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mobile

Mobile App Released

The biggest project we have been working on for the last year is not even a website, it is a complete overhaul of our university mobile app.  We began this process over a year ago, and it finally went live on Monday.

It is available on the app stores now, either as an update to the previous app or a new download if you do not already have it installed.  If you don’t, I highly encourage you to go and give it a look.

Screenshot of Texas A&M mobile app

The new app, based on the Kurogo platform, will be a significant improvement over the previous version.  Our guiding principle in the project has been to identify content that will be useful for our campus users and get it within the app.  The Kurogo platform helps us in this by providing the concept of personas – instead of trying to cram all of the content onto a single dashboard the users can select their audience type and see a screen with content relevant to them.

We do not see this as a one-and-done project.  While Phase I consisted largely of replicating the content from the previous version of the app into the new platform, the entire project will be a multi-phase process where we continually bring in more content, more services, and more audiences.

Our hope is that this can become an important content platform that is embraced and wholeheartedly used by our campus community.

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Tuesday, April 26th, 2016 Mobile App No Comments

An Event Apart Recap

Many of us from around campus had the opportunity to drive over to Austin this week and attend An Event Apart. This was a conference I had always wanted to attend but never had the budget for. I can only say “Thank You!” to the event organizers who brought it in-state for us because it was a wonderful experience. There are few other opportunities to listen to and learn from so many of the people who shape our career field. Anybody, whether developer or designer, who didn’t get a chance to go should consider it next time they come to town.

The one common thread that found its way into almost all of the individual presentations was the emergence of responsive web design and the possibility that it might revolutionize the way we think about the design-development process. Much of this argument is actually over a decade old, being espoused in April, 2000 in John Allsopp’s A Dao of Web Design (which was itself referenced several times by different speakers.)

We have improved on many of the elements pointed out in this manifesto, but we still ultimately have not gotten beyond designing for the web as if it were just an extension of the print world. We drew a box to correspond to monitor size, and proceeded to dump stuff into it. As technology advanced and we got better monitors with higher resolution we just drew a bigger box and dumped more stuff into it. The introduction of the iPhone, with its smaller screen, had the potential to spark this revolution, but we largely reverted to form, drew a smaller box this time, and put (less) stuff in it…or worse, pulled out some of the stuff we were displaying in our bigger screens.

“The control which designers know in the print medium, and often desire in the web medium, is simply a function of the limitation of the printed page. We should embrace the fact that the web doesn’t have the same constraints, and design for this flexibility.”

The proliferation of devices is pushing us toward a more mature understanding of the web medium — one that embraces rather than bemoans the loss of pixel by pixel control. The web’s flexibility of display is a feature, not a bug. We can’t know the capabilities of the device(s) that our users will viewing our content with, so we must ultimately give up the idea of creating site designs that are based on the capabilities or limitations of specific devices. We need to (like we have already separated layout from code using CSS) separate design from layout, and instead let the content determine how the information gets displayed on any device.

The various presentations each expressed some element of the overall argument. Some focused on typography, others on CSS, and others on the design process. New tools were presented (styletil.es showed up 3 or 4 that I can remember, perhaps more) that help us transition to a device-agnostic design process. I can’t say that I  agreed with everything that the each of speakers said, but the overall experience has definitely been a stimulus to think harder about how we do things here in the office.

Wednesday was a full day responsive design workshop. I didn’t attend, but am anxiously waiting to hear back from some of those who did to see how it turned out.

Anyone who did attend and would like to add your own insights, please take a few moments and leave a comment and share with the rest of the community.

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Friday, July 13th, 2012 Mobile Web No Comments

Mobile Web Development at Texas A&M

I think everybody in our industry pretty much knows the speed at which smart phones and tablet devices are being adopted by the public, and even becoming users’ first choice of how to browse the web. We have seen waves of new technology before, but the speed at which these devices are being adopted is something we have never seen before. By nature, higher ed is slow to react, and this is no exception. Many of us realize that something needs to be done to meet this new demand, but the decentralized nature of campus web development has left us without a uniform strategy. Marcomm, along with TAMU IT, the library, and a few others across campus, are working to change that.

When discussing mobile web delivery, there are three basic areas that need to be covered — native web apps, mobile web sites, and traditional web sites made mobily accessible.

Native Apps

We’re all familiar with native apps. We go to the Apple Store or Andriod Market and download them all the time. Whether it is games like Angry Birds or an information suite like TAMUMobile, these are self-contained programs written specifically for each device platform.

Apple has done an outstanding marketing job and made these things a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Everyone now assumes “there’s an app for that” and that in order to be hip, cool, and sexy you have to provide your mobile information on an app. When talking to departments across campus we see this ingrained response quite often…the first (and often only) thing they want to talk about is app development.

When looking at a campus mobile strategy, though, we need to step back a bit and look at how each piece fits into the overall offering. So, who really needs a native app, and when do they need one? To be honest, most organizations on campus probably don’t need one. The expense of building and maintaining separate apps doesn’t make sense for most departments. More importantly, though, most campus units just don’t have content that belongs in an app. Apps should be limited to application content rather than flat text-based content, and ideally should be something that requires the processing power or other capabilities of the device hardware itself (camera, GPS, etc.) While exceptions certainly exist, most of this type of content will be of wide enough use that it would be better to include within the university level TAMUMobile app suite.

Mobile Websites

Mobile websites are those which are specifically build for a mobile audience. These people have different content needs from those visiting normal websites. You must therefore not just design for a device that has different capabilities, you must design for a completely different user. The mobile user has different needs and expectations from a desktop user, give them the content they need. The user IS mobile, not just HOLDING one.

The legitimate case for a mobile website is probably far easier to make than for a native application. These websites might be web applications themselves, but will not rely on special hardware needs of the device. They will instead be features of content that users who are on-the-go are looking for. They are a perfect alternative, then, to a phone app when it comes to providing basic information through text content. It would be targeted information, though, and would probably be more focused and contain less that would your full web site.

Because of the nature of these websites, they will tend to be high profile and central to the business of the university. In order to maintain a common branding effort to all of these sites, a central mobile team is looking at providing a mobile framework that will work cross-platform and allow you wrap the content from your choice of development tools with a common university mobile style. Details will be released to the campus community once the process gets a little further along.

Making your Website Mobile

Making your website mobile is not the same thing as making a mobile website. While a mobile website features audience-specific text and organization, the mobile view of your traditional website focuses instead on simply making your full content easily viewable on a mobile device. Mobile websites are audience driven, mobile views are device driven. We do this through reactive, or adaptive design.

It many ways it would have perhaps been better to start with this topic because it is the one section that everyone really should implement. Given the proliferation of mobile devices, it is now becoming imperative that your content is viewable on them. We would not any longer dream of making a website that couldn’t be viewed on a Mac or on a particular browser. We should now think of mobile devices as being in that same category. We really should not be producing new websites that are not viewable and easily usable on mobile devices.

This development is relatively simple now, whether through the use of simple CSS media selectors or full blown frameworks like Foundation. A Google search will produce more articles and documentation than I can review. At Marcomm we have begun adopting this philosophy for all of our own websites, starting with the main university site. We are still experimenting with the techniques we want to use, but we are fully committed to the process.

Conclusion

I understand that many of us on campus want to jump on the mobile bandwagon, and all of us should be involved to some extent. It makes sense, though, to add mobile as an element of your overall web strategy rather than trying to shoe-horn your content into the mobile arena. If none of your web content is mobily accessible, the first thing you should do is start looking at how you can redesign your current website to include mobile friendly views. This works better when the design is incorporated from the ground up, but old sites can be retrofitted with the proper use of media queries in your style sheets. Also look and see if you have content that should be presented on a separate mobile website. Again, this should only be done when you are trying to reach a particular audience with is also mobile, but it is a great way of connecting your users quickly to the content that they need. Finally, if your content is something of campus-wide interest or which requires the use of device hardware, consider a native phone app. Marcomm, TAMU IT, and others across campus are moving together in this direction. Look for more information from each of us in the upcoming weeks.

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Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 Mobile Web 1 Comment

President’s Site

I am happy to announce that we have published an updated version of President Loftin’s website. This brings the president’s site more into line with the university branding initiative, and allowed us to begin implementing new methods of developing websites.

The first thing we did was to move it out of WordPress and into our Cascasde Content Management System. This allowed us to be more flexible in content creation and delivery.

Under the hood, this is the first site that we have published using the “mobile first” philosophy of incorporating reactive (or adaptive) design. The page will scale down and be as accessible on mobile devices as it is on the desktop. We also did this when we published www.tamu.edu, but there the mobile view was build as an override of the traditional page view rather than as the default view. The mobile first method is actually much easier and produces a better experience since it is not an after-the-fact addon.

The code is also all HTML5. Learning and incorporating both of these new technologies slowed us down a little bit, but they will form the basis of all of our web publication in the future.

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Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 Ongoing Projects 2 Comments

Minor Feature Announcements

Today we have a few minor announcements that I’ll put together into one post.

First, we published a new website this week. Our department’s Office of Business development is now online at http://trademarks.tamu.edu. This site will feature our collegiate licensing initiatives, trademark issues, and copyright requests. Of note to this audience, this is an example site for one of the site templates that we made available a few weeks ago.

At the request of one of the colleges, we have extended the web calendar by adding a new event category – Outreach Events. This category will be for our recruiting, incoming and future students/parents, and similar programs targeting the off-campus audience. Once we get enough events online we’ll be adding the link on the Future Students and other relevant pages.

Finally, we have a new feature for the mobile web site. The Division of Finance has updated their Aggie Answers application to be accessible for mobile devices. This will bring quick and easy access to Aggies on the go needing financial information.

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Thursday, January 27th, 2011 Calendar, Miscellaneous, Mobile Web No Comments

Conference Presentation

We’re back from HighEdWeb and life is slowly getting back to normal.  We had a great trip, and the reception to our presentation was beyond our expectations.   For those who haven’t been to the conference site to get the slides, I’m making them available for view here.  Be sure to look at the Notes section as well, as those contain many of our talking points to accompany the slides.

For those who don’t want to go through the whole thing I’ll recap some of the primary points here:

  • Mobile devices are the future, you must start developing for them now or be left behind.
  • Which is better mobile app or mobile web?  – There is not right answer, they are different technologies with different purposes.  Focus instead on the content and experience that you want to deliver to your user, and then choose the platform that best delivers that experience.
  • The biggest advantage to apps is it’s ability to access hardware features (GPS, camera, etc.) and this will be where the app shines in the future.
  • The biggest advantage of mobile web is that is is HTML that you already have the skillset to create, and because it is online Google will be a powerful friend in getting your content out to the world.
  • The speed at which smart phones have been adopted has changed the landscape.  Apps are no longer the “sexy,” “cool,” “must have” thing that they were a year ago.  CSS and Javascript allow mobile websites to fill that role now, allowing apps to evolve into higher-end elements. Embrace this change, don’t spend time and money building an app that can be done faster and easier with a website.
  • That being said, people like being able to just “hit a button” and pull up the information in an app without having to type in a URL into a browser.
  • The evolution of app and website brings us back to the concept that “content is king.”  Every time we get a new technology we go through a cycle of forgetting this, only to have it  re-assert itself once the platform us uniformly adopted.
  • Think of air travel or cruises a generation ago – they were top of the line travel that everyone dressed up for. Now they are considered run of the mill and we wear t-shirts and flip flops.  Similarly, back in the 1990s everyone wanted a personal website to post pictures of their cat – today we get our cats Facebook accounts and post hundreds of pictures.  In another few years nobody will care about mobile web vs. mobile app, they will just want their content. We need so start preparing  for that mindset now.
  • Design for all mobile devices, not just high-end smartphones.  Graceful degradation/progressive enhancement will allow you to target the upper end phones with nice displays while still allowing the content to be ready by everyone.
  • Several years ago we complained about “best viewed in IE” on websites – we can’t now turn around and produce sites “best viewed in webkit.”
  • When you design a mobile site, present it in a standard navigational layout rather than building something of your own.  Lists and iPhone-style icons are the accepted norms, don’t make your users think by giving them something new.
  • Mobile sites will get a lot of hits from desktop users because they are lean and easy to navigate.  Embrace these users and don’t redirect them away from the content.
  • “The user IS mobile, not just HOLDING one.”  – Make this the foundation of your mobile strategy.  You are not just designing for a device that has different capabilities. The mobile user has different needs and expectations from a desktop user, give them the content they need.
  • “Making a mobile website is not the same as making your website mobile.”  You should give your traditional website mobile-friendly styles, but that isn’t enough.  You really need a separate website that caters to the mobile users’ needs.
  • Think outside the box in content to add.  As well as things like bus routes and dining menus, we found the About Us a popular destination one day when our football team was on national television.  Users didn’t even get up to go to the other room and look us up, they did it from their phones while still watching the game.
  • Look for partners across campus – when Transportation Services added our URL to their bus signs traffic to the site doubled overnight.
  • Mobile devices are changing so rapidly that the standard 2-year cycle we use on our desktop sites is simply too long. We must be constantly looking at how to evolve our mobile sites.

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Friday, October 15th, 2010 design, Mobile Web 2 Comments

Cincinnati Bound

John and I are heading to Cincinnati tomorrow for HighEdWeb conference, along with several others from around campus.  We will be giving a presentation on mobile website development, so let me thank those of you who have joined us in our mobile effort, your part is much appreciated. When we get back I’ll post our presentation and notes of interest from the other topics we pick up while there.

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Friday, October 8th, 2010 Miscellaneous, Mobile Web No Comments

Course Search Now Available on Mobile

I wish we were able to get this finished a week ago, but in the spirit of better late than never, we are pleased to add a Course search to the list of features available on the Texas A&M Mobile website.   This application will allow you to go directly to your course if you know the class code (HIST 105 for example) and will allow you to browse by department name.  Instructor name, class time, and meeting location will be returned for all sections of a given class.

This application marks another milestone – it is the last of the large applications that we had planned to include.  We do still have some smaller content areas, and we continue to work with Facilities on getting a mobile map in place, but I think we are now going to turn our attention to version 2 of the site.  The current mobile site is almost a year old, and with the adoption rate of smart phones that makes it ready for major revision already.  As always though, if you have suggestions or features that you would like to see, send them our way and we’ll consider them.

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Monday, September 13th, 2010 Mobile Web No Comments

Presentation – Mobile Development

Yesterday I participated in a presentation on Mobile Web Development for the university ProComm group.  Thank you to them for the opportunity and for you for listening. I hope it will encourage both use and development in the campus web presence.

For those of you interested, I have put my presentation slides online.

A few questions that were raised that weren’t covered in the presentation:

Will you sniff www.tamu.edu and redirect mobile traffic to the mobile site?
Emphatically, no.  I think this is a bad idea.  Modern phones are capable of rendering the full site pretty well. I do not condone hijacking a user’s connection and telling them what they want to see.  As we covered in the presentation, the mobile site and a full site have different content and are for different audiences.  If somebody wants to get information from the full site we should let them.  That being said, the new redesign of www.tamu.edu will make a link to the mobile site very clear so that if somebody does visit the full site they can quickly and easily see that we have a mobile site and go there if they so choose.

Have you incorporated HTML 5 into the mobile site?
We have not. The current site was actually designed for backward compatibility even with older WAP phones.  I also doubt that we will include it in the next generation of the site.  I do recognize that it can do some great things and that it will make for a revolution in web design, but currently it is not a complete specification and has not been finalized by the W3C.  We might nibble around the edges of some of the core elements that likely won’t change, but I’m not ready yet to fully take the plunge and convert all the way.

Do you have plans to put Code Maroon or other emergency information on the site?
Yes, we do anticipate adding this information on the front page.  This will include other non-emergency but still need-to-know information such as snow day closures and such.

What kind of marketing have you done to increase awareness?
I will add a bit to what Diane said when this question was addressed to her.  As well as the cards that she showed you, we are also working with our site partners to help get the word out.  This makes sense because they are the owners of the content that we all want advertised.  So Transportation Services, for example, has started running advertisements for m.tamu.edu on their marquis screens.  Dining services is also joining in and will be printing the URL on table tents, menus, and in the eating establishments.  This type of advertising is more effective than anything we can do on our own.  We saw traffic to the site double, for example, the day after the bus marquis started running.

If I forgot one of the questions please forgive me and send me a reminder note.  The door is always open for new questions as well so send anything you want to know and we’ll be happy to answer.

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Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 Mobile Web, Multimedia No Comments

Conference Followup, Chapter 2

Yesterday I posted what I felt were the most important elements that I took away from the eduWeb conference and how we should use those to refresh our larger web strategies. Today will be less structured, simply posting what I saw as good one-off ideas without a grand scheme.

Brand

  • Users will draw a parallel between your website and the university as a whole; since the web is now the primary way prospective students interact during the decision-making process you can very easily loose a prospect at first glance.
  • People come to a site to accomplish a task, make it easy for them to do so. Branding should hilight the page, the page should not be about the branding campaign.
  • “You are what you publish.” Most people will leave a site and not come back if they have a “negative” experience with it – broken links, blurry graphics, bad navigation, bad search results, etc.
  • Make page photos relevant – most people don’t care what the XYZ building looks like, despite being on almost every university admissions page.
  • Expectations shape perception. If the user has a pre-conceived notion about something on your site, that will often be more powerful than the information you are trying to portray.
  • We run on byte-sized first impressions; online attention span is such that if the first glance isn’t positive the user will go elsewhere.
  • Know your audience and don’t try to be all things to all people. Each university has an identity and is not necessarily right for all people. Be authentic and realize that someone who doesn’t fit into your campus culture probably will be better off if they go somewhere else.
  • Cut the barriers of communication. 1 picture = 1,000 words, and video is 24 frames (pictures) per second.
  • For-profit institutions like U of Phoenix spend up to 45% of their entire budget on marketing. The traditional university spends 2%.

Social Media

  • Allow customers to be agents of your brand. Social media is a two-way conversation, so we should be letting customer-generated content do as much talking as we do ourselves.
  • When responding to a controversial topic, do so immediately. Being late in getting your message paints you as not understanding the medium and allows others to frame the debate.
  • Integrate your social media efforts – “The only place for silos is on a farm”
  • User experience is the key, so talk to them using terms they are familiar with, which is often not the language that the university office in question prefers. Be real, not administrative. If your tone is too formal you will come across as not understanding the medium and your efforts can wind up backfiring on you.
  • Social media isn’t a place you go, it is an extension of your self. Your “likes” and such identify who you are and identify with. Users want to be a part of a community.
  • “Social media” doesn’t matter. People matter. Make a real connection. Focus on the message, not the platform or medium by which it is delivered.
  • As social media usage goes up, its efficacy goes down. As it becomes more pervasive and more universities do it, you cease to stand out by being there. 90% of all universities now have a Facebook presence, saying you’re there doesn’t mean as much anymore.
  • People don’t like being told – be authentic and honest and allow them to make up their own mind.

Mobile

  • The user IS mobile, not just HOLDING one.
  • Building a mobile website is not the same as making your website mobile. Just as web content is different from print, so is mobile different from web. Customize your content.
  • Brands should focus more on the overall consumer experience rather than contemplate choosing a mobile web site or native application.
  • It does not matter whether a brand offers a mobile site or application. What matters is that consumers are engaged in the content.
  • Native applications for delivering static content are dead or dying. Use the website for that. Use apps for high profile projects, intense graphics or animations, and projects that tap into the mobile device’s hardware (camera, GPS, etc.)

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Thursday, August 5th, 2010 Mobile Web, Social Media No Comments

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