Help test our website

As our new designs progress apace, we’re looking for some willing subjects to help us test the website. We’ll probably be trying a number of different techniques but essentially they involve trying out various things on the website and give us your feedback.

So if you’re a student, member of staff, or even just have an interest in Edge Hill, can spare 20 minutes and are able to get to the Ormskirk campus during the day, leave a comment and we’ll get in touch to arrange a time. In return you’ll get a beverage of your choice and a chance to be one of the first to see the new web designs.

OMAC (Word)Pressing on

It’s been a quiet few months on the Web Services blog but there’s been load going on behind slightly ajar doors! In December we launched the Online Marketing and Communications (OMAC) Project with five strands:

  • Site navigation, structure and homepage
  • Academic department websites
  • Marketing content
  • Student recruitment and conversion
  • Mobile and social media

Over the last four months we’ve made progress in each of these and I’ll highlight a few of them below.

Site navigation, structure and homepage

With over 200,000 page views and a quarter of site traffic, the Edge Hill homepage is the most important page on our site and it needs to reflect a broad range of activities and signpost diverse user groups to the information they’re looking for elsewhere on the site. Our current scrolling carousel homepage went live in January 2010 and has helped us produce some really striking designs and features but there’s more we can do with it. So our new design starts from scratch by looking at what needs to be there and how to best make use of the space.

Our new template design makes use of mega menus and fat footers to allow extra information to be displayed more clearly.  We’ve covered mega menus in detail before and recently launched mega menus within GO as a way of providing one click access to a huge range of content but fat footers are something new for us:

OMAC Footer

While URL structure will remain largely unchanged, improved top level and in-page navigation will raise the profile of academic sites significantly.

Academic department websites

We are currently in the process of deploying and testing a new way of managing departmental websites.  Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of traditional content management systems but – as I mentioned at the end of my Anti-CMS talk – our approach to managing websites does have the potential to introduce bottlenecks to getting content online. Faculties and departments are making increasing use of the web a communication tool and we need to find better ways for them to get things online.

Our approach hasn’t been to bring in a monolithic, expensive enterprise CMS – I stand by my claim that they fail on a number of levels – but instead making use a tool that are easy to use for the types of content departments wish to publish. That tool is WordPress and you’re using it right now perhaps without even knowing it.

WordPress is best known as a blogging tool but in the last couple of years it has developed to be much more than that. It can now be used as a powerful content management system for relatively basic websites. While Edge Hill’s site certainly isn’t basic, individual department, faculty and centre sites are making them perfect for WordPress. The merging of WordPress MU (multi user) into the main product that probably the final piece in the jigsaw to allow easy hosting of multiple sites.

As I said, we’re currently configuring and integrating WordPress into our new site designs prior to letting content authors loose on it.

OMAC: Department of Magic

Technical solutions are only part of what we’re doing.  We’re also working with departments to review their content prior to migration to the new designs and make sure they’re doing as good a job as possible for their business needs. Relly Annett-Baker’s content inventory is a great aid to this and useful not just for reviewing sites now but on an ongoing basis.

WordPress will be available Real Soon Now with training available to those responsible for content ownership, editing and creation.  Departments can contact me now with start this process.

Marketing content

The new emphasis on department sites doesn’t mean we’re forgetting central areas of the site – these are getting lots of attention too.  Together with colleagues in corporate communications and student recruitment we’re reviewing and updating the Study, About and News sections of the site. Some changes are just a refresh while others are major new developments.  The current, rather out of date virtual tour will be replaced with a brand new interactive campus map allowing the user to explore the Ormskirk campus by building, department or facility with potential to tie all sorts of additional information into the map in future.

OMAC: Interactive Campus Map

Student recruitment and conversion

Earlier this month Student Recruitment launched Think Edge Hill, a new system for managing enquiries to the university.  This project comes under the OMAC umbrella with the current links being expanded to more deeply integrate with the new Study area of the external Edge Hill site.

Mobile and social media

The final strand is looking at how we make use of social media within the university and how it integrates with the website. We also hope to have a new mobile optimised website to go live at the same time as the new corporate template designs.

As you can see it’s been a busy few months with more to come before we go live in May. There’s lots more detail we can go into about the developments so leave a comment with what you’d like to know and we’ll follow up with further posts in the coming months.

OMAC Buzz Words

17Tuesday saw the first meeting of OMAC – the Online Marketing and Communications project that will, over the coming months, address a wide variety of issues with our main external website. As Roy will explain in a post on Monday, part of this involves opening up the website to more contributors which means a whole world of terminology for users to learn.

A few of these came up in the first meeting so let’s go over them!

Tags

These are keywords attached to bits of information to aid navigation, categorisation of searching across a set of documents. We’ve been using tags on our website for several years and they’re pretty embedded into the site from videos and courses to news and events, everything is tagged. We also use tags to link parts of the site together. For example a department will list all news stories with a particular tag.

Andy Davies wrote a pretty comprehensive post about tags including an explanation of tag clouds and machine or triple tags.

Vanity URLs

I don’t think this term came up in this week’s OMAC meeting but it’s one of my biggest regrets from my time working at Edge Hill. Wikipedia defines Vanity URLs like this:

A vanity URL is a URL or domain name, created to point to something to which it is related and indicated in the name of the URL. In many cases this is done by a company to point to a specific product or advertising campaign microsite. In theory, vanity URLs are creatively linked to something making them easier to remember than a more random link.

In our case, the term more typically refers to a short web address. For department sites, it’s the address their site is accessible at, for example www.edgehill.ac.uk/education – while others may be created for a specific event or course and redirect deep into the site.

Read more about how our URLs are structured in this series of posts.

Creeping Personalisation

Another term I introduced to Edge Hill and cringe whenever I hear it, creeping personalisation refers to the practice of building up a profile of a user in a piecemeal way. It may be that to register users only need enter their name and an email address and as they start to use the site extra information is collected.

Mega Menus

I covered this pretty thoroughly last year. but it’s something we’re moving forward with testing.

Mega or “Fat” Footers

At the other end of the page is a trend towards having larger footers able to provide more structure to links within them, perhaps with more overtly useful information than the types of link currently present.

The web is full of buzz words and odd terminology but we’re always here to guide users around what they need to know.

More about OMAC soon!

Developing using jQuery, Firefox and Firebug

10Its becoming more important to know jQuery. If you haven’t heard of jQuery, its one of the most commonly used javascript libraries used on the web. We use it for the corporate site, Hi, and GO. If your not a frequent developer in javaScript it can be an ordeal either re-learning what you’ve forgotten (I’m at that age) or having to learn something new for the first time.

As Douglas Adams would have said..

There are some really nice tools to get you started. If you don’t already, using Firefox as your development browser means that you can take advantage of a whole bunch of development tools, so if you haven’t already fire up this post in Firefox. One of the most famous developer tools for Firefox is Firebug. If you develop, you should use Firebug, get it and install it.

You don’t even need a site with jQuery already installed. BBC famously uses its own javaScript library (Glow), not jQuery, so go to the BBC homepage and fire up FireBug (F12) if you haven’t already done so.

If you’re new to FireBug, you may want a few minutes to explore and play (you’ll feel a little bit like the Scorcerer’s Apprentice). When you’ve finished playing; On the menu bar of Firebug you should see “Console”. Click “Console” to open it. In the bottom left hand corner enter :jQuery at the >>> prompt. As the BBC doesn’t use jQuery you should get an error telling you that jQuery isn’t defined.

John Reisig, the man behind jQuery, has created a bookmarklet called jQuerify. The bookmarklet loads jQuery to sites that don’t have jQuery (but only for your browser session). To use it just drag the jQuerify link into your browser toolbar and whilst on the BBC homepage, click it.

Now when you type jQuery at the Console, you should have access to the jQuery library. Now you can start to play with the jQuery library. For example, at the console type: jQuery(‘h2’) which gets all h2 elements on the page. Clicking the returned Object item takes you into the Document Object Model, giving access to all sorts of information about those page elements.

OK, lets do something freaky. Lets get rid of all the BBC’s h2 elements. Make sure you’re on the BBC home page, jQuerify has been clicked and go back to the console in Firebug and enter: jQuery(‘h2’).hide(2000)

This will hide all of the h2 elements on the page, but will be animated over 2 seconds so you can see them slide away. Don’t panic (you only did it in your browser)! You can re-display the elements by submitting: jQuery(‘h2’).show() You could also just refresh the browser, but you would have to re-click your jQuerify bookmarklet to continue experimenting with jQuery.

Now you can experiment with the entire jQuery library to learn many of the methods, documented on the site, just by entering code in the firebug console.

Go Success

Go was launched roughly three years ago and the overall aim was to make everything more accessible and easier for students. Specifically access to their Mail, File Storage, Discussion, Community, Library and Blackboard.

I would say over all Go has been a fabulous success, we have developed it a great deal over the past three years, improving it in ways more specific to certain groups of students. For example Health, Business School and Performing Arts students can all log into Go and see a taylor made area that allows them to submit assignments, get module updates and notifications about their course. Who’d of thought from this very first version we’d end up with something so dynamic.

The ‘news‘ area is split into four sections: general, support, learning and social. It serves to inform both staff and students of up and coming events; serious and fun alike and health and safety issues. It’s regulary updated to keep interest and to get out as much information as possible, too as many users as possible.

There are ‘panels‘ that can be moved around the page or removed completley, it’s up to you! In particular the ‘student learning‘ panel and the ‘student support‘ panel, they provide important information such as Term Dates and Exam Timetables.

Learning Services have created a video called ‘Learning Services 2010: Introduction to the Go Portal‘, it takes you through Go step by step: http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/study/accommodation/video/learning-services-2010-introduction-to-the-go-portal. It’s a very useful way to introduce you to Go, so if you are a student or a member of staff and you haven’t used Go, what are you waiting for!

Edit your videos online!

The production of video has become very fashionable on our Corporate site and there are a lot preparation, recording and technical aspects to consider before creating and publishing the videos.

So I invite you to discover a series of free services to create online videos, editing in different formats or develop through images and sound. Free video editing software is an easy and convenient way to edit your videos, and is great for beginners.

Be aware that most of the free video editing programs have limited editing features, but it is good to know that at least there are some alternatives on the web and they are useful for people that do not have video editing tools to work.

Youtube Video Editor:

YouTube Editor
YouTube Editor

YouTube Video Editor is a free tool in your YouTube Account which allows you to edit, combine various clips and produce an entirely new, edited video without worrying about file formats.

The editor that offers YouTube is in an area called TestTube. This requires users to use the tools and share their options about the service. Take a look at the tutorial here.

JayCut

JayCut

JayCut is an excellent free online video editing tool that people can use to make their own movies and video clips without investing in expensive software and equipment. It offers a number of features, though overall it’s a pretty basic editing platform. But what it does, it does really well, making it simple to edit and share your online videos. The program gives editors multiple tracks to work with and various effects, titles and transitions.

For aspiring filmmakers and businesses alike, JayCut offers all the tools necessary to take those edited videos and create powerful campaigns aimed at engaging audiences and promoting new services.
Cons:

  • Uploading uncompressed video footage can take a long time.
  • Jaycut offers only a very limited selection of video effects.

Movie Masher

Moviemasher
Movie Masher

Allows you to sequence and trim clips, add effects, transitions, titles. The Movie Masher is a free open source online video editor that provides advanced multi-track audio and video editing for your web site, with custom transitions, titling, effects and filters. It offers a wide-range of video editing tools, flash tools, XML code snippets that will help you to remix and reshuffle videos for your website. It is simple to use, all you have to do is just drag and drop the video bits and the tools do it all.

Movie Masher allows you to design and customise videos to suit your taste and gives full control in editing videos via its tools. There is no doubt that this website with its innovative set of tools and widgets, takes desktop video editing to the internet platform.

Photobucket

photobucket

Photobucket allows you to upload, manipulate, share photos and videos for free. You can access the service from mobile phones (iPhone, Android and Blackberry) and it is a service that lets you organise your photo albums, edit and create videos. Also you can keep track of statistics of your material created and shared across the services. Photobucket is easy to use, popular and provides a good sense of community.

Avidemux:

avidemux

Avidemux is a free option and open source for basic video editing, it supports formats: avi, mpeg, mp4 and asf. It is available to install on Linux, Windows, Mac OSX. In the tool room will find a Wiki with documentation and a forum where you can participate with the community by sharing your experience with the tool and doubts.

Despite not being the most powerful video-editing software available, Avidemux does have its share of features. It works comfortably with most video formats, handles subtitles and audio editing, converts between different video formats – and all this from a graphical interface. One of its highlights is that a whole project – including all options, preferences, and everything else – can be saved into one project file – pretty neat.

Most of the free video editing programs have limited editing features, so after a while you may want to look at the mid-level digital video software or the top professional video editing programs. I hope these free tools for creating online video bring something to your productivity and work quality. Do not forget to share your experience with them and if you know similar tools do not hesitate to share in the comments.

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone

At IWMW last week I ran a BarCamp session titled “Slate My Website… and Your Website?”.

As I explained on the IWMW blog, the format of the session is based on Nick DeNardis’ EDU Checkup and consists of three parts:

  • 10 second test: show then hide the homepage then try to remember as much as possible.
  • ~5 minute review: surf around the site looking for things of interest – as Roy Walker would say, “say what you see”.
  • Ratings: scores out of 100 for design, content and code.

In the 30 minute slot we had time to slate review three websites:

University of Reading

University of Reading

Scores:

  • design: 68
  • content: 63
  • code: 79

University of Nottingham

University of Nottingham

Scores:

  • design: 71
  • content: 65
  • code: 62

Edge Hill University

Edge Hill University

Part of the “deal” for this session was that someone else would review our website so with me sat in the corner with my eyes closed and fingers in ears, Dan Wiggle from the University of York did the business.  Lynda Bewley summarised the atmosphere well:

@lyndabewley: vengeance being meted out on http://www.edgehill.ac.uk/ 🙂 #slatemywebsite #iwmw10

Scores:

  • design: 74
  • content: 74
  • code: 70

Many thanks to Jeremy Speller for acting as scorekeeper and Reading and Nottingham for being such good sports and not lynching me!

If you want me to Slate Your Website in person, I’m looking for someone to act as our “external expert” so get in touch!

Will you be our expert?

Paul Boag

Once again,  Paul Boag from Headscape spoke at the Institutional Web Management Workshop, this year in Sheffield.  The plenary talk was titled No Money, No Matter and was generally accepted to be one of the highlights of the conference.  Much of the content Paul has covered separately on his blog and [failed :-)] podcast but the talk tied it together and brought up some new ideas.

You can see Paul’s practice and links to related posts on boagworld.com and the full video is available from Sheffield.

Paul often treads a fine line between great advice and a sales pitch but he always does it with a glint in his eye so we’ll allow it!  Recently, he has been promoting the idea of bringing in external agencies just for big overhauls of the website and instead have an ongoing relationship.  While at Edge Hill we don’t particularly do web design agencies, I wholeheartedly agree that cycles of major redesigns are a bad thing.

Just when you think the talk is going to turn into hard sell for Headscape, Paul turns it around and admits for many Universities money is tight and suggests instead HEIs act as “external experts” for each other.  This is a fantastic idea and I really want to make this happen for us.  Paul suggested monthly meetings with your expert and while I think that might be a little too often, we can see how it goes.

So I’m looking for volunteers to come to Edge Hill (we’re based in Ormskirk, Lancashire in case you didn’t know!) and give us free consultancy!  In return you’ll get as much coffee as you can drink, a sandwich from the SCR and – if you want – I’ll return the favour and “consult” for your HEI.

There’s a few conditions, chiefly I don’t think TPTB would like one of our competitors coming in but other than that I’m open to offers!  If you’re interested, drop me an email on michael.nolan@edgehill.ac.uk.

Update: after posting on JISCmail’s WEBSITE-INFO-MGT list I received a couple of questions about the areas to be covered.  Our team covers design, development and to a large degree content and while we don’t author the majority of information on the site, we do have responsibility for it.  So essentially I’m looking for a general expert – someone who can say “that doesn’t look right” or “have you thought about doing cool thing X using HTML5 there”.

BBC News redesign

BBC News Redesign

Yesterday the BBC launched a new design for their News website. They previewed it a week ago and comments seemed quite positive but on the launch announcement feedback wasn’t quite as positive:

hartpark wrote:
Hate the new look. Will start looking elsewhere for my news content.

Two years ago at the last design refresh Martin Belam analysed feedback and concluded that 60% was negative. I suspect this time it might be even higher.

Personally, I quite like the new design – I certainly don’t hate it – so it surprises me that so many people feel so strongly. Is it just the people who dislike it that feel motivated to comment?

Often where the BBC lead, many others will follow, so if we were to get “inspiration” from some of the things they’ve done, should we expect a similar reaction?

Interested in your comments about the new BBC News website!

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