Pruning the Web tree, making room for new things

Hugh Macleod- All good ideas must dieOver 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.

User Testing: You are not your users

A majority of people assume a Web page is just a digital piece of paper, but in reality it is just a single step in an entire experience. I will use the illustration below to show how every page is connected to another. The illustration can be looked at in two ways. Most people within an organization tend to think a visitor travels from the inside (homepage) out to the edges. But in reality the visitor is more likely to start on a random spot within the system and then figure out what their next step should be. They don’t have a heads up display (like in a video game) that they can pull up at any time to see where they are in relation to everything else. It is up to the information architect and the designer to give the visitor visual cues and sign posts to orient them within the first ten seconds.

The MaRS website as a graph

Every site is unique

Since no two sites have the same goals and end user needs, the only way to optimize your site is to look through the eyes of your users. For us, we often find insights when we aren’t looking for them. We have been trying to optimize our current students page for some time now. It’s taken us a little longer to figure out than expected, but for a good reason.

I wanted to share our experience with everyone, not as a how to, but as an insight into a process that I think every Web worker should be aware of.

Passive user testing

There are two ways to test your site’s effectiveness. Formal user testing is when you recruit a specific type of user and have them complete pre-defined tasks or watch them use your site in a controlled environment. Passive user testing is when you watch the user in their native environment and they’re unaware their actions are being analyzed. Both have their pros and cons, but both are necessary for a well rounded analysis of a website. I am going to focus on passive testing for the purpose of this post because it’s something everyone should be doing all the time.

Everyone knows Google Analytics is the most popular way to analyze your users passively. But you shouldn’t stop there, GA can only tell you so much. Figuring out what your visitor’s motivations and goals are takes time and experience, being aware of where your users are going is just the first step. You can’t just look at one GA report and know what is right and wrong about your site, it takes analysis over the course of a few months with many different tools.

Motivations of a current student

We knew the “Current Students” menu item was the second most clicked menu item from our homepage, “Directory” is the most clicked. We had a hunch about the motivations of current students but we had to know for sure. We set up CrazyEgg on the current students page to see where they were clicking. CrazyEgg tracks both “active” clicks on links and clicks made on things that are not links. We knew they were looking to get to resources as quickly as possible, Pipeline, Calendar, Email, Blackboard and Course Schedule.

What we discovered is “Pipeline” was by far the most popular link. But it stumped us a little bit because we have a direct log in to Pipeline, Blackboard and Email right from the header of every page on wayne.edu so the user doesn’t have to click through to find the links. Obviously not enough students knew about it.

Give the user a hint

So we decided to give the current student a hint about the drawer and the log in ability to see if we could change behavior and drive more traffic through the form instead of clicking the link and waiting for the log in page. We changed the page to drop the drawer down for five seconds then back up to “preview” to the user what is hidden up in the header.

As you can see from the heat maps above the “hint” didn’t change the user’s behavior significantly. Only 3 percent of visitors changed their behavior and used the form once they knew it was there. We ran the tests for an equal amount of time on the same days of the week to ensure we were getting as close to the same population as possible.

Don’t hide important elements

Going back to the drawing board we decided to re-organize the entire page and just plop the log in form right in front of the user. We knew students wanted to log in to these services and we just hated the fact they were going through so many steps to do it.

Above is the re-aligned current students page. It has almost all the same information on it, just re-organized. We did drop the news and events because they were getting less than 1 percent of the clicks on the page and replaced it with some of our social media activity to make students aware where we were. All the links are in alpha order above the fold to allow for the easiest of access. Previously we had the links split up based on perceived importance.

We tested the page yet again with CrazyEgg. Success! 20 percent of visitors used the form to log in directly to the service of their choice. We were happy and were about to call it a day, but then we noticed something interesting. The “Current Students” menu item was being clicked by 5 percent (257 clicks) of visitors. Looking into it further we determined it was not only being clicked by users who entered directly on the current students page but also by people who came from our homepage.

Why would users click on a menu item right after they clicked on it to get to the page?

Orientating your visitors

Regardless where your visitors come from they should be able to orient themselves within two seconds of viewing a page. We noticed with the re-aligned page we had moved down the page title and the menu item wasn’t being highlighted to show the user a “state” of it being selected. So we decided to test making the menu item selected to see if it changed the user’s confidence and that they were on the page they expected to land on, the one specific to current students.

What do you know, it worked! I didn’t think it would have the impact it did but when the menu is selected only 1 percent (59 clicks) clicked on it. In addition the log in form gained another 1 percent of visitors using it.

You are not your users

Time and time again I have to remind everyone making Web decisions that they are not the primary user of their site. Like the illustration at the beginning of this post there are two ways to view the same information. Inside out or outside in. The more you can understand the way your users view your site the more you can understand their motivations and make it easier for them.

User testing isn’t an exact science nor is there a magic formula or tool to use. It takes persistence, patience and insight, but in the end the time spent is worth it.

Increased context on the site index

Something we have overlooked for a while is the site index on wayne.edu. We have been gathering sites and adding them to the list, but frankly it is something we don’t use on a daily basis. The list is used as a “suggested search” in the search box on the homepage. When we (internally) are looking for a website we just start typing in name and it quickly pulls it up and you have the ability to jump right to the site.

But others use the index

As we looked at our stats we realized just how many people use the site index. It is linked to from our global header and is the ninth visited page on our site.

Looking at the page and trying to use it a few times we realized it had some serious flaws. We had too many links on the page and there wasn’t enough context around them.

School of Medicine

The second largest set of sites were from the School of Medicine. The school is so large is basically has an entire copy of the main campus departments. This is what caused most of the confusion, two Admissions Office’s, Computing,  and Research departments to name a few.

Our solution

We decided to keep the full list but have the ability to filter to only the main campus or med campus sites. We also added “, School of Medicine” to the end of all the medicine sites. I have included an initial sketch of our idea on the right.

The site list does need some clean up and we are doing that slowly, it takes some time to go through the hundreds of links to determine which are no longer relevant.

One less feature going forward

The “Suggest a site” feature has hit the cutting room floor. It wasn’t hard for us to run a report and realize almost all the recent suggestions were spam. Almost all authoritative sites that have been added in the past year have been by us, only three have been from the campus community. It wasn’t worth the time to mark the spam to justify the feature.

Hopefully our users will find this new context and features useful. We are watching the stats and will be modifying the page even more based on how our visitors are using the page.  We hope you find this new layout just a little bit more useful if you do use it.

View the new site index at: http://wayne.edu/siteindex.php

Design Decisions: “Apply Now” button

Last week Wayne State was mentioned the in the Chronicle of Higher Education for our increased traffic to the admissions application from wayne.edu. I wanted to break down a little more about what we did and why.

We work very closely with the admissions office and talk regularly with some of the students who field the calls to our general phone number. This is something we do on a regular basis with any site we oversee, it is important for us to identify problems we can solve on the web before they get to a person and waste resource time. Something that came up was the question about application deadlines, prospective students would call and simply ask when they had to apply by. Wayne State has a rolling admissions schedule so a student can apply and get accepted at any time but each semester has a cut off date. In addition, since the schools/colleges/departments control the content on their websites the level of information can vary. We decided to tackle this challenge on the homepage.

First Try

We decided to play with a few options of adding the due date to the homepage. This would not only solve the prospective student issue but also give the visitor a sense of urgency if they were considering applying. What we came up with is shown on the right. It was a great first step but we got some great initial feedback, the graduate programs all have their own deadlines so we couldn’t publish just one date. We were okay at the time with just publishing the next upcoming semester for graduate.

Refinement

After seeing the page day in and day out for a few weeks we started to notice some redundancy with the “Application” and “Apply” labeling being right on top of each other. So we started to refine the style to put a little more emphasis on the upcoming semester and less on the actual due date.

We also noticed the “Giving” menu item was seriously getting overlooked. Although it was much larger the type and positioning didn’t look like it was clickable. Here is the break down of the click throughs year over year.

The 52% decrease had us worried so we knew we had to at least bring the link back up to it’s normal state. It gave us a chilling reminder that with A/B testing it is important to change only one thing at a time. Otherwise you don’t know what outside consequence you might have.

Current Design

The current design was meant to focus on the upcoming semester they would be applying for which leads to the apply wording visually. We also moved the “Giving” link back up to see if it made any difference. You can see the currently live design on the right. The results so far have been really good. The “Giving” menu item returned back to its normal click through rate. And overall we were seeing a 30% increase in the number of click throughs from the original design.

A breakdown of the clicks from Sept 13 – Dec 21, 2010 to Dec 22 – March 31, 2011 can be seen below. This is the previous 100 days and the 100 days before that.

Year over year increase

This change had us excited, it meant we were on the right path to entice visitors to take action and we had a way to track it. Looking deeper in to our analytics though we realized we were on to something even larger. Below is the year over year stats for the “Apply” link and the new style. It is a little harder because the single link was now split into two but what we found was in the same time period a year prior the “Apply” click through rate actually decreased 17%. What that means is from the previous year we were able to increase the click through rate by an astonishing 62%.

Below you can see a break down of the year over year change:

Looking to the future

We are now starting to plan our next revision of the “Apply Now” buttons to see if we can push that increase even further. Our next step is to clean up the information a little bit to make it even clearer. Here is an overview of the options we came up with. The left most image is the original version for reference, the second is the current and the rest are new.

We realized both undergrad and graduate admissions promote the same semester at the same time so we don’t need to display that label twice. Since we are combining the labels we probably need to remove the separator line so they can be in the same context. We still haven’t decided 100% on which to implement but we will be testing them when we do.

Lessons Learned

Making changes isn’t always going to improve results and improving one result isn’t necessarily going to impact the entire system. We learned that it is important to stick to one change at a time, measure and refine. Not all changes will be earth shattering and you have to accept you may be impacting the user experience for the wrong reason.

We also learned gathering proper results takes time, at least a month to see a clear picture. It may be tough to put up with the opinions of a few people if they don’t like what you are trying but in the end it is all about how it resonates with the end user. They are the only one that matters.

Lastly we learned it is important to try something, there are always opportunities for growth and far too often we hear “let’s tackle that in the next redesign”. Decide on a micro goal, figure out a way to measure it and implement. It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried in the first place.

A more useful homepage search

We have been slowly rolling out a new search page from wayne.edu over the past few months. This search page not only looks far better than the old Google partner search that they have since discontinued but is far more functional.

Making search useful

Over the past year we have been doing some significant research with how people use the wayne.edu search box. Last year I did a presentation on analyzing the real time searches and the recent changes have been a result of that research.

We realized that visitors search because Google taught them to. I believe this because we see searches for simple things that are clearly on the page if the person just looked in the actual content area. Doing a search though personalizes what they are looking for the Google is so good that often the snippet of the page containing their answer gets called out as the description for the first or second result. Thus allowing them to get the information they are looking for without having to scan the page.

Types of searches

As we are watching the searches come in throughout the day we started to notice some patterns. The patterns centered around the categories of the things they were looking for. They centered around these topics (in no particular order):

  • Web pages
  • People (Faculty mainly, then staff)
  • Courses
  • Events
  • Buildings

Repurposing existing information

Google is great at searching full text documents especially when authority is important. But for our purposes we need a little more fine grained results specific to a few parameters. We were not at all interested in writing a search engine but felt that we could extract information in an effective way for our visitors. We know the structure of class numbers, building names and short names, faculty/staff usernames and phone numbers.

Lastly we were not happy with Google’s results for events. When visitors hear about an event and want to know more about it they search for it. Our university has a lot of events going on each day, 50+ typically and a lot of them a repeating, either each semester, year or at random dates. The way Google’s algorithm works it gives more prominence to pages that have more authority, to gain authority pages need to be linked to, visited and around for a while. Well the events the visitor are typically looking for occur in the future and have possibly not been linked to a lot thus older events will show up higher than newer events with the same title.

Breaking it apart

As you can see in the screen shot on the right we are now breaking apart the search page into organic results, matching buildings, people, classes and events. This brings this otherwise hidden information to the top where a visitor can get an overview of all the parts of the university that match their search. This not only gives the visitor more accurate results but also gives them additional information they may not have thought about. Opinions for students have been very well received most notably about the events being pulled in. It reduced frustration around older events showing up in the web results and increased their awareness of things happening on campus.

We are not excluding these events, classes, people and buildings from showing up in the natural search results because at times Google does a better job at filtering them and not all users notice the column on the right. Again this is a result of Google having ads on the right hand side of their results, they are training users to not look there for organic information.

Continuous improvement

This is just the first step into improving information retrieval for our visitors. We understand we will never have a navigation and architecture that will please everyone, but from insights into this we can improve the way visitors are actually using our site. We strive to build a user experience that not only gets out of the way but also enjoyable. We don’t have a long term goal for the site search but we know our next steps will be to integrate domain or site specific search right into this page with appropriate context on the right column. This will allow us to have one search results page for every site on campus that is well branded and scoped.

View the combined search page at: http://wayne.edu/search/

The birth of a new feature

We have been running into the same reoccurring issue with the digital signs and yesterday we just had enough.

We are pulling the news announcements from the CMS where the news is already being entered and scheduled for the departmental websites. The issue arises because it is the same information in two different contexts.

So we sketched out an idea of how we can allow content creators to modify the titles just for the digital signs. By default the sign would need to use the main title but if the department wants they can change it. The initial sketch is above.

Three hours later it was implemented into the CMS and pushed to production. The signs are now displaying the titles specified for the sign context.

Situations like this make us glad we maintain our own CMS and have the flexibility to accomplish the universities goals in a timely and cost effective manor.

Communication overload at work

As a web developer I’m constantly pushing new communications out to people around the world. These communications come in many different forms. Just the other day I added one such new form of communication to every event at events.wayne.edu, the Facebook like button.

I really had my doubts that this like button would be useful on our events calendar. Those doubts didn’t last long. While implementing the like button I was testing it by liking random events. After getting a dozen or so questions from friends (and family) asking why I liked a Church of Scientology event (web developers don’t read content) I quickly realized that I was communicating with a whole bunch of people without even realizing it. This proved to me that the like button really does spark conversations.

Now, being that I set up tools to push communications out to thousands (or more?) people I find myself wondering where the threshold is for communication overload. At work, we monitor various external communication sources. Now this is obviously not the primary focus of my job, but being that I work within the marketing department and communication plays such a key role in what we do, I find things like twitter messages and Facebook wall posts creeping into my field of view. Some of them are mission critical, some are semi important, but it seems most are little more than a distraction.

For internal communication our team uses a combination of E-mail, Instant message (both Google Talk and an internal Jabber server), a 1 hour, *cough* 3 hour, standing weekly status meeting, and random conversations throughout the week. We were also using a Jabber conference bot that broadcast messages team wide, but we’ve recently replaced that with campfire. My work e-mail account also receives a few dozen campus wide communications each week, of which maybe 15% pertain to me. I also use my e-mail to communicate directly with clients. I’d say that most days I spend 33-50% of my time in the office communicating.

Today our department lead was tinkering around with the campfire and twitter APIs so he could get tweets to show up in our campfire group chat. I have the chat set up to alert me audibly and via growl when new messages pop up. This is a primary source of communication for our group, so to stay in the loop I need to know when people are saying stuff. With the addition of tweets to this feed, I think I’ll pass the 50% mark and the majority of my time will now be spent on communication. The number of potential distractions is so great, that getting work (coding) done at this point is becoming ever more challenging.

As developers, should we be bombarded by communications constantly? Should the work related distractions be so numerous that we find it difficult to focus on a project for more than 5 minutes at a time? Is reading social streams now a requirement for good programming?

While writing this blog post (it took 10 minutes) I read 2 dozen tweets, was messaged 2 times on Google Talk, had 2 new e-mails come in, and was messaged twice in our campfire room. While writing that sentence, I was messages 2 more times, and 5 more tweets showed up.

Will 75% of my time be spent communicating next month? 90% the month after? When is it too much?

Tweaks to the global header and footer

Yesterday we made some changes to the global header. The header looks almost identical, all the changes were under the hood. I have been meaning to make these changes for some time now. Luckily I used this week’s independent study time to get it accomplished. More about that later.

From an on screen perspective the header is now 5px shorter and 960px wide (our new standard) instead of 900. The code was simplified to reduce space and be more descriptive. Last but not least it now works fully in all A-grade browsers and IE all the way back to 5.5. I have also outlined a few other benefits below.

Better Print Support

At some point the print style for the global header just simply disappeared. Not sure what happened but it was just gone. This newest update fixes that. The print header is now black and white with our wordmark and Aim Higher fully readable on top of each page. The top tab doesn’t print and the bottom border is where it is suppose to be.

The only thing that changed in the footer was the removal of the copyright policy link and no longer underlining Wayne State University.

Better Mobile Support

Something completely left out of the old header was support for mobile or “handheld” style rendering. It doesn’t do any mobile detection just yet but any device that does pick up the handheld style will now get a header like the one on the right above.

Using Opera’s small screen rendering you can see a simulation of how it looks on a mobile device. The old header (left) doesn’t accomodate for the small width and forces the user to scroll left/right. The new version (right) linearizes the page, makes the skip links visible and the tab links are now visible by scrolling down.

Fewer HTTP Requests

We reduced the number of HTTP requests that it takes to build the header from 10 to just 5. We did this by creating a sprite of all the images that make up the header. We did have to add two new “real” images though for the wordmark and aim higher to print in black and white. Having fewer HTTP requests will allow the header to load faster on devices with higher latency and makes rendering quite a bit faster. Yahoo has a great explanation about the importance of fewer HTTP requests. As you can see from the graphs above although we increased the file size size overall (just a little) the total rendering time was reduced by almost half.

More technical graphs with the comparison: old header | new header

Using a Sprite

Above is the sprite we used to create the header. A List Apart has a great article explaining sprites. This single image is used to create all the background and styled images that make up the header. It just needs to load and position it in the right spot and the browser does the rest of the work.

Skip to Navigation and Content

Recently testing our site with a screen reader we found our skip links were not functioning correctly. WebAIM had a great article about making the skip links available to people using keyboard navigation so we decided to give it a shot. Above you will see what any of our sites look like if you press the “Tab” key to navigate your way through the page. The “Skip to Navigation” link will come up first, then the “Skip to Content” will show. Basically when the links have :focus they become visible, otherwise they are hidden.

Legacy Code

We tried to support as many legacy situations as possible and fix any issues before hand. But unfortunately we came up with two situations after the fact that we could not account for. The first was users who replicated the main header code but hotlinked to our style sheet. These sites will see an odd shaped header till they update their code. The second is customized headers, some sites used our original code but with overrides in their local css to change the header style. These sites will all be broken till the individual site administrators update their code, there is nothing we can do about custom overrides.

Using the New Header/Footer

If we don’t handle your web site and you want to use the new header/footer you can right away. The code and instrcutions can be found at: http://wcs.wayne.edu/style/

Additional Issues

If you happen to see a site that is looking funky with the new header please take a screen shot and send it to wcs@wayne.edu and we’ll look into it.

Too much cache

While posting the university closure announcement on wayne.edu this morning I ran into an issue. When visiting the page it wasn’t pulling the updated content. My browser was using a cached version of the page it pulled yesterday.

Cache for fast access

Digging a little deeper I found the problem. We were setting a base expiration time to one week.

ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 week"

This was great for most files but when it comes to HTML and CSS a week if too long for the general public to see it. No one would think to manually refresh a page just because they suspect their version is from cache.

It looks like this problem only effected the homepage and all other sites have correct default expires.

Access plus 3600 seconds

I made a change today for HTML and CSS files to only cache for one hour. Someone visiting the site and bouncing between pages will still see quick response times. But returning visitors each day will pull a new page and style sheet each hour.

ExpiresByType text/html "access plus 3600 seconds"
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 3600 seconds"

This should eleviate users from not seeing emergency or critical information when needed. Over the next week we will be testing and tweaking this setting, maybe even getting rid of caching on the homepage all together based on what we find.

Our goal is to get up to date information to the end users at the appropriate times. If a little performance has to be sacrificed to make that happen we will.

Launch: University Events Calendar

You probably noticed just about everything on the events calendar has changed, the design, structure, images and navigation but rest assure we migrated all the events into the new site. And even through their URL’s are different the old links will forward to their new location.

After three months of development we are finally ready to show off the first release of the new events calendar. Not only is the front end completely changed but we re-wrote and optimized every piece of back end code. Below is a breakdown of what changes we made.

New Wayne State University Events Calendar

Completely new look

The old calendar didn’t really have a design, it was more of a list of events by day with every event having the same prominence. Classes at the Rec and Fitness Center looked exactly like a FOCIS event which brings in world renowned speakers. Scanning down the page you couldn’t determine which events were large scale. Not to mention we made it 200% faster.

Featured upcoming events

Featured Events

With the new look also comes the ability to feature upcoming events on the homepage. This means weeks and months ahead of time an event can be promoted visually to gain larger attendance.

Community events

Right now a work in progress but the new calendar allows for events that are pulled in from other sources to be promoted as “Community Events”. It could be an art show at MOCAD or a band playing around campus. The goal is to let students know is going on between or after classes.

reminders

Reminders and deadlines

These have been pulled out of the main event listing and pulled to the top of the page to ensure the most visual weight. They can be collapsed by clicking the X in the top right of the box. The goal is it remind students when important deadlines are coming up separate from the event listing so they don’t get lost.

Event Details

Individual event additions

We added quite a bit when it comes to individual events. The first is the ability to upload a photo to promote the event. From there we also allow uploading of images and video from the event. These photos and video will create a gallery and be featured on the calendar homepage. Not to mention if an event happens every year the photos from previous events can be linked to the next years event.

If a student is interested or is attending an event they now have the ability to mark right on the event page. In turn the event will show how many people are interested or attending. It will not show the users information to the public or the event admin so users don’t have to worry about privacy concerns. But the end user will be able to keep a list of events they are interested in or attending.

We created a more intuitive URL structure. Before an event URL looked like this: http://events.wayne.edu/view/20722/date/93381/ From that you have no idea what day the event is on or what it is about. The new structure looks like this: http://events.wayne.edu/2009/12/25/holiday-closure-16879/ It shows the year, month and day of the event and part of the title. A user will know a little about the event before clicking on a link.

rsvp

RSVP’s for everyone

For the past year we have been rolling out the RSVP system to a limited number of users around campus and now it is ready to go mainstream. Anyone who has access to create an event will now be able to create an RSVP for that event. The RSVP can be fully customized with fields, order, examples, thank you information, limits and waiting lists. For the time being each RSVP will need to be submitted for approval before they go live, this will not only help us ensure the system is working correctly but also refine the calendar as we see trends. In the next few days we will be releasing screencasts to walk everyone through the system.

Calendar categorization

Instead of a drop down with the full list of ~160 calendars we have begun separating the calendars into categories. For example in addition to the Main Calendar we also have a list of the Schools & Colleges, Administrative, Departments, etc. This list is still a work in progress and we will continue to refine it each day.

Mini navigation calendar now functions as it should

On the old calendar navigating between days, weeks and months was cumbersome so we refined the top left calendar area to work as it should. It now includes previous/next month days for the first and last weeks. It also remembers where you were at as you move through pages and is over all easier to select date ranges.

Streamlined adding/editing events

The add an event form has been completely redone. The page is now split into sections, What, Where, Who and When. This will make is easier for both a first time user and seasoned veteran to add events with ease. In addition to the page structure change we also changed how you select multiple calendars. Before it was a clumsy multi-select box that forced the user to ctrl+click every calendar, you let us know how big of a pain this was, so we changed it to a simple checkbox of the calendars you have access to.

An overview of your events page

Most users who enter events enter more than one. Now when you login you are presented with an overview screen that in one glance show you “Your Recently Added Events”, “RSVPs”, “Images” and “Videos”. This way you can quickly edit something you were recently working on. We are planning to expand this page to also include statistics about your events or calendars.

Next steps

This is just the first phase in a larger plan to integrate events and event promotion throughout campus both online and on screens. The old calendar served its purpose but now students, faculty, staff and alumni are demanding more and we plan to deliver. Over the next few weeks we will be analyzing statistics on how the categories are being used and plan to make other modifications on the fly.

View the new calendar at: http://events.wayne.edu/