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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters


New Location

The Division of Marketing & Communications has moved!  This is our first full week in the new offices.  Half of our stuff is still in boxes and scattered across floors and desks, but this is going to be a good change for us once we get settled in.  While there was some trepidation about how things would work out, I have already seen increased collaboration and communication between people who had not worked often (or well!) together.  Once everything gets unpacked, installed, and configured, we should have an amazing space.

The down side to all of this has been that the move has affected everyone’s projects and schedules.  We should be getting back on track quickly though, and have some of or projects finished be fore leaving for the holiday break.


Thursday, December 4th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Has Your Site been Hacked?

Imagine you come into your office and sit down at your desk to start your day.  You log into your computer and visit your departmental website…and to your horror you see that the front page has been hijacked and it is now selling Cialis or streaming the latest pirated movie.  You have been hacked!  Would you know what to do?  That question was recently asked in two different groups that I have been in, both of which were filled with people who should have known.  Most didn’t.

Come join us at the next uWeb meeting, where the CIS security team will be talking about exploits on campus.  They will show a few examples of what has been reported on campus, some of the most common platforms that get exploited and how to prevent them, and advice on what to do if it does happen to you.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday October 28 at 3:30 rescheduled for Tuesday December 9 at 3:00  in Room 2605 of the GSC.  The presentation will be broadcast on TTVN Channel 9 6 and will be recorded for later viewing on MediaMatrix..

Monday, October 13th, 2014 Miscellaneous, Web Security No Comments

Texas A&M University System Digital Center of Excellence

I am part of a System-created Committee that is exploring the opportunity to provide a shared “virtual resource” for the Texas A&M University System to disseminate the best practices and specific channel strategies to:

  • Present a unified digital experience across online sites, mobile sites, social presences, and marketing campaigns in the System
  • Streamline processes for publishing content, moderating social communities, measuring campaigns, and acquiring tools
  • Create cost efficiencies

To that end, I am requesting your valuable input on your unit’s digital media needs and resources, so we can include this feedback when the Committee selects its areas of focus for 2014-2015.

Your help is needed to 1) rate the top five areas of priority that the Committee may explore in 2014-2015 and 2) help us identify the personnel, best practices, guidelines, and services that are available System-wide.

Please complete this brief online survey by October 14, 2014 so that your input can be included in the decision-making process.

Survey Link:

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Farewell to Rebecca

Rebecca Negron has been a valuable part of our team for the last two and a half years.  Sadly, today is her last day with us.  She has taken a job in Washington DC, but will always be part of the Aggie family and we wish her all the best.

This will, of course, affect some of our project timelines, so updates here might be coming a bit less frequently for a while.  We do hope to refill the position, and I will be announcing the details when/if it makes it through the approval process.


Thursday, September 25th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Digital Center of Excellence

I attended the kickoff meeting for a new project last Friday — a digital center of excellence that is being organized by Mark Stone and Diane McDonald from the system offices.  I am excited about this partnership because it solidifies a close working relationship between IT and marketing — and a mutual affirmation from both sides that the other is a critical part of our overall success.

The goal of this project will be to create an online resource, available system wide, that will allow us to share best practices, streamline the publishing process, and create cost efficiencies.  The search engine optimization research that I did over the summer, for example, will likely be expanded and become a part of the content.  The CoE will include not just web related information, but also social media, mobile apps, branding, contracting, and other areas relevant to online development.

We should be sending out a survey relatively soon that will offer an opportunity for feedback in which topics to focus on first.



Monday, September 8th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Training Opportunities

This week was the first day back for our students.  For those who want to join in and further your own professional education there are several opportunities being offered to university staff.

The Web Accessibility Essentials class offered through Employee & Organizational Development will be taught on September 8.  This is a great opportunity for anyone who has not been exposed to accessibility but who need to know the basics.  Designers, managers, and content writers will benefit as much as web developers.  The corresponding advanced class will take place in November.

Another set of classes that could be useful is the project management training offered by the Project Management Office.  Anyone leading significant projects should consider taking these courses.  The PMO offers a series of classes, which can be combined together into a certificate program, throughout the year.  There are two courses scheduled for September, one for October, and one for November.

The university also offers several programs for supervisors and managers, including three certificate programs.

My inbox is constantly being bombarded by third party organizations offering both free and paid webinars.  If none of the university offerings meet your needs there is always something online that you can find.  Whether you take one of these courses because your job requires continuing education credits, or just because you want to enhance your skill set, classes are now on session.

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Google’s Widening Influence on the Web

We have spent a lot of time looking at how Google ranks and returns out pages.  The deference we pay to Google in order to increase our SEO gives them much broader influence than is at first obvious.  Case in point, they recently announced that they will be adding HTTPS encryption as a (weak) signal in their algorithm.  That is to say, they will favor sites connecting completely over HTTPS to those using HTTP. They say this affects fewer than 1% of all queries, but they also reserve the right to increase this “because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.” Whatever actually comes out of this move, it has already lit up the blogs, forums, and mailing lists.

Is this going to make us all start updating our servers to connect over HTTPS?  Will they increase the weight to the point that we all see it as a “must have” in order to get our pages ranked?  Is it really worth it (is it even a worthy goal?) in terms of administration and computing overhead if all we serve out is static HTML pages?  However we answer any of these questions, we if nothing else can see Google’s influence even by the fact that we are asking them.

Monday, August 18th, 2014 Miscellaneous 1 Comment

Tips On How To Handle Clients That Keep Changing Their Minds

As developers and designers who handle clients, we all have experienced the client asking for endless revisions.  The Creative Bloq shares tips on how to handle these types of requests.

11 ways to stop clients asking for endless revisions

  1. Start with the intention to develop a healthy relationship with your client.
  2. Educate your client about the real purpose of a revision.
  3. Clearly define and articulate what is a round of revision.
  4. Clearly define how many rounds of revisions are included in your fee.
  5. Clearly define when change requests will be considered extra work and how this will be billed.
  6. Keep the client informed about each phase of the design process.
  7. Don’t forget to show your goodwill and flexibility.
  8. Accept that design is subjective
  9. Accept your mistakes.
  10. Put a stop when needed
  11. Don’t waste your time with the wrong clients.

For me, building a good relationship with your client is the most important step. Establishing that relationship will help with issues that come up during the project.

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

We Respect Your Privacy, Don’t We?

Any of us who have a credit card, online social media profile, or anything else that stores personal data has received one of those “we respect your privacy” notices, which are typically several pages of fine print telling what they will actually do to share your information. Similarly, every time we sign up for an online contest we always do a cost analysis — is the free t-shirt that they’re giving away worth the hassle of dealing with all the spam we will surely get as a consequence?

We are not immune here at the university. It is a matter of state law that our web sites have to post a privacy statement informing users what we do with the information we collect about them. In most cases this is just server logs, and most of the time we don’t do much with them. Privacy statements, then, have become considered more of a nuisance that we have to bear with rather than — to refer back to my previous post — a matter of hospitality aimed at making a better user experience.

We have even made it easy, creating a generic statements page on the university site that you across campus can link to. Most of us do so without thinking. Have we actually read the privacy statement there? If so does the information that our webservers collect actually match up with what is disclosed there? Given the number of different environments on campus I suspect not.

While this practice might be understandable [I can’t legally say excused] for generic log information, we are equally lax when it comes to forms which collect personally identifiable information. That is not excusable, either from a legal perspective or from providing a good customer experience. The latest Noel Levitz e-expectations report for the first time contains an entire section examining the issue of student and parent attitudes toward privacy, and it shows that both groups are concerned about how their personal information is treated.

Even sharing contact information on an official application for admission was rated as a concern to many students and the majority of parents. Things like signing up to “receive more information” or signing up for an online event were concerns for over half of both groups. If there is concern over even these more official channels, then we certainly need to be more visible in our day-to-day contact forms.

We have many ways of requesting information from visitors here on campus. I will make the assumption that all of them have legitimate purposes. I also know that we have been asked several times by various groups on campus to share the information that we collect. I am not a lawyer so I can’t say whether we could legally do so, but doing so without disclosing it to the visitor would certainly be unethical. In the spirit of “hospitality” instead of “service” we need to go further, though, and be very up-front and transparent to our users. They are trusting us with their personal information, so it is our responsibility to let them know we deserve that trust.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

Insights from the Outside

Sometimes the best ideas for what we, or any industry, do comes from the outside. I have recently started reading Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business which, as the title suggests, is aimed primarily at a business audience. In it he describes the process by which he created a highly successful collection of restaurants in New York City. The lessons he learned and the techniques that he used can transcend industry and be applicable even within something as unrelated as web development.

His basic premise centers around what he calls “enlightened hospitality.” This concept completely changes the importance placed on the various stakeholders for the overall enterprise. [I leave it as an exercise for the interested reader to track down the specifics. An entire management class could probably be composed from them, but that is beyond the scope of this blog.] It has proven enormously effective, though. Companies that Meyer has identified as embodying the spirit of enlightened hospitality, such as Chipotle and Google, have been among the most successful over the last several years.

Make no mistake about it, we are in the hospitality business. Students have a choice of where to attend, and it is largely on us to affect their decisions. (Note the Noel Levitz report referenced in my last post about university web sites being the most important influencer in a student’s decision.) Hospitality is something that comes natural at A&M. We are known for and pride ourselves on the friendliness of our student body. Talk to anyone in the visitor center and they will tell you that if we can get prospective students here for a visit the experience is often enough to cement their decision.

We need to convey that same openness. Too often we treat our web sites as a tool to inform our audience of what they need to know. Hospitality, though, is not a monologue. It is a dialog. We need to talk with our prospective students and parents, not at them. This creates the atmosphere where they feel included in the conversation, which is the first step in making them feel welcome and at home.

We are already, starting to put this into practice. I have briefly mentioned in the past that we are in the process of redesigning the university web site. The biggest change that I see in the new version will be that, if we do our jobs right, it will reflect this concept and be more inviting than the current version.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments