Category Archives: We’re looking at

Brand new Street View imagery

A few years ago we had a visit from the Google Street View trike and a year later the imagery was published. Quite a lot has changed on campus since then: the Hub, under construction in Autumn 2010 is now a hive of activity; BioSciences has had a growth spurt and (more than!) a lick of paint; and the entire Eastern Campus including Creative Edge, brand new halls and a lake (with a beach!) have sprung up from nowhere! So last summer we figured our Beautiful Campus could do with another visit from Google and booked them in for Freshers Week last September. The new imagery is now live on Google Maps so take a look around.

Here’s a few of my highlights but leave a comment if you find something interesting!

Eastern Campus Beach

Crossing the bridge

This time the man from Google came with a Street View Trekker instead of the trike so was able to get to even more places!

The new and the old

Sculptures

How many can you find?!

Down the stairs

Ducks!

Wouldn’t be Edge Hill without a few ducks!

Rain forest or rock garden?

Old imagery

The 2010 imagery hasn’t been completely replaced so there’s a few places where they visited originally that haven’t changed including this shot from behind the swimming pool.

YouTube Live Streaming Graduation Ceremonies

Last Saturday saw the campus taken over for Edge Hill’s winter Graduation ceremonies and I was there to see the Real Jenny Barrett graduate.

Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur

Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur

We’ve been streaming graduation ceremonies live online since Summer 2008 – I blogged about the use of eStream at the time – and the system has worked very well and allowed us to both stream to people watching at home and keep an archive of past ceremonies.

As I said in the previous post we were particularly pleased with the quality of video compared to other platforms such as YouTube and hosting ourselves offered more flexibility for embedding in our site.

But that was then and this is now and as you would expect, cloud services have upped their game.  YouTube now supports full HD, videos are available on a range of platforms from mobiles and tablets to TVs as well as watching on the YouTube website or embedding into our site. Combine this with the additional visibility that publishing to YouTube gives us as students share videos with friends.

So for the last couple of years we’ve been using a hybrid of live streaming with eStream and a Flash Media Server hosted in-house and uploading the archived footage to YouTube. Patiently we’ve been waiting while Google first launched streaming for some major events, then last year introduced Hangouts On Air but with a “Google+” DOG burnt into the corner of the video.

Finally in August, Google lowered the subscriber threshold for enabling live streaming to below the level that Edge Hill’s account has and we gained access to the fancy “Live events” screens:

Create a new event - YouTube

 

Technically the process is very similar to what we had previously: a PC in the control room captures the mixed video output from a Tricaster, encodes it using Flash Media Live Encoder but instead of pushing to our own Flash streaming server, the feed is sent to YouTube who handle transcoding and sending out to viewers.

Colleagues in Learning Services were manning the desks but from a viewer’s perspective it went very well. The public feed ends up with about a 30 second delay from live after it’s been through YouTube’s processing but as long as people sat in the audience aren’t trying to tune in that’s not noticeable.  The feed resolution is comparable to what we had previously but at 480p it seems subjectively better quality and on mobile devices it looks great.

December ceremonies have historically had lower live stream views than the summer ones (fewer people on campus) but we had up to 61 concurrent connections watching for an average of 17 minutes:

Graduation Statistics

You’ll see we ran a single stream all day rather than individual events. This made it easier to manage from the control room as FMLE could be set up once and run all day but it means that the individual ceremonies must be uploaded again for the archive – it’s not possible to use YouTube’s online editing tools for videos over 2 hours long.

Overall I’m very happy with how it went. We’ve purchased a new video capture device which unfortunately we couldn’t get to work in time but that will offer additional future proofing and the ability to stream at up to 1080p!

Update: it looks like now all YouTube users of good standing will be able to stream through both YouTube live and Hangouts On Air.

Week Notes: 1 November

Following Bath’s example – we’ve never been afraid to steal some of their ideas – we’re planning to publish “week notes” each Friday giving a summary of the week’s activities.

  • Launched a beta version of our new Google Site Search powered corporate website search engine.
  • Work continues apace on the new corporate homepage built in WordPress. Chris is working through final changes suggested by the boss.
  • We’re also reviewing the status of our top level sites to see which we can update to the new WordPress theme or migrate into WordPress from statically built sites.
  • Last week we received training for the new AMX digital signage that’s in Creative Edge and BioSciences so we’re working on pushing content out to those devices.
  • Dan has been working on bringing Student Profiles into WordPress.
  • Upgraded WordPress to 3.7.1 from 3.7 on the corporate site and 3.6.1 on blogs. Because we use version control this isn’t automated.
  • Yesterday I went to SWIG – the Liverpool WordPress group – hosted by Interconnect IT (who also provide the excellent WP User Guide we use as the basis for training and support). Robert O’Rourke did a very interesting talk about typogrophie and the balance of form and function based on the teachings of Emil Ruder. (Update: slides for the talk – with lots of examples – are now available)

Meanwhile, on the internets, it’s interesting to see Twitter pushing media content more with the inclusion of pictures inline in the timeline:

https://twitter.com/MikeNolan/status/395566713149726720

It would be nice if they are also able to expose content from Twitter Cards as all our news stories and events have them enabled.

Chrome: the rise and fall and rise again

Edd Sowden’s recently released browser matrix stats shows some fascinating patterns in usage for GOV.UK and the tool has also been made available on GitHub and for anyone to use. So what does it show for the Edge Hill website?

The most striking thing to me is the upgrade cycle for Chrome. With a 7 day bucket size, the matrix shows we have two new Chrome releases showing just how quickly the automatic update system is able to push out versions.

Chrome Upgrades

Compare that to how Internet Explorer updates happen at an almost glacial pace:

Internet Explorer Updates

I’ve not incorrectly included “Chrome 7” in those stats – that’s there because we have Chrome Frame installed on Edge Hill machines.

Browser Matrix seems able to visualise data in some ways that Google Analytics alone doesn’t – give it a try and share what you find!

Results Day Homepages

Last Thursday was A-Level results day for students in England and Wales and a big day for universities who get a boost in visitors to their website in the middle of an otherwise quite summer break.

Each university has its own way of dealing with their audience so I trawled through and took screenshots of many university and college homepages to compare. You can find all the images on Google+. Here’s a few that caught my eye…

 

 

 

Mapping the campus

We’re currently looking at a project which involves maps of the Ormskirk campus which – if you read my 125 by 125 blog – I find quite exciting. Maps are important for lots of things the University yet we’ve never had very good maps. We have access to lots of them, but nothing that’s quite suitable.

For example, our own campus map has all the buildings labelled and is pretty up to date but it’s not to scale or plotted against a real grid system.

We also have a 3D drawing of campus which is used in the prospectus and online in the interactive campus map. It looks nice but again it’s not accurate enough for plotting real positions and it’s a pain to keep up to date.

Google Maps is to scale but missing lots of buildings and some websites are moving away from it to other services because they’ve started charging for heavy users, not something I think they’d do to us but they could add advertising:


View Larger Map

Microsoft’s Bing is even worse:

The Ordnance Survey have released some of their data, and we also have access to it through Digimap, but questions remain over licencing and the frequency of updates.

We can do better than this by building on what has already been done by OpenStreetMap.

I’ve mentioned OpenStreetMap several times before going back three years:

[Mapumental’s] base mapping layer is from OpenStreetMap – a project to create a free (as in beer and speech) map similar to the ones available from Google Maps, or even from the OS. It’s created by volunteers who go out with GPS and plot the routes online. Almost all major roads are on there already and certain areas have excellent quality coverage – take a look at South Liverpool for an example of how good it can get.

The quality of mapping on OSM for Edge Hill hasn’t been great – in the past I’ve taken the odd GPS track or paths around campus and added them but generally it’s been pretty poor as you can see from this recent capture:

Edge Hill Before (CloudMade)

Recently though, the quality of aerial imagery available in the OSM editor has vastly improved making tracing over the campus a viable option where it hadn’t been before (buildings going back as far as the Faculty of Health were missing from Yahoo!’s images). A few hours work has resulted in a much more complete map of campus:


View Larger Map

As I write it’s still not perfect but all the buildings are plotted along with roads, footpaths and many of the facilities we have on campus like cafes and shops. OpenStreetMap allows anyone to make corrections and add missing features which will help keep it up to date.

Now that we have an up to date base map we’ll be looking at ways we can make use of it in some exciting forthcoming projects which I hope we’ll be blogging about soon!

The Cookie Monster is here

Cookie Monster

The UK’s implementation of EU Cookie regulations come into force this Saturday and the web design world is frantically trying to work out what to do! Firstly a bit of background into cookies and why we are where we are!

Cookies make the web go round – they’re how a website remembers who you are so you don’t have to remind it every time you load a page; they allow websites to personalise what you see; they make online shopping possible by remembering what’s in your shopping basket and they allow website owners to track the performance of sites to determine what’s working and what isn’t. Suffice to say without cookies the web would be a sorry place.

But they also have the potential to be abused. They can reduce your privacy on the web by tracking what you do on the web. By linking information together it could be possible for sites to build up a detailed profile of your online behaviour and the EU decided to act to better protect users’ privacy.

The UK’s implementation of the EU regulations is being enforced by the ICO who have issued guidance but things are never that simple! There isn’t – so far – an accepted “right” solution to compliance. The ICO themselves have taken quite a hardline approach – a bar across the top of every page asking for permission to set cookies. When this launched it had a devastating affect on their ability to analyse site usage which is vital if you’re going to build good websites.

BT and the BBC take a bit more of an opt-out approach by telling site visitors they will receive cookies unless they say otherwise.

These show the first time a visitor comes to the site and in BT’s case disappears after 10 seconds – much less off-putting and probably clearer than a simple “Do you want cookies?” prompt, but is it enough to satisfy the ICO? Only time will tell!

While the implied consent may still be unknown one thing that is generally agreed is that providing the user with more information in a form that they can understand is a Good Thing™ so that’s where we’ve started.

[I should note much of what we’ve implemented so far is based on a very pragmatic post by James Cridland of Media UK]

  1. We’ve added notices to key login pages like GO to say that you’re going to have to accept cookies if you want to log in. We’ll expand this to other services like the online shop and Rose Theatre ticket office in due course.
  2. We’ve added a Cookies page the the site listing how we use cookies and what for. I’m sure this isn’t 100% complete so if anyone would like to let me know gaps then please shout!
  3. We make a distinction between cookies which link to personal information and those that don’t.
  4. We link to instructions on how to manage cookie settings and mention “private browsing” modes in modern browsers as an easy alternative.

As James says in his post #3 is the most contentious:

ICO is primarily concerned with personal information and personal data – and I’m registered under the Data Protection Act and take personal data very seriously. However, Google Analytics and AdSense cookies, etc, are anonymous, and will only ever contain personal information if you deliberately log in to Google services (and even then Google claims not to link Analytics or AdSense with your Google account anyway). The same goes for Twitter and Facebook too. And the ICO go out of their way to say, in their advice: Although the Information Commissioner cannot completely exclude the possibility of formal action in any area, it is highly unlikely that priority for any formal action would be given to focusing on uses of cookies where there is a low level of intrusiveness and risk of harm to individuals. Provided clear information is given about their activities we are highly unlikely to prioritise first party cookies used only for analytical purposes in any consideration of regulatory action.

What does this look like? The cookie page is linked to from the header and footer of every page:

The Learning Edge landing page is a bit more explicit about how it makes use of cookies:

Depending on feedback from our users and others in the sector we may roll out some form of non-interrupting information box along the same lines as the BBC’s approach. We have also done some work on a cookie level chooser like BT have but the technical implementation across multiple in-house and third party systems is non-trivial.

If you have any feedback or questions about Edge Hill’s approach to cookie legislation compliance please leave a comment or get in touch and I’m sure there will be more changes to come!

Event Tracking with Google Analytics

 

Previously we’ve showed how we’re starting to make use of A/B testing to measure the proposed improvements to our site. We’ve also started using other more advanced features of Google Analytics on our site.

The problem comes from some of our designs which use JavaScript to create advanced designs. The homepage for example has a feature area showing four key news stories, events or promotions but Google Analytics only registers the page loading – previously we had no way to determine which slides were being looked at.

The solution is event tracking. With this, GA can record activity other than page views. In this example we register as an event an interaction with the feature area. These are logged as “Switch 1/2/3/4” when the corresponding slide is displayed. Loading the default slide isn’t recorded – we can get that figure from the number of page views – but clicking the thumbnail link does trigger the event.

In many ways the results are unsurprising:

Event Action Total Events Unique Events
Switch: 1 606 491
Switch: 2 593 466
Switch: 3 454 359
Switch: 4 311 255

So the further left the more often the content is viewed. We also record the title of the tab for easy reference – it’s hard to remember what story was in each position on a particular day:

Event Label Total Events Unique Events
University of the Year 2011 592 465
Jennifer Saunders in Conversation 453 358
Postgraduate Study for 2012 311 255
Scholarships for 2012 218 178
Scholarshipsfor 2012 147 129
Graduation ceremonies today 135 101
Awards ceremonies will be held as scheduled 104 87

“Scholarships for 2012” is doubled up – there’s still some debugging to do extracting the slide labels from the H3 tag but early results are very interesting.

This type of event tracking applies to a couple of different designs based on our feature area JavaScript so we can start to measure the success of slides on the About page – Campus and Location (position #5) is second most popular link.

As will any type of statistics, the hard part is in analysing what they mean but already this has proved to be a useful additional metric we can use when reviewing our site.

 

A/B testing the mega menu

This week we’ve started experimenting with A/B tests on elements of our site design. The first results are coming in and show us some small but not insignificant improvements can be made.

Spot the difference in our mega menu:

We’ve been testing how many people visit the Undergraduate homepage from the mega menu – Google Analytics stats show many more people go straight to the courses page than to the top level page.

Using Google’s Website Optimizer we can test the two versions with and without the heading underlines to see which performs better. After four days the stats show the version without the underline performs 9% better at driving people to the Undergraduate homepage.

This was a very small experiment but in future we’ll be testing more fundamental elements of our designs. Apologies if this makes you feel like a lab rat!