Internet Strategy Taskforce: Spring 2008
[...] So, it’s an opportunity! LIS, at the appointment of Ronald D. Liebowitz himself, has formed up the Web Makeover Committee with new Dean of LIS Mike Roy at the helm. Yes, that’s right, it’s kinda like Extreme Makeover, Website Edition. Of course, the Makeover comes on the heel of last year’s Internet Strategy Taskforce report. [...]
Athletics is the most visited section of our site by a lot. It also has a lot of special content – team rosters, game schedules, a scoreboard – that are not likely to be delivered out-of-the-box in a new technology platform. As such a high-profile section of our web presence, we should take care when developing schedules for site implementation not to leave Athletics out, especially since this plan calls for more multimedia content on the web and what better place to find that then our Athletics division?
1. “I can’t find [some piece of content or a service]” or “Oh, I didn’t know about [some piece of content or a service”.
Our last design vendor infamously said, “Kids don’t use search,” and so our search index and presence has been minimal on the site. For the first few years we had a search engine that, while technically capable, was never really configured to index our content. In addition, we’ve traditionally only indexed content on the main web site and not the satellite services. Lastly, when LIS or another office develops a new IT service, it isn’t advertised, leading to people who might have used it complaining that we don’t offer it – this is compounded when the project is a student-led initiative since those are usually proposed by juniors or seniors and then forgotten when the student leaves Middlebury. For example, how many of you know that we have a Ride Board?
2. “It’s hard to use.”
We have about 400-500 editors of the primary web site. Of those, I’d consider maybe 20 of them experts. This is not necessarily the fault of the individual: most of these people only need to use the editing interface once a year. This presents a distinct challenge for this plan outlined in this report: to allow more user-generated content and interactivity. This will require a far greater training and support effort than we currently have for the site in order to achieve participation and we will need to ensure the homogeneity of interfaces and work flows across systems.
3. “It’s too narrow” / “The text is too small” / “But I really want pink font on a blue background!”
Some of the design issues with the current site have been known from the start and I don’t expect these to come up again. New trends in site design are to use the available content space fully and have readable font sizes. As far as pink on blue text…. I suppose part of the learning process is discovering for one’s self what doesn’t work, though I’d urge leaving restrictions in place on content areas critical to external communications.
In terms of the platform, honestly, we could continue to add features to the current CMS platform and technology to meet the needs outlined in this report as the current platform can meet the requirements of today’s web – we just need to add the code for it to do so. The framework that the vendor built the system on, however, will likely not meet the needs of the *next* one of these reports and as the vendor is no longer releasing updates for this product, we cannot expect it to be able to perform adequately at that time.
Many of the issues with the current site are not platform related (I’ll admit the platform does cause issues from time-to-time, but they aren’t the core ones defined in this report) but issues with design and purpose of the site. However, it makes sense when applying that much of an overhaul to the current site to switch to a platform that you know will be expandable for future, non-articulated needs.
In terms of the design and purpose of the site, we’ve doubled online giving every year and admissions are at an all time high so, as this report notes, since the current site is thought of primarily as a recruitment and communications vehicle, we can judge that it performs those functions well and would increasingly do so in the foreseeable future.
In terms of the new design and purpose defined in this report, leaving the central site in its current form would turn it into source of stale content as users flocked to other, newer services. The lack of interconnectedness between our services would then cause an impact on outside viewers of the Middlebury site as they would not easily find their way to the more fresh services we start to offer.
I would enable more of our systems to “talk” to each other. I should be able to get event and course information on the web site, office hours and directory information in the segue course sites, have a central calendar that shows the courses I’m taking, meetings I’ve scheduled, and events I’m attending. The work here involves and investment in infrastructure and back-end work that’s generally not considered “sexy”, but the dividends of being able to share content across platforms pay off in a huge way.