Category Archives: ITCS Page Refresh Project

Redirects: A Graceful Way to Retire Pages

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Last week, the update project took me into the main website folder where I scrutinized about 100 pages. Here’s what I found:

  1. Most pages were fine and needed no updates
  2. Some were test pages or experiments
  3. Some sported outdated content
  4. A few repeated information maintained in other sections of ITCS
  5. Four or five needed to be moved to other subsites with like content
  6. And—I hate to admit this—one page had a duplicate twin in another subsite. Exact information, two different names. Hum.

So once I had an idea of the content and navigation for the web folder, I came up with a refresh plan:

  1. Contact the owners of any experiment/test pages for permission to delete
  2. Charge student workers, Becky and Liz, with updating obsolete content
  3. Move content or entire pages to the appropriate web folder and create a REDIRECT (more on that in a bit)
  4. A REDIRECT was definitely in order for the “twins” (No. 6 above).

If you have a bit of clean up in your own website, here’s what you need to know about URL redirects.

URL (page) to URL (page)

This is appropriate if you need to delete a single page but don’t want users to get the dreaded 404 page. To do this, choose a different page as the target and then submit an IT service request that says:  “Please redirect URL http://www.ecu.edu/cs-xxxx/xxxx/xxx.cfm [page to be deleted] to URL http://www.ecu.edu/cs-xxxx/xxxx/xxx.cfm” [different page].  Therefore, when someone navigates to the old URL, their browser automatically travels to the new page.

After the redirect is completed, the original page may be deleted.

URL (Folder) to URL (Folder)

This situation is not a page-to-page redirect but rather an entire web folder-to-web folder switch. For example, you may have decided to create a “development subsite” to contain all your new 960-wide pages.

First, send an IT Help Desk request to create the new subsite folder. Once you’ve recreated all you pages within the new subsite, send a second IT service request to have the new subsite replace the old subsite. Keep in mind that this may be a good time to retire old pages by simply taking them out of the new navigation scheme.

For a video tutorial on copying and pasting elements between pages, see the Tutorials page.

Long URL to Short URL

Some circumstances require that a subsite URL be shortened to make it easier for users to remember it. For example, The Help Desk website URL is really http://www.ecu.edu/cs-itcs/ithelpdesk/. But the URL has been shortened (and redirected) to http://help.ecu.edu.

Conclusion

When deciding if you need a redirect, remember that judicious use of the three options is a must—too many redirects are just as bad as the 404 page!

And while we’d all like for our sites to be finished once they’re created, the truth is they require frequent updating. A redirect is just one of the ways we keep our content refreshed and users happy.

An Organized Start is a Great Start

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Soon after the new templates and themes became available in January, I started mulling over the best plan for organizing the transition of ITCS pages to the new wider design. While on the one hand, the job seemed pretty overwhelming; at the same time it seemed an opportunity to go through outdated topics and do some website “housework.”

Now, this project isn’t something I have to do alone. I have two hard-working students and fifteen or so co-workers who author many of the ITCS subsites. But as the “coordinator” of the group, I felt there were a few preliminary steps we might take before embarking on the project.

Here’s what is working so far:

1. Think through the site’s content.

This includes not only the number of pages, documents and subsites in the CommonSpot site folder, but those documents or scripts in the site’s Tools folder as well. It’s just good to know the extent of information and how it is presented.

2. Understand the navigation of the site.

The easiest process is to keep the navigation the same, but we’ll also discuss in a future post how to gracefully retire pages without breaking the navigation. Remember that users may have a page bookmarked or other sites may link to a page in the site.

3. Meet with the other contributors to the site (if any) to brainstorm ideas.

During the ITCS contributor meeting, we looked at the new base template and themes and discussed ideas for a new ITCS template. Ideas on what to include (or not to include) were tossed around, some tossed out and others tossed onto a list.  This conversation helped the group focus and agree on the next steps of the process.

4. Agree on the project’s tentative steps.

In the end, the group agreed on the following:

  • We will keep the current navigation scheme. Users navigate the ITCS website by group (Faculty, Staff, Student) or by service (the Service Catalog).
  • The next step is to create an ITCS base template to include the current navigation scheme (by user group and service), the name of the department and other conventions that should appear on every page.
  • The new base template will be flexible enough so contributors can individualize it for their particular subsite.

In the end, the outcome of this meeting turned out to be two-fold:  it gave our working group an opportunity to collaborate on ideas (some really good ones, by the way) and also to determine the next phase of this project. It turned out to be a very good beginning.

So while there will be many steps along the way—management approvals, drafts, updates to drafts, final approvals and so on, we’re all comfortable that this project is on its way to well-organized and well-managed.

Updates and Upgrades for 2012

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Happy New Year, CommonSpot contributors! We’ve had our holiday fun, and now it’s time to turn attention to 2012 projects. CommonSpot has several updates going on this year—new site design, new themes and a new version upgrade—

New Site Design Launch. On January 23, the header and footer of every ECU CommonSpot page will update to the new design. The page in between the header and footer—the sections we contributors maintain—will remain the same until updated by individual department contributors. There’s no set deadline for departments to convert their pages. However, once users see the new themes, they’ll probably start planning the project! Other goodies in store for website contributors are a wider page, from 770 pixels wide to 960 pixels wide, a darker paragraph font and restyled headings. Templates, pages and menus are still authored the same, but now there’s a new look with flexible styling.

New Themes Launch. These industry-standard, accessible, user-friendly themes are based on divs rather than tables. A “div” is just webspeak for “content container,” and brings our pages up to current standards. Both the wide template and themes will be available to contributors by January 23.

But enough of the background explanation—the REAL advantages to using the new themes include:

  1. Easy to use.  Some versions only require your content while other “bare bones” versions allow Web designers to tinker.
  2. Wider format.  New pages are 960 pixels wide so there’s more content near the top of the page. Users can scan your information faster with less vertical scrolling.
  3. Flexible Changes. Once old pages are transitioned to the new format, change the look of a page at any time by choosing a different theme. No cut and paste, just pick a new theme from the drop-down list to update a page’s style. “Preview” allows a peek before making the look permanent. You can even use a different theme for pages based on the same template.

So, where do you start? Don’t worry, we’ve got several resources in store for users. First, register for one of the hands-on demos in Austin 309 (training.ecu.edu). We’ll also be posting to the CommonSpot Users Yammer group (yammer.ecu.edu)—feel free to post your own experiences and questions as well. Instructions will be posted in the CommonSpot blog (blog.ecu.edu/sites/commonspot) along with blow-by-blow posts describing my experiences updating the ITCS website. A “playground” is also being created where users log in from home or office to create demo pages using the new templates and themes (a separate post will introduce this site in the coming days).

CommonSpot Upgrade. During the summer of 2012, we’ll turn our attention to the CommonSpot version upgrade.  The latest version boasts a brand new interface and updated administrative tools for contributors.

So, even though there are some big changes coming our way, they’re so cool and easy to do that this may be one of the most painless projects you’ve ever undertaken.