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Weekly Web Development Round-up April 18-22, 2011

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

To give our colleagues a better idea of what’s changed in our web applications each week, we’ll be preparing this quick list for publication each Friday. Not all of the details of each change are included below, but we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.

Directory:

  • Updated the class photo roster application to work with the new class-group structure in the Active Directory. You will now see separate lists for instructors, students, and audits for each course.

Drupal:

  • Internet Explorer 7 users saw a notice on our homepage about a script taking too long to load. The IE 7 rendering engine has problems displaying over 100 stories on our homepage, so people using that browser will now see a smaller, random selection. If you’re using any other browser you’ll still see all the stories.
  • We’ve switched back from the OSMF player to FlowPlayer temporarily for videos. The OSMF player requires the user to have Flash Player 10 and the distribution image just includes Flash Player 9. We’re going to add a prompt to the OSMF player to let people know they need to upgrade, then put it back in production.
  • Custom splash images now work in Drupal videos. To add a custom splash image to your video use the [video:url image:url] syntax.

GO:

  • We’ve removed the Banner Web Scout which provided pseudo-load-balancing between the two BannerWeb servers through GO. All of the GO shortcuts for Banner now go directly to the primary server with no intermediate steps.

MiddLab:

  • We’ve redesigned some aspects of the MiddLab theme to make the site easier to navigate and provide more space for project content and larger video players. Watch MiddLab next week as many new projects from the Spring Symposium will appear.

Weekly Web Development Round-up April 11-15, 2011

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To give our colleagues a better idea of what’s changed in our web applications each week, we’ll be preparing this quick list for publication each Friday. Not all of the details of each change are included below, but we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.

Drupal

  • Webform emails have been fixed to correctly send as HTML. Each field will be shown on a single line (except multiline fields) with the field title bolded. If you want to get really fancy with your webform emails, you can create your own email templates.
  • We’re now using the Open Source Media Framework’s Strobe Player to play videos on the site. This improves the playback performance with better support for buffering streaming videos, so the content will load faster for you.
  • The “waveform” or “equalizer” feature on some of the top-level pages, like Student Life and Academics had so many stories that the title of the page wasn’t displaying. This is a good problem to have, and it’s now fixed in all browsers except Internet Explorer.
  • The Online Donor Roll is now configured to automatically switch from using the Banner reporting database to the Banner production database in the event that the reporting database is not available.
  • Lots of fixes to the New Edit Console, including a way to go back to the old Edit Console if you decide you don’t like it.

WordPress

  • Upgraded WordPress to version 3.1.1 and upgraded the XML Google Maps plugin.
  • Added the Stout Google Calendar plugin allow easier embedding of Google Calendars.
  • Added the Plugin Stats and Theme Usage Info to allow admins to monitor plugin usage and remove unused ones.
  • Posts with multiple authors (like this one) will now show information about all of the authors at the bottom of the post when you’re in a single post view. If you don’t appear in the list of authors on a post where you’re an author, you may need to configure your profile in WordPress.
  • The FeedBurner FeedPress plugin will no longer redirect all of your tag feeds to the blogs main feed address. You can now use this plugin and tag feeds at the same time.

Other

Links

Interesting news and posts from around the web about web development this week.

Subscribe to feeds on private blogs

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Today we released a new plugin for WordPress that allows you to subscribe to the RSS feeds of private blogs using any RSS reader.

When you are logged in and viewing a private blog, the RSS feed links will now contain a special key unique to you and the blog that gives your reader access to the feed. There is nothing special you need to do, just subscribe as usual and feeds from private blogs will now work without redirecting your reader to the login page.

Oops, I emailed my private feed link to everyone!

If you accidentally share your personal feed link with others, you can go to your profile page and revoke your key for the blog in question.

Profile Screen Shot, showing the ability to revoke keys.

Note that you will need to resubscribe to the feeds yourself if you revoke a key.

FAQs

  • If someone finds out my key, can they use it to access my other sites?
    No, keys are per-user and per-site.
  • I removed a user from my private site, will they still see updates?
    No, the feed keys just authenticate the user, they still are checked against the subscriber list before showing them content.
  • Will my feed key let me edit without logging in?
    No, the key only grants access to feeds, nothing more.

WordPress feeds can now include pages

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

During the past few years new versions of WordPress have made this system much easier to use — and our community has made use of these new abilities to make a wide range of sites structured in many ways.

Most of the content in WordPress sites are Posts, chronologically ordered entries that make up a ‘blog’ or news site. Pages on the other hand, are non-time-dependent content that can be arranged in a hierarchy. Traditionally, Pages in WordPress sites were used mostly for describing the blog, contact information, or other content that rarely changes and isn’t ‘newsworthy’. (more on Posts vs. Pages)

Recently, a number of sites have been making increasingly large use of Pages, such as to hold curricular resources that are then referenced from Posts describing assignments that use them. For sites that make significant use of Pages, site-owners can now enable the RSS Includes Pages plugin so that new pages are added to your site’s main feed. For course sites in WordPress, enabling this plugin will allow page additions to be fed into the Course Hub as updates.

We still recommend making use of Posts in WordPress sites to share new material with readers rather than heavily using Pages as Pages are still second-class citizens in many ways (such as support for tagging and categorization). With the new RSS Includes Pages plugin, Page-heavy sites can now feed new content to the Course Hub and others subscribed to their feeds.

DrupalCon 2011: Day 1

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This week Ian and Adam are in Chicago for the bi-annual DrupalCon developer conference. Drupal is the software that we use to manage the Middlebury and MIIS websites, as well as a couple others.

Read on for notes on the sessions we attended.

Keynote Presentation: Dries Buytaert (video)

Dries is the original developer of Drupal and gives the “state of Drupal” kickoff speech each year. This presentation is already available as streaming video (see the link above). The rest of the session videos will be up after the conference and when they’re ready we’ll make a blog post linking you to a few that are interesting for site editors – especially a session on the webform module.

The big news in the keynote this year is that development on Drupal 8 is going to begin at this conference and the developers who work on the core Drupal software are going to try to move to a more regular release schedule for new versions. We are currently running Drupal 6 and will be working on moving to Drupal 7 this year. Other news is that Drupal 8 is going to add more support for mobile and HTML5. There is a very good overview of HTML5 online if you’re unsure what this term means.

Media module for Drupal 7

Not to be confused with the Media module we run, which is part of Monster Menus, the code we work with Amherst to develop for Drupal, the Media module for Drupal 7 does many of the same things, but is a lot more slick about it. In Drupal 6, the standard way to add files to a site is to make them their own nodes (this is essentially what we do with File Upload nodes) or attach them to existing nodes as fields. The first way makes it easy to reuse files, but hard to use them inside content and the second way makes it easy to use files inside other content, but hard to reuse them.

The Drupal 7 media module is an attempt to resolve these conflicts. It’s still very early on in its development and use, but has features like the ability to manage YouTube videos like other files, drag-and-drop uploads and drag-and-drop reordering for photo galleries. Their goal is for Media to become the standard file-management system for Drupal 8. As work on this continues, we’ll see how we can use this modules features on our site, either by adding them to our Media module or making this module work with Monster Menus.

    Drupal Security for Coders

    This session was a good overview of the content in Cracking Drupal, given by the author. It focused on preventing XSS and CSRF attacks.

    Rockin’ HTML5 with Drupal

    I’m wary of any presentation that includes a slide with the title “Web 3.0″, but fortunately here it was used as a bit of a joke. There was a high-level discussion of the new features available to you when you convert your site markup to use HTML5, and this conversion is one of our goals this year at Middlebury. She also discussed the HTML5 Tools module, which is used to re-write a lot of HTML that Drupal produces so that it is HTML5 markup instead.

    This is useful for all the forms Drupal creates, not just the webforms you add to your site, but the page settings form, and the node editing form, and the copy/move form, etc. HTML5 adds a lot of new form markup so that you can have a non-JavaScript date picker, type suggestions in the field, and my favorite example is that you can mark a field as “email” and mobile device keyboards will include an @ symbol, or mark the field as “number” and the mobile keyboard will automatically which to a number pad when you move into the field.

    Aphorisms of API design

    A good session on designing APIs in Drupal systems. Talked a lot about how to make modules pluggable and when to do so. The topics discussed will be useful as we refactor our modules for Drupal 7.

    Views for Hackers

    The talk was an overview of the Views module and how its concepts like “relationships”, “arguments”, and “filters” translate to code and database queries. Most of the information was already familiar to us, but it made some of these concepts easier to understand.

    Discussions with Amherst Developers

    Our colleagues from Amherst are also here and we got to chat with Victor, Anita, and James. They’ve already helped us patch two issues that were bugging me and helped explain what the new Monster Menus CCK module is. I’m burying this at the bottom of this blog post because this is a really neat feature and I’m not sure when it will be available, but we’ll try to add it very soon.

    MM CCK adds a new “node picker” and “page picker” field type to nodes. If you’ve ever created a News posting or Story on our website and needed to add an image to it, you know that you do this by starting to type the name of the image in a field which searches the entire site for all images and you pick yours from that list. With the new “node picker”, you’ll get a popup window just like you do when you put an image inline in content and you’ll be able to browse just your site’s File Uploads folder.

    We’ve had a good exchange so far and look forward to continuing our discussion as the conference goes on.

    State of the Site

    Categories: Midd Blogosphere

    Overview

    What follows is a report on the state of notable web applications and sites in use at Middlebury including the College website, the Middlebury instance of WordPress (i.e. sites.middlebury.edu) and a variety of key web applications that provide services widely used by faculty, students and staff.

    Box Office

    • Addition of separate billing and shipping addresses when ordering tickets or gift items from the box office, especially useful for parents purchasing items for students.
    • Improved the user interface to make purchasing as a returning customer and identifying seat locations in the seating chart simpler.

    CAS – Single Sign On

    The Central Authentication System (CAS) was introduced last year and allows you to move between many of our web applications after you’ve signed in once. GO and the main college website were already using CAS this time last year but since then it’s been added to many other applications, including:

    • Course Catalog
    • MediaWiki
    • MiddMedia
    • WordPress

    Course Catalog

    Over the past two years we developed the Course Catalog application at catalog.middlebury.edu to serve as a clearing house for accessing course information on the web due to the limitations on searching for this information via BannerWeb. The Course Catalog application allows users to search for courses based on a wide variety of criteria (including keyword searching) and properly displays and links-together cross-listed courses. The Course Catalog application also feeds course information to the department pages and faculty profiles in the main Drupal site.

    New for this year, the Course Catalog has been extended to add a Schedule Planning tool that allows students to bookmark courses they are interested in, then group them together into weekly schedules to ensure that they do not have timing conflicts and that lab and discussion sections are chosen. These schedules can be printed or emailed to one’s advisor.

    • Added the Schedule Planning tool.
    • Users can now bookmark courses that they find interesting.
    • Updated the theme to match the new website. Added a custom theme for the MIIS catalog.
    • The printed Catalog is now created via an export from the Course Catalog application rather than being copy-pasted from the site by hand.
    • PDF snapshots of the Catalog are now automatically generated as course descriptions and requirements get edited over the year.
    • Lots of small improvements to the display of course data in search results and while browsing.
    • Can now search for courses by campus — needed for Language Schools that have more than one site.
    • Greatly improved the speed of the application.
    • Improved the feed of courses to faculty profiles to ensure that cross-listed courses are ordered properly.
    • New admin forms that allow the Registrar to suppress incomplete information about upcoming terms during data-entry.

    Drupal

    GO

    The GO shortcut/permalink application has become quite central to the web infrastructure of the college since its launch several years ago. It eased the launch of the new site by allowing links in content to be easily updated en-mass. In the past year GO has become central to our search strategy as GO shortcuts are now provided as suggestions and automatic-redirects when you enter search terms on the main site.

    • Totally new editing interface.
    • Verbose, color coded, messages to indicate successful or unsuccessful completion of actions.
    • Additional input validation to preserve shortcut integrity and prevent abuse.
    • Ability for community to flag GO links as inappropriate.
    • New “Info” pages for every shortcut allow everyone to see detailed information about the shortcut such as who maintains it, what its aliases are, and where it goes.
    • All GO shortcuts are now shown publicly in the GOtionary (with the exception of a few internal shortcuts) to improve the transparency of the system.
    • Enhanced admin interface for flag admins and the new super admin role.
    • Can now switch between the Middlebury and  MIIS GOtionaries.

    MiddMedia

    • New “Midd” theme integrates more closely with the current Middlebury theme.
    • Add to MiddTube button allows users to check off the videos they would like to batch add to MiddTube as video posts.
    • We’ve upgraded to Flash Media Server 4, with a lot of new features that we’ll be rolling out and supporting in the coming months.

    New Sites

    We’ve been able to expand the Drupal and WordPress platforms to add a CMS experience for sites that were previously static HTML files and create new sites to show off and assist student research and projects.

    SubjectsPlus

    In December, we upgraded from version 0.7 to 0.9.  Changes include:

    • Enhanced security.
    • In addtion to Research by Subject, two new guide types are available: Research by Course and Research by Topic.
    • Widget-based, drag-and-drop control panel for content creators.
    • Multiple subject specialists (guide owners) now possible.
    • Description field override.  This allows for a resource description to be customized for one or more guides, while still allowing the resource record to be shared among all the guides.  This cuts down on duplication of records and/or breaking others shared work.
    • Cloning feature

    What do we use this for, you ask?

    • Databases A-Z list
    • Research guides (access via sidebar at go/lib and go/subjectguides among other places.)
    • globally adding EZproxy prefix for off-campus access.

    WordPress

    WordPress usage has been growing over the last few years at Middlebury and beyond.  In late August, we updated WordPress to v3, a major new release to this platform that introduced features such as custom menus and top navigation that extended its usefulness beyond blogging.

    Plugins and New Functionality

    Themes and User Experience

    We created a number of blog themes for WordPress based on design prototypes developed by White Whale (designers of the main college site).  These blog themes were updated to take advantage of new functionality and to generally provide a flexible, easy to use templating framework that could generate extensible thematic variations and would work on multiple platforms, including mobile and touch enabled.  New features developed in the last 6 months include:

    • Introduction of a standardized header on all blogs that provides quick links to create a new blog, search blogs and a given site’s dashboard
    • New standardized widget areas including 3 sidebars and 4 footer areas
    • Introduction of support for custom menus and top navigation bar for mapping a site’s information architecture (IA)
    • Refinements to navigation UI to highlight current location in IA and provide more navigation links in context to improve usability on sites with many pages (such as sites for courses, projects or documentation)

    Usage Analysis

    Perspective, an aggregation and usage analysis tool was developed to keep track of how WordPress was being used, what plugins and themes were most popular, which blogs were most active in a given time period and so on.  We also built into Perspective tools for communicating with users so that we could more easily identify all users of a given set of features to allow us to inform them of updates or issues.  These same tools when combined with activity filters have allowed us to identified inactive sites, contact their owners and archive or delete these sites as appropriate, providing the foundation for a contention retention policy.

    Segue from Segue Updates

    Categories: Midd Blogosphere

    The Curricular Technology Team is pleased to announce that its primary recommendations for how to segue from Segue has been approved by the Library and Information Services (LIS) Area Directors Team. In essence, the team recommended the development of a “course hub” architecture that would enable faculty to create collections of resources for a given course using a variety of platforms that would be aggregated in a single location referred to as a “hub.” For more information, see:
    Segue from Segue > Course Hub

    The team is now researching which platforms to include within the course hub. WordPress and MediaWiki are obvious choices since many faculty are already using these for course sites. The team also recognizes that some sort of learning management system (LMS) should also be an integral part of hub sites and is reviewing a number of LMS to present to the community as possible  candidates.