I'm attending DrupalCon Chicago, March 7-10, 2011Oregon State University has representative members at DrupalCon 2011 in Chicago.  The conference is a great way to hear about user experiences, get tips on how people approach development, and new services available that may benefit the University and others.  Central Web Services and Web Communications are attending numerous sessions as we look to determine where to take Drupal sites in the future for OSU.

The conference started out on day 1 with a Drupal music intro form members of Acquia, followed by the key note from Dries Buytaert, who spoke briefly about Drupal 7 and went into the aspects that worked well, and not so well.  This segued to more on the new approach to Drupal 8, and the announcement that development on Drupal 8 opens on March 8th.

There was a slide on the devices and market share of devices over time, and not-so-surprisingly, mobile devices are now in the lead, over desktops and notebooks.  Tablets were also a part of the chart, and it was interesting to see on there, as my view also is that touch technologies will change the face of education, with the proper embrace of it.  Dries stated that if they were to start Drupal now, they would start with mobile devices.  He went on to focus on key initiatives he envisioned for Drupal 8, and that he’ll be looking for leads for the initiatives.  What I liked was the fact that performance was also something they want to put as an up front consideration instead of an afterthought.

Following the keynote, after a lunch session, and a BOF discussion, the day sessions began.  Oh, what’s a BOF?  BOF is Birds of a Feather, and what was done was some rooms opened up to groups of community members to get together to talk about mutual interests.  We participated in the uWEBd BOF for University Web Developers, with representative University individuals sharing experiences and how they use technologies.  I believe we can do more with Universities, such as setting up a common edu git location for all Universities to participate in module development, as an example.  There’s more we can do to collaborate, it’s looking at the right strategy that can benefit many, followed by commitment and then execution.

There were also discussions ongoing with the core team, or those dedicated set of people focused on making the core of drupal moving forward.

Overall a good first day that sparks innovative minds to think about how to do things better, and how to tackle problems in the way things are.

CASE awards only one Grand Gold certificate in each category.

If you haven’t read the Web Communications’s blog, then you might not know that Oregon State University took home an award in the 2011 Communications Awards during the CASE VIII Conference.  CASE is the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and is broken into regions in the US.  CASE VIII represents the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada and has 130 member institutions, one of which is Oregon State University.  The Communications Awards have various categories for awards.  The Grand Gold is selected as the best overall entry in the category.

So who received the Best Overall Web Site?  Well, as you may have guessed by now, it was OSU.  The Grand Gold is a great achievement for all those involved, which took a very collaborative effort with individuals on campus.

For Central Web Services, it does more than just recognize our development effort that went into producing the page with it’s dynamic capabilities, and multi-user control.  It does more than recognize how software development MUST be linked to marketing as well as the partnership between the Web Communications group and Central Web Services.  For myself, and CWS, it also recognizes the software life cycle put in place for the Home Page to ensure ongoing continuity.  People may not judge a book by its cover, but people do judge a University by its website.

Version 1.0.0 of the Homepage was released in May of 2010.  We are now at 1.2.4 and moving forward, anticipating a possible 1.3.0 and more definite version 2.0.0 this year.

For a full list of awards, you can read the awards book PDF found on the CASE website.

Congratulations also go out to Extension for its OSU Campus Tree Tour Guide and Reference iPhone app, which was awarded a Silver.

Have you seen our new look?  Not this blog, but the OSU Authentic WordPress Theme?  If not, it is here, and you are looking at it actually.  If you are using the OSU Standard Theme, here is a great way to complement a blog you might have with the OSU Standard Theme.  OSU Authentic is the preferred theme for administrative departments, programs and academic units and will be available only for the Faculty, Staff and Department blogs.  For more information about this theme, visit the Help blog.

Version 1.2.4 of the OSU Home Page rolled out quietly, so to speak.  If you received a text, phone call or email of the emergency notification test, then you have signed up to receive alert notifications for Oregon State University.  If you haven’t, then you should visit the alerts page and sign up.

If you happened to be looking at the home page when the alerts went out, something else happened.  You would have seen a red area and text about the alert that appeared due to the code changes we made for the home page in our 1.2.4 release.  The work that started with the 1.2.0 release continued and we were able to rollout and actually do a live test of the functionality necessary to have both alerts manually pushed to the page by a person’s intervention, as well as an alert to show up without human intervention.

You read that correctly, no human intervention.  How does that happen you ask?  Well, through OSU’s usage of the Blackboard Connect system to distribute alerts, we were able to leverage the alert RSS feed that was set up as part of the notification process.  By developing code to watch for new feeds, and also with feeds being able to have start and stop times, we can not only place them on the home page with no intervention, we can also remove them as well.

Now what happens if something goes wrong with the automatic process you ask?  Well as stated, we do have that capability for human intervention to put alerts directly to the home page.  Also, in some cases, alert information or updates may not go through the emergency alert notification system, so the human intervention was a necessary requirement.

In going through this process, we did learn a few things that we will be making enhancements and improvements in the next few maintenance releases.

So here’s to you OSU Home Page, and to the collaborative efforts of many on campus, the Crisis Communications Team, Kirsten in Network Engineering (who I am giving a personal thanks), Central Web Services and Web Communications, for being on alert!

Central Web Services and University Relations and Marketing Web Communications Team, in partnership, is pleased to announce Version 1.2.0 of the OSU Homepage has been released on the evening of December 22nd.  The main feature that this release brings is the ability for inclusion of an alerts region to prominently display alerts, whether it is from the Emergency Response Alerts, or to other alert aspects, such as University closures due to inclement weather.

The full list of items performed in this release are highlighted below.

What’s Next? We’ll be performing some close out tasks on Version 1.2.0, and then per our Home Page Release Schedule (at the bottom of this note), we’ll be starting the next cycle.  Feature input for the next cycle, version 1.3.0 is open, from now through January 15, 2011.   Please note:  Any minor fixes will continue to be performed in maintenance releases, such as 1.2.1 or 1.2.2, etc, between minor/major release cycles.

Version 1.2.0 Release Items:

Emergency & Alerts Functions:
These functions allow for displaying alerts prominently on the main oregonstate.edu page, and allowing for University Relations and Marketing management of alerts to the main page.  In the event of high traffic, there is the availability to create a light version of the home page, that does not bring in the numerous images from the full home page, but allows for alerts to be displayed.  In addition, this release allows for sharing of the alerts data for the mobile platform, at m.oregonstate.edu to be able to receive alerts.

alert image feature for homepage

  • alerts creation
  • alert region pushing
  • alerts editing
  • light version management
  • light version creation
  • Footer “light” setting
  • Home Page JSON data sharing (for mobile apps and alert updates)
  • Other Features:  Allow for individual site campaign settings in the Make a Gift link in the top hat that is included on other sites.
  • Make a Gift additional setting

Bug fixes: As with all software, ours is no different.  Every piece of software has bugs, so we continue to look for and fix bugs in every release.

  • main content cookie default tab resets on deletion
  • Many minor bug and css fixes across all regions (Home Page Related)

Code Improvements: Code improvements are based on re-architecting code to improve re-use, performance, readability, and usability.

  • top hat refactor
  • Centralize cache code and other region functions
  • Clean up management interface internals
  • Implement “output” functions for greater site management flexibility
  • Enhanced region sharing docs

The Software Development Life Cycle

When we first went on this journey of recreating the home page this past year, I set forward a strategy to look at the home page like any other piece of software that is developed by those big commercial companies, ie. to bring it into a software development life cycle.  As part of the software development life cycle, we have released several versions to date, including many small dot releases, those 1.0.1 and 1.1.1 type of releases.  Without the notion of a software development life cycle, it is hard to plan in a software development organization.  For all the other Universities that don’t do this, I would have you consider taking the same approach.  So now on to the next set of items that we can bring to the home page.  We look forward to hearing any ideas, so please share your ideas.

Home Page Release Schedule:

1.0.0  May 17th, 2010          (initial launch)
1.1.0  September 1st, 2010        (Actual: September 17th)
1.2.0  December 1st, 2010        (Actual:  December 22nd)
1.3.0  April 1st, 2011

2.0.0*  September 1st, 2011
2.1.0  December 1st, 2011
2.2.0  April 1st, 2012

3.0.0*  September 1st, 2012
3.1.0  December 1st, 2012
3.2.0  April 1st, 2013

* Major versions may be substituted with minor versions if no major feature release is included.

Feature Input cutoff dates (ideal):
These dates are when feature input for the upcoming releases are cut-off to proceed to release management of the next release.

x.0.0   May 15th  (May release meeting, June/July/August develop, August test/qa)
x.1.0  September 15th (September release meeting, October/November develop, November test/qa)
x.2.0  January 15th (January release meeting, February/March develop, March test/qa)

I’m glad to be writing about some exciting updates to OSU Search. In version 0.4.2, you will find an updated look and feel and some usability features. Among the new things you will find are:

  • The links to different types of search (collections) are located on a left sidebar instead of above the search box.
  • Filter by url – Users can now filter by urls by clicking the domains that we currently crawl located in the left sidebar.
  • Header and footer updates – they now include the same content as the homepage
  • The search box has moved down closer to the results area
  • Faster results!

We think these additions to OSU Search will make finding what you’re looking for easier. We will keep bringing new features to OSU Search to help users explore more advanced search features they may not be aware of. Some of the future improvements will include: people search, location search and speed improvements. Our goal is to let people just type what they are looking for without having to worry about what filters to use or what options they need to select. OSU Search should be doing all the heavy lifting for users.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post below.

The good people at Oregon State University Ag Communications, part of OSU Extension, have brought an app to the OSU community, currently available for those with an ONID id.  If you are not familiar with ONID, then you probably won’t be able to access the app.

It took several months of development as part of their goal to look at what it takes to develop an app.  For those developing an app, the development is only one part of it.  There are many more things to consider which I’ll go into in another post.  What they turned out was a nice tour app, though for some it may be too much green to see.  🙂  Don’t worry though, it’s about trees, and we like our trees green, right?  Although the Autumn season is nice as well, especially those orange colors.

The OSU Tree Tour App was distributed as part of Oregon State University’s Enterprise Distribution for iOS apps.  If you don’t know what that is, we promise one day soon we will get to writing a good description of that and sharing with the OSU community what it is all about.  So check out the app, but know there are a few specifics to use the app.  So do read the specs and requirements.

Lastly, if you download it, I want to leave you with a thought on the power of an app like this.  Take out Tree Tour, and replace it with any other set of information you want a tour around, maybe donor benches, sculpture art around campus, buildings, or just about anything else you can build a tour around.  Imagine it.

OSU Tree Tour App Screen Shot

Application Specifications

Cost: Free
Category: Tour
iOS Enterprise Released: December 3, 2010
Version: 1.0.0
1.0.0 (iOS 4.2.1 Tested)
Language: English
2.5 MB
Seller: Oregon State University Ag Communications
© Oregon State University


Minimum Requirements: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch at iOS 4.2.1.

Well, as we promised before, we are continuing to work on Accessibility fixes for the Homepage.  Version 1.1.1 and version 1.1.2 were rolled out today, containing a number of fixes that we weren’t able to get done in time for version 1.1.0.  For those who find these numbers strange, I say to you, don’t worry, this is standard software lingo.  If software waited for everything to be perfect, then nothing would be released, as evidenced by numerous fixes that are applied to your desktops, laptops, or newer versions of applications you may use.

How did we get to the versions, you ask?  A while ago, we asked ourselves the question, why isn’t the Homepage done in the same manner other software development is done?  After all, it is ultimately software.  There really wasn’t a good answer to not do it, and by doing this we ensure continued focus, not just on how pages look, but also on how pages sound, how pages flow, and how pages are read.

So back to 1.1.1 and 1.1.2.  In examining the home page, in partnership with the good people in Disability Access Services, we found that when putting the home page through a screen reader like JAWS and a Mac’s own VoiceOver software (Apple’s screen access technology), not all of it made sense.  We needed better announcements for sections, more descriptions around what something was or in some cases wasn’t.  As an example of the latter, we had the little dots for the feature stories with an alt tag (which is a descriptive tag of the item) of a space, which literally read “space” in going through VoiceOver.

Does this mean we are done?  By no means.  We will be looking at Accessibility on a continued basis, and welcome feedback.  While our group handles the programmatic side, there are some decisions that have to be weighted on the messaging side, and all of this has to happen in a method that we are able to meet the needs for those with accessibility needs, and not least of all, to ensure a better browsing experience for all.

What’s next for the Homepage?   Well, now we are getting into the details of planning 1.2.0, and examining possibilities, options, and those things that just must be done.  When?  1.2.0 is slated for a December release.

Stay connected.  I am.

– Jos Accapadi

We are pleased to announce the release of version 1.1.0 of the OSU Homepage.  Central Web Services and Web Communications in partnership with Disability
Access Services
have been hard at work on this release.  Originally slated for release on September 1st, there were some delays as the new features introduced some interesting bugs.

You may not notice it if you don’t look closely.

What you’ll see now:

1.  The OSU Foundation logo is now in what we call the “Top Hat”.  While it is a minor change, it is an important function, as Foundation donations help all of OSU, so please give where you can. We all appreciate it.  🙂

2.  Another important function that went into this release is the “sticky” nature of the main content area.  For those wondering what the main content area is, it is the area (including the menu) after the feature stories.  Menu pictured here.

main content area menuNow if you click on a menu, go to any of the links off the menu, and hit the back arrow, or back function of your browser, where before it would always take you back to Future Students, now it will remember where you were.  In order for this to function, cookies will have to be enabled for your browser.

As long as browser cookies are not cleared, it should remember for 30 days.  Why 30 days?  Well the initial reasoning is that if there are changes to the Future Students content area, we want everyone to know, so as ambassadors of Oregon State University, the word can be spread to everyone you know.  Now the 30 days isn’t an absolute, so we are interested in hearing from people if the 30 days needs to be longer, or even shorter.

3.  The next function we are introducing is the ability for Multimedia content in the Feature Stories.  You will now be able to play some video and audio content from the home page.  You will see a multimedia area that indicates the type of multimedia (video pictured here).  View Video Image

If you see that and click it, it will open a box and you can stream the video to your computer right there, without leaving the OSU Homepage.  Now if you don’t see any Multimedia link, it likely means that there isn’t video or audio tied to a feature story.

4.  Now what I consider as some of the most important changes, many of you won’t see.  We have put a stronger focus on Accessibility, working in conjunction with Disability Access Services to look at how accessible the homepage is for people with disabilities.  For those who don’t know much about this topic, I would encourage you to find out more.  We still have a list of additional fixes that are still being worked on for Accessibility.  The key here to note is that the focus on Accessibility is not just a one time event.  In the coming weeks, we will look to roll out more Accessibility fixes in version 1.1.1, and keep going in version 1.1.2 and further until we can get the Homepage among the best in the country for Accessibility.  With dynamic content and dynamic functionality, it is not always the easiest to accomplish.  Our goal is to look for those solutions that will help accomplish it.

So that’s it, there may be a few small bug fixes as well that you won’t have to worry about.

We’ll be next planning version 1.2.0 for release in December, where we will look to have additional features and functionality.

For those planning to be at University Day, we’ll be unveiling something new for OSU!  So come on by to University Day and visit both Web Communications and Media Services/Central Web Services.

Search v0.4 was released. In this release, we fixed a few bugs as well as a few features that incorporate some of the remaining out of the box Google Search Appliance features including:

Display a link to ‘more results from …’
Indent results if they are related to each other
Specify the format of the search results (pdf, text file, etc)
suggestion box close link

In addition to how the out of the box features function, we have also provided a method for doing an exact phrase search without having to put quotes around it or having to go to advanced search. Most of our user base, looking through the search reports, do not put quotes around items. Is this because they do not want to find an exact search, or just that the understanding that search by defaults tries to find all words in a page, not necessarily the exact phrase? We hope by providing this, it may make those who are in the latter group, the ability to easily perform an exact search with a click, rather than typing quotes.

Next steps for search are we will be working with Web Communications and University Advancement on some possible UI changes. The goal is to see how to make search more robust and feature rich, and the right UI for it. We’ll be looking to perform some focus groups to search to see what it is people are expecting, and as always, we welcome any feedback.

In addition to UI, we are looking to add more CWS features, such as the ability to see and filter results based on the list of domains we index. This allows individuals to also see what sites we actually are indexing, and if your sites are not there, to let us know. Some sites are excluded based on the number of results, as our license limit is only 1 million docs.  You can read our previous article about this.