UMaine Set to Unveil New Website; Updated Format Improves Functionality and Accessibility
Contact: Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571
ORONO – The University of Maine will launch a new website at umaine.edu on Saturday, Aug.15, The site will feature a contemporary appearance, new functionality aimed at communicating effectively with prospective students and other audiences and improved accessibility for users with disabilities.
“The Web is a primary mechanism that we use for communications and marketing activities in support of UMaine’s teaching, research and public engagement activities,” says Joe Carr, director of UMaine’s Dept. of University Relations. “The new format will enhance our online communication capabilities and provide new, more effective ways for UMaine departments to interface with target audiences.”
The new site is built on the open-source WordPress software, adapted by the UMaine Web staff, part of the Dept. of University Relations, to be a content management system and to provide the foundation for the university’s extensive Web presence. This proven system is now being used by hundreds of institutions, including Harvard, the Wall Street Journal, Best Buy, the New York Times, Le Monde, several universities and more.
The format involves two compatible template pages, one slightly narrower than the other, that units and individuals can customize through the selection and placement of “widgets,” plug-and-play pieces that provide functionality for creating customized news feeds, calendars, slideshows, blogs, and much more. With the new system, it is also possible to easily integrate social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The system also allows the university to more effectively communicate with the community in an emergency situation, increasing safety on campus.
“This format is all about Web 2.0,” says Chris Smith, UMaine’s manager of electronic communications. “The Web is at its best and most useful when it is customizable and interactive, and the format we will launch on Saturday provides that functionality in an attractive and easy-to-use way. It also enhances our ability to effectively comply with standards related to users with disabilities, further fulfilling that ongoing institutional commitment to widespread accessibility. We still have some ways to go in completing that important effort, but this is a substantial move in the right direction.”
Saturday’s launch will include umaine.edu, the university’s primary Web page, sites related to university news and UMaine Today Magazine, sites for the UMaine colleges, the president’s office sites and several other pages.
A centerpiece of the redesigned site will be the new undergraduate admissions site, go.umaine.edu. Managed by the Dept. of University Relations and the Dept. of Admissions, this site will feature student blogs, extensive slide shows, student-oriented information about the admission process and life at UMaine, along with details about academic programs. Its emphasis on student-generated content enhances the dynamic nature of the site.
“Communicating effectively with prospective students involves taking a multi-faceted approach through which we work to deliver a consistent message and image,” Carr says. “The Web is perhaps the most important mechanism we can use to reach those students and their families, because it can really bring the student experience to life. Developing this site has been one of our primary focus areas over the past few months, involving hundreds of hours of effort, and the result is state-of-the-art.”
Saturday’s launch represents an important step in a process that will involve further extending UMaine’s new Web brand throughout the university’s extensive Web presence. The three-person central Web staff will work with schools, departments and other units to help them convert, if they wish, to the new format.
“Like any content management system, this new format is easily adapted and users can update their sites through their browsers, for free, and without using pricey Web authoring software that requires specific expertise,” Smith says. “We will work with units to convert the material on their current sites to the new format, provide training necessary to make updates and to work toward desired enhancements. We’re certain that those who manage websites will enjoy the new format and find the content management system to be user-friendly.”
Unit website managers interested in scheduling a conversion or gaining more information should contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 581-3744.
To optimally utilize the new site, users are encouraged to update their Web browsers. In fact, the site will not work properly with Internet Explorer 6.0, a nine-year-old browser that also creates online security vulnerabilities and is no longer supported by a number of Web providers. Links to sites that will provide simple instructions about downloading free updates are at www.umaine.edu.