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.

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.

jQuery cycle plugin

Examples of jQuery cycle plugin options

Examples of jQuery cycle plugin options

Where would we be without jQuery, the JavaScript library that speeds up development no end?

I’ve recently been using the Bootstrap 2.3.2 CSS framework within our content management system, TerminalFour Site Manager and I ran into a number of issues with its built-in carousel.

The requirement we had was that the user should be allowed to choose however many carousel slides as she wanted: 1, 2, 5… 10? Which was fine, except that if we were to use the built-in Bootstrap carousel it uses very specific code which requires HTML5 data-* attributes and I didn’t fancy a) relying on the user to have to fill this in, or b) having to write some JavaScript or PHP to generate the code dynamically. Because I’m lazy like that!

So, I moved the carousel over to use a jQuery plugin that we’ve been using for a few years now: jQuery Cycle Plugin by malsup.

One of the things that I really like about this plugin is that it will create a carousel/cycle out of just about anything. For example, to create a simple carousel all you need is something as simple as:

<div class="slideshow">
  <img src="image-1.png" />
  <img src="image-2.png" />
  <img src="image-3.png" />
</div>

and then you call it from within your JavaScript like this:

$('.slideshow').cycle();

Brilliant!

If you want to add pagers, arrows or a variety of effects then jQuery Cycle Plugin will handle all of those to, dynamically creating the additional HTML to inject into your page much of which you have control of, such as class names which you can then use CSS to style.

We’ve found this to be a particularly useful plugin when using T4 Site Manager.

The plugin author has recently released a new version Cycle2 which I’ve still to check out, but if it’s anywhere as good as the first version then I imagine we’ll be moving to that in the not too distant future.

If you’re looking for a good, versatile carousel plugin then you can’t go far wrong adding this to your jQuery toolbox.

Website roadmap

Snowy road

A couple of weekends ago we upgraded our enterprise web content management system, TerminalFour Site Manager, from v.6.2 to v.7.2 This has been a major upgrade, and something that we’ve been gearing up to for the last two years.

Prior to the upgrade we held a number of demo sessions to show users what the new version would look like. Feedback has been, generally, very positive.

At those sessions we also handed out an information sheet informing users where we see ourselves heading in the next year or two. The following is a slightly updated version of that roadmap.

Roadmap

As part of the upgrade to the new version of Site Manager we have been reviewing the following areas with a view to improving the user-experience for both content editors and website visitors. The following is a summary of changes that will be implemented during the coming months.

Infrastructure

Over the summer and autumn we have been upgrading the website infrastructure, for example moving to new, faster servers. There are a few other enhancements that we are currently testing which will improve the reliability and reputation of the website.

Related content

We plan to simplify the way related content is managed. This will remove the need to tediously hunt down rel_{something} sections. We also plan to make things more efficient by using existing data for contact details, for example, pulled from central databases.

Faster publishing

The new version of Site Manager is significantly faster than the previous version. While the main university website used to take 40 minutes to publish, it now takes just under five minutes enabling content to be published more frequently.

Lowercase URLs

Since the launch of the website in 2007 URLs have been published using a mixture of upper and lowercase letters. To improve consistency and make URLs more predictable we have now switched the website to use all lowercase URLs.

Standards and consistency

We are in the process of looking at how to improve and standardising many elements of the website content to offer a more consistent user experience.

Style guide

We are in the process of updating the web content style guide. This will be published online in the coming months and will cover guidelines on spellings and formatting, as well as certain Site Manager elements like naming conventions.

Writing for the web training

We would strongly recommend that you attend writing for the web training. We run courses regularly; please check PDMS for dates of the next course.

Users

We have recently removed around 130 user accounts: 70 accounts that have never been used since attending a Site Manager training course and a further 60 accounts that have not been logged into during the past 18 months. Coupled with an issue of some users requiring to update content only once a year, this has highlighted a need to reduce the number of content editors but increase the remaining editors’ skills.

Review user accounts and permissions

Changes in the way that Site Manager v.7 manages users means that we need to review how permissions and editing rights are assigned to our current users. We will continue to monitor which users are accessing Site Manager infrequently to ascertain whether they really need access or not.

Training

We plan to run more frequent Site Manager and writing for the web training courses (see PDMS for dates).

Design

The web is continually evolving and we need to respond.

Mobile web

We will be moving to a design that is more responsive to mobile phone and tablet devices, as well as the laptop and desktop devices that the current website is optimised for. It’s an exciting time for web development, particularly as the new HTML5 and CSS3 standards continue to take shape offering new possibilities.