Fife and Tayside T4 group

Fife and Tayside T4 group meets for the first time write-up on Scottish Web Folk T4 blog

Fife and Tayside T4 group meets for the first time write-up on Scottish Web Folk T4 blog

This morning Steve Evans (University web manager) and I travelled to deepest, darkest Dundee for the first meeting of what is hoped will be a regular meeting of TerminalFour Site Manager administrators and users from the universities of Abertay, Dundee and St Andrews.

We met in the ‘moot court room’ in the school of law at the University of Dundee, hence the stern-looking photograph above.

You can read about it on the Scottish Web Folk T4 blog.

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T44U 2013 conference in Dublin

Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin—Venue for T44U 2013

Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin—Venue for T44U 2013

Introduction

On Wednesday 20 November 2013 I flew from Edinburgh to Dublin for TerminalFour’s (T4) sixth annual global user conference, T44U.

Or as I preferred to call it: T44Me.

While there were more attendees this year than any other—demonstrating amongst other things TerminalFour’s growth over the last few years, particularly in the education sector—there were fewer from Scotland than in previous years. Seven Scottish universities use Site Manager (SM), and were represented this year by (as far as I remember) Abertay Dundee (1 attendee), Dundee (7), St Andrews (1), Stirling (1); unrepresented were Abertay Dundee, Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian.

These are my highlights of the talks over the two days.

Thursday

Introduction

Over the last 12 months TerminalFour’s strategy has focussed mostly on two things:

  1. Outbound sales activities, particularly in the education sector in the English-speaking world. Of their new clients 53% are in the USA, 14% in Australia and 11% in the UK.
  2. Digital engagement integrating different systems using Site Manager as the hub, e.g. search, mobile, social media, course searches, etc.

Treasure chest

A large portion of the morning was given over to demonstrating a number of SM features, some new, which some users may not be aware of. I’ve emboldened those that might benefit us here:

  • External Content Syncer (content to external databases or CSV files, for example, to import data into Site Manager, or migrate data from one content type to another within SM).
  • Keyword search (demonstrated in a course search section of the website)
  • Hierarchy builder (import site structure from an Excel file, available in SM 7.4.3).
  • Newsletter integration using “auto-mirroring”.
  • Improvements to publish and preview (cache handler and changesets).
  • PHP access control (using PHP and the T4 user groups to restrict access to sections).
  • New PHP calendar (this looks very useful).
  • New personalisation options (e.g. use of GeoIP to display different content to users depending on their geo-location).

Clarity Grader

Fergal McGovern from Clarity Grader gave a very interesting demonstration of their product which checks to see how clear and consistent your web content is, then gives it a grade accordingly.

Hook, line and syncer

Maurice Ryder from University College Cork showed us how he has been using External Content Syncer to point SM at itself to migrate content from one content type to another as they’ve been simplifying the way they use SM. He also shared some of his experience of working on a responsive web design (RWD).

The fundamentals of digital engagement

Simon Nash, a strategist and marketer from Reading Room gave a fabulous and inspiring talk about digital engagement. Customers are now hyper-connected, using multiple devices to connect to the web, he said. We need to adapt or die. We need a strategy. Give them something:

  • Interesting
  • Useful
  • Helpful
  • Relevant

He talked about how engaging with people works best using a storytelling narrative (conversational, content and narrative led). He spoke about the importance of ‘slicing and dicing’ on spreadable formats: a multi-channel web; the importance of structured data and he touched on schemas, meta data and Twitter cards. “How do people move between online and offline?” he asked. We need to tap into that. Understand your audiences and develop a coherent strategy.

I could have listened to him all evening, to be honest. He was fascinating.

Update: You can read Simon’s blog post about his talk on the Reading Room blog: Five key challenges facing digital professionals in 2014.

Our T4 wishlist

In the evening I was able to speak with Paul Kelly (T4 senior software architect) and Mary Ryan (T4 product manager) for about 30 minutes to discuss a few suggestions about how SM might be improved for both the average user and administrators. I felt it was a valuable discussion, and they were certainly keen to listen and receive my short document of bullet-points which we have compiled over the last few months.

I also got a private demo of SM version 8. T4 have employed a UX expert to work with them on improving the product, which is very encouraging.

Friday

Platform as a Service

TerminalFour spent 30 minutes describing the benefits of their Platform as a Service (PaaS) package. This offers a cloud-based stack (SM, MySQL, Apache httpd, Java, PHP) for running SM. They tend to use RackSpace as a host. This tends to be: 1 x CMS cloud server, 2 x Web cloud server, 1 x Load balancer, hosted in a choice of data centres located in the USA, UK or Australia.

Prospectus Editing Tool at the University of Bristol

Mike Jones gave a presentation about how they are using SM for editing their university prospectus. Interestingly he’s written his own frontend which uses to the SM API. The driver for this was that they didn’t want to have to train 100+ staff members to use SM. (A comment there, perhaps, that the usability of the SM frontend needs to be dramatically improved.)

High turnover of research and conference websites at the University of Newcastle

Paul Thompson and Mike Sales gave a most impressive demonstration of a SM ‘broker’ they wrote for which automates a number of common tasks they are asked to carry out, such as create a new sub-site, batch create new users, move a site from dev to live, bulk create training sites, etc. Some of these tasks can now be done in only 2-3 minutes rather than 2-3 hours. A tremendous time-saver!

This was one of the most talked-about presentations of the two days.

Mental health in tech

Possibly one of the most inspiring talks, and certainly the most moving, of the two days was given by Christopher Murphy (@fehler on Twitter) about mental health in tech.

I want to write and reflect on this talk more fully in a future blog post.

Web search

In the final session of the morning Brian Colhoun from T4 asked why is web search often left to the end of a web project? A site is only as good as its content, so considering search should be integral to any content strategy.

SM version 8

Unfortunately I missed the afternoon session as I needed to leave for Dublin airport and my flight at 16:50. That final session of play was dedicated to looking at the next version of SM, plus the future format of T44U.

Conclusion

An interesting thread through many of the presentations from universities was about their using SM as a data repository and publishing engine to output the same data in multiple formats, and how so many have written their own frontends to interact with the data, to avoid the default user interface.

I certainly found this a far more valuable and practical experience than my last visit to T44U a few years ago. I’m encouraged by the direction that Site Manager is heading, particularly now that T4 are taking usability for the average user more seriously.

T4 Site Manager and writing for the web training sessions

We are now making a more concerted effort to provide training to our users on a more regular basis.

TerminalFour Site Manager

T4 Site Manager training will now be held monthly.

This session gives an overview of Site Manager and how to add and edit content. It is intended for those who have not used Site Manager before, or for those who would like a refresher.

The next sessions will be held on the following dates:

  • Monday 12 March 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 16 April 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 14 May 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 11 June 2012 — 2pm to 5pm

Book a place on a T4 Site Manager training session using PDMS.

Training takes place in the Swallowgate PC classroom, on the corner of Butts Wynd and The Scores (view map).

Writing for the web

For the first time, we will also now be offering regular writing for the web training sessions.

When writing for the web your content needs to be concise and scannable. Users find it harder to read from a screen than from paper, so special techniques are required to ensure that your message gets across on the web. We need to write our content in such a way that we help users find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible.

We have become increasingly aware that the quality of content on the University website can vary greatly. By offering users the opportunity to learn about the techniques required to write suitably for the web, we hope to help improve the quality of the website.

These sessions will also run monthly. The next few sessions will be on the following dates:

  • Monday 26 March 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 30 April 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 28 May 2012 — 2pm to 5pm
  • Monday 25 June 2012 — 2pm to 5pm

Book a place on a writing for the web training session using PDMS.

Training takes place in the Swallowgate PC classroom, on the corner of Butts Wynd and The Scores (view map).

Web team clinic

We are also continuing to run the monthly web team clinic. If you have any queries on anything to do with the web, we are here to help.

The clinic runs on the second Friday of every month, from 12 noon until 2pm. The next few clinics will be on the following dates:

  • Friday 9 March 2012 — 12 noon to 2pm
  • Friday 13 April 2012 — 12 noon to 2pm
  • Friday 11 May 2012 — 12 noon to 2pm
  • Friday 8 June 2012 — 12 noon to 2pm

Book a slot on a web team clinic using PDMS.

The web team clinic takes place at web team HQ, room 6 in Butts Wynd Building.

Upgrade to TerminalFour Site Manager 7.0 planned

20010519-t4version7

This summer the Web team are planning to upgrade the University’s enterprise Web content management system to TerminalFour Site Manager 7.0.

One of the main features of Site Manager 7.0 is a completely redesigned user-interface which has been designed to be more intuitive and self-explanatory; this should be of particular help to people who use Site Manager only occasionally. Another significant addition is the ability to search for both content and media (images, videos, documents, etc.) by name.

As with all current upgrades, the plan is to upgrade the development server first, which will allow us to carry out extensive testing. We’ll let you know how we get on.

Help us prevent broken links on the University website

One of the most frequent problems with content on the University website is broken links. Frustratingly, many of these broken links are perfectly avoidable. With a bit of extra care, content owners can take one simple step to help prevent broken links.

The problem with hard-coded links

If you are familiar with HTML and are used to hand-coding your own webpages, you may feel most comfortable using hard-coded links, where the URL of the destination page is defined in the code. This method works.

This is also the type of link created if you use the ‘Insert/edit link’ button in the editor in T4 Site Manager.

Hard-coded link button on the TinyMCE interface

However, over time these links begin to break. As pages are moved, edited or deleted, URLs are liable to change. So if you have a hard-coded link, it will have to be manually fixed — or there will be broken links on the website.

For this reason, this sort of link is reserved for external links only, or for links to items not within T4 Site Manager.

Section links in TerminalFour Site Manager

To avoid this problem, you can use the ‘section link’ feature within T4 Site Manager.

Section link button on the TinyMCE interface

Clicking this button will display a pop-up window that displays the structure of the University website. From here you can select the page you wish to link to.

This creates a special piece of code that is used by Site Manager to automatically generate the link. So, if the page that you link to gets moved to a different location, the link automatically updates across the website.

If section links were used for all internal links within the University website, we could significantly reduce the amount of broken links and links to outdated content.

Media Library documents

It is even more vitally important that hard-coded links to documents in the Media Library such as Word documents or PDFs are avoided. Linking directly to the URL of a document may work in the short run, but in the medium to long term it significantly increases the risk of linking to outdated documents.

The correct way of linking to an item in the Media Library is to use the ‘Insert Media’ button.

Insert media button on the TinyMCE interface

With your help, using this method can significantly reduce the number of broken links across the website.

Are you using the latest HTML editor in T4?

If you are using TerminalFour Site Manager to update content on the University website, it is worth taking a short amount of time to check that you are using the most up-to-date HTML editor. In late 2009, Site Manager was upgraded to include the TinyMCE editor. Ever since then, the following message has been displayed on the login page:

Following the upgrade to Site Manager 6.2 please upgrade your HTML editor to TinyMCE. Using the Site Manager menu above (not your browser menu):

  1. Go to TOOLS > MODIFY PROFILE
  2. Locate the “Html Editor” row (near the bottom) and select “TinyMCE” from the drop-down list.
  3. Click UPDATE

The TinyMCE editor is much better than the previous editor HTMLArea. See the TinyMCE page for more details.

Every once in a while, we still come across users that are still using HtmlArea, over a year on. Since HtmlArea contains more bugs and is more difficult to use than TinyMCE, we recommend that you double-check which editor you are using. If you are finding difficulty updating content, simply switching to TinyMCE could be the solution.

T44U – TerminalFour global user conference

Last week saw the annual T44U conference take place in Dublin. T44U is an annual event run by TerminalFour. It is designed to allow users of the content management system, Site Manager, to share their experiences with each other, to meet the staff of TerminalFour and to input into the future development of Site Manager.

This was my first time at T44U. Last year Gareth and Chris went. As we operate a strict rota system in the web team, it was the turn of me and Steve to make the sacrifice and spend some time in Dublin. Gareth made do with his T44Us conference, which he has told me was a roaring success.

The Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

The Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Site Manager version 7

The morning of day one was a good opportunity to catch up with the latest developments in TerminalFour and Site Manager. There are lots of promising improvements in version 7. Although we feel that some elements of the interface could still do with some improvement, there have been some promising changes in this area. Chief among them is the WordPress-style dashboard with customisable widgets. I particularly liked the sound of the new chat feature, which could allow you to work collaboratively with another Site Manager user.

Worryingly, I have heard some grumbles that version 7 runs rather slowly on Internet Explorer 8. That would be a problem for us. However, we were surprised to learn that almost half of T4’s customers are now using version 7. Given the improved features that are available, we are now considering upgrading sooner rather than later.

New features

One major new feature that many of our users may be interested in is direct edit. This allows users to update content in preview mode. Hopefully this will make it easier to update content, although I feel there is still scope for great improvement in this promising feature.

The introduction of a pagination navigation object and custom fulltext filenames are other exciting feature that I can imagine making great use of, particularly in news sections and the like.

Powerful-looking personalisation features also seem promising and we are interested to learn more about that as we assess version 7 in the coming months.

Focus groups

For me, the best part of the whole event was the focus groups that were held on Friday afternoon. I found it hugely useful to participate in these group discussions about certain features of Site Manager.

TerminalFour staff seemed really receptive to my ideas, particularly on navigation objects. I think there is great scope to simplify the process of creating navigation objects. Site Manager users from other institutions also frequently report that they are creating several navigation objects that are very similar to each other over and over again.

Thinking about ways to possibly prevent this and to simplify the process of creating navigation objects in general was an interesting puzzle to think about. I think in our discussions we came up with some good ideas about how to make this features more user-friendly as a whole, and I look forward to seeing if these ideas can filter through to become real improvements to the feature.

I also took part in discussions about publish states. This is a more complex issue than I first thought! It is a real can of worms, but despite the complexities I think something resembling a consensus was reached as to how this aspect of Site Manager should be improved.

The Guinness Storehouse

View into the "pint glass" from the Gravity Bar

View into the "pint glass" from the Gravity Bar

The venue was the Guinness Storehouse. Not only is it one of Dublin’s top tourist attractions, it is also an impressive conference facility. Unfortunately the room on day one was a bit too small. The ceiling was so low that it was quite difficult to view the presenters’ slides.

However, that was soon forgotten as we were taken on a tour of the building at the end of the day. It is a cleverly designed museum. The building was redeveloped about ten years ago, and has been designed to look like it has a giant Guinness pint glass in the middle of it!

Once you reach the top, you are challenged to pull the “perfect pint” of Guinness. You even receive a certificate upon completion. I cannot express the deep privilege I felt upon receiving one of these certificates, which are no doubt extremely rare.

Then it was up to the seventh floor and the Gravity Bar. Going up the lift, you emerge out of the top of the giant pint glass. It is quite a dizzying sensation to suddenly be surrounded by spectacular views of Dublin, seven storeys up. The views from the Gravity Bar are astonishing.

In there, we were treated to excellent Guinness-based food (in the form of beef and Guinness stew, and a Guinness chocolate mousse!) and even more excellent Guinness-based booze (in the form of Guinness Guinness). Sadly the music, although good, was a bit on the loud side. This made it rather difficult to do much in the way of talking. So it was just as well the plates of beef and Guinness stew kept on coming.