Central Web Services is continuously making improvements to our Drupal platform. We’re fixing bugs, updating modules, adding new features, and enhancing existing features. For the past 3 years we have been on roughly a six week release cycle. If there were important security updates it could be shorter, but frequently it was longer. We want to change that. We want to be able get new features, and fixes out to the sites that requested them in a much more timely fashion.

As part of our Agile Development process we have been implementing procedures for automatic testing and deployment of changes to our Drupal modules and features. This has made it much easier for us to find and fix bugs and make sure that a feature is ready for prime time before it reaches your site.

This will allow us to move to a two week release cycle. We will update all of the Drupal 7 production sites every other Tuesday. Sometimes these updates will be minor and provide no additional functionality, sometimes they may only include security updates, but often they will include enhancements to existing features, or new features entirely. We will communicate these changes through e-mail announcements to site managers, through the Drupal Support e-mail list, and through a post here on the OSU CWS Blog .

As always our goal is to help you create the best websites we possibly can. We think this change will really help in that regard.

WordPress received a set of plugin updates today.  The Jetpack plugin was updated to version 2.5 resolving an issue of the Twitter widget not displaying tweets.  The issue had to deal with the Twitter widget ID not being saved properly in Jetpack’s Twitter widget.  A Twitter site owner needs to create a Twitter widget first in twitter.com as a pre-requisite to using this WordPress widget.  The widget works properly now.

You know there’s a however coming next, right?

However, certain browser add ons or extensions may prevent it from displaying properly.  In the event that you still do not see the Twitter timeline, then first clear the browser cache and settings (Google it if you don’t know how), and see if it works.  If that does not work, then disable your add ons and figure out which add-on was preventing it from being displayed by re-enabling the add-ons (Firefox) or extensions (Chrome) one at a time to figure out which one.

The other plugins that were updated were:  SI Captcha, WordPress SEO, and WP-PostRatings.  Please go to the respective plugin sites to look at what was updated for these.

In between terms, we will be looking to upgrade the WordPress version to the latest, as that change will be more involved and require a longer period of downtime.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

As we’ve been talking to people about consolidating Drupal sites into larger sites in Drupal 7, questions come up about how to set up navigation for a much larger site. With academic units the navigation breaks down nicely along the lines of colleges, schools, departments, and programs, but with administrative units it is not always that clear. When Information Services was faced with this task a decision was made to de-emphasize the organizational structure and instead focus on the services provided. This makes a lot of sense as most visitors to our websites really don’t care that much about our department structure but rather what we do and what services are available to them. As CWS was designing how we would use Organic Groups to combine the old Drupal 6 sites into the new Drupal 7 site for IS we wondered how well OG would work with this service oriented approach. Fortunately IS had already done the hard work of coming up with logical groups of service categories, and the services within each one. We then were able to map the groups directly to the services, and organize them into “parent units” which were mapped to the service categories. By including the names of the service. and the category, in the site name header, we accomplished the goal of having these appear as distinctive sections of a website.

og-site-header

Each title is a link back to that level of the site, just as the site name has always been a link back to the front page.

The services based navigation solves many of the problems of organizing a large website, but sometimes there is still a need to represent the department organization as well. For example to see where people work, and where they are located, you still might want to have an organizational view of your website. At first we were not sure how to approach this, but then realized that we could have a parallel structure of parent units and groups that matched the department structure. So for example a parent unit for Media Services, and a group for Central Web Services. Once we determined the right approach this was easy to implement and works well in practice.

To see this for yourself please visit the Information Services website at http://oregonstate.edu/is . The services and categories are all in the “Services” menu and the departments are under “Directory & Contacts” => “Organization”. As you explore this site think about how we can use this model on your Drupal site when it comes time to upgrade it to Drupal 7.

Another year, and we are ready for another round of Connect.  What is Connect?  Connect is the 4 days before fall term classes begin. It is a chance for new students to begin to “connect” to OSU. There are a range of activities that help to connect you to academic resources, discover all the ways to get involved, learn about traditions and meet other new students.  With this year’s connect we are launching version 2 of our OSU Connect App.

 

Connect Events Screen     This version, available for Android and iOS, will feature the OSU Scholar Symposium events, and the ability to “favorite” events, by dotting the O.  What you don’t see is all the work put in behind all of this to adapt to an upgrade in the framework we are using by Appcelerator.  The Alloy framework introduced MVC programming into Titanium, and with the help of staff and one of OSU’s very own computer science students, Seth Toda, we’re refactoring the code to make it more modular.  This will enable OSU to be able to launch our apps faster and add features faster as well.

 

So look for the apps and app updates in the iTunes Store and Google Play store, and don’t forget to keep your apps up to date.  To the new students arriving at OSU, it is time to Connect.

OSU Search is powered by a Google Search Appliance. One of issues we’ve had to overcome from day one is the relevance of search results. One of the main criteria for search result relevance is how many pages link back to a page to figure out how relevant a search result is. This is one of the areas where OSU Search can’t keep up with external search engines like Bing, Yahoo or Google because OSU Search crawls, and is only aware of, OSU related websites.

In other words, if a site is being linked to by many external websites or groups this information is not used by OSU Search to improve results.

The good news is that the Google Search Appliance has a feature called Self Scorer. With this functionality turned on, the search appliance can improve the search results relevance by observing which links the users click on after they do a search. We had this feature turned on, but since we don’t use the search appliance directly, we weren’t taking advantage of it. In the latest version of OSU Search, we ported this feature over. Now, whenever you do a search in search.oregonstate.edu, the search appliance will make a note of what search result you clicked on and if enough people click that search result, it will move it up the list. This should make a difference in the relevance of search results end users see.

Another advantage of having the Self Scorer enabled is that we can run advanced search reports. What this means is that we’ll now be able to get reports that tell us things such as:

  • The ranking of the search results that people are clicking on, or
  • How often people use the next/prev links to find what they’re looking for instead of finding it on the first page

This extra data will allow us learn how useful the information that OSU Search is for different types of search queries, so that we can improve them.

 

The close of Drupalcon 2013, held in Portland, has left me with lingering, fond memories of 3,300 nerds gathered in a glowing Drupalicious camaraderie.  The convention was a great success, despite the rain and ever present Wi-Fi issues.

So what, you may ask, was my personal highlight?  Maybe it was the tantalizing sneak previews of Drupal 8 with all its built-in mobile goodness?  Perhaps it was the really excellent sessions that were provided in the brand new and much needed Education and Government track?  Or, was it possibly getting my photo taken with User-1 himself, Dries Buytaert, and giving him some of our very own OSU Drupal swag?

These were all great things.  Really they were.  But, ultimately, they all pale in comparison to the keynote address given on Day Two, in my eyes at least.

This particular keynote, “Thriving in a World of Change: Future-Friendly Content with Drupal”, was presented by Karen McGrane, a world-renowned user-experience designer and content strategist who has led content projects for The New York Times, Conde Nast, and Time.  In addition to spearheading projects for enormous publishing corporations, she’s also a managing partner at Bond Art + Science, a UX consultancy she founded in 2006, and she teaches Design Management in the Interaction Design MFA program for the School of Visual Arts in Manhatten.

In short, this lady knows her stuff, folks.  If you’re a content author, site architect, or web developer on any platform, I strongly suggest taking a peek at what she has to say regarding content structure and strategy.  You will leave more informed.  You might even be a little entertained.  You certainly won’t be sorry.

Please note that the actual keynote begins at 11:30 minutes into the video.

This was the biggest DrupalCon yet with over 3,300 people, and a substantial number of them were from Higher Ed. My presentation on how we do Drupal at OSU, was the first day of the conference, so I had people connecting with me the rest of the week to talk about how they are doing Drupal at their school. For the most part we are ahead of most of the other universities I talked with as far as our use of Drupal for our campus websites. Some schools have accomplished more on the technical side of what can be done with Drupal, but do not have the buy in from the majority of campus the way we do. Few schools have been as successful in providing centralized Drupal hosting and development as we have. I attribute this to our partnership with Web Communications. It is clear that the schools in which the IT and Marketing departments have formed good working relationships are the most successful when it comes to providing a high quality unified web experience across the institution.

Another big topic of discussion was in the way Drupal is used, not just in education but everywhere. We call Drupal a content management system, and indeed it is a very powerful content management system, however for the most part we, and others, don’t really take advantage of these capabilities. We tend to use Drupal more as a Web Publishing System, which really is very different. What people have wanted out of Drupal is for it to be like a word processor for the web. People like the wysiwyg tools and the familiar Word-like tool bar. The problem is that the web is not like a printed document. It was a fairly easy leap from print publishing to web publishing when web pages were viewed on desktop systems that provided roughly the same page size as a printed page. We have now irreversibly moved beyond that to where we need to be able to deliver our content to devices of every size and configuration. The old word processor model fails miserably in this new environment. Many of us in web development have strived for years to separate content from presentation. This has become more important now than ever and Drupal can really help with this, but not if we continue to embed HTML markup into our content through the use of a wysiwyg editor. Rather content needs to be managed with metadata that semantically describes what the content is, not how it should look. So we say that a piece of content is an address or a phone number, or a course description, or a an event title, etc. Then we can present the data in the best possible way for whatever device is displaying it. For the web this is still HTML markup, but for other devices it may not be HTML at all.

In working with departments on their websites recently we have been trying to put this more into practice. We still see so many sites where people have hard coded directory information like names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. This data then is  carved in stone in that it is really difficult to keep up-to-date. What we want to do instead is to treat the content as data, and store it in fields, and then use views to present the data in a variety of formats. Drupal is really good at this, but we’re not fully taking advantage of it’s strengths. If we start now we’ll be in a much better position to deal with the next game changing device that comes along and needs to display our web content.

This was a great DrupalCon for OSU. On Wednesday night there were about 15 of us that went out to dinner. We rarely get a chance to socialize like this a work and we really enjoyed it. We vowed to continue building the OSU Drupal community and to include some social gatherings at least every couple of months. We don’t want to have to wait until the next DrupalCon to get together again. So if you work with Drupal, or the web in general. Please join our community group and attend the next meeting. More information is at http://drupal.oregonstate.edu.

At least 12 of us from OSU will be at DrupalCon next week in Portland. This is an exciting opportunity for us to connect with people from all over the world who are involved with Drupal. This year DrupalCon is offering a new track for Government, Non-Profit, and Education. For the first time at DrupalCon there will be sessions devoted to the unique challenges we face as a university, as well as sessions that showcase what some of our peers are doing with Drupal at other institutions. I have the honor of presenting the first of these sessions in which I will discuss how we’ve managed to support such a large scale Drupal environment, and some of the interesting things we are working on. My session has been selected as a featured session – http://portland2013.drupal.org/program/sessions/featured . This really puts the spotlight on OSU as a leader in the Drupal higher-ed community, and extra pressure on me to represent the university in the best possible light. This is a great honor for me and I’ve been working hard to make sure I have a good presentation and that I’m well prepared to give it.

One of the challenges we always face at DrupalCon is to make sure we stay focused on the issues we need to solve here at OSU. This year there will be a lot of sessions devoted to the upcoming release of Drupal 8. Of course we are hard at work on Drupal 7 and still have a long way to go getting our sites onto that version. We know we have to balance our need to stay current and make sure we understand the new things that Drupal 8 brings to the table, with our need to find solutions to the things we’re encountering everyday as we move further into Drupal 7. Fortunately there will be a good mix of sessions that should allow us to do that, and even though there will be much buzz about Drupal 8, we know it will not see wide spread usage for at least two more years.

This will be a busy week, packed with lot’s of learning opportunities, and meetups with people doing the same things we are using Drupal. A couple of us may try and do some blog posts during the week so stay tuned to this spot for updates.


Paul Lieberman
Central Web Services

As we looked at how we would upgrade all of our Drupal 6 sites to Drupal 7 we realized we had a big problem. Big as in over a thousand individual Drupal sites. We have become the victim of our own success in that we made it too easy to create new Drupal sites whenever we received a request, without first asking if a new site was really necessary. Drupal itself scales very well. It can handle much bigger sites than we currently have. By creating so many smaller sites we were actually making it harder for people to get around on our pages because larger sites became fragmented with no global navigation between the various units. It also made it harder for people to share data across sites, which caused unnecessary duplication of data input. Finally it created a lot of administrative overhead for CWS to keep this many sites upgraded.

We made it a strategic direction for Drupal 7 to begin consolidating as many small sites into their parent units as possible. We knew the first issue we would have to face is how to divide up the authoring responsibilities while maintaining ownership for different parts of a site. It turns out one of the reasons we currently have so many sites is because different people are responsible for content creation and wanted to make sure other people would not be able to modify their work. While this problem could easily be solved by just getting some agreements between the various authors on a larger site, we wanted to be able to assure people that we could prevent this possibility through Drupal permissions. We also knew that people wanted the ability for their sites to have some distinctiveness. While all of our Drupal sites adhere to the branding guidelines set forth by Web Communications, there is still room for sites to provide certain characteristics unique to their department or unit. We set out to find a solution for this.

What we came up with is a Drupal module called “Organic Groups”. The organic part does not mean that the groups were grown with abundant amounts of compost, but rather that they are flexible enough so that groups can be configured in a variety of different ways. For example we knew that colleges would need to build groups for their schools, departments, and programs whereas administrative sites would have a variety of working units that will need groups. After some testing we were confident that the Organic Groups module was going to suit our needs and so we started the work of communicating with people about our plan, and get some sites on board.

Central Web Services is a devision of Media Services which is in turn part of Information Services. There are a number of other units under IS including Enterprise Computing Services, Network Servies, and Technology Support services. When we began the task of updating the IS site using Drupal 7 it was agreed that we would consolidate a number of separate websites into the IS site using Organic Groups. The IS site is organized around the services that we provide. Each service is a group. Each group is also part of a service category. We are still in the process of converting all of this to Organic Groups but it looks like its going to work very well.

On the academic side of things we also have been working with the College of Liberal Arts to upgrade and consolidate their sites. We currently have the parent college site in Drupal 7 and are working with them to migrate the departments one a time from the old Drupal 6 sites. For a college the groups map nicely to departments which group into schools. Each department can have it’s own set of rotating features, highlights, directory listing etc. The department and school name also show up as the site name along with the college. Departments can have their own content editors, or and editor can work for several departments. There can also be college wide editors who can help with all of the departments if that is the way they want it.

Art department site name showing the school and college

Department name becomes the main site name, while the College and School names are combined above, with each linking to its respective front page.

Once we have completed CLA and IS we will begin working with other departments to consolidate and upgrade sites to Drupal 7 at an accelerated pace. The end result will be better websites for everybody.

smiley face at a bottom of a page pictureIf you have turned on Jetpack on your site, and are collecting stats, at the very bottom of your site you might notice a little smiley face.  If you are like me, you will find this just a little bit annoying.  How did it get there?  Is this a bug?  Is there something wrong with one of my posts?  The answer is no.  It goes back to using Jetpack and collecting stats. Since you are using the power of the WordPress cloud at wordpress.com when you connect Jetpack, WordPress inserts this to indicate stats are being collected.  Well and good, but if you are not in a smiley frame of mind, it’s very easy to fix.

jetpack-stats

To take the smiley off your page, go to the Jetpack dashboard, and click on the Configure.  In the configuration options you will see a checkbox to “Hide the stats smiley face image.”  Just check that and save and you are smiley free, and free to smile.

configuring jetpack smiley on or off images