Stand Out! Customize Your Institution’s Social Media Presence

This morning I presented to a group of ~80 higher education colleagues who work in creative services offices for colleges and universities across the country. My session, Stand Out! Customize Your Institution’s Social Media Presence went beyond yesterdays Social Media 101 session and got under the hood with seven social networking sites to equip these designers with the specs and knowledge needed to customize their college’s presence.

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Image Library: Moving from Extensis Portfolio to Google’s Picasa

Photo of an old library catalogWe’ve been using Extensis Portfolio Server and clients for five years between two departments, Public Affairs and Design & Printing Services, to attempt to organize our digital image library of nearly 50,000 images. We’re also starting to store videos on this same server. We have a mixed environment of PC and Mac platforms. The PCs automatically map a network drive to the dedicated server through a Novell login script when we login to our computers everyday. The Macs mount the server via Finder > Go > Connect to Server.

When we initially purchased Extensis, we figured it would take a year or so to get up to speed, get everything cataloged, add metadata, etc. before we would start to see a return on our investment in terms of the time it would save us in finding images for print and electronic projects. This couldn’t be further from the case. This product has been extremely hard to use, slow, and is not overly intuitive for basic users. As a die-hard iPhoto user for over four years for personal use, I’ve been in search of a comparable product for our multi-platform, multi-user networked environment.

I’ve tweeted a number of times in recent months about my displeasure with Extensis and search for a new solution. Extensis was even listening on Twitter and another vendor’s forum in which I posted, and offered to have a senior sales engineer call me to discuss our concerns. We had that phone call, and it didn’t help. Their software just doesn’t meet our needs. Michael Santoroski responded to one of my tweets earlier this week and put me in touch with his colleague Whitney Anderson, who sent me a very detailed e-mail about their switch from Portfolio to Picasa. She blogged about it over at High on Web with the detailed pros and cons list she sent me. We’re just starting to implement this solution, so we have not yet tested it in all of our use cases, in particular multi-user update. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

Picasa is the best solution I have found for us. Not only is it user-friendly and extremely fast, it’s free – big differences from Extensis Portfolio.


But wait, what about my meta data?

One of our primary concerns in deciding whether to make the switch was whether we would get all of our meta data we’ve put into our Extensis catalogs over the years back out and into Picasa. It was a bit of a challenge, but we did figure it out.

Using your Extensis Portfolio client, open your catalog(s) and select all of the images within. Control (Mac) / right (PC) click on one of the images. Choose “embed properties” from the sub-menu, then “view metadata settings…” The two main fields in the catalog we were most concerned with were “keywords” and “IPTC-creator” (photographer credit). Select each of those on the left side, and on the right side (‘where to embed the field data’), map them to “IPTC-keywords.” This embeds the meta data you had entered in Extensis into the image file itself, which now makes the terms searchable within Picasa.


Test thoroughly before complete abandonment

My Senior Web Producer and I are still testing this switchover and have not deployed it to the rest of our department or other areas yet. As soon as we’re done testing in the coming week, we plan to write a guide for Mac and PC with installation and setup instructions. While it will be quite specific to our environment, if seeing this guide would be a helpful starting point for you, please leave me a comment below or contact me directly, and I’ll be happy to share.


What’s your story?

What digital asset management tool do you use? Do you have a custom-built tool, or do you use a commercial product? Are you happy with it?



I left this position about a year after this post and did not make any further progress with this project during that time. A draft of an internal guide was written, but was not available for public circulation. I no longer use these tools in my new position.

Taking the idea of a cohesive Web template in a slightly different direction

Photo of a cowboy falling off a horseEarlier this week I wrote about reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive Web presence. Todd Sanders (@tsand) from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, had the gall to disagree with me (“for the first time EVER,” I’ll have you note), arguing that the art department shouldn’t look like the business department Web site. While I kid about his gall, I actually had to break it to him that we didn’t make history – we actually do agree on this.

Before you run away calling me a hypocrite, let’s explore this.

Art programs should do what they do best – express themselves creatively. Business programs probably don’t need to be as bold and edgy as an art program would, as they attract a different type of student. I’m not saying business program sites should be stodgy and traditional. Just different.

There are great benefits to using templates across all units of the university, but I do believe there are projects where it is appropriate to stray a bit from the cookie-cutter template. These “other sites” should still be very clear they are part of the overall university identity, but there are a number of ways to do this visually, without forcing them to conform to the standard university template.

At the university I work for, we created a new template for the School of Fine & Performing Arts, and are nearly finished with our year-long project to convert all of the departments and programs within into this new template. Their template is quite different than the overall university template that all other academic and administrative programs use. However – their School still has a cohesive School-wide presence, and there are elements in their template that tie it in to the standard university template.

We’re embarking on a redesign project of the main template and site to go along with the university’s new branding initiative. Part of our challenge will be marry the different templates together, and still clearly project our new creative strategy. I love a good challenge.

I don’t think this approach makes my previous post null and void. I still think there are many appropriate times to use the steps I outlined and push for the standard template. But, I think in the case of the example Todd brought up in the comments, he’s right. What do you think?


Flickr photo by Bill Gracey

eBook Review: The eduStyle Guide to Usable Higher-Ed Homepage Design

As a team leader of an upcoming redesign project, The eduStyle Guide to Usable Higher-Ed Homepage Design was very useful to me. My favorite section: Recommendations. I got more take aways and ideas of what to do (and what not to do) from that one section of every university’s review than anything else in the entire book. I don’t necessarily agree with all of their recommendations – but was convinced of their perspective and credence established based on most other comments. (Cornell – “groundbreaking design?”)

photo of the edustyle bookIt’s clever to break down universities with their pertinent stats to give their page a bit of context — the size of their internal community, where they physically reside in the country, who their primary competitors may be, etc.

Pet peeve throughout the book: URLs that end in .com/.edu, etc. should not have a trailing slash at the end.

A wide variety of design implementations are thoroughly reviewed and explored. It gave me a great synopsis of the types of features I’d like to incorporate into our redesign, and visual ideas of how to accomplish them. I was convinced of design styles to stay away from (low contrast links with the background color behind them) and that RSS icons can and should be incorporated (along with the being able to subscribe to the feed within the browser location bar – not just the icons).

Can you get most of this info on the site? Mostly. But, it wouldn’t be as concise as a 95 page handy guide at your finger tips with an easy to read/reference format – especially the Positives & Recommendations section after each home page screen shot. (Ok, so the site does that too – but not all of the comments are written with such care and professionalism, and sometimes turn into a conversation/debate.)

If you’re going through an upcoming redesign/refresh, are new to higher ed, or are looking for ammunition to clean up your home page and/or add new features, buy it. Read it. It’s worth it.