It has been awesome seeing all the submissions from our community for Wayne State’s Photo of the Day. You all have done a tremendous job of capturing the beauty of our campus and the excitement of Midtown/rebirth of Detroit. The WSU Social Media team compiled a list of our personal favorites as well as top viewed images for 2016.
Come share your successes, failures, questions, and lessons learned with other Web workers from around campus.
This meeting’s agenda includes:
- Elliot Polak talking about the recently redesigned Library System website and how their team has worked to improve the site since the initial redesign in August.
- Nick DeNardis talking about front-end workflow and speed optimizations.
- Round table
Everyone is welcome and encouraged to share their experiences.
Feb. 6 at 10:30 a.m. in the Simon’s Room, 144 Purdy Library
RSVP is not required but suggested.
A lot has happened over the last 10 years that I’ve been in the Web Communications department, but looking back it made me realize how much has changed just in the last year.
I thought I would break down some of the basics to put it in perspective:
|Relied on multiple methods of contact: Basecamp, email, and a shared inbox.||Now using a true ticket system, TargetProcess. All support and project related activity is in one place.|
|Used Campfire for group chat which was limited to just our department.||Now we use Slack which allows anyone around campus to join so more people can be on the same page throughout the day.|
|Almost everyone was working at a desktop computer.||Now most work is done on laptops, in shared spaces, and as much as possible, with the client.|
|Coffee was the drink of choice for the office.||Now it seems most people have converted to tea.|
|Down a few staff members for various reasons and thus not able to take on the amount of work we were used to.||Now fully staffed and back up to speed with all projects. Almost each positon has a ‘pair‘.|
|Our development stack used to be all over the place with MAMP, Ruby and Gem requirements unique to each machine.||Now everyone is running the same Vagrant image which can be replicated in just a few steps. Bringing up a new computer now takes minutes instead of hours.|
|We used to host all our code in SVN which is great for a single project, but multiply that by 600 and it becomes a pain to manage.||Now every project has its own GIT repository, branches and pull requests. We use git-flow to standardize code contributions.|
|Deploying code changes to the server were done by hand and in some instances involved voodoo.||Now all code is deployed by script and in a standard way to ensure accuracy, repeatability, and enabled the ability to roll back if anything goes wrong.|
|We used to wear multiple hats, switching projects and contexts all day long as support requests and quick turn-around items came in.||Now we have two teams, the project team works on scheduled client work and the support team handles hundreds of support-related tasks per week. The teams switch up every month and everyone starts each day knowing what to expect and what they are going to work on.|
|Our office space hasn’t changed, we are still in an open ‘pit’ area but we used to have our large L-type desks configured to take advantage of space optimization.||Now we have removed all L’s and have placed the desks in paired rows to allow for people optimization. This allows a pair from each discipline to work closely together all day. We also have one dedicated standing desk that anyone can use.|
|Everyone used to have a phone and their own phone number.||Now we have a one single phone number for the entire department. We still remain without a single printer, and rely on shared resources as much as possible.|
But some things never change.
We hire great people and work on great projects for awesome clients around campus. We continue to challenge ourselves to be the best at our craft, contribute to open source and the higher ed community, and raise the stature of the university.
For the last year or so I have been talking about our “restructure of wayne.edu” homepage and website. We have made some progress but we are not nearly where we should be. This isn’t because we don’t think the project is important, but instead have assured our clients’ (university departments/schools/colleges) deadlines are being met instead. This week that all changed. We isolated four staff members and dedicated them to the restructure and re-imagination of wayne.edu and the top 1,000 pages to support enrollment and retention.
The Innovators Dilemma
One of my favorite books is The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you haven’t read it I suggest you pick it up, it’s a short read and totally applicable to any industry. It outlines the process of company growth and why innovation slows as firms get larger. There are various reasons for this but the largest is that it is easier to up-sell existing customers instead of going after new untested markets with new products. Because these untested new products or markets don’t show value they often do not get the attention of resources they deserve until it is too late.
“What this suggests is that the management best practices are only situationally appropriate. There are times when it is right not to listen to customers, invest in lower performing products that promise lower margins, and pursue small rather than larger markets.”
This is the exact situation we find ourselves in. Because we’re focusing all our time on ensuring we have “internal client” work we haven’t had the time to focus on our true customers, prospective students.
The book goes on to explain how companies have been able to overcome this dilemma and innovate around or with disruptive technologies (even if they cannibalize parts of their existing company). One of these successful methods is to create an isolated team in both a workload and also a physical environment without any constraints of normal business practices. This allows a team to innovate in ways that are simply not possible in the day-to-day of company operations.
Starting this week we have done just that. Four staff members, Rolaine Dang, Tom Krupka, Rob Vrabel and Alex Bienkowski have been isolated and given an ambitious project. Take a step back and look at the macro view across all of the enrollment sites that now work well individually and stich them together to work well as a single user experience.
All of their current projects/tasks have been re-assigned to other staff members and they have physically been moved to a single office (above) where they are isolated from the normal client work we do here in Web Communications.
I won’t go too much into the project scope at this point other than the large and long term goals. The team is charged with launching a “re-imaged” wayne.edu by the end of 2013. This will include restructuring those top 1,000 pages that are focused on enrollment and retention.
At the moment the websites within wayne.edu work really well individually, they have their own navigation, information and design. This works well for visitors that know exactly what they need and what department “owns” that information. But this does not work for those prospective students or on-boarding students who were recently accepted and now need to orient themselves with the university. Browsing through theses websites is not only confusing as they bounce from department to department but it also gives the impression that the university is disjointed. The first goal is to fix this by taking all the departments in these 1,000 pages and bring them all under a single look, functionality and domain. This will result in a single user experience, voice and impression of the institution.
The second charge is to create a revolutionary Web experience for our visitors. To use as much data to tailor the experience for an individual visitor and bring the power of the Web to that experience. This charge is still vague because we won’t know exactly how this will impact visitors until the discovery phase is complete. In the end, though, the final product will not be a set of static pages, but instead an experience that will resonate with the visitor. We’ll just have to wait and see how it shakes out.
Follow the progress
The wayne.edu Web team will be blogging about their status each week on the wayne.edu blog. Over the next few months they will be keeping track of scope, options, decisions and progress in both public and private posts. After the relaunch of wayne.edu we plan to make all the private posts public and allow everyone to see all the work/decisions that went into building what we hope is the most successful website for the university.
Follow the blog: http://blogs.wayne.edu/waynedotedu/
Over the past dozen years a bit of dust has collected on the Web here at Wayne State. The end of the year is a good time to do some pruning and focus on the tools that will impact our students, community and alumni in 2013. Over 500 websites have been moved into the university CMS, each with a reduction of pages, files and images. In addition, we have been creating a number of centralized tools to assist with this transition. Some of these tools have had a great adoption and continue to be used and expanded today. But others haven’t had the same rate of adoption or the same result can be accomplished using a different tool.
What does this mean?
From time to time it’s necessary to prune the loose ends of a tree to allow the trunk and healthy branches to grow stronger. It’s these healthy branches that push the department higher, toward a more abundant sun, that helps everyone.
We’ll be pruning a few things in the Web Communications department:
Moving beyond physical Web servers.
We’ll be moving to a complete VM environment which can grow and shrink as needed.
Removing the domain silos.
We will no longer, for all practical purposes, be creating a new subdomain (http://*.wayne.edu/) for every site at the university. Instead we will be migrating almost all sites to the http://wayne.edu/* construct. Of course there will be exceptions, schools/colleges, centers/institutes and others may still be hosted off the main domain but all recruitment, retention and main university sites will eventually be part of one single university website. Existing subdomains will always work, we will create permanent redirects.
Deprecation of the wayne.edu/* URL shortener.
The go.wayne.edu URL shortener will be recommended and used long term. Because Twitter now wraps all URL’s in their t.co domain, we no longer need to be concerned about having the shortest URL possible. All old URL’s will still continue to function.
All photo galleries in the CMS will be migrated to Flickr.
There is no longer a need for us to maintain a photo upload and view service when the university is already using Flickr’s solid and far more supported platform.
All university videos will be hosted exclusively on YouTube.
We have a handful of locally hosted videos with custom Flash players embedded across the Web. It’s time to retire these and let YouTube handle the hosting and serving. Like Flickr, YouTube has a more robust toolset that will serve out users far better than we can.
Moving Today@Wayne website/email management to the Public Relations team.
The PR team is in a great position to take over the promotion and coordination of the university’s daily internal newsletter. It will be in good hands.
CD/DVD duplication no longer offered.
It’s a little known fact but the Web group has offered the service of printing on and duplicating CDs/DVDs. There is no need to worry if you’re just learning about it now because we will no longer be offering this service.
All forms we create will be through Formy.
Because we have created such a flexible self-service form creator, the need to hand create forms is reduced to almost nothing. All forms moving forward, with a few exceptions, will be created in and use Formy. C&IT will be introducing an extension to Formy, dubbed “Informy”, in the coming months which will greatly expand the power of these forms.
Why do this?
As Hugh MacLeod has illustrated above, these things are not being pruned because they aren’t good or don’t work, it’s because they’re not great. With limited time and resources our group is always re-focusing to ensure we are making the largest possible impact on the university. To do this we need to spot spending time on the “good” in order to make “great” things.
This pruning lets in new light where it wasn’t able to shine before and opens up opportunities for us to work on:
- Complete the re-structure of wayne.edu. Something we need dedicated time to do right.
- Change how our Web projects are run. Our current process isn’t easily adapted for the responsive Web.
- Change our social dashboard into a product called “Socialy” for the entire campus to use.
While it was a hard decision to cut things in the end this is the only way for us to explore uncharted territory.
Having a clear next step is essential to someone taking it. Next steps are easy to find online, banners, large rounded corner buttons and “Read more” links seem to be everywhere. But next steps go beyond the Web, if you have a problem with your home Internet, the next step is probably to call customer support. When you know the source of the problem it’s easy to know who to call.
Not all next steps, though, are easy to determine, especially in a decentralized Web environment like we have at Wayne State.
I recently saw a demo for a product called SiteImprove which aims to help automate quality assurance on a website. I was impressed by the product and mortified by the results at the same time. In the 1,700 pages that were part of the demo we had 445 broken links and 180 misspelled words. I expected some, but not that many issues with our site. I want to make it clear this isn’t an endorsement for the product, I have not used it, just received a demo.
I bring it up because it opened my eyes to a major problem with the decentralized Web, and specifically with “crowdsourced” Web content management, which is a more fitting description for the WSU environment.
Lots of eyes but no one speaks up
We get millions of visitors each month. A good chunk of them are internal audiences who read the content on our pages. I’m willing to bet that people are seeing these misspellings and broken links but they don’t know who or how to tell someone about them. There is the old trusty “webmaster” email address and we do get a fair number of emails there, but they are often from students who stumble on broken links they need and it is their last resort. Obviously we don’t want prospective students to get to this point.
Most often someone on campus has interacted with one of us in the Web department to set up their website. Which means they probably interacted with me, a designer, a developer and a content administrator at the very least. They know the drill, and that the content of a website is the responsibility of the department. So they often don’t think of contacting us to fix it and although we ensure the “Contact Us” area is prominent on every website it is often used for student recruitment and there may be many hoops before messages get to the Web person in the department.
The next step to alerting someone of the problem isn’t clear, therefore problems often don’t get reported.
Who’s responsible for QA?
At the end of the day, the Web Communications department is responsible for the overall user experience on the Web. There may be a lot of factors that go in to what is actually produced but if there is a problem we are charged with fixing it. Although the content on every page isn’t originated by us, we need to ensure it building the university brand instead of hurting it.
How to report a problem
I have posted in the past about how we handle dozens of support requests per day without a ticket system and that has worked well for the past few years. We are now employing the same technique to our phones. Everyone in the Web department now has a single phone number. This way if anyone is out of the office or away from their desk the phone can still be answered and get handled in an appropriate timeframe. If someone leaves a voicemail it goes to our group email account that everyone sees. It’s been a week so far and the simplification has really helped to filter all requests through one person, our project manager, and only assigned/disrupt a staff member when they are needed.
The Web Department is now acting as a single point of contact for the campus community to know their next step. They no longer have to remember a staff members name, phone number or email address. Once a problem is reported we are able to determine who is the owner of the website and the quickest route to get it fixed. We will do all the leg work to ensure it gets corrected even if the website isn’t in the main university system.
But what about the public?
The process for the public to alert us is a little trickier. In the past if we added a feedback form or email address to a website as a “feature” it tends to get used by people who simply can’t find information or to ask a basic question. This would flood the IT staff with general questions instead of actual problems. The easier it is for the visitor the contact someone the more likely it is for them to use the contact info instead of using the website to find the information they need, they often look past the purpose of the form. That being said we are hesitant to put a “Report a problem” link on the page, even if it only shows if the visitor is on campus.
We are currently testing different options and should have a solution in the next few weeks.
Contacting Web Communications
We’re always on the hunt to find ways to connect more people to the great things happening on Wayne State’s campus. If you have been following this blog you know these initiatives are often thought of and executed completely by us.
Not everyone has, or wants to have, the Today@Wayne website set as their homepage, and that is completely understandable. But we wanted to make sure it is as easy as possible for people to get to it. What better way than to have a Chrome app that is displayed every time the user opens a new tab or window? This way they can visit the daily newsletter at their leisure without having it load automatically every single time.
If you are a Google Chrome user you know the power of the extensions and apps. Both are lightweight and don’t slow down the browser like Firefox.
Google Chrome has gotten a little bit of flack because a vast majority of their “apps” are simply redirects to websites. In our case we’re currently doing just that. This approach isn’t our long term goal but it will get us started.
Chrome has an amazing ability to render HTML5 and take advantage of every bit of the users processing power. You can see that clearly with the popular Angry Birds app. Over the next few weeks and months we will be expanding the functionality of our app to take advantage of the user’s environment. Extending the website to use local storage and media queries to take full advantage of the users screen size and offline processing.
Download the Chrome app at: http://go.wayne.edu/today-chrome
We are proud to announce Wayne State Blogs! We are opening the ability for everyone on campus to create and maintain their own blog about any topic that interests them.
We introduced this service a few months ago and quietly asked a few people on campus to try it out. Currently we are at 72 active blogs with 170 authors. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we are making changes every day based on suggestions.
Everyone has something interesting to say
When we say we are letting anyone with an AccessID blo,g we mean it. Every single day we are amazed at the talent coming from students, faculty and departments and we knew we needed to give them a platform to talk about it.
So far we have seen some passionate bloggers talking about Cavalcade of Food, Light and Dark Matters, TEDx, Ghana: Explorations in Medical Anthropology, and mca. We also have a complete list of blogs for everyone to look through. The list is growing every day, so check back often.
Let’s talk templates
Currently we are offering two different templates. A basic one for text posts and another for more visual photo posts. We are planning to expand the template options every semester. Both are completely customizable from a placement standpoint. The right column can be configured in any way desired with the use of WordPress widgets.
Let’s talk about plugins
We choose WordPress as our blog platform because of the extensive network of plugins available. Currently we are adding plugins that everyone can take advantage of. For security reasons we are limiting the installation of plugins to the Web team only. We are not against installing additional plugins as long as they have more than a single use.
The current plugins we have installed are:
- Blackbird Pie
- WordPress Video Plugin
- Lightbox 2
- Subscribe To Comments
- WordPress Gravatars
- Break topics up with headers (h2’s)
- Everyone loves photos
- Customize your right column “widgets”
- Update often. It doesn’t have to be every day, but try to keep it consistant.
- Proofread your posts
- Schedule posts to publish in the future
- Add tags and categories to describe your posts and make them discoverable
- Spread your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+
- Post comments on other blogs and respond to comments posted on yours
- If you have any questions feel free to email us! firstname.lastname@example.org
Spreading blog posts
Claim your blog now: http://blogs.wayne.edu/
Last week Thursday and Friday we had our May Commencement. The ceremony was split up between five events spaced throughout the days. We streamed the events live as we have in previous years and I wanted to give a little insight into the amount of viewers we received.
To give a little prospective we have 3,500 graduates in all five ceremonies and the attendance was as follows:
- 2,350 Ceremony 1
- 1,200 Ceremony 2
- 2,300 Ceremony 3
- 2,350 Ceremony 4
- 1,900 Ceremony 5
~10,000 total friends and family attend the physical event on campus.
We used our typical tried and true channels to promote the live stream. There were prominent links on the Commencement website for months while students were getting ready for the event. We also place a banner on wayne.edu to direct traffic to the live stream on the day of the event. The commencement committee sent out an email on the day of the event with a link to watch the event live. Unfortunately this year the email link to watch wasn’t tagged in a way for us to track the exact click through rate so we just have an estimate. Lastly we promoted the event socially on Facebook and Twitter.
A break down of the traffic sources is below. The diagram is pretty crude but it works to illustrate promoting it socially (we thought would bring the most amount of traffic) was actually not true. From what we could track, viewers primarily came in through email and the commencement website. There is still ~9,000 “direct” visits to the stream page that are unaccounted for, we are still looking in to where these people came from.
- ~9,000 unaccounted for direct visitors
- 3,863 referrals from the Commencement Website
- ~1,500 referrals from email
- 560 referrals from wayne.edu banner
- 512 click throughs from Facebook
- 449 click throughs from Twitter
- 3,510 Total unique viewers for all ceremonies
- 1,693 Viewers for commencement 1
- 1,327 Viewers for commencement 2 & 3
- 909 Viewers for commencement 4
- 873 Viewers for commencement 5
Like all live streamed events we open the chat up to everyone. We moderate it for profanity and people causing issues but other than that the community does a good job moderating itself. Here is a break down of the number of comments for each ceremony. For some reason the 3rd ceremony didn’t record the chat but we were watching and it was in line with #4 and #5.
- 577 Comments on commencement 1
- 345 Comments on commencement 2
- 152 Comments on commencement 4
- 204 Comments on commencement 5
This week Ustream introduced “Ustream on Facebook“. This is going to introduce a whole new audience for our events. We try to drive traffic to a branded page so visitors can learn more about WSU if they are interested. We installed the Ustream app on our facebook page and will be testing it out with our next live event.
One major thing they changed was the replacement of IRC chat for Facebook chat. This is going to introduce a new variable since it requires a Facebook account to chat. We don’t like the idea of having two chat interfaces so we will probably be migrating the wayne.edu/live chat to FB.
The second major shift is the reduction in analytics we can pull about the people who land on the Facebook page compared to the traditional Wayne State page.
The good thing is more people will be exposed to the events going on around campus. The problem of figuring out where to do our promotion is not a bad problem to have if that exposure is already high. Only time will tell which method is going to work best for our audience.
As you can see from the screen shot above, we placed the widget on Undergraduate Admission’s homepage with the simple questions “In high school? Have a question?”. The goal is to get quick interactions from prospective students to start their connection with Wayne State.
In addition the questions allow us to get insight into what students cannot find on the website. At first this was great, we got multiple questions about the GPA requirements and tuition cost. So we are moving those to more prominent areas on the site. Currently we are averaging 4-5 question submissions per day.