In February 2012 we started noticing a large influx of new comment-spam coming into our sites.middlebury.edu WordPress system that the built-in anti-spam plugins weren’t able to handle. To combat this annoying plague we created a new plugin that instantly killed any comments trying to submit an “author URL” along with the “author name” and “comment text” now that the “author URL” field is hidden.
In the year and a half since this plugin has been in place across our blog network it has blocked an average of 40,000 spam comments every month.
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.
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:
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.
Printing: A special stylesheet allows you to print just the content of the page including contact information in the Address area.
Search: Converted the main site search engine to use a Google Custom Search Engine to improve results, increasing our index from 175,000 pages to over 360,000 pages. You can also ask us to create a custom search engine for your part of the site. This complements the large review of Search functionality we conducted immediately after the site launch.
Sharing: Added sharing buttons to news articles to let you send emails to friends, or post the stories to Facebook and Twitter.
Webform: Many new features including multi-page forms, validating responses, and email templates.
LIS Pages: Problems with this Page? link on LIS pages allows you to report an issue with the content on a page such as a spelling error, incorrect information, a broken link, etc. The submissions are reviewed by our newly assigned content managers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In December, we upgraded from version 0.7 to 0.9. Changes include:
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.
Research guides (access via sidebar at go/lib and go/subjectguides among other places.)
globally adding EZproxy prefix for off-campus access.
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
Added a new user-management screen that ties into our central authentication system to allow searching for users and bulk-adding of group-members to a site.
Added the BadBehavior plugin to prevent pingback spam from overloading the server.
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)
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.