During the past decade, Princeton’s web site has grown from a relatively simple tool supporting producers and consumers of information about the institution, its programs, and its people to what is today a complex, mission-critical appliance for teaching, research, administration, and collaboration.
Such complex web sites publish and sustain every day vast amounts of time sensitive information. To manage the mountain of content, Princeton has turned to Content Management Systems that offer an integrated set of powerful features for creating, storing, versioning, and publishing everything from news articles and brochures though audio, video, and images.
For the last three years, Henry Umansky has managed the web programmers, part of the larger, full-service Web Development Services group. At the November 11 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, he reviewed the concepts and philosophies underlying Content Management Systems and debated their pros and cons.
Large web efforts should begin, he recommends, by assembling key stakeholders, by defining the site’s short- and long-term goals, by querying users about their needs, likes, and dislikes, and by creating a comprehensive information architecture.
Umansky showed a video from the popular show, the IT crowd, to emphasize why IT architecture is so important. Above all, users want to be able to gain access to the information they want quickly and intuitively.
The information architecture tools used to gather up and organize the content for a web site include data sheets, user stories, concept maps, bullseye diagrams, and navigation maps. Data sheets gather up general and specific information about the target audience. User stories reflect how individuals use or want to use the sites. Some developers and designers brainstorm with concept maps, essentially an annotated set of lines that interconnect the key areas within the domain. Bullseye diagrams help to limit scope creep by prioritizing tasks. Navigation maps define and group all of the landing pages, a key step towards understanding the full navigation schema.
“Content is king,” says Umansky. Complex sites keep users coming back by keeping content current. Useful content requires a careful review process, freshness dating, and tailoring the writing for the intended audience. Throughout, developers must listen to and get to know their audience. A successful site, will therefore involve usability testing, customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, and even market research.
CMS tools aid the effort by organizing and easing access to content with metadata, indices, and consistent storage and retrieval, security, workflow, versioning, and archiving. They aid productivity by providing automated, reusable templates, by separating content from design, and by simplifying the editing and approval of content.
Princeton relies upon the Roxen CMS for its web efforts, but Umansky notes that the University actually maintains many other CMSs. WebSpace, SharePoint, and DSpace encourage academic and administrative collaboration, Blackboard provides access to course related material, and Movable Type supports blogging and wikis.
Those with further questions or with need for web support are encouraged to contact Jill Moraca, Manager of Web Development Services.