Friday, November 21, 2014

"Meet the Staff" Series - Ernesto Martinez, Web Programmer

Full Name: Ernesto "Ernie" Alonzo Martinez
Title: Web Programmer
Length of time in Web Services at Tarleton: 5 Years
Length of time in programming occupation: 12 years
Top  three areas of expertise: Programming, Web Design, Database Development
Topic Interests: circuit design, painting/drawing, carpentry, video/audio/image editing
Favorite thing about my job: I have always enjoyed building things with my hands, and writing code is just like that, but virtually.

A "day in the life" for me:
  1. First part of the day I usually check my emails for any new items of interest that may need my attention. I check Asana for any projects that may be due soon and check off any that I may have forgotten to check off.
  2. Usually I work on internal script programming or any special projects as assigned.  Lately since we have moved to responsive design most of my time is spent on new device IOS changes. I'm really excited about potentially working with a shuttle tracking system project since that may allow for some good old fashioned programing with GPS while leveraging responsive design and HTML5.
  3. Some of the stuff I do is automation. Some projects I have worked on that make our lives easier and more automated: FTP account creator, front page feeds (news, calendar, focus, and menus), and the timeout re-director that makes sure we remain connected to important systems such as Banner and MyGateway to display a proper message when one goes down.
  4. Testing is also very important. Making sure everything works with every device and every browser on that device is very involved. Not everything displays the same, and that requires a lot of code massaging to get them to function in a similar way.
  5. Whenever we have a new project come up, I like to see what other universities have done and do some research on whats available.
  6. Research. Technology moves at the speed of light. If something doesn’t exist today, it will probably exist tomorrow. More often than not it is up to you to make that happen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Web Styling 101: Quick Tips

WantWeb Fashionista to become a web fashionista? Or, do you just want some styling tips to help engage your audience? Look no further, because I've got some tips for you!

Web Services intends to offer a "Styling for the Web" course soon, but in the meantime, please make use of the following tips that I extracted from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA:


  • Use short paragraphs. Large blocks of text can look like walls, and act as such to the user. Research has shown that short, concise paragraphs and bulleted lists work best for web use.
  • Your first paragraph is the most important one. As such, it should be brief, clear, and to the point in order to quickly engage the user. One sentence paragraphs are encouraged.
  • Write in an inverted pyramid style. Place the most important information at the top, extra info toward the bottom.
  • In most cases, it's best to use subheadings to clarify the subject of various sections on a page. Users want to skim and scan for information. Headings help this process exponentially.

  • Don't waste space "welcoming" people to the page. There is no need, and most users ignore any welcome text as filler. Get to the meat - that is what they came for.
    Cut, cut, cut!
  • Just when you think you are done, look again. Cut, cut, and cut your text until it is the most essential message.
  • Name your page clearly. The page title and the navigation title should match as closely as possible. They should also clearly articulate the subject of the page. Do not use "Welcome to Marketing & Communications!" Instead, say "Department of Marketing & Communications."
  • Do not tell users to "use the links on the left." Put the information or links you are referring to right there instead, or just let them find the navigation on their own - if it is clearly visible on the page they will find it.
THIS IS CONSIDERED YELLING ON THE WEB. DO NOT YELL AT YOUR USERS ON TH EWEB. UNLESS YOU CAN BUY THEM ALL CUPCAKES TO MAKE UP FOR IT.
  • Use bold and italics sparingly. Bold should be used for headings and then sparingly for any other emphasis. Too much bold makes text harder, not easier, to read and differentiate.
  • Italics should also be used sparingly. Italics on the web are also hard to read. Try to avoid making long paragraphs italic - you are making the text harder to read, not giving it emphasis. Exceptions are book titles and other grammar stylings.
  • Do not underline text. On the web underline = link. Giving a sentence an underline for emphasis is misleading. And again, you don't really need it.
  • Use all caps very sparingly. Research shows all caps are harder to read than mixed case.
  • Don't try to emphasize too much. If you use bolded headings, short paragraphs, and bulleted lists, you should not need to rely on italics, all caps, or underlining for emphasis. These styles can make the page look messy and compete for the user's attention.
  • Avoid exclamation points. We know Tarleton is awesome! We love it! But exclamation points on websites make can make it look unprofessional! Let the content speak for itself.
Headers and other images
  • Use a header image that is relevant to the subject matter.
  • Avoid pictures of buildings without people. You may know that a picture of the exterior of the Welcome Center fits well for a page, but to most people, and especially to those who are not familiar with our campus, it is meaningless. Remember your users do not have your insider knowledge. Give them pictures of people interacting instead of abstract building pics whenever possible.
  • Let the Web Services office help you put images neatly into your content area. Break up your text with relevant images.

  • Make sure you have accurate copyright permissions to use any picture. Just because it is on the internet does not mean it is free to use. When in doubt, please contact Daphne Hunt at djhunt@tarleton.edu.
Miscellaneous
  • Link, link, and link to relevant information. If you mention a program, link to it. If you include an email address, make it an email link. If you mention a faculty member, link to their bio page. Don't make people go and search for something that you mention if it already has a page somewhere.
  • Make your links contextual. Avoid "Click here." Use part of the actual referencing sentence as the link. Research shows that users like them to be 4-8 words in length.
Do not use:
For commencement information for graduating students click here.

Do use:
Commencement information for graduating students is now available.
  • Avoid jump (anchor) links except on long pages such as FAQs. Research shows that today's web users don't mind scrolling if the content is useful and easy to scan. Anchor points just make pages longer, and are used too often on pages that are already a reasonable length. If you are not sure, please contact Daphne Hunt at djhunt@tarleton.edu so we can discuss it. If you do want to use anchor links, then there are best practices that should be followed.
  • Keep your content up to date. Out-of-date content reflects poorly on the user's overall opinion of the website and the university. It also degrades the trust of the user to later find information on the website. If you put up info that needs to be updated later, mark it on your calendar so you don't forget.
 -Daphne

Tips were extracted from Hampshire College's website.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Communication was Won


When we say, “We need to get the word out about this!” what are we really asking? We already have the content, right? Content is king. We need this before we do anything else. We know the Who, What, When, Where, and/or Why of our information or event that we want others to know about, but the real question now is How?

In order to answer that question, you have to understand that there are many forms and types of communication. Each type serves the purpose of providing communication, but each does so in different ways. Marketing properly is the ability to strategically select the media that would provide the appropriate level of communication to the right audience(s) at the right time(s) to acquire the desired result (i.e., light bulbs shining above heads or attendance at an event).

Some of the first communication (beyond word of mouth) was through “posters” or drawings with information. They have always been able to provide a great source of information, but their scope is local. You have to be looking right at them, in the locations they are posted, in order to receive the information.

To get information beyond that point, people rode or sailed (now drive and fly) across the globe to provide news and mail from family, friends, and business associates. It could take some time to get information – days, weeks, and in really bad times, years. However, the information provided could (and still can) be verbose.

Move forward in time, and we had the telegram service which provided speedier delivery, but the messages were much shorter and could not provide drawings.

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students, You are cordially invited to a lessons @ lunch on November 18, 2014 in the dick smith library multi-purpose room (which is through the front doors facing the trogdon house and to the right before the elevator) on the topic of accessible email presented by the electronic and information resources accessibility coordinator Karole Schroeder
 
Move forward again, and we start to get into the forms of communication we are used to:
  • Phones
  • Television
  • Email
  • Websites
While posters have been become a standard in communications and marketing, they too have evolved. We can use an assortment of colors of ink and paper. We can create them in different sizes, including billboards. We can even make them move or display different things at different times, such as digital signage. There is not one single message that can be placed on all channels of communication the same exact way to get the same result.

Times Square in New York City back in 2004, filled with various sized billboards and moving billboards
Billboards in Times Square in NYC in 2004
Think about it: Would you be able to place the same poster that is on your wall coming into your building as you would a billboard? Note the difference in usage. 

In the former instance, you have the ability to walk up to the poster, read it at your own pace, and continue on. In the latter instance, you are driving down a street, with little time to look away without losing focus of the traffic around you, so you don’t have time to consume as much information. 

The poster on the wall can have verbose information and still be engaging. The billboard absolutely must be engaging (it has to catch your eye in only so many seconds) but must do so with much less textual information because our brains can’t multitask too much (read and understand text, memorize information, keep car straight on the road, keep car from hitting the car in front of it, keep car from slowing down suddenly to causing a similar accident).

Email has its own protocols, but they are less known due to the age and technology involved. Email used to be text just like the telegram, but it was even faster than a telegram – it came right to your computer instead of your door. It wasn’t long before email took on the capabilities that websites have, using the same code that is used to program websites, however, that’s where things get messy.

Email may be like the web, but it does not have the full functionality of the web. And while it has similar problems as the web when it comes to displaying exactly the same in all browsers, it has an even bigger challenge: 
  • web-based email clients (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, Outlook.com)
  • device-based email clients (e.g., Outlook, Entourage, Apple iPhone, Google Android)
The size of each device varies, so the results could be blank space in odd places as well as unusual ordering of images and text. Add to that various email clients block images from loading. Add to that the speed of the internet can slow down or halt the loading of images in your emails. Add to that various email clients block font types and colors and styles… Oh, my!

With so many things to juggle, it is obvious that what works for posters is not going to work for email. But email has so many pluses:
  • Scope: you can get to a large audience fast
  • Breadth: you can provide a much longer message (10 MB limit if you are using the Tarleton email services which is quite a lot)
  • Interactivity: you can get your audience to access calls-to-action immediately, even sign up for an event or put it on their calendar with a link here and there
In order to sort through the mess of email and give you some easy solutions that you can do on your own (Web Services does customized emails for large event projects), we’ve provided a training module and a couple handouts on how to be accessible in your emails on our Web Accessibility website. We are also happy to announce that in conjunction with University Libraries, we will be providing a Lessons @ Lunch on accessible emails November 18, at noon, in the Multi-Purpose Room in the Dick Smith Library.

Feel free to come to the session or contact me any time!

-Karole