First, sorry about the spam/malware issue. My host was hacked a few months back, but apparently the hackers just now decided to do something. Odd, since I changed all my passwords and such a while back. Well, everything should be fine now.
I mentioned in my previous post that I don’t talk all that much about what I do at my day job around here. I had felt strongly about the need to keep this site focused on photography, but if that’s only part of what I do, why not talk about some of my other interests?
Well, I work full-time at Judson University, the college I attended for my undergraduate work and where I am currently working on a Master of Organizational Leadership. I started working at the school in October of 2008 as a student worker, then part-time in 2009 and full-time in 2010. I manage the JudsonU.edu website and pretty much anything related. I started the job with pretty much no experience or understanding on how websites worked, but today I work with site analytics, project management and have started to get more and more into small development projects. So here I would like to highlight three big changes I’ve made to the Judson website so far this year. We’re only at the very beginning of March, but it’s been quite a year already for site improvements!
I’m a list guy. But I’m not the best at actually crossing things off them. I approach list making as a way of drumming the things I need to do on to a piece of paper (and paper is the only thing that works for me, as much as I love technology. Maybe an iPad would be the right device for me. Maybe.) and it’s really more about helping me stay on top of requests/projects I need to work on. So at some point, every few days or so I abandon a list and start over. Looking back through my notebook, I see list after list with the same item: “Mobile Site”.
It’s obvious that users are using mobile devices more and more to browse the internet. In some low-income communities, a smart phone is the only internet connection/computer the family owns. There is tremendous growth potential in the mobile sector, but at present mobile users only make up about 4-5% of all the browsers to the Judson website, granted it is growing 200-300% year-over-year. So I started a mobile site last year, probably in January or so. I’m not enough of a developer yet to have tried to tackle a mobile site for the WHOLE Judson website and are developer wanted big dollars we just don’t have.
I started with a basic single-column WordPress blog. I figured that was an easy way to get started, I just messed with the template and resized everything to be appropriately sized for a phone. I got a bunch done and then kinda stalled out. Every couple of months I would get a day to add some content here, are add a menu there. But I was never really excited about it.
Then I started to learn jQuery in January of this year. I made the decision around New Year’s Day that I wanted to learn a lot this year and while I have fallen behind on my idea to watch at least one training-type video a day, each time I’ve hit some kind of knowledge road-block I have dedicated the time to figuring a way over the obstacle instead of pushing the project back to the next to-do list.
Once I started to get into jQuery, I started to look into a very new set of jQuery libraries called jQuery Mobile. I was AMAZED at how easy it was to work with. I can’t understate how intuitive it was to build a website from scratch with jQuery Mobile. I scrapped the WordPress-based site I was working on and started over completely. I had a lot to learn but I coded the entire site in less than two weeks.
My goal was never to replicate all the information on the full site, but instead to provide quick access to commonly used resources and information that someone on the go might need. Recent studies are also advocating the need to include admissions and academics related information, so I included some of that as well as all the videos we created for our top undergraduate major programs. There’s still more content I want to add and our internal course management/database system is supposed to be getting a mobile template soon which will be great! But for now, I had to strike a balance between offering easy resources and including content that would need to be managed in two separate places. It was a lot of fun and I’ super exited with how it came out.
Google Site Search
Our Content Management system has an integrated site-search feature which essentially just uses IIS to query content. Translation: it’s really really spotty in returning good search results and some pieces of content are just impossible to find, no matter how well you develop metadata fields. An upcoming update is supposed to use Microsoft search (Bing), but we would have needed a huge server upgrade and if you remember, we don’t have any money. So I started to look into Google Custom Search Engines. Turns out, they are free to use, ad-free, for non-profits. Awesome!
Now our search results find content users are searching for. And it was easy to include content from our subdomain sites. For free? Amazing. It took a few days to figure out how to integrate it into our site, but I think it’s a huge usability improvement.
This is one of the most visible changes to our site since we relaunched it with a cleaned-up backend in 2009. I saved it for last because I didn’t really have a huge part in it’s design or implementation. The old Quicklinks menu was a little bit of an after thought, it was a grey drop down menu. I don’t even have a screen shot of it (oops).
I worked with a faculty member that did a lot of web design work for Glamour Magazine, he made it look awesome. We had a small budget for development projects and I spent most of it to get this feature coded. I did make the decision on what information was in the Quicklinks :).
Whew! That’s what has been brewing around the Department of Communications and Marketing, Web Division office! So far the first two and some odd months have been great! Can’t wait to see what we tackle next
Today’s title is from the song “Some Nights” by the band fun.