and even Google Chrome has much of this built in.

A few things we noticed:

  • Server settings are easy to verify and reset if necessary.  Things like compression and enabling browser caching are straightforward.
  • Optimizing images sizes should be an easy thing, but was our biggest point of failure.  Over time and as responsibilities shifted, saving images for the web somehow got dropped from the workflow.  Coupling this with having to produce larger images to look good on high-resolution screens only made the problem worse.
  • Today’s use of CSS and Javascript frameworks leads to a lot of bloat.  Many classes and functions are included but never used.  Even concatenating into a single file and minimizing can be problematic when every page needs a different combination of scripts included in the package.

Our process isn’t complete, and we will probably never be able to make all of the “recommended” improvements, but we have seen a definite improvement.

 

 

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 www.tamu.edu No Comments

Personal Directories on University Website

August 1st, 2017 by Erick Beck

After several years and three turnovers in leadership, we have finally been able to make progress in removing personal directories from the university website.  Today we took the first step in this – adding a robots file that blocks these directories from search engines.  On November 1 we will be removing them altogether. My thanks to those of you who have worked with us in this process, particularly those who helped us find new hosting environments for faculty within your college.

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017 www.tamu.edu No Comments

Veteran Resources Hub

June 6th, 2017 by Erick Beck

Today we launched a page that has been on our to-do list since publishing the university page over a year ago.  We now have a dedicated Veteran Resources page.

We have several offices across campus who serve our veterans.  The purpose of this page is to elevate all of these content areas so that there is a quick and easy place to find resources – all the way from the admissions process through post-college careers.

This page will have a link front-and center on the university website, hopefully enabling those who serve to immediately find where to go for what they need.

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 www.tamu.edu No Comments

New Student Conference 2017

June 5th, 2017 by Joe Prather

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?

May 18th, 2017 by Laith Albarakat

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

Family Weekend Mobile App

May 8th, 2017 by Joe Prather

The Family Weekend mobile app this year was a huge success. This was the first year Family Weekend was included in the Texas A&M mobile app. Those coming for Family Weekend were welcome with a mobile friendly experience with all the information needed. It allowed users to see events and custom maps right the their hand. We are happy in providing the best experience for those visiting campus.

The family weekend module received 10,449 page views.  Of those, 7,353 came from the On Campus profile and 3,096 came from the Welcome profile.

Monday, May 8th, 2017 Mobile App, Mobile Web No Comments

New Look on an Old Site

April 24th, 2017 by Erick Beck

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so to help promote understanding of the topic we have overhauled the StepInStandUp website.  This announcement is less about the website, though, as it is mentioning this as our first project working with Barkley REI, one of our master contract web vendors.

We have historically done most of our projects in-house, but this project marks a turning point.  When working on projects that are brought to us from other parts of the university we will be engaging with our list of vendors to help get things done.  In this case, Barkley REI did a great job on an incredibly tight schedule.

 

Monday, April 24th, 2017 Miscellaneous No Comments

Marketing the Texas A&M University Mobile App

April 12th, 2017 by Erick Beck

As well as attending the mobile conference last week, I was also a presenter.  I have added the presentation slides to Slideshare.

The presentation was on Marketing the Texas A&M University Mobile App.  The primary focus of the Division of Marketing & Communications is on an external audience, we don’t do a lot of marketing to the university itself.  In order to market the app, then, we rely on our partners from across campus – those with content in the app.  We have found that they are the best evangelists of the system, because by promoting the app they are promoting themselves.

Our partners also have a much larger reach than my team has.  The campus visitor center, libraries, transportation services, and all of the other content partners are able to get the message out to many, many more people that we could do on our own.  This presentation will show some of those partnerships, and how we can engage with the large student population spread across a campus as large as ours.

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 Mobile App No Comments

Kurogo Mobile Conference

April 6th, 2017 by Erick Beck

I just returned from the Kurogo Higher Ed Mobile Conference, and had a wonderful time.  This is a conference hosted by the vendor for our university mobile app.  While open to everyone and technically not specifically about the app, the majority of the attendees are current or prospective clients.  This meant plenty of new people to meet, see how our peers are tackling the same problems we are, and share ideas.

Rather like my first experience at HighEdWeb, I quickly discovered that almost all of us are in the same boat.  No matter the size or makeup of the institution, none of of us have the resources we need yet are somehow able to produce some amazing work.  We all look out our own apps and see where we could be doing more, yet get compliments from the others who we look at and see as being so much more “with it.”

I am coming home with a lot of great ideas.  Not that the app will be taking all of our time and attention away from the overall web environment, but it is increasingly apparent that it needs to have a place of importance as one of vehicles of campus communications.  So don’t be surprised if I start reaching out to you about how we can collaborate in making this platform better…as well as how we can use it to make your content more accessible as well.

Thursday, April 6th, 2017 Mobile App No Comments

Talking to Vendors is a Good Thing

March 3rd, 2017 by Erick Beck

Just like at any conference, last week’s Tech Summit had its vendor room.  Many of the people that I talked to didn’t engage with the vendors, though.  There were a couple of common themes for this – they thought the vendors were just there to sell you something, or that the vendors’ products were nothing that you are interested in, or that there was no value in talking to vendors because they are not in a decision making role in their department.

These are all common responses, and I have thought them myself at various points of my career.   Having matured a bit, though, I can say that there definitely is value in talking to vendors, and that these reasons are not as valid as we think.

Yes, these people are there to show off their products.  After several years there have been very few that have pushed the hard sell.  They know that we aren’t the ones who will be writing the check.  They love to interact, though.  While most companies do send sales teams, they also send engineers to explain the product.  These are IT folks too, and love to geek out the same sorts of things we do.  You can learn lots of tidbits just through this type of interaction that you would never pick up from a white paper.

Also remember that “corporate sponsor” means that they are helping to support the conference.  If you enjoy the conference drop by and give them at least a “thank you.”  This is often a good icebreaker to extend the conversation into other areas. A lot of times you find out things about the company that you didn’t know, or find out that some of their business is in areas that you didn’t know about but are interested in.

Probably most important, don’t think that you don’t affect decisions just because you aren’t in a managerial role.  If you specialize in something, your bosses will likely come to you for input on topics relating to that area.  If you have talked to vendors and have a sense of options they can offer your advice will be more trusted (and they will be more likely to come to your for advice.)  It also pays dividends into the future.  As you progress in your careers this kind of background knowledge becomes more and more assumed.

Interaction doesn’t have to be brilliant conversation.  Half of the booths that I visited started something like  “I’m in web development, what do you do that might be related?” Once the ice is broken, questions and discussion becomes pretty straightforward.  So next time you attend a conference, approach the vendor room with a new sense of purpose.

 

Friday, March 3rd, 2017 Miscellaneous No Comments

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