University Web Roundtable 1

October 22-24, 2003 at Brown University


  • Gail Anderson (GA) – CalTech
  • Shareen Azimi (SA) – Columbia
  • Jay Collier (JC) – Dartmouth
  • Martin Grant (MG) – Dartmouth (Thursday)
  • Kate James (KJ) – Brown
  • Patrick Laverty (PL) – Brown (Thursday)
  • Susan Curran (SC) – MIT
  • Reed Meister (RM) – Princeton
  • Therese Nelson (TN) – Chicago
  • Tracie Sweeney (TS) – Brown

Around the Roundtable


KJ: A Web editor is a team of one, working in Public Relations with IT support. KJ is currently working on a new home page design; the demo uses a dynamic menuing system. Brown has chosen Web Events for its new calendar.

PL: A new site just rolled out for IS using a Moveable Type blog. Department people can add stories and information into blog interface; RSS feeds are integrated into the public IS home page.


JC: Web Publishing Services has been in existence for about eight months. The group consists of five staff: two focus on Web development and production; two specialize in Computing communications; and JC spends 40% of his time implementing systems that support Public Affairs strategic goals, 40% supporting client relations, and the rest of his time on group administration. Web operations and enterprise systems are managed in other computing divisions. There is no chargeback or external funding.

The primary focus has been on supporting communities of practice through an open, collaborative process. Multiple cross-campus groups already exist or are in formation: oversight, production, application development, and content development.

Good relationship between Public Affairs (strategic guidance) and Computing Services (implementation support). In addition to supporting Public Affairs, the Web Publishing Services group supports 55+ smaller sites with templated production and development support. This ground-up publishing philosophy supports task-oriented success for diverse online users.


TN: Web Services is part of IT. Staff includes about 20 FTE and is made up of management, project managers, site developers, and programmers. Half of the budget is from IT, half is from chargeback from a variety of other departments. (Bulletin boards and calendars are provided free to clients.) The charge is $57/hr. for coding, and $67/hr. for programming. A long-term retainer is billed at $50/hr.

Web Services is responsible for home page leadership. Upcoming changes include making research more prominent. A popular feature is the presentation of most popular links on the student page. The existing calendar system receives 13,000 hits a week; for expanded calendar, UChicago is considering Web Event. Dynamic menus, which had appeared on some top-level pages, were moved to separate pages. The group has also developed a student portal view of course schedules, grades, insurance, add/drop, and surveys.

The Web Services group is currently deeply involved in a Content Management Initiative. A number of vendors are being considered at this time.


GA: Electronic Media Publications, a subgroup within PR, has three staff members and a number of independent contractors.

The current home page is intended to be a one-stop-shop to get people to their desired end page. News feeds come in from the News office. CalTech uses Google Appliance for CalTech’s branded search; JavaScript is used for top links.

Over the past year, EMP has redeployed seven sites, including giving and campaign sites intended for broadband access. The Admissions site provides lots of imagery, a guide to academia, and activities on campus and beyond.

Three to four people worked full time for nine months to create a new online newspaper called CalTech Today. (Several modules — calendar, classified, and streaming — were already in existence.) Support of the Provost, who was highly-supportive of Web technology, was key. For ongoing maintenance, two part-time editors collaborate with other campus news publications. Content databases — articles, directory, and catalog — will be made available for future use for other sites.


SA: Digital Knowledge Ventures origins were in the production of educational resources — including videos, text, and audio — which are still available to the campus community. Others can subscribe to 100+ e-seminars for $600 a year.

At the height of production, DKV employed 50-60 people: four production teams (project managers, information architects, designers, and developers), and archival researchers, text editors, and a video production team of three people. Currently, there are about 20 FTE: including two designers, three editors, and a strategic development group (liaisons to areas of the academy).

DKV is now adding strategic initiatives — such as public Web site design — to its core repertoire, with chargeback funding. A home page redesign is currently in development.


SC: The Home Page Team fills the middle ground between communications and technical goals. The team has two FTE and was once part of Web Communications Services, which is now a four FTE consulting team that works with a variety of groups, including outsourcing to six to eight preferred vendors.

A redesign of the MIT home page was launched in April. Pentagram did the design; people have grown to like the new design, as well as the new identity system. The new home page utilizes XML files that are combined with styles and batch published to the server nightly. Research categories are based on NSF categories. MIT is using the free Google University search as one of two search options.

A new campus map pulls information out of AutoCAD files and databases and delivers custom maps marked up with relevant information: departments, buildings, and parking.

A new IS site has recently been unveiled. The design vendor was Barrett Communications; note vendor site uses Flash extensively.


RM: The Web Services group, which is within IT, serves the Communications Department and its goals, including a strategic plan developed by Public Affairs and IT that was finalized last year. As a consultant, RM is helping with short-term projects and with the development of a revised long-term strategy.

Short-term projects include a new home page in development. Since a CMS vendor didn’t deliver as expected, a new production workflow process is still in development. Audience pages were found to be very important in surveys, and so will be key in a new design.

Long-term interests include the use of the Web in managing knowledge, building communities of practice, and exchanging data.

Focus on Campus Calendars

MIT Calendar

  • Todd Belton (programmer): Developed a system with PERL and Oracle about four years ago; much of the original graphic design is still in place. Work on the calendar has averaged 50% of his workload over the past year.
  • Two part-time calendar coordinators train users and advocate for use of the calendar. Once a group is granted, events are self-submitted. There is no event approval queue. (One staff member enters over 100 arts events per week.)
  • Most use is for viewing the current day’s events; public relations people also use the calendar as a source for listings. Getting general audiences to view the main calendar is more of a challenge. The group is considering allowing events to fit in multiple categories. The team is also working on ways of reducing calendar groups that “go stale” with term changeovers, including associating groups with official news groups (through an overnight synchronization with Kerberos).
  • Departments can pull custom calendars from the centralized list; these are extremely popular. Custom calendars can include one or more groups or private events, with custom templating for the group or department.
  • Some verification steps were removed after three years in operation, since there have been few security issues. Also, there was a function for repeating entries, or series and events, but no one used it, so it was removed. Formatted fields, such as where to get tickets, cost, who the event is open to, and accessibility, were removed in favor of an unstructured text field.
  • TN: How do you sort out the priorities, i.e., focus on a world-class event? SC: We pull spotlighted events from the calendar to use on the home page.

Other Campuses

  • TN: At Chicago, all events in the current calendar need to be approved.
  • GA: At CalTech, anyone with a CalTech ID can become a contributor; events reside in an Oracle database requiring approval; news editors coordinate and repurpose calendar entries.
  • DC: Authorized people can post without approval.
  • RM: Princeton uses Web Event with an approval process.
  • SA: Columbia has a calendar under consideration.
  • KJ: Brown will be contracting with WebEvent; required approval process was an appealing feature.

Long-term Planning Discussion

  • Strategic Environment
    • Interact with a variety of key administrators through presentations and oversight committees.
    • Find the best champion for online constituent communications.
    • Balance deliverables: soft (research and discovery) and hard (site production).
  • Staff Resources
    • Show what you can do with the resources you have.
    • Show how you can leverage knowledge of other campus resources such as Web operations and administration.
    • Show the value of working with outside vendors.
  • Technology Evolution (High-level Goals)
    • Gathering, sharing, and managing knowledge.
    • Supporting communities of practice.
    • Coordinating online relationships with university constituents.


  • Think of the online experience in terms of sequential art, or scenes from a movie — the home page simply provides the opening credits — rather than the cover of a magazine.
  • Over two-thirds of home users still connect with 33k or 56k modems; broadband users skew toward urban markets. The speed of a page loading is very important.
  • Search engines to consider: UltraSeek, free Google University Search (MIT considering appliance), Google Search Appliance (CalTech has used it for a year), Ask Jeeves, and Inquira.
  • Students can be very effective on well-defined tasks, such as surfing a university site to suggest improvements in content quality, include link relevance and accuracy.
  • The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education has a mailing list for research on communities of practice in higher education.

Business Matters

A possible mission statement: Members of the Web Roundtable share common interests at the intersection between a public communication strategy and Web implementation at Ivy-Plus universities. Participation is limited to about ten members in order to facilitate in-depth discussion of common issues and solutions.

Participants have included: Brown, CalTech, Cornell, Chicago, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Rice, and Stanford. Expressed interest: Duke and Georgetown.

Hosts – 1999: Rice; 2000: Stanford; 2002: Princeton; 2003: Brown.

11/4/03, 11/5/03, 11/17/03 (added ISKME links), 11/24/03 (copyediting) – JC