Browser Support

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced that from 1 August 2011 they will be changing the way they support web browsers for their Google Apps products including Gmail. Their blog post gives a little more information:

For web applications to spring even farther ahead of traditional software, our teams need to make use of new capabilities available in modern browsers. For example, desktop notifications for Gmail and drag-and-drop file upload in Google Docs require advanced browsers that support HTML5. Older browsers just don’t have the chops to provide you with the same high-quality experience.

For this reason, soon Google Apps will only support modern browsers. Beginning August 1st, we’ll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis. Each time a new version is released, we’ll begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version.

As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.

This came at an interesting time for us as we were readying to launch our new website design. We’ve been forced to make decisions about which browser versions to support and which to ditch. Unlike Google, we’re still supporting Internet Explorer 7, though some subtle design elements may not work, but we too have the problem of not being able to take advantage of features in more modern browsers.

IE7 is five years old yet is still being used by over 20% of visitors to GO. Some of these will be machines on campus and colleagues are working to upgrade these but others are beyond our direct control.

We will however no longer support IE6. Use of this is around 2.5% yet to develop for it would consume a disproportionate amount of time. It’s also 10 years old and even Microsoft want rid of it!

More generally we’ve seen use of Internet Explorer drop by around 15% since January 2010 while Chrome is up by 10% and Safari up by 4%. Firefox and Opera have both maintained their position.

Browser share - www.edgehill.ac.uk

Browser share - go.edgehill.ac.uk

The adoption of modern browsers is important for the web to keep developing. Just as things start to go wrong if you don’t service or MOT your car, when using an out of date web browser, not everything will function as designed and there are potential security risks too. So I’d encourage everyone to make sure they’re running the latest version of a browser – then we can start to innovate rather than always struggling to cater for the lowest denominator.

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!

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