Being the elder statesman of the Web Team, I thought that I would take the opportunity of my first contribution to the revamped Webteam blog to reflect back on the history of the www.sju.edu site. Seeing how I built the first one, I feel somewhat connected to it.
Unfortunately, it looks like the first instance is lost in the annals of time. Not even the Wayback Machine (http://archive.org/web/web.php) has a copy of it. While I can’t show what it looked like, I can assure you that it was nothing like the sites of today. In fact, it was mostly text because back in the early 1990’s, digital graphics and images were not only much harder to create, they were nearly impossible to transport across a very immature and slow Internet. When connecting via a 28.8kbps modem, not many people had the patience to wait for a smiley face to load!
The Early Years
The first www.sju.edu site actually was a natural progression from our Gopher server, which was a text-based system that allowed you to share out documents over the Internet, and Usenet, an early way to collaborating with others online.
The first web site ran on software developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In fact, pretty much all of the early software developed for the Internet was developed at colleges and really was intended for academic use primarily. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 90’s that commercial use took off when new companies such as AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy started providing Internet access to the general public.
But I digress. Back to the history of www.sju.edu.
The initial purpose of the site was really to centrally house, and provide easy access to, any and all things SJU. Looking back to the earliest version of the site available through the Wayback Machine, from June 1997 (shown at left), you can see that we referred to it is at the “Campus Wide Information System”. Plus started to have some pretty nifty graphical elements, too. I miss those gargoyles, which were taken from actual photos of the ones that are on the Barbelin/Lonergan building.
In those early days of the web, I spent a lot of time going around asking folks to provide some content, any content, for the site. We would take anything, from descriptions of academic programs to departmental news and meeting minutes, and anything in between. It was really a place to post that information for anyone at SJU to easily access. We really didn’t think of it in terms of student recruitment since most high school students didn’t have access to the Internet at that time.
The site evolved from there over the years. The next full redesign was done around 2000 (who remembers Y2K?) and was on display for the University’s Sesquicentennial celebration in 2001. One important thing to note with the new design was the “Info for” section where we first started targeting information for specific audiences, including external ones.
Riding the Internet Wave
To this point in time, all of the design and development work that went into each new revision of the site was done in-house by IT, University Communications, and Creative Services staff members. At the same time, other universities were following the lead of corporate America and enlisting the services of professional web design firms to take their sites to new levels, primarily to aid in the recruitment of new students.
A Recruiting Tool
So, in 2006, we took that path and enlisted the services of a design firm from Providence, Rhode Island, who had a large amount of experience working with universities, to design our new site that was launched in the fall of 2007. The new design was much more clean than the previous one and really started to show campus off in order to give prospective students a (virtual) feel for campus.
This also marked a decided change in the purpose of the site. It was no longer the “Campus Wide Information System” from the late 90’s but the primary online recruiting tool for the University. While MySJU had been around for a few years, it was during this time that we started to make a concerted effort to move information for current members of Hawk Hill into MySJU in order to optimize the www.sju.edu site for external audiences, particularly prospective students.
Some updates were done to the homepage in 2010 to respond to the needs of all audiences. As shown in the July 2011 version of the homepage, we enhanced the way that news was presented and introduced the new features “Hawk Profiles” and “Campus Experts” to showcase the best and brightest students, faculty, and staff to prospective students. You’ll also see in this version the undergraduate admissions mantra of “Not for Spectators” was introduced to the site to match the recruiting materials they were giving out to high school students.
Where We Stand Today
Our current version of the site was launched in July of 2012 to coincide with the launch of the magis / live greater marketing campaign highlighted by the sponsorship of local TV coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympic games. (I know everyone has seen the commercials by now!) This new version is a continuation 2006 model in that we are really focusing on making it the best recruiting tool possible by incorporating more “immersive imagery” to really give prospective students a feel for how beautiful our campus is and attempting to align our information up with the needs of the primary audiences that are looking at the site, the prospective undergraduate, adult learning, graduate business, and graduate arts & sciences students.
The new site, while certainly not perfect (and we know that), has garnered some critical acclaim for external entities. We got an “honorable mention” in the School/University category from the Webby Awards, which represents recognition in the top 15% of the over 11,000 entries submitted for the 2013 awards.
We also received “Best in Class” award in the University category from the Interactive Media Awards. These are achievements that our team, and hopefully the rest of the University, take great pride in.
Our work is certainly not done. We are working every day to make the site better, to meet the needs of SJU. Having the newest site live for over a year now, we have accumulated a mountain of analytics as well as feedback from various constituents that we are using to identify further changes, fixes, and enhancements to make to the site. In the short term, we’ll be implementing some new features and tweaking things here and there to make the site more effective. But, sticking to our 4-5 year refresh window, we are already starting to think and plan what the next version of www.sju.edu will be. Look out, 2016 is just around the corner!