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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Introducing TAMUtimes

September 2nd, 2011 by Erick Beck

I’m sorry it’s been so long since our last post. We were given a new project several months ago that, for various reasons, we have not been able to disclose or discuss. Now that the veil is lifted, I can reveal the background of the TAMUtimes project.

TAMUtimes grew out of the need for updating the old TAMU News website and the Aggie Hotline email. It combines all of our marketing, communication, and PR efforts under one umbrella. It will effectively take the place of the old news vehicles and replace them with a centralized service.

The central mandate for the new service was that it should place Marketing & Communications in the role of aggregating content from around campus rather than being the source of publication. That allows communicators from within the colleges, who are closer to the actual story, to have a greater hand in getting our word out. It also adds a layer of efficiency since staff who had been tasked with duplicating effort could be reassigned to more productive duties.

The TAMUtimes project is a marriage between the traditional online website and subscription-based email. Using the Maestro platform from CIS we create and send out an HTML email twice a week with featured news stories from around campus. The features from this email are automatically added to the website as the feature block there, keeping the email and the website in synch.

In keeping with the mandate to aggregate content, most of the information on the site is pulled in through various RSS feeds. Only a small amount of content, mostly internal university news, is actually entered into the system by our staff.

The website itself is based on WordPress, though heavily customized. To be honest, if I had to start over on the project, I probably would have gone a different route, but we just didn’t have the expertise yet in our content management system to allow the level of custom programming that we needed in the time allowed. The end result is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster behind the scenes, but hopefully with enough cosmetic surgery that the outward appearance isn’t so frightful.

As we move forward we will soon be integrating elements of TAMUtimes into the university website and other sites we maintain. This will allow us to integrate one more major university component into our ongoing concept of creating a unified web presence out of our individual previously-disconnected web silos.

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Friday, September 2nd, 2011 News
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4 Comments to Introducing TAMUtimes

  1. It’s a clean looking website – much more complex on the “dock” side than the “storefront,” I’m sure. Do you have any guidelines on how we can combine (streams of different periodicity) or augment (with thumb images) our feeds to help the Times publish our stories?

  2. Monty on September 7th, 2011
  3. Hey Monty, thanks, it’s always nice when people can appreciate both sides of the project.

    Right now we are focusing on “more” rather than “better” feeds. Because of factors beyond our control, we weren’t able to give the campus community much of a lead time on what we needed, so there are still several offices who haven’t gotten us their information. So our immediate goal is to get those incorporated.

    As we mentioned to the communicators, publishing articles regularly throughout the week will get more exposure than publishing everything on one day. It would be nice to add thumbnails down the road, we would just have to get everyone to do so. In the meantime, you might consider creating an expanded “Feeds” section on your own site and having us link to that on the News Outlets page. We are also considering adding a Students tab down the road, so thinking along the lines of audience-based feeds probably isn’t a bad idea.

  4. Erick on September 8th, 2011
  5. I saw an article on TAMUtimes that I wanted to share with someone in our department. I skimmed over to find a share widget like ShareThis or something similar but didn’t find one. Any plans on adding one?

  6. Leo Pardo on September 9th, 2011
  7. It is certainly a possibility, but it also depends on where you saw the article. Keep in mind that the main goal of TAMUtimes is to aggregate articles from across campus. This means that the original article will be hosted on their site and any options then become a matter for each news site to determine for themselves. If you are talking a section of TAMUtimes that is completely internal it might be a possibility down the road. There it depends largely on how customized the area is vs. how easy one of the sharing plugins can be added.

  8. Erick on September 9th, 2011

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