University Web Developers

University Web Developers

I am the lone web developer here overseeing a designated person from each department that updates the content on their department's webpage. 99% of them don't know HTML and use a WYSIWYG editor to do their updates. I find a lot of my time is being a  support center for them and fixing their pages and setting this up for them. As a result I have a hard time developing an overall strategy for the website, and don't have a clear and well defined process for my website.

So my question for all of you is, what strategies do you have for your website? what is your process to accomplish them? and how does that fit in with the day to day troubleshooting and maintenance?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!!

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I think one of the most important things to consider here is evaluating a robust and easy-to-use content management system (you probably are already using one) - choose one that users with very little knowledge of HTML would learn easily to publish content without your assistance.  The infrastructure is also important: have a development environment where people have the chance to "stage" their updates and make their revisions until they're ready. If they need to work with a designer or have the need to make their pages look good before they go live, this will give you a chance to do so. Take the time in advance to develop CMS templates that are flexible and work well.  What types of fixes do you usually do? formatting? 

I worked before in an environment where the CMS was flexible enough to create specific css style classes - this helped a lot to maintain consistency of look and feel and branding. It is also helpful to create a self-help wiki of some sort and provide them with instruction on using the CMS features effectively. 





Being a MS shop we are using SharePoint to service our website. We have it set up on a development server where (hopefully) all of the changes and updates are done, then published to the live server. I have set up a template, some styles, and defined a content area for them using Dreamweaver. Unfortunately for me, when things are done in SharePoint "design view" it really puts a lot of bloated crappy code in there. So it feels like I am fighting a losing battle when I go through pages, fixing the code only to find them messed up again later. (maybe it's just the perfectionist in me)

As far as updates goes, fixing code, fixing horrible designs, formatting pictures, fixing links, designing pages, setting up sites, setting up strategy for sites and pages...

I think a big part of the problem is that the "department developers" don't really think about the website at all. They don't really view it as part of their job. I'm not certain it's in their job description. More of something that just got tacked on to their list of responsibilities, so they don't think about it often. I hear "I haven't looked at the website in a long time" sooo many times. Really validates what I do for sure!

I love Erik response, yes web governance is one of the biggest challenges in higher ed, I think. So, SP is this much of pain to manage?  I will be migrating our dept. intranet to SP, I hope it isn't too painful.

If you hand code things it isn't too bad. Although it has been prone to crash a bit. If you use it as a WYSIWYG then it's pretty bad. a lot of bloated, poorly formatted code. Also if you have a few layers of sites, then it's seems problematic in recognizing files (say CSS) outside of the local site in the WYSIWYG mode. Also there really isn't a good way to sort though them as well.

Let me know if you have better luck than me. Maybe there is something I could set up differently.

I've been wrestling with these questions for the past several months. As you say, it feels like we have two very different in-house roles: a creative design firm, and an IT support group. The bigger the site gets, the more the IT support role eats into project development time (fixing pages and errors, minor content changes, CMS training and account management, etc.)

One one level, a solid CMS is a must and should help with the day to day stuff. Something that allows people to easily create pages, paste in content, and format it in a way that adheres to your templates and style guidelines. I don't know if there's a product out there that will completely prevent someone from messing up a page, but that's where training comes in.

But on a higher level, there are questions of overall web strategy, governance and structure, and execution processes and standards. My small team has outgrown the ad-hoc type of development we've done for years, and have been outpaced by the workload. It feels like a turning point where we really need to develop a strategic vision for the web presence, and then make the case to senior management for appropriate human and financial resources.

These articles have really helped that bigger picture start to take shape in my mind:

Lisa Welchman has a lot of good things to say on this topic.

Thanks for the links. Time to do some reading and research!
I agree - CMS is the key.  Ours it set up very carefully so the departments only have to fill in the text boxes, so to speak.  We still maintain overall design control.  I'm also not from a tech background, so I don't know HTML, although my assistant does.  But we also handle all publications, various events, etc., etc., etc.  Making web content easy for the depts is crucial.  That said, there will always be some users who are intimidated by it or just don't want to do it.  We do have to step in then for the overall good of the school.

I'll join the chorus and echo that a good web CMS will free you up to focus on strategy and progress. We implemented the Reason content management system 3 years ago for departmental websites and it has made all the difference.




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