Updates from David McKelvey RSS
IDATI, the road ahead
04:22:22 pm on April 29, 2012 |
I have just completed a extensive roadmap document for the IDATI project and this, my last post to weblab, will serve as a update on the project. First of all, even before my departure delayed the schedule until a replacement is hired, we’d already altered the dates as part of the discovery during our initial tasks, so the schedule outlined in the introduction to the project is now being reordered and rewritten.
With that, I’d rather refine what’s coming as far as the roadmap suggests and that is largely based upon the evolution of the industry since our 2009 redesign.
At redesign launch, we’d used cutting-edge technology, content strategies and navigation designed to unify our previously siloed website, all wrapped up in a brand new content management system (CMS) LiveWhale. However, altering the underlying infrastructure, be it design, or navigation and content strategy, or the technical underpinnings is never easy for a site the scale and depth of the Lewis & Clark site, and so we’ve held off, being busy growing the site and its editors among other projects in the meantime.
However, we are now at a key period where it is exactly the right time to make major updates in the website. IDATI does this by (in no order):
- responding to navigational and content changes initiated with the merger of the institutional and undergraduate home pages,
- making significant changes to the top-level navigation and content,
- integrating space for the coming results of the strategic planning process,
- changing the website design to be mobile-friendly and more easily utilized by site editors,
- switching to newer LiveWhale built-in modules for a reduction in code maintenance and increased benefit as the system matures, and
- further centralizing the management of the website.
I have left my extensive roadmap in the hands of New Media, PubCom and key acting stakeholders of the website with the strict instructions that they should adapt it in the process of executing it. While posts will no longer be made by me, continue to watch this space for ongoing updates as to the process of IDATI.
Built to Last
08:00:15 am on April 22, 2012 |
As many of you know, I am leaving Lewis & Clark at the end of this week to join White Whale on the first of May. (You might remember them from our redesign in 2009.) This is not necessarily a goodbye, since my task there will be to build the community of LiveWhale — the web content management system that Lewis & Clark uses — and I expect to be visiting from time to time, as I’ll be based in Portland.
This is a huge opportunity for me and I am happy to be joining the web-geek-whales. However, this does leave a hole in PubCom/NewMedia to fill. I’ll spend the the rest of this post giving you some basic information on the transition.
Tom is forming a search committee composed of major stakeholders of the website. Naturally, all three schools are represented along with IT and a few PubCom members as well. The director position was posted late last week to the HR website and it is being advertised. And as part of my departure, I am posting it to UWebD — the university web developers list — a bunch of people like me all over the U.S.
During this transition, Morgan Grether has stepped up to manage New Media. You all know him — he’s been my stalwart New Media colleague for years so I know you’re in good hands. Morgan is of course aided by Nick, our inventive coder, and both of them will be there to keep everything moving on the right path. Even so, during the transition please understand that the overall demands on New Media are unlikely to relent, especially with IDATI now in full swing, so be as patient as possible.
And with that I’d like to say thank you. I’ve worked with so many of you (the nature of our work touches so many) and enjoyed it all — I hope you feel the same. Now don’t be a stranger, if you give me a buzz, maybe we can meet up for picklebacks at the Woodsman.
What the heck is IDATI and why should I care?
12:58:21 pm on March 8, 2012 |
Simply put, IDATI is Integrated Design and Technical Improvements and will greatly improve our public website over a six-month-plus period. In short, IDATI is a major overhaul of the underpinnings of the website (the technical aspects) united with significant changes to the navigation and design of the site.
This effort grew out of our needs to refactor much of the custom code we wrote as part of the full redesign of the site in summer 2009 to not only take advantage of many improvements in our LiveWhale content management system since that time, but also the advances in the at large web development community.
Further, as we are now nearly four years from the strategy phase of the redesign, it’s time to take another hard look at our content mix and navigational choices. The world has changed and we have changed too.
Websites require constant care — they must always change to stay relevant and be effective.
In some respects, this announcement is the culmination of this process already underway. We began last summer/fall with the new home page and undergraduate admissions home page. In the late fall, we commissioned a review of our navigation and content by an independent expert (Tonya Moyle, WhiteWhale Web Services).
Below, I outline the major segments of IDATI, as well as some milestones for starting projects as we know them today. I must emphasize that what I have highlighted below is less a fixed project with an accompanying Gantt chart of milestones and deadlines than a roadmap to our web future and the tasks that we must tackle to get there.
For instance, not all the things we know we must do are yet solved or known, such as the new navigation and how it might change the base design of the website. But, we know we must take this path and we know where it starts, and we know the key elements. It’s time to change.
For the overall project, I’ve broken the tasks collected from our own project tracking software and from the work we did in the fall culminating with Tonya’s report and assembled them into five segments, for which I’ve listed some major elements below. They are organized from design to function.
Design and User Experience
Build new page designs that are both desktop and mobile responsive (including a print stylesheet) all atop a new framework which will extend the ability to do more interactive and stylized design to the high-end LiveWhale users. Build new home pages for the Graduate School and Law School in conjunction with key admissions stakeholders; rebuild the Institutional one in the new framework. Build several new templates that facilitate a show-over-tell content plan akin to the undergraduate admissions home page. Redesign all templates to respond to navigation changes noted below.
Navigation and Content
Apply the recommendations from Tonya and remove the “green” navigation, reorganizing the school navigations to accommodate incoming additions and push them toward a more outward focused, thematic landing page model. Add new content areas for specific deficiencies (e.g. more outcomes) and reorient some content areas (e.g. undergraduate parents). Rethink all three schools’ current students or student life sections to be internally useful but externally interesting. Use shared content to handle distribution of key elements like maps, visiting campus, Portland content and the like.
Take all the issues noted on all the various templates (home page, page, news, events, etc.) and rebuild them across the entire site. This involves creating a tool to allow us to re-wrap the page content with a new template which will centralize management of the template on a permanent basis. We will simultaneously eliminate several of the LiveWhale external tools we’ve written for a growing use of LiveWhale tools that have become available in the last two years.
Create or upgrade tools and practices for delivering content to site visitors in an ever-faster manner that also introduce significant speed improvements for mobile or low-bandwidth users across the globe. Like templating, some of these will reflect a greater use of newer LiveWhale features as well as improved technologies from the last two years. Other improvements will reduce demands on new media by improving the ease of page creation and titling.
Take select ideas that would have overall benefit to LiveWhale users in general and feed them to WhiteWhale for consideration as future features. Investigate funding options to get these elements built sooner as custom elements. Possible features include auto-built site maps, social media image import, among others.
The segments above are clearly interdependent. Given this, staffing considerations, knowledge known at present, time to vet navigation and design changes and finally, that we’re about to enter yield season for two of our three schools (the other always being in yield season), we are going to begin with the technical side of the project and move toward the design and content side.
Our technical improvements will have a minimal impact on the overall look-and-feel of the website to most visitors, keeping a stasis for the design, content and navigations work proceeding alongside. Further, we’ll have the tools in place to effect a far more rapid change when ready to implement the design, content and navigation changes once ready. As you might expect, the initial months (phases) are more fleshed out at present with the more distant phases less so.
I’ve listed primary actors where known and available below; the ContentCM (content creator/manager) actor is a stand in for one or more of: Morgan, Emily, Joe and Deanna, depending on the project.
- Template migration tool (Templating, Nick)
- QR Code service (Infrastructure, Nick)
- Replace site.inc with LiveWhale Module/PHP includes (Templating, David)
- Build basic frame, average home page, and inside page templates in new framework (Design, Lawrence)
- Begin graduate and law home page planning (Design/Content, David, Joe, Hanna, Martha, Shannon)
- Inquire about LiveWhale improvements with WhiteWhale (LiveWhale, David/Morgan)
- Group creation helper (Templating, Nick)
- Complete Institutional home page in new framework (Design, Lawrence)
- Begin graduate and law navigation (Design/Content, David+, Hanna, Martha)
- Draft graduate and law home pages (Design, Lawrence/David, Hanna, Martha)
- New content and photography for home pages completed (weather permitting, ContentCM, Hanna, Martha)
- Page creation helper built (Nick, Infrastructure)
- LiveWhale/SSO integration (Nick, Infrastructure)
- Content development in process for refinement of existing landing pages (Content, ContentCM)
- Graduate and law navigation accepted (Design/Content, David+, Hanna, Martha)
- New graduate and law pages launched (Design, David)
- New content created, new landing pages launched as available (Content, ContentCM)
- Graduate and law navigation built, some elements launched as content becomes available (Design/Content, David+)
- Transition to long-term work of assisting departments/programs with their web content in the new formats as staff return to campus (Content, Emily/Morgan)
I do expect dates to shift as work is completed. Watch for updates on IDATI on this blog, or inquire about our new media status update emails by emailing email@example.com. And, since this is a lot to digest, but sure to ask questions either via email, or even better, in a comment so that others can benefit as well.
08:24:11 am on February 22, 2012 |
A few weeks ago now we relaunched the new search. Here are the new features that we incorporated:
- New Design
We took some of the anecdotal use information and combined it with some user-testing to come up with a new tabbed design to replace the three-column design we’d used for the prior two years. Among other things, we found that the right-most column seemed to be “invisible” to people (we think because the Google-trained expect that column to be ads) and we wanted to add additional sources and the columnar design did not allow for that.
- New Term Parser
Before we actually hand your search terms off to the part of the search engine (called sphinx) for the actual search, we take some time to massage your terms to maximize sphinx’s ability to return the best results. Nick rewrote the search parser from the ground-up for this release, and it is much more robust and changeable now.
This new engine now offers filtering. What is filtering? On the People tab for instance, you can now sub-segment your term search to only show faculty, staff or students, or college-, graduate- or law-associated individuals. There are time-based filters for news and events. Give them a try and suggest others.
- New Did You Mean?
Our prior Did You Mean? resource was only invoked when your search returned no results, and utilized Yahoo’s spelling API to give a good suggestion. It worked quite well, but Yahoo has since killed their spelling API and we wanted to provide this service even when the we were returning some results. The new Did You Mean? now runs on every search and if there are relevant results, shows them. (We also switched to using Google as a source.) Our next iteration of this feature will pre-check the suggestions against our database before showing them.
- More Prominent Feedback
We want your feedback on this engine to continue to improve it’s performance and allow us to help it evolve with our community over time. Use it.
- Google Returns
We have built a Google tab right into the new search engine so you can try it when you aren’t finding results via the search engine itself. In general, our engine will outperform Google when dealing with people and recommended results — that is, for searches where we can apply our inherent knowledge of Lewis & Clark. Google will outperform our engine when the search is more amorphous or ambiguous.
But as ever, this is just the beginning. In the weeks since relaunch, Nick and I have fixed issues raised by you, and continued to add new features. Just in the last week, we’ve:
- moved the recommended results (we heard that people weren’t seeing them);
- added the ability to add a person to your address book from the search engine; and
- added the ability to add an event to your calendar.
Have an idea for us? Tell us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org or better, use that search engine feedback!
- New Design
User-testing Starts Monday
12:10:36 pm on December 1, 2011 |
On Monday, December 5, we’re beginning user-testing of our search engine prototype. We’ve had a good number of people interested and will be contacting them today to setup a 15 minute window to come in and give the new engine a try. If you didn’t get an email today and would like to join the testing group, please send us an email.
We’ll start with several testing sessions on Mondays, with future sessions as we make revisions based on the feedback we get.
We’re using software specifically designed for user-testing which will record our testers’ interactions with the search engine prototype. We’ll start testers out with ten search tasks to see how they each use it, but then ask them to conduct any searches they wish. (We hope they will bring some of their “standard” searches.) At the conclusion, we’ll simply ask them for their general feedback.
This is something we’ve wanted to do for ages and we’re thrilled that we’re taking the time to do it with this new release.
Digital Screens Update
01:06:15 pm on November 11, 2011 |
While projects like the home page and navigations refresh, the search engine prototype ui and the alumni connectivity project have kept me busy of late, I have found a few minutes to give the digital screens another quick update.
Admittedly, one of the updates was absolutely necessary as the end of Daylight Savings Time tweaked the display of some of the events to be an hour off. So while I was in there doing an immediate quick fix to deal with that, I took a few hours to give the screens code some additional upgrades. The short list follows.
Daylight Savings Time (bug fix)
The screens should now properly display events regardless of DST.
Fewer Duplicate Events (new)
You should now see fewer duplicate copies of the same event on the screen. LiveWhale’s sharing system is wonderful for the user but does require some additional thought when tapping into it with external applications since there can be multiple versions of the “same” content available at any one time.
The screens now match events based on time, place and a fuzzy-match on title similarity. This means that the LiveWhale event that you personally created may not be on the screens (it will be on your website as always), but that at least one matching event will. (The system is designed to not be overzealous in matching — displaying too many of the same event is better than missing one.)
Investigating User Interaction
Today, we hooked up a Kinect to the test screen in our office and after installing some additional open source code, experimented with how a Kinect-controlled user interface might be like. (Check out the images of Morgan and I using it.) Truth be told, it was a little rough and prone to mistaken choices, even when you know its gestures. However, it does have some benefits over our alternative choice, control by smart phone so we’ll take a closer look at the underlying code.
Have an idea about the screens? Be sure to tell us.
Shorter Events Stream
11:52:30 am on October 14, 2011 |
Over the last week, I’ve made some changes to the displays, both in the range of events they show and what they show for each.
The range of events had already come down some, from always 30 to anywhere between 20-30, and now it’s shorter again. Now, each display will show a events up through the next 12 days or 20 events maximum, whichever is less. Not only does this keep the events stream more relevant, but also allows for faster cycling, in case you just have to see that event you just missed when you walked up. Thanks to the viewers who suggested this change.
Long summaries (over 250 characters) are now truncated so that they don’t get overlapped by other elements on the displays. Remember though — summaries are required.
Titles are now Title Capped when they have been saved as all CAPS. All caps is ineffective as an attention getter and we don’t need people yelling.
Lastly, I updated how events get pushed to the screens. Since the recent LiveWhale upgrade took away the ability to update a shared-by-link event’s place or other data, events that are shared needed the ability to grab the original event data. (This is better too by the way.)
09:15:41 am on October 14, 2011 |
A faster page means a better user experience, so as part of our ongoing improvements to the site and to remove a potential server issue (perhaps related to our recent server issues), I’ve just written some code to improve select caching of remote content such as the search dropdown, the Administration section and many of the “Contact Us” sections that appear directly beneath each site’s navigation and faculty information that is auto-filled on faculty pages.
The search dropdown was no slouch, but cached results means that subsequent requests for the same term(s) are at least ten, sometimes twenty times faster (around 60ms to between 2-5ms).
Administration / Contact Us
We’ve been switching many of the Contact Us sections to use the directory (our authoritative resource of organizational information) so that it matches the contact information in Administration. Prior to today, when LiveWhale generates each page (every five minutes) the contact information was requested from the directory in real-time and would often take as much as a second to produce. Subsequent requests now only take 2-5ms. (It is refreshed daily.)
When you load a faculty member’s page, a good portion of the faculty information (name, title, office location, phone, email, etc.) that appears on faculty pages is requested in real-time from the search engine (where we store the people data we collect daily from Colleague). Now, that only occurs on the first visit to the page — all subsequent visits that day are cached. This means that the resulting in a page that loads an average of five times faster.
Why Must Trillium Die?
07:47:34 am on September 21, 2011 |
It was recently pointed out to me that while we’ve posted and talked about the actual process of archiving and removing legacy content and the final step of ending Trillium, I’ve never talked about why.
Websites for large institutions become cluttered almost immediately, and maintaining a clean, efficient system helps keep it fast, reliable and secure. Specific to Trillium and legacy, we need to remove old content and improve overall security.
We kept Trillium and it’s websites around for a good while after the redesign, since we wanted everyone to have a good resource of past material. A number of Trillium users had hidden content going back several years if not nearly a decade. When we launched the new site, we wanted everyone to have that wealth of old content available to them to make the transition as easy as possible.
We hid most of this old content from Google and other search engines, but over time, Google followed links to and fro and eventually collected a bit too much of it for our liking. (There was and is still valid content on legacy, but some of the out-dated content was trumping more authoritative content on the new site.) Needless to say, removing old or replaced content on legacy is absolutely important to the success of our new site.
Trillium is well past it’s expiration date and New Media stopped active maintenance of it prior to my arrival almost four years ago now. It runs on server software that is older than that. Trillium needs to be closed so that the legacy server can be retired. (Trillium is not the only service running there, but it is a huge part of it.)
LiveWhale Developers Conference
07:02:52 am on September 21, 2011 |
Last Thursday and Friday, Lewis & Clark New Media hosted the first-ever LiveWhale Developers Conference here on campus. WhiteWhale (maker of LiveWhale) brought three other LiveWhale schools and we all were able to hear about the future developments for LiveWhale as well as give feedback on the issues and features that we have submitted.
One of the best parts was that most of the second day was devoted to each school presenting on how they were using LiveWhale in a unique way. (We screencast these sessions — turn your volume all the way up to hear though, the iphone mic isn’t that strong.) Naturally, we presented on the digital displays (slides), but other schools talked about great integration of social media and new tools for templating and overall page management. I also used the event to announce that the code for the screens is now open-source.
Between the main session and the school presentations, there were a bunch of great ideas which we’re planning on working towards in the next few weeks to a half year from now. We hope you’ll see the first when the new institutional/college home page relaunches in about a month, but long-term we’re planning on improving the tools you can use to integrate social media (including photos and video) into your sites. We’ll announce those as we go.
Lastly, look for us to update LiveWhale in the next two weeks. There are some great new improvements we know you’ll love.