By Sarah Fazenbaker
Ah, the turn of a new year. Nothing like it to inspire some better habits and righting some areas you’ve been slacking on…like flossing, regular exercise, or say, posting on your blog.
We’ve been working at a furious pace in the Web Office and this blog has taken a back seat, unfortunately. I was hoping to document our redesign process along the way but it may need to be more of a retrospective after the dust settles (or the birthday candles have been blown out). We’ve been joking that the roller coaster we’re on has been clacking its way up and now that 2017 is here we are in that fleeting moment at the top right before we whoosh down and have everything rush at us at blinding speed. Aahhhhhh!!!
Of course, this is a crazy year because the Museum is turning 100. We’re having a blowout gala in April and we’re planning to roll out our site-wide redesign in time for the big party. At the same time, we’re launching the separate companion website for the 100th anniversary exhibit, so no pressure there!
Getting these two high-profile projects pulled off by April is going to take everything we’ve got with all hands on deck. I wish I could resolve to write in Webology regularly, but let’s be honest, I need to be realistic here.
Okay, so I can’t spend a lot of time writing posts on what we’ve been up to for the past 6 months, but here’s some of the other highlights that I’ll circle back to later in the year:
- Phasing out Concrete5 as our main CMS – C5 made some (wise) changes to their codebase with their 5.7 version, but unfortunately that meant breaking backwards compatibility with the version we’re running. This marks a huge shift in strategy for us and I definitely want to dedicate a post on how we arrived at this decision.
- Launched the #FMScience site – one of the museum’s strategic goals is to “become an established source of science-related news for major national and international media outlets.” This site was an outgrowth of our existing Science Stories site to shift from being a once-a-month publishing cycle to a platform for all levels of articles about research coming out of our institution and a landing place for our social media efforts.
- Shifted to using GitHub repositories instead of self-hosted SVN – this was a department-level change in how we’re handling version control.
The Web Office has had some personnel changes too:
- Said farewell to Chris Dell – our web developer has moved on to further his career. We wish him the best of luck and are currently attempting to fill his shoes. (Hopefully I’ll have some good news on that front soon.)
- Radha Krueger went to full time – in addition to Web Designer, you can now add Content Strategist and Science Advocate to her many hats here.
- Hired James Young – we are lucky to have snagged this talented designer to create our new look and develop our CMS themes.
There are also some new Museum blogs to check out:
- Happy Flippers – follow Radha’s musings and observations as she grows into her new Science Advocate role at the museum
- Spineless Science – this long-time Blogger site has finally been imported to the museum’s WordPress multisite. Get a fun look at our invertebrate zoology team and their research adventures
- Experience Exhibits – take a behind-the-scenes peek at the developments in our exhibit hall…from the construction of the new Discovery Zone to the latest additions to the Butterfly Rainforest
Happy new year! This is going to be one-of-a-kind for us. You only turn 100 once…..here we goooooo!!!!!
By Radha Krueger
In the normal course of our day, we read a lot of stuff. We filter through a lot of articles and other site’s publications about us and our material, or even trending topics that we specialize in. It helps to be plugged in and up to date on what people are talking about, because sometimes it relates to the Museum.
Of course anything to do with shark attacks points right back to the International Shark Attack Files, which lives right downstairs here.
In no way do I mean to make light of any shark attack victims, because it is a tragic experience and completely unexpected.
Media headlines ABOUT shark attacks are anything but unexpected. They are carefully planned to get the most clicks and the most reads. And yes, sometimes they ARE tragic.
Get Your Beach Bod Ready for a Summer with Record Shark Attacks
Thank you Yahoo! News for really putting it into perspective. I realize this was Yahoo! trying to be a little bit funny or trendy or… something.
It still makes me cringe inside. Yes, there will probably be more shark attacks this year. It’s about math and statistics. ISAF pretty much sums it up repeatedly, saying more people in the water means more shark attacks. It’s the numbers.
But hey, beach bods get eye-time, and anything that gets people aware of an issue is great. (But really, Yahoo!… ouch) Long story short, headlines are important. Keep that in mind when you’re writing your next blog post or scientific research paper 😉
P.S. Many apologies for the composite image pulled from stock photos. I am actually good with Photoshop.
By Radha Krueger
Redirects & Why They Are Amazing
Have you ever clicked on a link and gotten one of those pages that say something like “404 error. Page not found”? We all have. It usually means there used to be a page there and now there’s not. Which is disappointing.
In moving the fishes and sharks pages from their old locations to their new locations, and condensing them from 1,781 to 642 pages, we would have sent almost 154,000 people per month to one of those 404 error pages. That’s a LOT of disappointed visitors.
Fortunately we are the Office of Museum Technology for a reason, and a lot of smart people work here to make the museum better. Years ago our genius programmers wrote a fancy application that takes a list of old web pages on our site and matches them up with the new ones so that when people follow a link to a page that doesn’t exist anymore our server quickly and efficiently redirects them on to the new page without even the tiniest hiccup.
Okay, that sounds simple. And we like that. We strive to find the simplest, most efficient solutions to problems. But I have to brag on our tech team for just a second because there isn’t a program like this commercially available to institutions like ours. We have actually been approached by other institutions for this sweet little tool.
So with a little bit of forethought, we keep the site running seamlessly through major renovations and reorganizations.
That’s not to say we never have to show a 404 error page. Oh my, that does happen a lot still. Which is why we always want to know if visitors click on bad links. And we review our 404 error logs to fix things behind the scenes. Because 404 happens 😉
[Editor’s note: Read the full series of Ichthyology redesign posts here: Part 1: The Short Story, Part 2: Condensing, Reorganization and Discovery, Part 3: Bounce Rate and Page Time and Part 4: The Final Countdown.]
By Radha Krueger
The Final Countdown
Finally we could see a light at the end of the tunnel with the Ichthyology site reorganization. We started to negotiate an official launch day to finish up and flip the switch to turn on the beautiful new site. Which turned out to be an easy task. At least identifying the date. First week of February. This was when the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) released their year in review on shark attack data, and the media usually went a little bonkers. So this would mean a big bump in traffic to the site.
The deadline was a little tight though. We still had a lot to do, and it would mean really putting our shoulders into the last big push. The hard part. The really complicated part.
ISAF Charts and Maps Transformation
You see, again, back in the day, there were only two things you could put on a website. Text and images. There was a lot of fancy stuff you could do with those two things, but it was limiting. In order to offer all of the ISAF data, the sharks team had to extract data from their databases, make it into a chart in Excel or Photoshop, make that chart into an image, and put that image on the website.
Did I mention that they have over 180 maps, charts and graphs in the ISAF section? That is a LOT of work.
But we have new technology and the web is constantly evolving to be more flexible and responsive. We found AmCharts, a great chart- and map-making framework, and we set Chris Dell, our Web Office programmer extraordinaire, to work with the ISAF team to create a seamless tool that could publish the data in their databases directly to the website with a few mouse clicks. And the charts and graphs would finally be interactive and mobile friendly.
New and improved chart:
So again, generating 187 maps, charts and graphs, plus hours and hours of programming and bug fixing, in front of a tight deadline. And not just a deadline. It was going to be opening night. When we opened the curtains, there would be people anxiously waiting to see what we had for them. Nerve wracking!
Speed is Everything
While we were working on the site in the final days, we noticed something that no one wanted to talk about at first. The fish pages started to feel slow. Would it clear up once we went live? We decided to not leave that to chance with our big press debut. After some head scratching and collaborating with our Systems team we finally tracked down the problem – the site was too big for its own good! The side menu was building its links dynamically on each page load and with 600+ pages it was bogging things down. With only days to go Chris was able to alter the menu to get around this feature. Page load times immediately went down by 400%.
Ready to Launch
It took a lot of juggling and tap dancing, but we managed to turn the new site on just before the big ISAF report was released to the media. The ISAF section of the site normally averages around 1,000 to 1,400 page views per day, but on that day we got over 8,000 page views. The entire fishes & sharks section got over 12,000 page views on that day.
If you want to see what all of the hubbub is about, here are some of the top visited pages in ISAF:
- ISAF Home
- Yearly Shark Attack Summary
- Unprovoked Shark Attacks – Florida Map
- Unprovoked Shark Attacks – World Map
- Species Implicated in Attacks
- Relative Risk of Shark Attacks Compared to Other Risks
By Radha Krueger
Bounce Rate & Page Time
Way back in the stone age, we used to get excited about the little hit counters we put on our site’s home pages, because it was the only way we could measure if people were even interested in our site. But in the decades since, we’ve learned that a visit to our homepage means almost nothing.
Now we know a lot more about how people use our sites. Over 64% of visitors to the sharks and fishes site arrive from a search engine. Usually Google. The fishes and sharks homepage was looked at only 28,467 times last year. Out of over 2.7 million pages looked at, that’s barely more than 1% of our visitors seeing the front door to the site.
Instead of counting visits to the homepage, we can look at how relevant the content of the site is to people. Is this what they are looking for? Is this interesting to them? Is this engaging them?
Two keys to gauging this is bounce rate and time on page.
Bounce rate: If someone comes to a page through a search engine and then backs out away from the site without interacting with the page at all, we say they bounced. This could also be a visitor following a link from another site to ours and realizing the page they arrived at was not what they expected. A bounce could mean the page provided all the info they needed to know, but it can also indicate that it was not what they were looking for.
We compared the bounce rate of the three weeks since launching the site to the exact same time period last year. Yes, we accounted for the ISAF review precisely. Last year our bounce rate was 77.31%. This year it was 71.67%. That’s an improvement of 5.64%. Doesn’t sound like a lot, right? But if you factor in how many pages people look at over a year, this upcoming year we expect people will look at 152,506 more pages.
Time on page: The measure of how long someone interacted with each page they looked at.
Last year the average time on page was 1:40. A little more than a minute and a half. This year same three weeks, time on page had jumped to 1:59. Okay, we added a whole 19 seconds. Big whoop. Factor that out over a full year and people will spend 14,271 MORE HOURS looking at the fishes & sharks pages.
The truth is, even we had to bounce around the site to find the pages we were looking for often, so we aren’t sure if long-term the page views numbers will go up (people being able to explore the site better), or actually go down (less hunting through irrelevant pages). In the first three weeks, page views have gone down, while time on page has gone up, hinting that people are getting to the pages they want faster. Which is a major goal for us!
By Radha Krueger
[Note from Sarah: The newly revamped Ichthyology site launched in February. We had to immediately press on to other projects, but now that UF’s summer is here it feels like a good opportunity to pause and reflect. So we present to you a week of posts on our most complex collection site redesign to date. Take that, Shark Week!]
The Short Story
For the longest time, every collection in the museum had their own website and it was the Wild West. Each one had a completely different design and none of them had any branding, menus or navigation in common. In the interest in maintaining the sites and presenting the Museum’s resources in one place, we’ve been moving all of these sites into a content management system—a single piece of software that makes adding, updating, and tracking pages across the whole site MUCH more efficient. And it clearly looks like a unified institution to our visitors.
A great deal of the free-ranges sites had already been moved by the time we rolled up our sleeves to deal with the Ichthyology collection. By page count and visitation traffic, it is one of the biggest areas within the Museum’s website. And it had been actively grown for well over 15 years, so there was a lot of nooks and crannies to discover.
The project was a little breathtaking. Now that we’re able to look back over the process of moving it (and take a moment to breathe), we’re kind of amazed at how big it actually was.
A Quick Summary
It was approximately 22 months from our first initial review of the ichthyology site, to the day we flipped the switch and turned the new site on. A quick glance at the numbers:
1,781 original pages
642 final pages (why less? read Condensing Pages)
3,541 original images and PDFs (not including the image gallery)
3,277 final images and PDFs
187 charts and graphs
1,094 hours of front-end time
720 hours of programming time
The Medium Story
There were a lot of decisions that we made during this process, and a lot of factors we had to consider. We did research on site usage and visitation, similar sites, potential site growth, and long-term development. We looked at how the ichthyology staff and researchers would interact with and add to their site. We investigated new and old technologies that would better assist our many users explore the ichthyology collection online and in person. And asked how we could assist the Museum to achieve its goals to inspire people to care about our environment.
Essentially what we do is create a place where technology and human beings interact. We are constantly educating ourselves on technological advances, as well as enriching our understanding of the full human experience. So this is not just about moving data from one place to another. It is about reorganizing information to make it more accessible to the people who need it.
Which leads us to the long story… (join us tomorrow for Part 2).
By Radha Krueger
Spring is here and summer is around the corner! How do I know? It’s not the pollen in the air or the inaugural turning on of the air conditioner at home. It’s not even the first wave of mosquitoes!
All I need to know about the weather patterns of this area is revealed in the page visitation statistics of our Herpetology Collection’s Florida Snakes section of the site.
Okay, actually it tells me two things—how nice the weather has been, and when people have time to get outside. More people outside in nice weather + snakes out in warm weather = more snake encounters.
What do you do when you almost step on a snake in your back yard or hiking San Felasco? Pick up your smart phone and anxiously search for info on that snake to see if it’s dangerous. Which is how a lot of people end up on the Museum’s ‘Online Guide to Florida Snakes’, where we have a step-by-step ID guide and a visual ID guide, as well as more info on snakes.
Pro-tip: There are six venomous snakes in Florida, but none are actually poisonous. Grammar police? YES!
If you see a snake, leave it alone. They’re part of the ecosystem and just doing their jobs. (Yes, even the venomous ones are important!) If you can’t just leave it, our herpetology friends have a handy how-to showing an easy way to capture and relocate a snake. Plus they have lots of pictures and other cool reptile and amphibian info.
Back to my Google Analytics. As you can see by the pretty charts, higher page views closely reflect how nice the weather was and how much free time people had to get outside. There are small bumps showing where school holidays and summer break meant more hiking and springs trips. And of course weekends mean more puttering around the yard.
Pro-tip #2: If you want to get out in nature with the most peace and quiet, our charts suggest Tuesday has the least snake interest and is probably the best day to skip work and go for a walk on Payne’s Prairie. But stay alert because snakes are everywhere in Florida—and they’re super cool!
I like to know that technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and that the work we do here at the Florida Museum has an impact on real people. And patterns like this draw a very real line between our website and the living ecosystem of Florida.
By Radha Krueger
If you know someone really well, you can sometimes say one word or phrase and guarantee they will absolutely go bananas. This can be fun sometimes. There are three different things I can say to my sister that will have her ranting and gesturing wildly in under 30 seconds.
We web designers have a few triggers like that. And there are some very firm lines drawn in the sand, with designers very adamantly on either side.
Oh my, just ask about carousels. So many opinions about them. So much eye rolling. When you first get to a site (or, gasp, are deeper in a site) and you have those big images that flip through or slide through a series of big pictures like ads or features for things in the site. Those are carousels. Yes, we have them on the Museum’s site.
Designers hate carousels, but we all use them because people expect them.
But that’s not the button I’m pushing today. Pun intended. The drawn out controversy for the last year or so has been the hamburger.
If you use a smart phone or tablet a lot, you’re probably familiar with the three-lined icon. The problem is that a lot of people are new to mobile devices, and the hamburger icon isn’t very ‘discoverable’. It’s not something that would intuitively make people click on it to find out what it does.
But with smaller tablet screens, and even smaller phone screens, how do you give people enough tools to navigate your site or app without cluttering up the little space you have? Apparently there are a LOT of people who absolutely detest the hamburger.
Let’s talk about icons for a moment. Some of us old folks remember what a floppy disk is, so it’s okay that the ‘save’ icon is a floppy disk. How many kids handle paper envelopes and know why mail would translate to an email icon? Enough, I’m sure. And a lot of us know what a regular phone is, so that icon is safe for at least another decade probably. But does an icon have to look like something in order to represent it?
Back to the hamburger. And why we care.
We’re redesigning the Museum website to celebrate our 100 year anniversary. PLUS this year will be that defining moment when we have more than half of our site visitors browsing on a mobile device. So we have to start thinking ‘mobile first’. Everything we do from here on out has to start with “how does it look on a smart phone or tablet?”
We have a LOT going on here at the Florida Museum. Which is a totally awesome thing to be able to say. (In this day and age, many small university natural history museums are actually closing!) The website needs to reflect how wide and broad and deep the Museum’s research, collections, education programs, and public outreach really is.
It’s going to take quite a bit of creativity to make the site as easy to navigate on a smart phone as on a desktop computer, while still helping visitors find the exact information on the site that they need. We are open to the hamburger idea, but we’re also scouring the web for other options that make sense for us, too.
Only time will tell as we #redesign100years at the Museum!
Some fun additional links:
- History of Icons: https://historyoficons.com/
- Susan Kare, the mother of Icon Design: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Kare
- Good Hamburger Article: http://apptimize.com/blog/2015/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-hamburger-menus-and-alternatives/
By Radha Krueger
We watch web traffic to the Museum’s site, and we’re used to the ebb and flow of cycle and regular trends. On weekends we know more mobile phone users will visit the section of the site about exhibits and parking as parents try to find cool things to do with their kids on the fly. In the summer months, the Florida Snake ID gets busy as people encounter snakes in their yards.
We’re even used to a surge here and there when a new exhibit opens. And we brace for a known spike in traffic, such as when the International Shark Attack File’s yearly summary is released, as it just was this week.
Every so often we feel random spikes though, and we investigate to see what’s going on. Usually it’s social media powering a sudden interest in a shark, like when a new megamouth is caught. Once in a while we’re not quite sure what’s going on though, and we have to poke around until we can find the source of a mysteriously large surge in site traffic. It keeps us on our toes.
We recently noticed a solid spike in traffic to a specific page deep in the ISAF part of the site. Starting in early August that page alone went from averaging 1 to 5 visits a day, to getting about 400 visits a day. And then in early January it stopped. Mysteriously. In that time period over 63,000 visits came out of nowhere. Why?
Well, first you need to know that when people are writing new programs, they don’t often have existing content for the programs, so they ‘borrow’ content just until they have the real stuff in place. Nothing’s worse than showing off a new program that’s just a bunch of blank pages.
Apparently these guys were making a new program to power the kind of electronic signs and monitors you see at schools, shopping centers, banks, and other public venues that display an assortment of ads and announcements. Their software would allow their clients to select info and display boards from the internet, allowing bigger organizations to share or store material for the boards online.
That sounds great. Really. But they must have forgotten to remove the ISAF page from their default list when they switched from testing to releasing the software in August. Suddenly 400 times a day all over the UK monitors were asking for that one page on the ISAF section of our site. And then in January they released an updated version of their software, with their default list updated and the link to our page removed.
I can’t even tell you for absolute certain that this is the whole explanation. I don’t know if anyone actually saw our single web page anywhere in the UK. But after a lot of poking around, this is what I could come up with this time. Next time it could be something even more strange.
Long story short: web traffic to sections of the site account for something. Sometimes important things like funding. So when we see spikes, we try to figure out what’s going on. We don’t like mysterious spikes. We DO like hedgehog spikes.