YouTube embeds just got a little more clear

A few years ago we added the ability to embed a screenshot from a YouTube video through the CMS editor. This alleviated the need to take a screenshot, edit with software to add the play button, and then finally uploading it to the web server to embed it into a page or an email. With one click, pasting the url of the video a screenshot of the video can automatically be generated and embedded into a page.

But there was a problem

YouTube play buttonThe default YouTube play button at the time was a red rectangle which does call a lot of attention and allows users to immediately identify what will happen when they click the image. It became a problem over time as more of our videos (especially now that we can upload a custom still photo as the default screenshot) became people with a YouTube play button head:


New YouTube play buttonWe are happy to announce the play button graphic has been swapped out with a more transparent version that equally emphasizes the screenshot and the fact that the image will link to a YouTube video.

Now at a glance you can see the details in screenshot while still still understanding the link will bring the you to a YouTube video.

How to use the YouTube screenshot button in the CMS:

YouTube Preview

How does software quality happen?

Have you ever wondered why most software you interact with is hard to use or isn’t updated regularly to fix bugs? It’s a fundamental problem of computer science programs, they have failed to teach us how to manage software projects. Learning and using complex algorithms is just one small part of the software development process. The larger, more complicated (and ultimate determinator) of a project’s success is managing the requirements, time, team and process.

The most complex human task

Writing software is one of the most complex human tasks according to Douglas Crockford. Writing software isn’t a linear process, it is so complex we still haven’t learned how to create quality software. Although this is an older talk, it’s the best explanation I’ve heard about why writing software is so complex and what we can do about it.

The software crisis

He explains why the early programmers were so concerned with the software crisis and why it’s still happening today. If you are part of any software development process or even if you just use software on a daily basis this talk can give you some insight about why you may have frustrations around it.

Quality is more than good programming


Launch: A new virtual tour experience

We get a lot of feedback when we ask students what their impression of campus is. The general consensus is they had no idea how large and green it is. Being an urban campus most people think that Wayne State is just a collection of buildings along busy roads. But in reality we are a 400 acre campus with quite a bit of green space and a traditional campus feel.

It’s easy to change the impression once someone steps on to campus, but what about the people who can’t physically make it here. A few months ago we evaluated our current virtual tour website (left) and found it to fall short of the “immersive experience” we give students who come on a physical campus tour. We set out to change that.

Campus immersion

Bringing campus to life means capturing and showing off as much of campus as possible.We decided on highlighting over 40 areas on campus to provide 360 degree immersions.

We broke the experiences down in to five categories:

  • Academics & Research
  • Athletics
  • Libraries
  • Campus Life & Housing
  • Medical Campus & Extension Centers

Areas to explore

In addition to the 40 locations the user can explore we also added 60 “hotspots” which show up embedded in the locations. When the user clicks on one they are presented with some text, additional images or a video that explains more.

Next steps

The result is a landing page that we created that allows a visitor to choose a path and a full screen window opens to allow them to start exploring campus at their own pace. The tour is also available on any iOS device.

We have calls to actions on the landing page and throughout the tour. We are tracking users as they go through the tour, it is still a little too early to tell how effective the new tour is. One thing I can say that it has already surpassed the previous tour as far as engagement and time on site.

View the new virtual tour at:

Captioned Videos playing on Digital Signs around Campus


Captioned WSU VideoYou may notice the use of some of Wayne State’s YouTube videos, come up on the digital signs around campus.  We are “peppering” them in, along side our default news, events and promos that run on the screens.  Most of the screens don’t have the capacity to play sound, so we have enabled captioning to play along with the video.  As of now, we are playing them in select buildings for faculty and staff.  Keep a look out for more videos to be put into the rotation in the future, on more of our signs.


An insight into the May Commencement Web traffic

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.

Physical Attendance

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 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.

Traffic Sources

  • ~9,000 unaccounted for direct visitors
  • 3,863 referrals from the Commencement Website
  • ~1,500 referrals from email
  • 560 referrals from banner
  • 512 click throughs from Facebook
  • 449 click throughs from Twitter

Total Viewers

  • 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

Live Chat

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

What’s next?

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 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.