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Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Site Architecture


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.





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

Google Analytics Tip

For those of you who have been using Google Analytics and have been frustrated that it does not track the page hits for links leaving your site, there is now a solution.  A small bit of javascript can be added to each external link that will allow Analytics to count the page hit before the browser sends the user off to the page.

<a href=""
onclick="javascript: pageTracker._trackPageview/outgoing/');">Campus Map</a>

I use the domain name as an identifier here, along with “outgoing” to easily identify this as an external link, but the syntax is completely customizable to your needs.

The javascript in the call is completely “progressive,” meaning that it does not interfere in the action of the browser click.  If javascript is installed and working the link will be counted, if it is not then the javascript will be skipped and the browser will take the visitor to the desired page.

There are only two caveats to this method:  first, it is only available with the new Analytics code, not with the older urchin.js code; second, the <script> block calling your analytics must be placed above these individual calls in the page flow rather than at the bottom of the page, as most of us prefer.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008 Analytics, Miscellaneous, Site Architecture 1 Comment

Screen resolution, page size and download time

In the past, Web design was geared around meeting fixed screen widths and resolutions. Current trends involve an understanding that the Web is fluid and not a piece of paper with boundaries. That being said, the graphic intensity and coding complexity for Web page complexity has grown along with bandwidth speeds.

Instead of specifying a screen size or a Kilobyte limit for file sizes, attention needs to be paid toward the user experience across the board. So in regards to page size and download times there are a few points to keep in mind.

  • Don’t use “best viewed at [screen resolution]” on pages. It’s not so much the screen size as it is the browser window size. Most people will not maximize their browser window out to its farthest reaches because they want to still be able to access the other windows easily. Consider a fluid design methodology that uses percentages to allow for browser resizing.
  • Don’t use “best viewed using [browser]” on pages. It should not ever fall back on the user to have to use a certain browser to access pages. While there are recommendations on standards-compliant browsers, design and development should entail cross-browser and cross-platform testing to ensure a consistent user experience.  When these things are in conflict, content is king.  With CSS it should be possible to gracefully degrade how the page looks without losing access to the whole content.
  • Don’t assume everyone has high-speed access. It is true that access to high bandwidth service has greatly increased, but there are still a large number of people with dial up or other slower connection speeds. Part of the university’s and System’s responsibilities is to provide education and outreach, especially to rural areas and underrepresented populations, so pages need to be optimized to minimize download time. This should include a discussion on the use or limit of images in relation to the page’s overall download time.

Make your Web site easier to navigate

Let’s face it; there are too many pages in “”. That being said, it is our responsibility to help people get to the information they are trying to find. Some of this can be accomplished through some simple reminders.

  • With so many offices, departments, servers and sites at Texas A&M, navigating from one site to another can become confusing because many sites are so visually, structurally, and informationally different. So to ease possible confusion, use similar navigation, color and visual elements to the main WWW site and university branding guide.
  • Include some visual clue that a page a user is about to visit requires a UIN or NetID log in. A user that visits a page and only sees a log in prompt, might be confused as to what has happened or unsure that are in the right place. If a linked page does require a NetID or UIN login, there should be a visual clue that designates this before the user clicks on the link.
  • Do not link pages back to themselves. When a page does link back to itself, many users feel that they didn’t click the link properly because they are still on the same page.
  • Make thumbnail pictures clickable links. Users expect thumbnails to be links to the material they represent.
  • Make sure your organization’s name is on all pages. This can be accomplished using the title or header of the page.
  • Let users know where they are at any given time in the site. The navigational system should also show how the information is organized hierarchically. This can be accomplished by color, icon bread crumbs, or other wayfinding strategy.

Make your Web site easier to understand

Part of developing a good usable site is organizing and conveying your information, links and visual cues in a way that makes sense for the end user. Here are some points that may help in that task.

  • Use consistent and parallel terminology. Be aware that one term can represent different kinds of information. For example, “Academics” is a section of its own on the Texas A&M Web site located at But there’s also an “academics” section on the “Current Students” and “Staff” index pages. In each case, the term “academics” is being used consistently to describe the section even though each page contains links specified for each audience.

Also, don’t use different terms for the same topic on different pages. For example, if you have a section of your site that is a collection of departmental policies, select the appropriate words or phrase to describe it and use it on all pages that refer to that collection or page. Avoid calling it “Policies and Procedures” on the index page, and then call it “Rules & Regulations” or “Policy Information”. The same can be said for making your <title> tag the same as the text title on your page.

Another thing to consider is naming list items in a parallel structure. So if your topic areas are action-oriented like “finding programs”, “contacting experts”, “choosing major”, naming your support link “help” would not be parallel. Instead name it “getting help” in order to maintain the parallel organization.

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Plan out your site Web site

The object of any designer or developer of a Web site is to connect visitors with the information or experience they are expecting to find or encounter. To do that well means consideration, communication and common sense.

So before you begin building your site:

  • Identify the audience(s) for your site. Who visits your site regularly? What do you know about them? How do they identify themselves? And are those who visit the site the intended audience? If more than one audience, which one is the primary? Realize that internal audiences (such as current faculty or staff or students) will have familiarity with campus culture, systems and expectations different from those external to the university.
  • Identify users’ major tasks. What do your users want to accomplish on your site? What information are they looking for? You can determine this by conducting user interviews, administering surveys and examining existing search query records if you have them.
  • Organize information by audience, task, or both. Depending on the type and breadth of information you need to present, select one or two organizational systems for your page and clearly delineate them. Ideally, after one quick look, users will be able to understand how the information is organized. This does not mean that they will have memorized all of the information contained on the page. It just means that they will know how and where to look for what they want to find.
  • Further organize lists of material (lists of links, offices, etc.) alphabetically. Unless there is a very easily delineates system of organization, the lowest common denominator for organizational understanding is still alphabetical.
Friday, June 22nd, 2007 Site Architecture, Style Guide No Comments