Pressing Rewind on UChicagoLaw’s Audio

Cross-posted on the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog.

This week we launched an overhaul of how audio is stored, presented, and discovered on the UChicagoLaw website.

Chicago was a pioneer among law schools in terms of posting audio content, when it started posting recordings to the Faculty Blog back in 2005. Since then, we’ve assembled a library of over 400 files, that have been downloaded somewhere north of 1 million times. Dedicating all of that bandwidth to audio was starting to take a toll on the rest of our website, so we decided to take a cue from NPR and start migrating our files to Soundcloud. Two months later (and yes, I moved each one of those 400+ files by hand), our Soundcloud page is finally ready for prime-time. We’ll keep posting audio to pages on our website, but we’ll now be doing so as embedded Soundcloud widgets instead of via a player run through the audio module on our website. In addition to improving our site’s performance, we expect that using Soundcloud will make our audio easier to share (look for the “share track” link on the individual widgets) and make it more accessible to those on mobile devices, as well as expose our content to a whole new audience in the Soundcloud community.

The move has required some changes. Our podcast feed will now be served from Soundcloud rather than our own website, and we are only permitted one feed per account, so we will be retiring “Open Minds: The Student Events Podcast,” due to low subscription numbers. We will still be posting recordings of student events to Soundcloud and our website, however.

We’ve also made some tweaks to how users can find audio on our website by making it easier to reach the audio archives homepage from every audio page on the site, as well as by showing links to the five most recently added audio files on each of those audio pages.

So, bottom line: what does all of this mean for the methods by which you can stay up-to-date with all of the all of the great audio content the Law School is creating?

On our site: Visit our Audio Archives page to browse through the hundreds of audio pages located there. You can also find a link to the Audio Archives on the homepage of the website, where you will also see newly available audio listed in the “News & Media” scroll.

On Soundcloud: If you happen to be a member of Soundcloud you can follow us there; even if you don’t have an account, you can add comments directly to points in time of the audio file, or view playlists we’ve set up for things like Chicago’s Best Ideas or the recent conference on Crime in Law and Literature.

On iTunes: You can subscribe to our Faculty Podcast and get a new talk by our distinguished faculty or very special guests downloaded automatically to your phone or computer every two weeks.

On any other podcatcher or rss reader, or even email: You can subscribe just like iTunes, but Apple-free.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? We look forward to hearing them.

A Tale of Two UXs

One of the many tasks that the modern web professional often finds themselves responsible for is what is known in the business as “user experience,” or UX. While those of us who design websites often tend to think of UX as pertaining specifically to one’s experience with a website’s interface, the godfathers of UX and usability, Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen, propose a more encompassing definition: UX, they write, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” I recently had two experiences that focused on companies’ websites but highlighted how a website should (or should not) tie into the users overall experience of the company.

The first experience was with a company that not a few people seem to love to hate, Comcast. We had had a lot of problems with our internet service going out, often multiple times a day, and the only way to fix it was to disconnect and reconnect the cable box. We had multiple service calls to address the issue, none of which seemed to actually fix the problem. When the tech failed to show up at one of these service appointments, and Comcast’s idea of how to make it up to us was to give us a coupon for a free on-demand movie that turned out to be expired and was never honored, I was about ready to switch to the only competition in our area, AT&T’s U-Verse. But the holidays were approaching, it seemed like a hassle to switch, and eventually the internet problems seemed to mostly resolve themselves through no apparent intervention by the company.

At that point I was ready to stay with the devil I knew, so when we finally upgraded to an HD TV, I went on Comcast’s website to add HD service to my package… and that’s when their website lost them a customer. Having logged into my account on Comcast’s website, I clicked “upgrade my services,” and was shown a list of available packages. After doing some comparisons between them, I chose one to order. I was then required to live-chat with a customer service rep who would, I was told, ensure that I understood the terms & conditions of the package I’d chosen, etc. As it turned out, the rep informed me, I was not eligible to order the package I had chosen, which was only for new customers. “Then why,” I asked the rep, “was it displayed to me as an available choice?” “Because the website only knows where you are, not whether you’re already an existing customer,” he told me, despite the fact that I had clicked “upgrade my service” from within an existing account. He then proceeded to list a number of packages for which I was actually eligible, but the whole process had already taken 45 minutes and I no longer had the time or patience at that moment to sort through another set of fine print. So I signed off the chat, figuring I’d come back later and do the whole thing over again; when I signed off, however, a customer satisfaction survey popped up. Feeling distinctly dissatisfied, I decided to fill it out and clicked ok… at which point the thing threw a database error, and I clicked over to the U-Verse site and signed up for installation.

Compare that with a recent experience with Grubhub, a site I probably patronize too often for my own good. The site usually works so flawlessly that I almost never have any reason to interact with their customer service, but when I noticed that we no longer appeared to be within the delivery area of one of our favorite Thai restaurants on GH, even though we were well within the are described on their website and could still order delivery via a number of other online services, I opened a live chat with their customer service. Their rep was in many ways the complete opposite of the Comcast rep I had chatted with; he “spoke” in real language, as opposed to Comcast’s carefully scripted and insincere-sounding responses (“We understand your frustration and are sorry for the inconvenience,” etc.) and just generally seemed like an actual human being, while the Comcast guy might not have actually passed the Turing test. It turned out that Grubhub couldn’t help me—only the restaurant can change the delivery area in Grubhub’s listings—but the experience was such that I’m willing to call the restaurant to request that they update their Grubhub delivery area.

Think about that: my experience with the Comcast website and customer service lost them a customer, while with Grubhub my experience has been such that I am willing to do work for them—to help them make more money—for free. It may well be that this is simply a matter of scale: Grubhub is still new, relatively small, and nimble, while Comcast is a bloated former near-monopoly likely trying to integrate dozens of legacy systems, but the fact of it is that providing a positive user experience is at the core of what Grubhub does, rather than something tacked on after the fact, and that this can make all the difference in keeping or losing a customer.

A #ConfabEDU Wrap-up

I just returned from the first ever Confab Higher Ed, in Atlanta. I’ve been to a number of conferences over the years, but this is the first one I’ve attended that focused specifically on the content side of web work. I’d always heard that Confab events are very well-organized and the talks well-curated, and this was certainly borne out in Atlanta; a hearty congrats on job well-done to the Confab folks and to Georgy and Rick from MeetContent.

Just about all of the sessions I attended left me with something to chew on, but my favorite single session was probably Felicia Pride’s “Transmedia in Higher Education.” Of course, it’s hard not to win over the recovering comparative mythologist in me when you’re talking about storytelling and technology, but I found Felicia’s discussion of using complementary content in different channels to be a fascinating reminder that the “Create once, publish everywhere” model that has become the content strategy mantra is not the only way to think about the content we’re producing.

One of the social needs that conferences seems to fulfill is commiseration, the acknowledgement that all of us gathered in this place face a number of common challenges, and there was certainly no lack of that at #ConfabEDU. My (somewhat, but *only* somewhat) tongue-in-cheek contribution to the #confabfeelings hashtag going around the conference was “Verging on despair at all the barriers in the way of doing good work.” It is really, really, hard to do strategic work when you are constantly putting out (often imaginary) fires or doing time-consuming projects for the sake of, say, a faculty member’s vanity. When strategy is something you have to sneak in around the edges, instead of the guiding force of everything you do, it’s not much of a strategy. I would loooove to have an institutional message architecture (as defined by Margot Bloomstein, “a hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary. Concrete, shared terminology, not abstract concepts.”) written on the wall of the office, and when someone asks us to, say, design a poster that no one will ever see, be able to point to the wall and ask them how this project fits in that architecture.

The golden nugget that I came away with is this: content strategy is really people strategy. The person planning how the content will fit together and be distributed is rarely also the the one creating or maintaining that content. If you can’t get buy-in from the folks who actually own the content, can’t get them to take ownership of and pride in that content, your website — and your users — are going to suffer.

How Much Does a Website Cost?

It’s a scenario that I imagine has happened to every web professional: you’re at a party, chatting with relatives or acquaintances, and the subject of your profession comes up. “Oh,” says one of the group, in between dips into the guacamole bowl, “I’ve been thinking I need a new website for my business. How much would that cost, about?”

Any web pro worth their salt will know that such a question is literally impossible to answer without a good amount of additional information. Imagine going to an architect and saying, “I need you to build me a building. How much would that be?” Naturally, we would not expect them to be able to just rattle off a quote and then get to work.

Just a few of the questions I’d expect that architect to ask, which also hold true for websites, are:

  • What kind of things do you want people to be able to do there? A car showroom and an office building are both places of business, but designed for very different interactions. The same is true for, say, an e-commerce site where the customer is actually placing orders for widgets and a piece of “brochureware” that is intended mainly to inform people of the services you provide, and the costs will likely be dramatically different.
  • Are there particular materials that you want or need to use? Just as brick and steel will have different utility in different buildings (and have different costs), so will different technologies. Building a basic HTML and CSS website is a whole different ball of wax that implementing a content management system built on PHP.
  • Do you have the know-how or resources to maintain complex systems behind the scenes? A fancy graywater recycling system would likely cause more problems than it solves if the owner fails to maintain it, and the same is true for many web technologies. Before you even start building your site, you should have a plan in place for its maintenance, and a good web designer will help you do that.
  • How will people find your business? A restaurant near a highway, for example, is likely going to require a big, eye-catching sign near or on the building, intended to lure people through the doors. An office building in the same spot, however, might not need to draw such attention to itself since it doesn’t rely on street traffic for business. Again, the same is true for websites: do you need to spend a good deal of time and resources optimizing your site for search engines, or integrating social media into your web presence? Or will your customers be driven to your site in some other way?
I could go on (and I’d love to hear your own suggestions for such questions in the comments), but the basic takeaway is this: for most businesses, a website, like the building within which you conduct your business, should not be an arbitrary decision or an afterthought: it should be an integral part of your overall business strategy. The best web professionals will do more than simply push pixels around the screen for you; they will help you articulate that strategy and figure out how to present it to the world.

The Law School’s YouTube Channel

Cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog.

Sometimes, when choosing social and software platforms, one chooses… poorly. That would seem to have been the case with the Law School’s choice of video distribution, a choice that we are happy to rectify today with the official launch of our YouTube Channel.

While it might seem we’re a bit late to the YouTube party, the problem is that we were actually a bit too early. When the Law School began regularly recording video of events like our Chicago’s Best Ideas lecture series back in 2008, YouTube had a 10-minute limit to videos that users could upload. Since most of our videos are of hour-long lectures, we had to find a new solution. We tried Google Video (this was before Google bought YouTube) but it didn’t work terribly well. Eventually we found, which did pretty much everything we wanted it to: allowed for long-duration uploads, integrated with our Drupal site, allowed for ad-free display, and so on.

While we did claim a YouTube channel and used it for various projects here and there, we stuck with Blip as our main video platform through the years, even after YouTube dropped their 10-minute limit and universities (including our own) began flocking to the service in droves, since we had already sunk so much time and effort into establishing our Blip presence. But a couple of months ago, Blip began mandating pre-roll ads before every video, a practice we found unacceptable for our non-profit institution. So, after five years and just under 60,000 views on their platform, we’ve decided to pull the plug on our Blip channel. I’ve spent the last few weeks porting our hundred and forty-odd videos over to YouTube, and look forward to all of the opportunities that the new (to us) platform provides: easier sharing, more opportunities for conversation, and so on.

Breaking Down #UChiLaw13

(Cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog)
The Law School has had a robust social media presence for quite a few years now, but we’ve never really attempted to do a full social media offensive for an event like graduation. Mostly, this is due to the fact that our staff is so small that graduation is an all-hands-on-deck sort of event, so having anyone devoting themselves to social media during the ceremony is a luxury we can’t really afford. This year was no different, but, inspired by stories I heard at HighEdWeb Michigan of some of the commencement social media wins pulled off by other institutions, I decided it was time to take on the challenge anyway. By most every measure, we had a fairly successful go at it, especially considering the dearth of resources that we had to throw at the task (the sum total of which was basically my iPhone and me). Here are some things I think we did right:

  • Coordinate with larger units. I reached out to the University’s social media curator very early on, to make sure that a) we wouldn’t be duplicating hashtags, and b) on the day of graduation, when our #uchilaw13 hashtag started popping up next to the University’s #uchigrad13 hashtag, they would know what the heck it meant.
  • Start rolling out your hashtag early. We wanted to get the hashtag lodged in the brain of our audience as best we could beforehand, so we began a couple of weeks before the big day by including our hashtag on the Facebook event we had created. We also created and promoted a Spotify playlist called #UChiLaw13 about a week before graduation, and in the days leading up to it posted a couple of Instagram photos and a Vine tour of Rockefeller Chapel using the hashtag.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. This was our first time using Spotify, Instagram, and Vine as social platforms for the Law School. We weren’t sure what their adoption rates have been yet for our community, but figured that this would be a good opportunity to try them out as low-risk, high upside social options. Instagram was especially successful, I think, since it allowed us to cross-post photos to both Facebook and Twitter as well.
  • Create a central hub from which your audience can find you on the platform of their choice. Since we were using so many different platforms, we created a page on the website called #UChiLaw13 (where we also embedded our streaming simulcast) that listed most the different ways to get social around this event. We also used Tagboard as a way to aggregate all of these channels; this proved especially useful on the day of the event as a way to track everything that was going on.  
  • Make sure you reach out to your audience. We made certain that the graduating student we knew to be on Twitter knew about the hashtag by @’ing them a couple of days before, asking if they were getting excited yet; we also let all of our faculty know about the hashtag the morning of graduation, and were pretty successful in getting them to pick it up.

Some stats, as of 6/18:

  • “People Talking About This Page” up 261% from the previous week, Weekly Total Reach up 88%
  • Total reach for all #UChiLaw13-related posts: 23,250, of which 4,072 were viral; 1624 engaged users (about 7% of users reached)
  • Posts from the day of graduation: 10,213 reached, of which 899 were viral; 854 engaged users (about 8% of users reached)
  • By way of comparison, during the month leading up to and including graduation last year, our engagement was 3.5% of reach.

Other platforms:

  • 93 posts using hashtag across all platforms
  • 792 visits to uchilaw13 page
  • 443 views of Storify recap
  • 126 clicks on Spotify playlist
  • 63 clicks on Tagboard link

So what do you think? Did we try to do too much? Too little? How can we improve the social media experience for next year’s graduation?

Higher Ed Live Video Recap of #hewebMI

Instead of my usual post-conference round-up, after last week’s HighEdWeb Michigan I had the chance to be on the Higher Ed Live video recap with a couple of the organizers and some of my fellow attendees. Aside from the ADD-inducing nature of watching real-time feedback flowing in over Twitter, and attempting to talk and tweet at the same time while never having any idea whether I was “on-camera” or not, it was a fun experience… almost as fun as hanging out with all these great colleagues in real life. Video of the recap is embedded below.

Higher Ed Web Org Chart: Separation from the Top

Another quick update on the data from my survey of web departments in the higher ed hierarchy, as I delve a little bit deeper into the data. This time I looked at the number of levels that separate the web department from university presidents (or their equivalents). This info is somewhat less than exact, as it requires a bit of parsing of the data, as I didn’t exactly ask the question in that form; rather, the answers are culled from the more vaguely worded “As best you can, please describe the chain of command as it relates to the web group.” 

In any case, there is an average of 1.8 levels of hierarchy between the head of web departments and the leaders of their schools. Unsurprisingly, large schools seem to have slightly more levels present, but the difference is not large: 1.9  for schools of over 5000 students (n=34), 1.7 for smaller schools (n= 35). Interestingly, schools where the web department exists within IT seem to have fewer layers between the web and the president: (1.5, n=11) vs. (1.7, n=51) for those where the web lives under marketing. 

Higher Ed Web Org Chart: Large Schools

Further breaking down the data the data from my survey of higher ed web organizations, below is a breakdown of schools identified as having more than 5,000 students (n=55). There were no huge surprises, the major differences with small schools being that large schools tend to be less centralized and have larger staffs (my heart breaks for the Armies of One at these large schools!). Perhaps reflecting their more decentralized models, large schools’ web departments are slightly more likely to charge other departments for their services and significantly less likely (0% of respondents!) to have their heads report directly to the university’s president. They are also slightly more likely to still be contained within IT departments (perhaps reflecting the difficulty of fighting organizational inertia in a large institution?). Finally, large schools seem, oddly, to be less inclined to provide information architecture services.

How centralized is the production and maintenance of the web at your school?

  • 1 (very centralized): 13% 
  • 2: 20% 
  • 3: 33% 
  • 4: 24% 
  • 5 (very decentralized): 11%

The group that does *the majority* of your institution’s web work is part of:

  • Marketing/Communications/PR: 56% 
  • IT: 25% 
  • Some combination of the above or other: 18% 

How many people work for that web group?

  • 1: 4% 
  • 2-5: 55% 
  • 5-10: 25%
  • Over 10: 16% 

Are you a part of that web group?

  • Yes: 87% 
  • No: 13%

What kind of tasks does that web group perform?

  • Website Development 96%
  • Visual Design 91%
  • Information Architecture 84%
  • Content Strategy and/or Production 75%
  • Application Development 69%  
  • Social Media Management 62%
  • Server Administration 35% 
  • Other 5% 

To whom does the head of the web group report?

  • VP or Dean: 36%
  • Other: 25%
  • CIO: 18%
  • Assistant VP or Assistant Dean: 16%
  • None: 4%
  • CTO: 2%
  • President or equivalent: 0%
Does the group that you identified as  performing the majority of web work at your institution charge other departments at the institution for its services? (n=15)
  • No: 73%
  • Sometimes/It depends: 13%
  • Yes: 13%