Thursday, 31 July 2014

Welcome to sprint notes - sprint 24

Welcome to the first of our new regular updates on things we've been working on recently.

Over the past couple of years our team has gradually adopted a number of techniques drawn from the Scrum framework. Key amongst these are working in two-week sprints and doing regular reflection on our work through retrospectives. We're keen to be more open about what the team is working on, so we're joining ranks with teams at Edge Hill, Bath and Sunderland (quite possibly more) in regularly publishing a summary.


Over 3,500 students graduated between 16-18 July in three sunny and cheerful days on campus. Tasha and Suzy helped spread the word and encouraged online participation with lots of coverage on social media. They did lots of photography and video, more than we've ever done before, and we had a 3,000% bump in engagement on Facebook as a result. Dan updated the web pages on which we broadcast live streams of all ceremonies (all credit to the fine folk in the AV department who arrange the actual streaming). Viewers in over 60 countries tuned in to watch.

Search engine changes

For the last 10 years or so we've used Google Mini boxes to provide website search for the University. Google have discontinued the product line, so we need an alternative. Paul has been leading on implementing a backup solution based on Google Custom Search Engine in case our old box goes wrong. Dan has led us through a selection process to choose a longer-term provider of search technology. We'll be able to say more about that in a few weeks once we finalise the contract.

Welcome pages for new students

Paul's been working with Ali in Internal Comms on putting the final touches to our new welcome pages for new postgraduates. These go alongside well-received pages that we launched a couple of years ago for undergraduates, so we hope these pages help new PGs find their feet too.

Accommodation system

The University is changing the way students apply for University accommodation and Dan has been working with the project team and supplier to offer a Digital perspective. We've been advising on design and usability and things are looking good.

Adjustment and Clearing

Tasha is leading work to prepare for Adjustment and Clearing so that we're ready for results day on 14 August. In addition to preparing a list of courses available, we're sprucing up our core pages for prospective students too.

Launching Show and Tell and digital screenings

In parallel with starting up these sprint notes, we're also starting Show and Tell meetings so people on campus can come and see in person what we've been up to.
We've also scheduled, but not yet announced details of, regular screenings of digital-related conference presentations or virtual seminars to help us and anyone else interested keep up with what's new in the industry. Look out for a blog post soon with more details.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Starting up Show and Tell

We're starting up a regular event where the Digital team will share what we've been working on or learning about recently. The sessions will be every two weeks on a Wednesday lunchtime, with the first one this week, and anyone at the University is welcome to attend. Details including venue and agenda are on our Show and Tell wiki page (University network only).

Our Digital team manager, Alison, ran successful similar events at the University of Bath where they continue to run them still. We hope our version will help keep everyone at York who's interested up to speed with what we're doing and why.

There's no need to tell us you're coming, just turn up on the day. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Fancy working with us?

If you're excited by the kind of work we do and looking for a change then we have a new vacancy that might interest you.

The Marketing and Communications Coordinator post is the first is what we hope will be a number of new positions based on the 'hub and spoke' model. These positions will work with a department or service to identify marketing objectives and with central Digital Marketing and Communications to deliver the appropriate solutions. This combined approach will mean you'll work in our offices some of the time and, in this case, with the Accommodation Services team too.

Learn more about this role on the University website and give me a call if you'd like to have a chat about it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Making it easier to embed YouTube videos in your web content

We've just made some changes that will make it easier to add YouTube videos to pages in the CMS. You can now add videos to any content type that allows you to insert links, including standard page content, tabbed content, news and events.

To add a video, all you need to do is paste in a link to a YouTube video and assign a class to it of 'youtube-video-embed'. Your published page will then include the embedded video. The screenshots below show the steps in detail.

1. Paste in a link to a YouTube video

2. Use 'Insert/edit link' to set the class of the video to 'youtube-video-embed'

3. Done!

If you preview your page you'll now see your video embedded in your page. It will automatically resize to fill the width of your page.

A page preview showing the embedded video

As an added bonus, if you use this in a column that's too narrow for the embedded video to comfortably fit - for example in a three column layout or in a right hand column - then the video will be replaced with a thumbnail image instead. Clicking the thumbnail will take you to the full size video on YouTube.

A video in a narrow column automatically replaced with a thumbnail image

The old methods of embedding videos will still work. Full details can be found in the Web CMS Guide Wiki.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Hello from a newbie

I've recently joined the team as Digital Editor for Recruitment. My main responsibility is to look after the content for the study section of the University website in collaboration with colleagues across the University. One of my first big tasks is to do a content audit of the study section. I'm a big fan (sadly)of content audits so I'm looking forward to getting started on this.

Prior to joining York I worked at the University of Bradford for three years as a web content editor, and before that I worked at Leeds Metropolitan University. As you can tell I love working in higher education. In terms of digital my interests lie in Content Strategy, IA and user experience. I'm really excited to have joined the team at York and I'm looking forward to working on some interesting content projects.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Improving reliability of CMS publish

We've recently made a few changes to the way the Web CMS publishes updates to the website.

Publish speed

A few months ago we upgraded to a new release of Site Manager and were able to change how we output files as part of the publish. This change meant we shaved about 30 minutes off the publish duration and a full publish cycle now takes around 90 minutes. We hope to make further improvements later this year.

Publish reliability

Regular website contributors will know that occasionally the publish will fail and updates won't go live as part of the normal schedule. Last week we made a change which should significantly reduce the frequency of this happening. Changes should go live on schedule more consistently as a result.

Deletions and failed publishes

The most likely cause of a publish failure now is a deliberate failsafe built into our process which is worth a reminder.

If we detect a large number of deletions from the website as part of a publish, we don't publish any changes from that publish cycle until we've had chance to check whether something has gone wrong. One of the most common accidental causes of large numbers of deletions is renaming an output URI or Media Library category; this changes the URI of all pages or files in that branch of the site and thus deletes all the old ones.

If you're deliberately deleting a large number of pages or files (ie. 100+), it's always worth letting us know in advance and we can work around the automated failsafe.

Checking when publish last happened

If you're wondering why a change you made hasn't gone live, you can check when the most recent successful publish completed on the main Site Manager dashboard.

If you're sure your change should be live and yet you are still seeing an old version, make sure your browser is loading the latest copy by bypassing the cache. If it still doesn't show up, give us a shout and we'll help figure out what's happened.

Monday, 9 December 2013

New homepage and design: reflecting on the work so far

Having launched the new homepage and design for core pages of the website a few weeks ago, we held a team retrospective to reflect on the process and outcomes of the work so far. This helps us build on the things that went well and refine our process for the future. Below are the four categories of our retrospective and selected highlights from our thinking.

High points

  1. It actually happened!
    It's been a long time coming, so we're really happy to finally launch something new.
  2. Having a comprehensive preview available on a test server
    From early on in the process we were publishing the work-in-progress homepage and new design for core page on a test server. This made it so much easier to discuss the changes with the wide range of stakeholders who were involved.
  3. Trying some new tools
    We used Usabilla and CrazyEgg in anger for the first time with this project. Both proved really useful, the former for gathering up useful feedback before launch and the latter for visualising usage of the new homepage in a really compelling way.

Things that went well

  1. CMS implementation
    Despite its faults, and we know that lately a lot of you have been feeling the pain of slow previews and unreliable publishes (previews should be better now; publishes should get better later this week), the way we'd implemented the original design in Site Manager made it relatively easy to switch to a new look.
  2. Developing a process to manage the homepage
    In conjunction with redesigning the homepage, we've redesigned the process by which features and promotions are added to that page. York staff can find information about how we manage promotions on the homepage on the wiki.

Room for improvement

  1. Too many things, too little time
    The biggest challenge, by far, was finding time to do the work. We're a very small team of just four people: one manager, one full-time on training and support, two of us trying to do project work but constantly pulled in different directions (eg. CMS preview and publish issues, unplanned project requests). We reckon we get to spend, at best, the equivalent of 1 FTE on planned project work. Given that the recent redesign is just one of several projects ongoing, it's easy to see why we struggle to make quick progress.
  2. Finishing what we start
    We sometimes found that we'd start some aspect of the work with gusto, but then other things would come up (see point above) and we might not quite finish what we'd started.

New ideas

  1. Reporting on where our time goes
    There are no easy fixes to the problem of just having way too many things to do, but we think a good start might be to reflect on exactly where time is being spent. We track a lot of our time already (using the excellent Tick time tracker) and we track our support calls too, so we have data. We're going to trial having monthly reviews of exactly what we spent time on and hopefully identifying actions we can take to make more time for the most important projects.