Tag Archives: user-centered

fishing with shiny objects: the trouble with apps vendors.

Apparently we have an mobile app vendor on a fishing expedition around campus. He’s dangling shiny objects and looking for bites. This probably happens a lot, and it’s generally bad news for your college.

If this were, say, the 19th century, I could totally see app vendors being snake oil salesman, going from town to town vending miracle tonics that cure whatever is wrong with you. It’s no coincidence that app vendors almost never contact any college’s web communication office — they don’t want to talk to those who think about content, audiences and goals for the web on a professional basis. Instead, they fish around the fringes, trying to sell their Miracle App that can, well, cure your boredom and need for a shiny object.

When the conversation turns to mobile apps, two main questions tend to follow:
1) Will this provide a mobile solution to a particular problem or meet a specific goal? If so, then consider exploring it, but be wary of overpromising and underdelivering on the vendor’s part.
2) Wouldn’t it be cool for my office to have an app? No. Just no. Do not pass Go, please don’t pay a mobile vendor $200.

Our college explored and released a mobile site which, by all research, is the more reasonable way to address things like user need, content delivery and tasks people would handle on a mobile device. But apps — for the right task, the right price — are not totally out of the question. Once we learned the apps vendors were on the prowl, we’ve started discussing some kind of app policy. I’m not a huge fan of policies, but I feel like there should be some kind of check before someone bites on that shiny object and gets reeled in at great potential expense. Plus the consistency of things like names, logos and colors are important … as well as the hub-and-spoke model to let users know where they can go for other campus-related tasks.

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is redeveloping oswego.edu a big project? yes. and no.

So this is my summer: I’m part of a great, dedicated team moving our massive website, oswego.edu, to a new content management system and giving the site a whole new look. Ideally, by the start of the fall semester. Is that all a big project? Yes. Absolutely. And, in a sense, no.

While it’s definitely a big project, I could describe it as accurately as a merging of many different projects and goals. Consider the activities of our small, merry band:

- We’re creating new schemas (templates), stylesheets and components (added features) in our new CMS, Ingeniux. (When I say “we” here, I mainly mean “Rick Buck.”)
- We’re migrating content for around 10,000 pages.
- We’re training a couple hundred users or so on the new CMS.
- We’re tracking and documenting all of the above.
- We’re creating around 30 new landing pages that raise the presentation of academic areas.
- We’re working with a freelance designer on four primary templates, including a new home page. (The CMS is skinnable, so the new look will be “turned on” all at once.)
- The powers that be have tasked me with making our new site more engaging and interactive.
- Under the umbrella of engagement, I carry six other emphases — more user-centered, greater portability (interactive with both mobile devices and social media), greater usability, more conducive to microtransactions (meaningful ways to interact), promoting storytelling and cultivating community-building. Yes, those are a lot of things, but they can help guide this and future projects.

We have a fabulous cross-campus CMS team working on the back end, and content migration is under way. The designer delivers first drafts of template suites (three options) this week. Support from the top has been marvelous.

We’ve come a long, long way. And there is so much to be done — in pieces large and small. It’s like assembling a giant puzzle, but we know all the pieces are around and we’ve started putting them together. Don’t be surprised to see more blog entries about this big project … or collection of projects.

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new title, new focus, new directions.

As noted in various social media outlets, I’ve been promoted to director of Web communication for the college. The shiny new title continues much of the work I do but also features an acknowledgment of the key role of the Web in communicating and a new institutional focus on using the Web to better engage.

These things never happen overnight. I started working professionally on these Internets in 1996, when I did content and planning as my employer of the time went online. (What? You don’t believe I was 11 years old?) I taught myself basic HTML, set up a (not too attractive) personal site, read a lot, surfed a ton. I started blogging before it was called blogging. I served as online editor for a daily newspaper. Then I got swept up in Web 2.0, and the years since involved plenty of research, trying (and occasionally failing) new ideas and interacting.

That last part is important. I’ve seen what interaction can do, and thus its power in planning Web operations. Setting up and shepherding our fan page or Official Class of 2014 group are like seminars in communication studies — how people transmit and receive information, conversation/reaction patterns, formation of digital relationships. I’ve learned so much from friends on Twitter, Facebook and conferences that informs what I do. This is an amazing medium with so much potential.

My biggest project is redeveloping our Web site. I’m calling it Refreshing Oswego (title is a work in progress too), and it’s about making our presence more user-centered and engaging. The project includes a six-person team — our reconfigured three-person Web communication office working with three key Campus Technology Services staffers on migrating to a new content management system. The players bring a variety of skills in the necessary but not-too-glamorous process of building everything that powers our Web site. But I now have to start tackling on the design aspect — the look of this car whose engine, drive train and chassis we’re building. Our CMS is skinnable, so while the design process relates to functionality, it proceeds on a parallel line.

The promotion included my first presentation to our President’s Council, as I discussed the refresh project. They were more supportive and receptive than I ever imagined, and showed interest in visiting eduStyle.net and .eduGuru after I name-checked the sites. At the end of the presentation, our president said: “Sounds like a lot of fun.” I agree!

So I hope you’ll tolerate any future posts on the progress of the project. Perhaps we’ll figure out some things of value to others. And maybe even have a little fun along the way.

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