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Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

CMS Use on Campus

February 10th, 2017 by Erick Beck

I posted this on the GoWeb site a few weeks ago, but since people have continued to ask about it I am repeating the information here.


Several years ago we did a survey of what content management systems were in use across campus.  After several years of change in this space we thought it would be good to see what those numbers look like now.

A trend of consolidation stands out.  Through self selection, the majority of us are naturally aligning around Cascade and WordPress.  Most of those who have not made that migration are considering it.  The exception is Provost IT, which is firmly tied to Kentico.

Cascade

  • Bush School – moving into Cascade
  • College of Architecture
  • College of Engineering – moving from Umbraco to Cascade
  • College of Geosciences
  • Health Science Center
  • Libraries
  • Division of Marketing & Communications
  • TAMU IT
  • TAMU Galveston
  • Tarleton State University – for the entire university

WordPress

  • AgriLife
    • Extension programs
    • Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
    • Department of Entomology
  • College of Dentistry – for news site
  • College of Education – moving from Drupal to WordPress
  • College of Engineering – for some smaller sites
  • College of Science
    • Department of Statistics
  • College of Veterinary Medicine – moving from Umbraco to WordPress
  • Health Science Center
  • Mays Business School
  • Division of Marketing & Communications – for news site
  • Public Policy Research Institute
  • Student Affairs
  • TAMU IT
  • TAMU Qatar
  • TEEX – will soon begin using for microsites

Drupal

  • Education – but actively moving to WordPress

Umbraco

  • College of Engineering – but actively moving to Cascade
  • College of Veterinary Medicine – but actively moving to WordPress
  • Finance & Administration – but considering moving to Cascade or some other platform

Kentico

  • Provost IT

Drupal

  • College of Education – but actively moving to WordPress

Sharepoint

  • TEEX

No CMS

  • Transportation Services -but considering moving to Cascade or some other platform

Custom

  • College of Science – but likely to change
Friday, February 10th, 2017 Miscellaneous No Comments

SXSW Website

February 6th, 2017 by Eric Bakenhus

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

Let me introduce myself

February 2nd, 2017 by joeprather

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

January 31st, 2017 by Charlie Harris

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

January 19th, 2017 by Charlie Harris

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

Bowl Game Day

January 5th, 2017 by Erick Beck

Throughout the course of the year I had been watching the university site’s traffic on gameday.  I have mentioned how gameday does affect traffic – not only the amount but also the pages people are looking for.  I therefore decided to use this trend to try to encourage visits to some of our other web properties. On bowl game day we therefore swapped out the “In the Spotlight” section on the front page of the university site with links to Aggie Traditions, 12th Man, and Reveille.

My theory was that these sites all receive more hits during game weekends without any additional advertisement, so adding them on the front page should drive even more traffic.  The numbers, though, are inconclusive at best.  Each of these sites did – as expected – experience an increase in traffic.  The increase was not as much as I would have thought, though.  More telling, not as much of the increase came from referrals than I had hoped.

The university site did experience an increase in traffic, but not as much as it did for some of the bigger games during the season.  This would have meant that we didn’t get as many people seeing the links to have clicked on them.  Organic search still dominated as the channel by which people were landing on these sites.

We also didn’t attract as many outside visitors to the university site as with other gameday peaks.  On average we had 42% new sessions during the semester.  The October 8 game against Tennessee, fueled by our also hosting ESPN’s GameDay, saw a peak of 78% new sessions.  For the bowl game it was only 62%.  This percentage drop, coupled with the lower overall number of visitors, would imply that there were fewer visitors who might have been looking for this type of information.

The game itself may have lent itself to these trends.  Having been in the Big 12 for several years, most of the Kansas State fans are probably familiar with Texas A&M.  The matchup probably didn’t have the national draw that some of our in-season games did, so we would have fewer people from areas of the country who aren’t as familiar with who we are.

So while I don’t think this was a failure, it still wasn’t the success that I was hoping for.  It does indicate that we need to be aware of scheduling these content changes around events that can get more outside attention than we were able to draw this year.

Thursday, January 5th, 2017 Analytics No Comments

Solr

November 16th, 2016 by Laith Albarakat

Solr is an open source enterprise search platform, written in Java, from the Apache Lucene project. Its major features include full-text search, hit highlighting, faceted search, real-time indexing, dynamic clustering, database integration, NoSQL features and rich document (e.g., Word, PDF) handling. Providing distributed search and index replication, Solr is designed for scalability and fault tolerance.

Databases and Solr have complementary strengths and weaknesses. SQL supports very simple wildcard-based text search with some simple normalization like matching upper case to lower case. The problem is that these are full table scans. In Solr all searchable words are stored in an “inverse index”, which searches orders of magnitude faster.

Solr exposes industry standard HTTP REST-like APIs with both XML and JSON support, and will integrate with any system or programming language supporting these standards. For ease of use there are also client libraries available for Java, C#, PHP, Python, Ruby and most other popular programming languages.

 

References:

1- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Solr

2- https://wiki.apache.org/solr/

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016 Site Architecture, Systems, Web Content No Comments

Combining Calendars and Maps

November 3rd, 2016 by Erick Beck

While LiveWhale does have a native handling of both events and locations, it does not create an out-of-the-box function to display “events in this location.”  With a little outside programming and use of either the REST interface or a couple of widgets we can create exactly that.  I don’t think it will be necessary to create such a page for all of the 1,000+ locations on campus, but I am sure there there are several – especially those buildings which are used by many organizations – for which this could be quite beneficial.  This might even be something which gets fed through FourWinds onto display screens in those locations.  We are looking into an implementation, hopefully we will have something to share soon.

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 Calendar No Comments

Gameday and Website Traffic

October 13th, 2016 by Erick Beck

I think it is no secret that athletics drives eyeballs, and that includes to university websites.  Without getting into the merits, a look back over analytics for the past five years shows that all of our largest traffic spikes come on days of a big game.  This week was no exception.

Our site traffic on Saturday (the vast majority of which came during the game) was over twice the traffic we normally see for a daily high during the week.  Not so surprising perhaps, but we all know that page hits are vanity metrics – what else more interesting can we see?

Looking at the most popular pages (other than the front page) we find a completely different set of pages being viewed.   Frequently Asked Questions and About Texas A&M each received twice the traffic of any other page.  After those two, At a Glance, Athletics, Traditions, Admissions, and History of the University round out the rest of the most popular pages.  Again, not terribly surprising.  The widespread television exposure probably meant that there were lots of people coming to find out more about us.  But it represents a definite change from a more normal day in the type of content being read.

The geographic location of visitors bears this out.  While Texas is normally by far the most common location, it barely beat out Tennessee.  While the southeast was solidly represented, other areas such as the west coast, midwest, and upper east coast were also well represented.

The one metric that really stands out is the device that visitors were using.  Only 20% of visits were from a desktop.  We normally see more like 65% coming from the desktop, so this represents a major shift. Perhaps they don’t want to leave the TV to go into the other room, so instead pull it up on their phone or tablet?

What can we take away from this?  One thing may be that events – whether football or something completely different – have dramatic effects on who comes to our sites and what they are looking for.  How many of us actually change our websites to cater to this different demand?  We go to great pains to optimize our sites and hit our normal target audience’s needs, but then never touch the content again.  If our goal is to present visitors with the information they want, perhaps we need to recognize this trend.  Almost 80% of our traffic was from new users.  How much more effectively could we have reached this new audience if we had optimized the content for them that day?

Thursday, October 13th, 2016 www.tamu.edu No Comments

WPEngine Update

October 11th, 2016 by Charlie Harris

So we have been using WPEngine for several months now and been able to go through a major site launch.  Sometimes making a move like this can take a while to fully evaluate, so I thought I would just give another update after having used the service for a while.

Honestly, we’ve been very happy with the experience.

WPEngine’s staging feature has been an invaluable tool in getting sites prepped and tested before being easily pushed into production. Another massively helpful use of this is in testing plugin and theme updates before applying them. Simply copy your site to the staging area, apply the updates, and then verify the results. This gives you a nearly sure-fire way of knowing if an update will break your site or not.

Also, we have found their tech support to be great. It is easy to get a hold of someone knowledgeable, and their employees are very empowered to do a lot without having to go through an escalation process. The few times we have had an issue, they were able to quickly find and fix them with one phone call. When we launched Lead By Example, we called to let them know we had an important site coming online. They went out of their way to check out everything for us from their end to make sure it all went smoothly.

They also have a pretty good status page at wpenginestatus.com. You can subscribe to the service and get email alerts for any issues that might affect you. Thankfully it is usually pretty quiet, but it is nice to have the additional notifications.

That’s about it for now. As always, let us know if you have any questions. We’d be happy to talk further with anyone about WPEngine or anything else on your mind.

 

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016 CMS, Systems No Comments

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