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On Governance

February 10th, 2011 by Bob Crisler



I’ve been thinking a lot, as I drive between the university and my home in Ashland, about Mark Greenfield’s blog post from last month declaring 2011 the “Year of Web Governance in Higher Education.” It reminded me of a long-ago debate on the <uwebd/> list that centered on the phrase “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” in which one position advocated a laissez-faire approach to higher ed web development, in polar opposition to any notion of “web governance.”

Sadly, years later, that debate continues to bubble on <uwebd/>, as if nothing had changed … as if, for instance, the rigid but predictable interface of Facebook had not prevailed over the chaos of MySpace.
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Video: the last frontier of media standardization

August 27th, 2010 by Bob Crisler

The battle over online video standards has been going on for almost twenty years now. Apple demonstrated QuickTime in late 1991, showing the famous Ridley “Bladerunner” Scott-directed ’1984′ advertisement that introduced the Macintosh in a puny little postage-stamp-sized window on a Mac screen. I remember being astounded by that little video; the very idea that a computer could play video, however unimpressive it looked or sounded, was nothing less than a breakthrough in 1991. So I played that video and several others — “Sagittal Head” and “Saturn 5 launch” over and over — and was dazzled.

A year or so later, Microsoft Windows got similar technology; so similar, in fact, that it turned out that a lot of it was cut-and-pasted QuickTime code. The resulting litigation was not settled until 1997, when Bill Gates famously appeared above a beleaguered Apple conference, as Orwellian in appearance as the screen-bound antagonist from the ’1984′ ad, and announced MS’s continuing commitment to producing the Mac version of MS Office, as well as a $150M investment in Apple, overshadowing as symbol (a public vote of confidence in the company) the substance in the settlement of the first major skirmish on digital video patents.

What isn’t well-known to this day is that hidden at the center of the public rapprochement between Apple and Microsoft was a thorny issue that persists: who will control the digital formats on which video content is delivered? Who owns the video format?

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On Design

March 19th, 2010 by Bob Crisler

I thought long and hard about what to call this post; what to title it. Well, “long,” as in “long by the standards of the abbreviated attention span of life on the ‘Net.”

So for now, as I write this, it has the beguiling, slightly ponderous title ‘On Design,’ as if it’s going to reveal to you some big truths about design. If you were misled by the title, this is where I tell you to hit the ‘Back’ button; you simply must learn to use your time more wisely.
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The “Can’t Have It” Gap

October 28th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

Last night we conducted a focus group for an app we have under development, an online replacement for our printed Undergraduate Bulletin. As the last bulletins to be printed have come off the press already, there’s excitement mixed with urgency in the project. We’ve got to get it substantially right, and right away. The best way to determine if you’re on the right track is to ask, and we had a unique opportunity to ask in dozens of different ways last night courtesy of some generous and brilliant UNL students.

In the Background

In between attending this year’s High Ed Web conference (Mark Greenfield’s ‘The Kids are Alright’ session and a subsequent UNL-Greenfield conversation on the airport shuttle created a particular itch in my brain), picking up a new copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto at Mark’s urging (the 10th Anniversary Edition has been rewritten and recalibrated), and conducting last night’s focus group (along with Seth Meranda and Meg Lauerman), I am more convinced than ever that we are out of step with the students we are here to serve.

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Content Still King for Prospectives

June 10th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

The college recruitment consultancy Noel-Levitz has just released a research report, “Scrolling Toward Enrollment: Web Site Content and the E-Expectations of College-Bound Seniors,” that provides ample data points that might help your position in continuing to shift the attention (and resources) of the university to the importance of quality online communications within the recruiting process.

The report, to those involved in the day-to-day work of creating and publishing content on a university website, is probably not all that surprising. But there’s a big difference between opinion and facts in our discussions with those who control budgets and therefore the mix of media carrying our messages to prospective students. Facts, in audience research terms, require adequate sample sizes (1000 in this study) and sound methodology, such that one can say with confidence that a given result would be repeated if the study were repeated. I’ll highlight a few of those facts in the paragraphs to follow, and what they might mean for the continuing development of the UNL website.

First, as the title of the paper suggests, the idea that users don’t read long-form text online, repeated so often that it’s attained a Gospel status, is debunked, at least for this audience. Please, read on. :)
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UNL.edu 2009 Redevelopment Rollout Presentation

May 28th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

For much of the past three weeks, we in the UNL Web Developer Network and in University Communications Internet and Interactive Media have been on a UNL.edu 2009 Rollout Tour, giving presentations to and having discussions with campus groups in preparation for transitioning UNL websites to the new 2009 template, slated for release in August 2009.

As these things go, though, not everyone who is interested in the subject can show up to a given meeting, and a number of university faculty, staff and students are simply out of town for the summer. So I’ve made the presentation available here as an MP4 video (complete with stammering narration). Thanks for your interest, and I look forward to your continuing engagement in the development of UNL.edu.

4000 People Thinking: The UNL.edu and You Survey

May 28th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

In early spring of 2009, while sitting among boxes in UComm Internet and Interactive Media’s temporary storage-closet location while our new offices here at Wick were being completed, Seth Meranda and I began formulating a comprehensive survey of our website’s audiences. The survey was intended, as a first priority, to solicit feedback for the in-progress UNL.edu site redevelopment process, based on our 2006 survey instrument. At the same time, we’d ask the users who’d completed what we called the “Design Survey” to continue on to a longer survey to take the UNL.edu audience’s temperature on media use, preferences, etc., as related to use of the web generally and of UNL.edu in particular.

The “Design Survey” and “UNL.edu and You” were programmed to move seamlessly from an internally-developed instrument to the LimeSurvey-based UNL.edu and You (thanks, Brett); users simply kept clicking through. The significant interest in the redesign process translated to a strong response to UNL.edu and You that we may not have been able to attract otherwise; nearly 4,000 people ended up completing both surveys.

Surveys of this type are not a “vote;” they’re an opportunity for users to provide input to, and influence, a group of professionals from across campus whose expertise lies in communication, visual design and user interface and interaction design. The survey was intended to provide focus to the final ‘leg’ of the journey from 50 designs to one … the distillation of best elements from three designs to one design over the span of a single month.

Qualitative results, especially, had to be interpreted, as there are almost as many conflicting opinions as there are opinions. It was the first order of business for the final design team to identify broad themes in the qualitative responses.

It was the job of the design committee to discuss, argue and implement (yes, in some cases also reject) those opinions. Whether or not a UNL.edu and You respondent sees a specific response to their issue in the final design, the feedback led to spirited debate and discussion that in all cases improved the final product. If you took the time and effort to provide feedback to us, thank you.

Design Quantitative
Design Qualitative
UNL.edu and You

All Paths Lead Forward

May 14th, 2009 by smeranda

As the User Experience Architect, part of my role is exploring in depth our users’ web site habits, their likes, their dislikes and their usage requirements. Many primary and secondary research methods are constantly used to gather as much knowledge pertaining to our users as possible. This helps inform directions and requirements when creating online interactions. It’s really a fun and dynamic experience.

As a reader of this blog, you are aware that the Web Developers Network is in the process of realigning UNL.edu with a face lift. Aaron has explained much of the process in his previous post, and I won’t rehash his descriptions. Instead, I’d like to take you on a journey of how the knowledge gained from the research went into the future design. Read the rest of this entry »

Achieving a New Balance

May 14th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

In thinking about the broad aspects of user interaction design that form the bulk of our task in re-envisioning an effective web template for the university, we first need to focus on what it is we’re trying to accomplish.

Boiled down, the job of the web template is to assist the user in locating content while maintaining strong university identity. The navigational framework of a site, any site, is a supporting player. It has to be the best supporting player we can imagine, but in the end it should slip into the wings, and let the spotlight shine brightly on what the web user came to the site to see, to read, to experience: the content.

The case for horizontal/hidden navigation Read the rest of this entry »

Webometrics? (What is the Meaning of This?)

May 8th, 2009 by Bob Crisler

Every once in a while someone conjures up a new word … sometimes there’s even a new idea to accompany it. In the last ten or so years, a lot of those new words have been old words onto which the word “web” has been grafted. So it is that the term “webometrics” came into my email stream this morning. (As “web” words go, not too bad; not nearly as nauseous as “webinar.”)

Web sites are the tip of the spear these days in competition among universities. We often think of our site as a marketing vehicle, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a trove of scholarly output, a resource for professional journals and research publications, a lens into our planning and decisionmaking processes as a university. More and more, our website, taken as a whole, is a full and rich version of what we are as a university; our people, our activities and our ideas. More and more, it is the view through which others see us. For many who will never set foot in Lincoln, it may be the only view of us they have.

That’s what I’m thinking about as I scan through a new report on university “Webometrics,” passed along by friend Rebecca Carr, national coordinator of the AAU Data Exchange.*

“The “Webometrics Ranking of World Universities” is an initiative of the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group belonging to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), the largest public research body in Spain,” says the opening page of the “webometrics” report. To paraphrase the “about” of the report, it is an attempt to rank the scholarly activity of any given university as revealed through its online presence.

So how did we do?

In the report, we’re number 67. Which if you’re a college basketball fan is good enough for a trip to the NIT. At first blush, not the greatest. But (big but) … the survey lists SIX THOUSAND institutions in its listing of Top Universities, out of 15,000 institutions analyzed. I’m feeling pretty good about that number 67 now. Read the rest of this entry »