Tuesday 30 March 2010

Alert Rank... Harness the power of Google Alerts!

We currently use Google Alerts to highlight any news stories that reference the University and as a way to tackle any negative news or postings in a timely manner. This service is not only brilliant but also free and works as a nice addition to our paid for services. The only slight issue is the fact that it's a bit of a blunt tool and you receive a long list of mentions without any real ranking on how important they are.

So, to cut down on the manual processing is a new tool we've found called AlertRank. It gives you a good idea of how important the alerts are with an easy ranking tool and best of all... it's also free! We've been trialling it for a couple of days and so far the service is working rather well and there are publication tools which look as though they might be useful. Might be worth a look!

A sample snippet of the email you receive is listed below and shows the ranking in green on how important the article is deemed to be:

Alert Rank

Monday 22 March 2010

The future of 360 is here! If you can afford it...

So, we have a number of 360 panoramic images on our website which I originally took with 12 static images stitched together in Apple's Quicktime VR (!). At the time these were great but generally meant that you could only have minimal people in the images and you needed to freeze frame everyone so they didn't blur between photos.

So, I then decided to purchase a 360 lens and asked the team to start updating the photos with people in them! Revolutionary stuff!

But now we're looking at 360 video and the ability to manually pan the video view to look around the person filming. This really could be a viable alternative to static images for things such as open day events, lectures, graduations, etc!

The hardware doesn't come cheap and there's still some issues with if a plugin is needed for certain functionality but this could be a very nice addition to any site.

Sony have recently released their 360 lens attachment for their Bloggie camera, it's very entry level but might provide a few ideas on how to use the footage! I've embedded a professional level video below, let's see who gets prompted for a plugin download!

Thursday 18 March 2010

We've been shortlisted!

So the shortlist for the HEIST Awards 2010 have been released and we're up for 3 in total!
  • Best Integrated Campaign - for our 2009 Clearing Campaign
  • Best Higher Education Prospectus
  • Best Postgraduate Prospectus
It's always nice to receive recognition from your peers for the work you do and the Clearing 2009 campaign was especially successful for us. The full listing (the longest shortlists i've ever seen!) can be found on the Heist Awards website and if you've also been shortlisted then we'll see you in Manchester on the 27th of May!

    Wednesday 10 March 2010

    Start with the basics stupid!

    We have a lot of content on our site and to complicate matters, we also have a lot of editors on our site. As you can probably guess this means the potential for errors is pretty big and the tools we have available to spot these are pretty small. So, when I stumbled across a service that would scan through our site and highlight any spelling mistakes, broken links, CSS issues and provide us with a full site inventory I was understandably interested.

    So, I had a demo over the phone with a very nice sales person who ran a scan of our site and kindly pointed out all of our problems (5,000 pages and 94 spelling mistakes...). Well, it's fair to say that I promptly slapped myself for not having thought of a service like this previously and then signed up all of our site for the next 12 months! This is a simple to use tool that will have a huge effect on our site quality and although it's not cheap it's certainly worth the money!

    Check out the site and see if it can help improve the quality of your sites.

    Site Improve

    Saturday 6 March 2010

    The future is captioned!

    Exciting news from YouTube, they've now introduced their automated captioning service globally! This means that all YouTube videos will have Closed Captioning available!

    Brilliant idea, it's just a shame that the speech recognition software only appears to be around 75% accurate which means if you do have video content embedded on your site you'll need to ensure that the transcripts are correct manually. Having pushed one through the system it looks as though we'll be having a fair few hours making corrections!

    If you're interested in having a look at some more details check out the YouTube blog posting.

    Friday 5 March 2010

    Asynchronous Tracking with Google Analytics

    So, I was creating a new blog today for our Equality & Diversity team and was adding in the tracking code for them from Google Analytics when I spotted this in the settings - 'New! Try the asynchronous tracking code'. Obviously I clicked on the link and experienced a mixture of excitement and disappointment!

    With a description such as asynchronous tracking code I was expecting something pretty exciting but the link simply led to a help page within Google. However, after popping on my technical hat and doing some reading this actually sounds like a small improvement. Nothing amazing but enough to possibly help improve the load time of our sites which is always a bonus.

    The way Google Analytics runs at the moment is that it's almost the last thing to load on the page. However, with the new version of the code you move it up the page to just after the tag so it loads earlier and you have more chance of it loading before a visitor leaves your page. Certainly something to bear in mind if you've started to notice that the analytics code is taking it's time to load, which on occasions we have!

    To quote from Google:
    The new tracking snippet offers the following benefits:
    • Faster tracking code load times for your web pages due to improved browser execution
    • Enhanced data collection and accuracy
    • Elimination of tracking errors from dependencies when the JavaScript hasn't fully loaded
    As we run our analytics code in a global footer the update only has to happen in one place to run site wide and we should see improvements almost straight away. This should mean more accurate stats but might mean your bounce rate goes up!

    If you wanted to read the article with directions on how to implement on your own site then head over to the Google Help pages.