On the importance of events in the new site

One of the changes we’ll be introducing in the new website is a better integration with 25 Live, our event scheduling system. If you’re hosting and event, and would like to get it on your website, rather than asking us to do it, and going several rounds via email to get something on there, you’ll instead schedule it on 25 Live (which, to reserve a room, you’d do anyway) and tag it so it shows up on the website. That’s it – somewhere around fifteen minutes later, the event will just show up. It’ll look like this:

Screenshot of an events feed, showing three upcoming facilities council eventsYou see the problem: it looks like we only have one governance council. Going forward, if your event is open to the public, it’s going to be incredibly important to make sure to get that scheduled on 25 Live. If you don’t, it simply won’t show up.

But here’s one potentially confusing thing: that “More Events” Button takes you to our all events age, rather than taking you to a list of events tagged like in the view (in this case, governance events). That might be something we reevaluate in the future, as we better understand the capabilities of the new integration, but it will be several weeks yet.

Content Freeze

I’ve had a lot of questions on the content freeze recently, and I’d like to clear one of those up: there’s no end date on the freeze. Part of that is practical: until the website launches, we need to make updates to both the old and new site whenever there’s a content changes.

But even after launch, we’re not going to be immediately adding a bunch of accounts. Last time, we had a massive training program where literally hundreds of people learned to use the website to make edits. In retrospect, this was a bad idea:

  • Many people took the training without ever making any changes to the website (only about 1 in 3 accounts on the website is even active anymore, and we’ve deleted dozens of accounts who never made edits)
  • Most people don’t make many edits to the site. Excluding Lori and me, over the last 9 years, the average user has only made about 100 edits – about one per month since launch. There are only 11 people, including 2 retirees, who have made more than 600 page edits since we started. By contrast, Lori has made more than 16,000.* Of course, there are some outliers who have made over a thousand edits – more on them in a minute.
  • Providing web editing access to hundreds of people ensured that our website would never have a consistent voice. Even today, there are sections written in very academic sounding third person, sometimes right next to a more casual 2nd person. If we’re going to provide a good experience to prospective students, this needs to stop.

Right now our focus is on launching the website. Once we’ve launched, and have a better handle on how we’ll handle user permissions, we’ll start exploring ways to help get our really frequent website users more involved. But whatever that process, it will be very slow, and very deliberate.

* These numbers are actually more complicated than this, since we’ve deleted thousands of pages, and I can’t capture those edits in these statistics. Since those pages were often the least edited pages, Lori’s total edits should be several thousand higher. 

Mid January Website Progress Report

The last few weeks, we’ve been testing every component of the website in every browser, operating system, and device combination we can come up with. Every time we find an issue (like, in Firefox only, a certain menu doesn’t correctly cover another menu), we file a ticket with iFactory, and they get to work fixing it.

We’ve also been working on our content. This helps testing, since we’re doing real world tasks with the website as we test. But working on content has made me realize there’s a lot more to do than I thought.

For instance, when we build the website back in 2011-2012, our primary focus was on an initial cleanup, and many of our pages were imported from the original website without substantial changes.  Often, that means they were built under the mistaken assumption that no one would scroll beneath the fold.  At the time, we thought most big monitors people had would be 1440 x 900 pixels. The monitor I’m writing this on today has a viewport almost three times that size, and 11 times as many pixels. Many of our pages from our current site simply look empty on the new site.  Some are so short that their content isn’t provided in a context that matters – if you landed on that page from a search, you might not know how what you’re looking at relates to anything else. Reworking all of those by, for instance, moving a page with a standalone Flickr slideshow into a slideshow widget on a page that tells you about what you’re seeing, takes some time.

Since, despite the cleanup efforts we’ve made in the last several years, there are still more than a thousand pages on the website right now, it’s going to take us some time to go through those. There’s almost 400 open tasks on our list of things to do before we launch, and those are just the tasks I’ve built – that number should be a lot higher. Consequently, there’s no launch date to announce yet. Hopefully I’ll have more to report next status post.

 

Clarification on Forms

Since we first announced the freeze, most of the questions we’ve received have been about webforms. That’s understandable, since forms are complicated, but often critical to our workflows. They need to just work. This post is going to try to provide some clarification.

Moving our forms into the new website

Unfortunately for all of us, the migration scripts can’t move webforms from the old to the new website. That means we’re going to need to rebuild each form individually. How we do that depends on if a form only contains transient data and the form is part of a workflow.

When we get to a point where we’re starting to build forms, our first step will be to disable form editing across the site, to make sure none of the forms change while we’re moving them. This will only impact form editing: you’ll still be able to view form results, people will still be able to submit forms, and you’ll still be able to edit form submissions (if that’s something you do).

The simplest cases are forms that only contain transient data. Often these are contact forms, like the advising contact form or the Board contact form. Submissions to those are relayed to an email address as soon as someone hits submit, and then the submission can essentially be forgotten. For these forms, we’ll build them on the new site, and they’ll go live at the same time as the new site.

On the other hand, you may have a form that collects submissions for a period of time, and then you download them all at once and don’t use the form for another year (e.g. an event registration form). For these, we’ll rebuild the form, but not take it live until we know you’ve been able to download your responses (if applicable) and are good with us switching over.

The most complex forms are the ones that have hidden fields that you use as part of a workflow. An example might be a form where someone submits it, and then you edit a hidden field to note that you’ve reviewed the submission and approved it. For these, we’ll rebuild them, but again work with you to make sure you’re good with us switching them over.

We don’t anticipate any interruptions: forms should continue to function and be available throughout the entire process.

Old submissions

Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to migrate form submissions from the old site to the new site. In some forms, this doesn’t matter. But if you do want to save old submissions, at some point you’ll need to download them to your computer. But there’s no hurry yet: we’ll send out reminder emails in the spring.

Drupal Webforms vs Softdocs

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about if a certain form should be moved to Softdocs, if Softdocs is more secure, if Softdocs is going to replace Drupal, and if Drupal webforms are going to go away.

Softdocs is an authenticated form and lightweight workflow solution. Drupal is a generalized content management system, with a bunch of plugins that can be used to make it do almost anything. While, superficially there’s some overlap, in reality they solve different problems. We need both.

Softdocs will hopefully replace a lot of the PDFs we have on campus, and  lead to more efficient workflows since it directly integrates with Banner. It provides authenticated forms, which legally meet the requirements for an e-signature. If you have a form where you need to verify the identity of the person submitting it, and you’re certain anyone submitting the form will have an L Number, you want to use Softdocs.

Drupal will continue to have a webform component. It will never integrate with Banner. There’s a limit to how complicated the forms can be (Softdocs allows you access to the HTML, so you can do much more). But since the forms are branded, integrated into your website, never require authentication, and are quick to create or edit, they’re very appropriate for collecting information from people not yet affiliated with the college.

Neither one is really more secure than the other – one just provides identity verification.

If you have a form that requires identify verification, is more of an internal process, or a form which would be improved by integrating with Banner, then you should move it to Softdocs.

 

Redesign Progress

Last week, we finally got a glimpse at the new website, live and working in browser. Things look great! This first look was just to make sure there wasn’t anything on the backend that would keep us from being able to work on content throughout the rest of December. We’re looking forward to having greater access later this week.

Please continue to email us any updates to your website.

We’re frozen

Last Friday night I officially locked out edits on most of the pages mentioned in our previous post, and then Sunday night I shipped all the locked nodes off to be imported into our new site. Here’s our timeline right now:

12/4 – Site Frozen
12/6 – Database sent off to development
12/7-12/8  – Database migrated into the new site
12/9 – Initial training in the new site, and the start of the QA process
12/18 – Second training in the new site, finalize QA
Early January – Migrate the site to the campus data center

For us, one of the most intense parts of the web design process starts this upcoming Wednesday. When our content is migrated into the database, it’ll be stored close to how it is now. For each of the 2061 pages we’re migrating in, Lori and I will need to reformat them using the design components we’ve been provided, rework the content, add media, and appropriately add them to our menus.

I’ve been asked a number of times this last week when we expect things to go live, and right now the answer is: we don’t know. That will depend entirely on how quickly we can get that content work done.

The last few days last week were one the busiest periods of edits we’ve ever had. Thank you to everyone that helped squeeze those in, since they saved us from double entry!

Content Freeze

As we enter December, we’re also entering a new phase of our website redesign. Very soon – possibly the end of this week – we’ll be entering into a content freeze. Editing privileges to the sites listed at the bottom of this post will be suspended as soon as we enter the freeze. I’m really, genuinely sorry I can’t provide an exact date here. Some difficulties unique to 2020 has made that impossible. I hope to know the exact date a little later this week.

Where we are and what’s next

Our redesign firm is putting the finishing touches on our website. Next they’ll import our current content, and we’ll start testing. Lori and I will try to test the new website on every possible combination of Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari on Android, iOS, Mac OS, and Windows. We expect that testing to last for a few weeks, as we go back and forth fixing problems and testing again.

While we test, we’ll be working on reformatting the imported content. Our current website is built around one giant text area (the “body” field), with things like pictures or videos inserted in it. The new website will be built around reusable content blocks, like accordions, videos, or image galleries. It will take some time to reformat into the new system, but once we’re there, we should be a lot more flexible and consistent across our pages.

As part of the redesign process, the firm identified some areas where we’re lacking content. In addition to reformatting and rewriting existing content, we’ll also be doing some content development. And of course, we’ll be hunting for images to use all around the site. Don’t be surprised if we reach out looking for a higher resolution image from your pages!

While this process is a lot better than the last time we did this (when we had to hire someone to copy and paste, full time, for over a year. She was bored out of her mind!), it does create a problem: after we import all the current content into the new website, there’s going to be a multi-week period where if you make an edit to your current site, it won’t automatically be moved into the new site. That brings us to the freeze.

The freeze

Possibly as soon as the end of this week, we’ll be turning on a new module which disables edits on the list of sites found at the bottom of this post. If your site is in the list, and you absolutely must make a change to your content, reach out directly to Lori instead of doing the edit yourself. She’ll make the change on both the old and the new sites simultaneously, so we don’t lose any of the changes. This will significantly increase Lori’s workload, so please try to limit changes to what’s absolutely essential.

One question we’ve had already is forms. There are a number of departments with a critical form they need to access. If your site is frozen, you will still be able to log in and use your forms. This freeze only impacts the ability to edit your page content. For now, we’re keeping the ability to edit your forms, but may need to disable form editing when we reach the point where we’re migrating forms into the website. Unfortunately, the migration process cannot move forms, so we’ll be recreating those manually. If your form will eventually be moved to SoftDocs, it will not be migrated to the new site, even if it isn’t ready in SoftDocs when we launch the new site. The old form will continue to work for some time in the old site, but I encourage you to move it to SoftDocs as soon as possible.

If your site isn’t in the list below, then nothing in this post applies to you. We’re only migrating student and prospective student oriented content to the new website, and if your site is primarily staff oriented (ATC, FPD, PD, etc) or is largely administrative (COPPS), then we’ll probably be leaving it in the current website for now. You’ll continue to have access, and continue to be able to make changes as normal. Sometime next summer we’ll hopefully start adding functionality to that site, and work toward having a true intranet.

After Launch

While we won’t be able to nail down the exact launch date for the new site until after we’re in there reformatting and redeveloping content, we expect it to be some time late in winter term. Since we’ll be doing double entry for all website changes, it’s in our interest to get there as fast as we can.

When we launch, we plan to very slowly add new users to the site. There’s a number of reasons for this caution. Some are technical, like the all new permissions structure. But we’re also trying to create a more consistent voice on the new website, and think that’s going to be very hard to do if we bring in all 148 current website editors. Details to come as we get a little closer.

Thank you for being understanding of our need to keep everything somewhat flexible this year! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out via email.

The List

There are some sites on here which are hybrids. For instance, Academic Technology’s site has some student pages, like the SHeD, but is mostly employee oriented.  We’ll be working with those sites  to try and unfreeze parts of them midway through the process.

While this list should not be considered final, here’s the list of sites we’re planning to freeze right now:

  • abse
  • academictechnology (LETS and SHeD pages)
  • accreditation
  • admissions
  • advising
  • advtech
  • als
  • alumni
  • apprenticeship
  • artgallery
  • arts
  • Arts and Humanities
  • aslcc
  • aviationacademy
  • bond
  • budget
  • business
  • calendars
  • cc
  • ce
  • cec
  • cfe & lcfc
  • cit
  • collegenow
  • commencement
  • cooped
  • cottagegrove
  • covid19
  • ctecc
  • culinary
  • dentalclinic
  • disability
  • diversity
  • downtowncenter
  • engineering
  • eorp
  • esfs (not the document submission form or degreeworks FAQ pages)
  • esl
  • español (undocumented students pages)
  • facilities transportation (excluding motor pool) and event scheduling pages
  • fec
  • financialaid
  • firstyearexperience
  • florence
  • food
  • foundation
  • gec
  • governance
  • healthclinic
  • healthpe
  • honors
  • hp
  • hr (employee recruitment and affirmative action pages. hr sub-terms, such as employment classifications may not be impacted)
  • hsconnections
  • information technology student computer labs pages
  • international
  • laneonline
  • leadership
  • learningcommons
  • llc
  • longhouse
  • math
  • mcc
  • mediaarts
  • mhwc
  • mpr/success
  • newsroom
  • pathways
  • perarts
  • pie
  • psd
  • ptk
  • qcc
  • rtec
  • safelane
  • schedule
  • scholarships
  • science
  • scp
  • seniorprogramming
  • sexualrespect
  • socialscience
  • speaker-series
  • sss
  • studentconduct
  • studentemployment
  • studentlife
  • sustainability
  • testing
  • trio
  • tutor
  • va
  • wc

12/6 – This post was edited to add accreditation and budget to the above list, and to add notes to the esfs, español, facilities, it, and hr sites.

2020 Site Archive now available

While I know I’d promised to put most blog content on pause, I wanted to make a quick post about the availability of our new site archive.

Every once in a while, we create a snapshot of the entire www.lanecc.edu website. There’s a couple limitations to that. We can’t capture:

  • Files that aren’t linked from a page somewhere
  • Pages that aren’t linked from another page
  • Pages that are password protected
  • Some of the dynamic content (for instance, all the forms are disabled)
  • All of the changes that have happened since the last archive.
  • corrections to broken links (there were about a dozen internal links that are broken)

This type of snapshot, created using httrack, creates a standalone site that isn’t dependent on a content management system, meaning it’s very resistant to security problems, and is the only real option for creating a semi-permanent archive. I say semi-permanent, because while I intend to keep this archive up as long as possible, it’s possible, if not likely, that changes in browser rendering  will eventually make this archive difficult to view as intended.

This year’s archive will allow us to remove a bunch of old  content from the website, to further prepare for our new website. It also sets us up for splitting all the employee content out of the website: the current Lane website is monolithic, but under the new site, we’ll have audience specific websites.

Check out the 2020 Site Archive

Looking for an older archive? (you should! There’s some gems in there)

 

 

Website Redesign Check-in

It’s been a while since our last redesign post, but don’t think we haven’t made some progress. We’ve been averaging about one video call per week, and are getting closer and closer to development work.  Some of the things we’ve done:

Developed Batch 1 Designs

Our first batch of pages included the homepage, a career community page, and a program page. Our assumption is that these are some of the first pages most prospective students are going to look for, so we wanted to dive right into them. Our homepage is definitely going to shift direction, and be focused very narrowly on prospective student.

User Tested Batch 1

To be certain that we were on track with design and the information architecture, we did some intensive testing with some real prospective students. Users were asked to perform specific tasks, with people watching exactly what they did and seeing where they struggled.

Finalized Batch 1 Designs

We made some changes to the designs to address issues uncovered in user testing. Some were easy to address, but one has been a particular thorn.

Lane has a lot of different offerings, and people are confused by them. We have degrees, 2 year certificates, 1 year certificates, less than 1 year certificates, career pathways certificates, and non-credit credentials. There’s even more variety within the certificates. Some are financial aid eligible, some are not. Some are stackable with a degree, some are independent. Some are stackable, but you choose between multiple options. Some are technically stackable, but are marketed to a different market segment than the degree. We’ve gone several rounds with trying to balance standardization of design (to reduce confusion) with the flexibility to accommodate all our programs (to stay accurate). We’ve landed on a layout we think will work, and we hope to test it again, but it’ll be difficult to know if it’s worked for all programs until well after launch.

Reviewed Batch 2 Mockups

Our batch 2 pages included some Registration and Tuition related pages. While we’re pretty happy with the design of these pages, they’ve helped highlight a problem for us: our internal organization doesn’t always match how people think about us. For example, consider how students pay for college. We have a lot of departments that deal with money: a Financial Aid office, a scholarship and student employment office, a veterans benefits office, a bursar, and several people that work with sponsored accounts. There’s probably more. There’s really good reason for splitting them apart, and each requires a ton of very specific expertise. But if I have a question, and I’m not sure which of those areas can answer my question, who do I call?

Started Batch 3

Our Batch 3 designs relate to the application sorter and steps to enroll pages. We’ve done quite a few versions of these since our last redesign in 2013. For instance, our sorter page swapped from being person type oriented to goal oriented. Yet, despite all those changes, our sorter continues to be one of the least liked pages on the site. Our new design is going to try to leverage some of that experience, and include information that can help you navigate either way, while simultaneously emphasizing the most commonly used enrollment pathways.

Content planner

Our greatest amount of work has been the content planner. This maps content on our current website to the new website, and identifies where the gaps are. We’ve got a bunch of folders and empty documents set up in google docs right now where we’ve been starting to develop new content and rewrite some old content. There were more than a hundred pages which we need to keep, but which don’t have an obvious home in the new website, and I’ve been slowly making my way through. Some of the rewritten content will be launched before we launch, while most of the new stuff won’t be launched until the whole site is ready.

Meanwhile, as we continue our review of every page on the website, Lori’s been aggressively working on some of the recommended page merging and deletion. Thank you to the dozens of you that have helped us delete old pages!

What’s next?

After we finalize batch 3 this week, we’re hoping to do another round of prospective student testing. Very soon development will start, and while the site is being built, we’ll continue our work on content.

One of our big challenges will be photography. Normally for a website redesign you’d schedule a couple of professional photo sessions on campus, but due to COVID-19, that’s tricky. Before launch, it’s unlikely campus will look quite as busy as it would normally, we won’t see groups of people together, and the people we do see may be wearing masks. I’ve been trying to make it out to campus once in a while to get some photos, but there’s only so many empty shots of campus we can use. If you have any amazing photos – ideally where everyone in the picture has signed a photo release – and you’d be willing to let us use them, send them our way!

One of the campus turkeys in front of the center building
One of the photos from my weekend adventures shooting photos on campus

Does phone number format matter?

The other day, Lori pointed out that the phone number format on one of the mockups from iFactory was different from what we normally use. In accordance with AP style, we use (541) 463-3000. But the new mockups use the format 541-463-3000. And it’s pretty common to see phone numbers formatted with two dots: 541.463.3000. Does the format matter?

Yes. It turns out google is better at recognizing some formats as phone numbers than others. That post tested ten different formats, and found that the one we use and the one iFactory used are the ones best recognized by Google. The double dot notation? To quote the linked blog: “The phone number format you should avoid at all costs is #3: [###.###.###].

Of course, that doesn’t settle which of those two is best. So I checked to see if there are any accessibility considerations with phone numbers. There are, but they don’t relate to visible format. All phone number formats are terrible, and something like (541) 463-3000 would probably be read to a blind person as “five hundred forty-one [pause] four hundred sixty-three three thousand”. There’s a fix for that, using aria-label on a surrounding link, but that just adds something for my todo list, and doesn’t solve the debate here.

And that’s how I found myself at 10pm, doing a survey of college websites, to see how they format phone numbers:

541-463-3000 25 Harvard, UO, OSU, Washington, UC Denver, KSU, UMass, FSU, F&M, UCLA, MIT, Cal State Fullerton, Ohio State, Penn State, VT, Louisiana State, Wisconsin State, Yale, Georgetown, Alaska, Berkeley, Skidmore, Colby, Baylor, OHSU
541.463.3000 10 Portland State, Gettysburg, NYU, SNHU, WGU, U Phoenix, UVA, Middlebury, GA Tech, U Maine
(541) 463.3000 1 Gonzaga
(541) 363-3000 13 Idaho, UVM, Dickinson, Michigan State, Kentucky State, U Penn, UConn, Binghamton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Ithaca, Notre Dame, American
Mix 2 Rutgers, Princeton
This, for a variety of reasons, is not a scientific study. They’re just the first 50 colleges and universities that came to mind (and now you know I don’t follow college sports), and I didn’t check their style guide. I just looked at the first contact number I could find. As I said, not a scientific study. Just evidence of a person who’s too far down this rabbit hole to give up, far too late on a weeknight.
 
Of course, that left me with a clear winner. And I had to know why. From a blog post in 2006, I learned AP changed their preferred style, and Lane hasn’t kept up. A quick email to someone who owns a recent AP style guide verified it.
 
So we’ll probably go with 541-463-3000. The parenthetical format, (541) 463-3000, feels like it come from an age when area codes were mostly optional. And for many of us, me included, that’s no longer the case. Just please don’t use the dotted phone notation on your pages!
related XKCD comic