TNT5: Homepage Survival Guide: How to Raise Content from the Dead

Brad Mitchell 
New Media Producer, Missouri State University

Sara Clark 
Director of Web and New Media, Missouri State University

The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at

Announcer: This is one in a series of podcasts from the HighEdWeb Conference in Austin 2011.

Moderator: From Missouri State University, we have Sara Clark and Brad Mitchell. Take it away.


Brad Mitchell:
Can anybody hear me in the back at all? No? A little bit? Is that better? No? I could talk like this the whole time. OK.

Sara Clark:
Everybody hear me OK? I'm loud.

Brad Mitchell: You got the good mike.

Sara Clark: Thank you.

Brad Mitchell: You're welcome.

Sara Clark: Well, welcome to "Homepage Survival Guide: How to Raise Content from the Dead". We are TNT5, so please use that if you're going to tweet so we can follow and answer any questions you might have.

Am I still too loud? Yeah. How about now? Is that better? All right.


Well, my name is Sara Clark. I'm the Director of Web and New Media from Missouri State.

Brad Mitchell: My name is Brad Mitchell. I'm the New Media Producer at Missouri State. I don't know what else to say after that slide.

Sara Clark: We do have a third presenter; he's just not here. Many of you that know Chad Killingsworth, he was really the technical behind us. He walked into the woods in June and we haven't been able to see him since. We only track him via GPS location and that's where we think he might have been.


Sara Clark: And just one more housekeeping detail, I'll just tell you a little bit about Missouri State.

Main campus located in Springfield, Missouri. Some of you may have been there. Twenty-thousand infected. Mission in public affairs, gives students distinction, preparation for living in the undead world. We have 150 undergrad and 45 grad programs, including some doctoral programs.


On to the real presentation. We're here today to talk about a stream. And you're probably wondering what is a stream. On the left side is a screenshot of what our stream looks like.

The first thing about is it's not really a feed, it's rather an animated corpse that feeds on living things. And what we mean by that is it's not a single feed. It's not one thing coming in. It's from a whole bunch of sources. It's a stream of multiple feeds with content coming from a whole bunch of different places.

It's like a lifestream, but for an institution, for those of you that are familiar with that term, a lifestream usually is talking about one person and where they are and what they're doing, but this is a lifestream for the university so it's all of the offices' lifestreams put together into one to help show what the university is and what the university can do.


If you want to think of it this way also, it's a Facebook news feed with multiple sources coming in.

It is a voodoo spell, if you want to think of it that way, that raises content from the dead. We have people all over campus that are posting things in all sorts of little places and holes, and we have a hard time finding it. So what this does, it allows us to find all those pieces, bring them together into one, and make everybody know where those things are without having to go hunt them down.

A lot of universities have a social media site where they just list all the sources that people can check; they link out to the student organization Facebook page and they link out here to their Twitter stream and they link out here to that. Well, we thought that we want to take it one level more to actually not make them go through all those sources to see the content but to pull together into one stream that then they could be able to see everything without having to know where they were going or where it was coming from or what was happening.

And we thought this was a way to be able to showcase that the university really is doing a lot of stuff, that we're engaging, that there's a lot of change, it's not always going to be the same every time they come to our homepage, that everything fits together. So bringing all this content together made it be a lot more useful.


And we have learned that people that don't know how to Facebook or tweet or anything else can still get all the content that's coming out just by coming to our homepage.

And it does move or act in a daze or automatic fashion in that it does run by itself every two minutes, so we have new items that come into our stream continuously without us having to do anything.

The only downside, I'll tell you, is when we were actually talking about building the stream during our redesign, we had half of our committee that had no idea what we were talking about and the other half of our committee that had this vision of what we wanted.

The half that didn't know what we were talking about was saying, "Just show us an example of what you mean," and we couldn't find one anywhere. So we had to create it on our own, because it was something that we knew how we could pull it together but we didn't quite know exactly what it was going to look like.


Brad Mitchell: My turn. Can you guys hear me at all? Back there? OK, good. Sorry, I can't tell.

We're going to be scientific now. The virus we're talking about, this 'content-ium'. Content-ium, you have to keep this thing in check or it's going to spread out of control. You guys know how easily content can get out of control.

Source of content-ium: social media and RSS. That's where all this content is coming from that we're talking about.

Transference is original source of the stream. We're taking these sources, these social media sources, these RSS sources, pulling it into the stream.

Now as far as symptoms go, let's think of your average user, your average new user. Say they discovered Facebook for the first time. The first thing is initial overexcitement with a slight fever. As they use it a little more, slight dementia sets in. Over time, they start feeling numbness, paralysis, and eventually leads to zero brain activity.


Infection. This is where we got the idea. We were infected with the idea, we got bit by the idea. Here's why we wanted to build the stream.

The first thing is build a stronghold, and what we mean by that is basically building a community. We wanted to build a community, show all these things happening on our homepage and all these other various pages.

The second thing is flash mob of the undead. Imagine the "Thriller" video where you have zombies coming together and dancing and having a really good time. That's what we were going for, a flash mob. We wanted this to be a one-stop resource for everyone to come to. You can always come to the homepage, see the stream, you can see everything that's happening. One-stop resource.

Maintaining communication. We wanted to show campus activity. Whenever you see the stream, you see a whole lot of things happening on there. You can see all the activity that's happening on campus, shows the campus is alive, it's not just a static page, you don't know what's going on, and anytime you can see what's happening on campus.


Finally, everyone wants to be on the homepage. Everyone knows what this is all about. Tying with the whole zombie theme, zombies are really mainstream right now. They're really popular. Even people pretend that they want to be zombies.

So everybody wants to be there. Everybody wants to be on the homepage. This gives us an excuse to put them on the homepage. If they're on the stream, one of their sources is coming onto the stream, they're technically on the homepage.

But saying that, this isn't just an excuse to just dump a bunch of data and tell people they're on the homepage. We're still very selective about what actually makes it onto the stream.

Now I'm going to go through all of our weapons. And when I talk about weapons I mean sources.


Our shotgun is Facebook. When you think about Facebook, it has a large spread. When you post something on Facebook, this content spreads. It goes everywhere. It's big and loud and shiny, just like a shotgun. And n00bs love it. When you ask somebody, you think of what their first social media experience is, it's always Facebook. N00bs are always on Facebook.

Our second weapon is a crowbar, which is Twitter. Twitter is simple and efficient. We're talking about 140 characters here. Secondly, it's great for hitting people over the head with things repeatedly. By that I mean retweeting things. You can hit people over the head a lot of times.

Our third weapon is the medieval maze, which is Flickr. Flickr is becoming antiquated, just like a maze. Secondly, it's large, heavy and sometimes unwieldy. We're still using Flickr for all of our photosourcing. It's maybe not the best site at this point because as you see it's becoming antiquated, but this is what we're using for photos.


The sword is our blogs. Blogs are really efficient in their use. They can be used really quickly and quietly. It's really simple for somebody to go make a blog post, pull that in. But if you're thinking about a sword and blogs, they can be dangerous in the hands of the untrained. You have to be careful that people know how to use a blog correctly.

The next weapon is a crossbow, and that's our RSS feeds. RSS feeds are powerful yet simple, and they work nearly silently and they will not attract hordes. When you think of RSS feeds, they're happening in the background. The zombie hordes don't really know that these things are happening, your users, it's all happening in the background. It works really well.

The next weapon is a chainsaw, which is YouTube. YouTube's loud and the noise attracts the undead, just like a chainsaw. But the thing with YouTube is that it's often mistaken as a 'magic bullet' solution, it's something easy. We all know making a video, that takes a time. Just like a chainsaw, it requires gas to run, it's big and loud. So you have to just make sure you've got the gasoline to run something like this.


The land mine is Foursquare. We have Foursquare coming into our stream. It is location-based. But it's also something, we just set it and hope for the best. A tool like Foursquare is really interesting because we can check in, like when there's an event, let's say this event's happening now and it shows up on the stream, people know it's happening at this moment. But it's not the most engaging thing, so like a land mine, we set it and hope for the best and walk away from it.

Our final weapon. The machine gun is our Master Calendar. It's designed for saturation. Basically there's lots of little bullets, and by that I mean calendar events. There's just lots and lots of events anywhere from 20 to 40 or 50 a day. But in the end, we decided to keep this separate from the stream. There's just so much information, it was just going to overload the stream. We do have it sitting right next to the stream on our homepage, but they are separate things.


One thing is if there's a really big event on campus, we're already promoting that through social media, so that stuff's making it into our stream. So that gave us an excuse to keep the Master Calendar separate from everything else.

Sara Clark: Now that Brad has told you about all these different weapons, those were all the things that we knew we wanted to bring together into the stream. We had those coming from lots of different places and lots of different people.

We knew that we had to put them together into our weapons cache. We had to have this one place where we were going to put everything together, and for us, that was a big database. So we had to make sure that we knew where things were coming from, what they were supposed to do, what their avatar was going to be, whether or not they were active, whether or not they were working, and we had to put them all in one source.


But we really did have to choose our weapons carefully because we knew that Student Organization may have a Twitter account and they may have a Facebook account and they probably say the exact same thing and are posted at the exact same time and automated to be all the same, and we only need one of those. We don't need both of them. So we had to pick selectively which sources we wanted to bring in. So we didn't bring in everything.

After we had all the sources together, we knew we had to go ahead and figure out how we were going to use these sources, because not every source is applicable for every page. So we grouped the sources by audience.

Some of the sources show on our current students page, some of the sources show on our homepage, some of the sources show on our ResLife page, and the reason for that is we wanted to tailor those streams to the audience of who was going to be looking at and what they needed and what they'd be able to use.

Finally, you always have to care for your tools. We had to structure it so that we knew if things were breaking or we knew if they were working. So what we did was we set up an errors table that every time one of our sources failed, it would put the error message and the time and date into a table, make you go back and see, is Facebook always failing, is it just failing now and again, what's going on with it.


And we put in some response headers so we could actually see in our website whether or not things were loading behind the scenes to know that everything was coming together.

This has been really important for us because if we hadn't set up all of that error tracking, we wouldn't know why the blog post didn't come into the homepage this morning or we wouldn't know that Foursquare changed its API or Facebook made a change and we no longer have certain things coming in. So we really had to plan for that ahead to make sure that everything was going to work long-term.

Once you have all your tools assembled, you have your weapons in your cache, you're ready to go on the attack and do some zombie-hunting, you have to have some strategies. Otherwise, it's not going to work.


The first strategy is, let them come to you. We know that everybody's posting about everything you can possibly think of on Facebook and Twitter and everywhere from all these different sources, and we just wanted them all to come to us.

We knew that they weren't going to be something that we had to ask them to do; they were already doing it. It's just no one knew to go to the Student Activities Council Facebook page to be able to find out the Homecoming details. It just wasn't there for some of the people that were trying to find out about those things. So we knew, let them come to us.

We also knew we had to be thorough. We had to make sure that every time that we were going to go out there and find our sources, we'd have to go back again later. So what we did was we wrote an activity StreamScraper program, which basically goes out, looks at all of our sources, gets in new content, pulls them into a database table, and marks them as something that's going to show on the stream.

We knew that it was going to have to run continuously because everybody's talking continuously, but we also knew that it had to run so that if someone made a change or someone deleted a post, it would actually go away from the homepage stream as well.


We knew we had to have an escape route. We're building this whole big database table structure of all of these different sources and all of these different items and everything that's pulling together, and if that database goes down, basically most of our homepage goes down because we're waiting for all that content to come into our stream. So we set it up with a caching mechanism on the server to where if the database goes down, the homepage still is up with the latest version of whatever had been showing on the stream.

This has worked really well for us because when something fails, like when Facebook fails when we're trying to talk to it, then it doesn't pull down the whole thing. They can reboot the database server without the homepage having to be down at the same time. The key is just to make sure we don't clear that app pool.

But the other part of it is that we also know that because we're caching things, everything is time-delayed. So if we make mistakes, then we know what we need to do to make it happen immediately.


For example, we often post blog posts where you start it on Tuesday and you're putting all the content together and you actually publish it on Thursday, and when you publish it, it has Tuesday's date because that's when you started it. So we knew we could have a way to easily clear things out and easily fix it up so that we could make it work properly.

And then the last thing was, we knew we had to focus on the voodoo zombies and not the Hollywood zombies. How many of you know the difference between the voodoo zombies and the Hollywood zombies? All right. Three.

The difference is the voodoo zombies actually think and they have emotions and the Hollywood zombies are just for entertainment. For us, the voodoo zombies are what we're doing. We're actually planning out our marketing plan, we're putting together our strategies, we're setting up what we're going to say, and we wanted those things to be first and prioritized.


The Hollywood zombies are all those other posts and things that are happening out there that we'd like to have on our homepage but aren't critical things. Like when our bear, our big metal bear on campus says, "It's a sunny day. Hope you have a great day," that's a Hollywood zombie that's coming in from our Twitter.

So what we did was we have it prioritized to where the StreamScraper only runs for a limited time and it goes through all the priority sources first, and if it can, it goes to the rest of the sources, and if it can't, then it just waits for the next cycle.

If we're really active as the university, as the main account, we're going to get all those things there, and the other things will come in as there's time. It really hasn't been that big of an issue, but we just knew that we didn't want something about the bear to show up instead of the president's blog post.

The other thing we knew is that we had to actually gather intelligence about what we were trying to do, because we had to make the stuff that was coming into the stream to be something that people actually would want to see.


We knew if it was just text coming in from feeds that people weren't going to be reading it, so we were trying to make it an experience to where they could actually scan things, see things, and make it a little bit better. We made it to where the photos actually show up in the actual stream. So if you're using a photo on Facebook and you've gone out of your way to make your Facebook more engaging, it actually comes across.

The other thing we did was, here it talks about if people have commented on it and if people like it, so you can see how much activity is happening there. We have some plans for how to extend that later on, too.

Here's an example of a YouTube, and it's showing that there's actually a video that you can click on if you wanted to see more about this particular speaker. But it's showing up right in that stream, so it's just like Facebook in a way where you can see what's going on, what you're going to get. You don't have to read a lot unless you really are engaged by the content.


And then here's another example where we had an audio file and it was talking about the State of the University Address. You can click and listen right to it. We have a lot of iTunes U content that comes into our stream this way, too, so they'll be able to see and know what they're getting into.

The other thing we knew is that all of these sources are coming into the page and that it was going to be hard to determine what was what and where it was coming from and who was saying what. So we knew we had to actually take all of the avatars and build them in such a way to where you could quickly look at it and see where the source was, what it was from, who was saying what. It's like when you go on Facebook and you just scroll down, look at everybody's pictures and pick out the person you want to read from. That's the same experience we want to have.

And we spent some time, some of the avatars like this one is their actual avatar, but we were able to override it, too, so that we can actually show things that wouldn't necessarily be their Facebook avatar or their Twitter avatar.


Brad Mitchell: Now I'm going to get into immunizations. And what we mean by immunizations are just issues that came up, problems we had, how we addressed those problems.

The first one was virus replication. What I mean by that is duplication of items. This was a huge problem for us at the beginning. We would have, for instance, four different posts that all said the same thing or pointed to the same thing. So the solution was to basically catch duplicate links. We added code that looks and sees, if that link's been posted once, the next time it comes in from another source, it doesn't include that on the stream.

A good example is, a news release would be posted, it would come in the stream, and then another department might think that it's good, engaging content so they just re-post that news release on their Facebook page. Which maybe isn't the greatest idea, but they would do this all the time. Every time we'd have a news release, we'd have it a second time right after.

So catching those duplicate links was great so you only see one thing at a time. That also works with all shortened URLs like bitly and things like that.


Audience 1: [Indiscernible]

Brad Mitchell: Yeah. No, it's just the first one that comes in. I've had issues where I'm posting something, say, to Facebook and Twitter, and I want the Facebook one to come in because it will be a little more engaging with comments and likes, so I'll do that first, wait two minutes because I know the stream's picked it up, and then post to Twitter.

Remain invisible is another one. What I mean by that is simplifying links. I'm sure a lot of you have seen people posting a URL on their Facebook page and it's five lines long. Here's an example of one. This from our Athletics Department. This whole thing here is a link. That's a major part of their content.


A lot of people don't know how to handle these links correctly, so what we decided to do was just add this verbage that says, "visit link." You can see this example here, it's the same thing, same exact post. This simply says, "visit link." So every time somebody just puts a URL in there, it catches it and just says, "visit link," and then just links back to that.

Audience 1: [Indiscernible]

Brad Mitchell: That's a good question.

Sara Clark: The reason why we didn't do that is we didn't want to rely on bitly to be any part of the experience, because if it wasn't available for some crazy war reason or something that we had everything working still.

We wanted to make it be a little bit more engaging and be able to say like 'watch video' or 'do this' or 'do that', but we never really knew what link they were putting in there so we just decided this was a simple solution and made it a little bit better in the long run.

Brad Mitchell: The next, immunization. This is the greatest debate in the history of zombiedom. I just made that word up. Slow zombies versus fast zombies.


When I'm talking about a slow zombie, imagine a department that blogs once every three months. When you think of a fast zombie, think of a department that posts 10 tweets in a matter of two minutes. That's a fast zombie.

The problem was, a fast zombie was taking over the entire stream when they were posting. We have a department, they like to batch-upload YouTube videos. They'll upload 20-, 30-second clips in a row with no description, no title, it's whatever the file name is on that video. The entire stream would be that whenever they started uploading their videos.

So the solution to this...oh yeah, and overposting, that's what I'm talking about here. The solution was just to limit to one post every 30 minutes per source. And when I'm saying 'source' I mean a department. If they have a Facebook and a Twitter, if they make one Facebook post, anything that posts anywhere else for the next 30 minutes is not going to come in the stream. Just that one thing.


There is an exception: us. We get to post more than that. Just the high-level university things like us, Athletics can do this. Basically, news, anything we're in charge of, we have that exception. But this really helps just settle those fast zombies down a little bit.

Another issue: obey the law. And what I mean by that is inappropriate content. We had a source, it's a student athletics group, and one time they posted, 'Let's kick ass this weekend,' or something along those lines. We decided we maybe didn't want that on a major part of the homepage, so what we decided to do is basically just removing those outlaw sources, or as it says here, "Remove the head or destroy the brain." You've just got to kill it, get rid of it. We haven't added them since.

Another issue talking about outlaw sources is, there's a lot of what we call rogue sources, like unofficial sources. On our campus, each Res Hall has a Facebook group or a Facebook page, but it's just maintained by students. Res Hall wants that on the stream on their page, which makes sense, but we don't want that stuff showing up anywhere else because it's technically a rogue source.


So we just had to keep track of who's in charge of these sources. The student athletics group is a great example because the stuff they were posting, we didn't want that showing up on the stream.

The next one is overrunning hordes. What I mean by that is capacity issues. We had to be really cautious of how long it takes the Scraper job, how long it takes to look at each source. Every time we add another source, it takes more time for us to run this job.

We currently have 91 sources coming into all of our streams. It takes less than a minute, quite a bit less than a minute to run, but this thing's posting every two minutes. We have to be really careful not to just add source after source after source.


What we've done is we're just really conservative about who we add to the stream. We limit the number of streams we have on our sites, and then, again, limit the number of sources, be really conservative about who actually gets to post things to one of the streams.

Sara Clark: Let's go ahead and show you some of our recorded attacks or places where we've actually used these streams. This is pulled from our homepage.

I'm going to go ahead and load it up so that you can see it. Maybe.

Brad Mitchell: Great. I have an email, everybody. These projectors are great. OK, that's not working.


Sara Clark: Yeah. We'll go back.

This is what it looks like. This is a little segment of it. The main characteristic about being on the homepage is this stream is custom.

Over here on the right side is our calendar of events. It's showing the events that are going to happen today that are not part of the stream, because we couldn't figure out how to put an event that's happening at 2 inside of the stream with everything else. So we're just keeping the two things separate.

But then over on the left we have our news at the top, but then this is all the stream content here, and it goes on for a pretty long ways where you can actually scroll down and see it.

What we've noticed is that a lot of people are actually coming to the homepage to see what's happening now, and we've noticed that people know about things that are happening a lot more.

And when people say, 'I need this to be on the homepage. It's really important. We thank all the campus for unplugging all their computers over the weekend,' I say, 'I can do that.' I'll make a Facebook post and it will be on the homepage, they get their screenshot and they're good to go, and I don't have to worry about finding a photo or making a big announcement about it or making it happen.


One thing we have done with the homepage is you have to have at least two audiences that you impact before we'll actually add you to the stream. By audiences we have future students, current students, faculty and staff, parents and family, and alumni. You have to affect at least two of those five audiences before we'll actually put you into this stream. So it can't be just current students, it can't be just alumni, it can't be just faculty and staff.

That has helped us narrow these things down a little bit as well.

Another recorded attack is our current students page. We actually labeled this one as "Student life updates" here at the top. Only student items show on this page, so we've tried to narrow it down to be a little bit more open that it can be the Student Activities Councils or it can be the Panhellenic. It can be everything that's going on here to pull all that stuff together.


And it's been really good because we have sources like the Public Affairs right here where that's our admission as a university to develop those citizens in bringing that content in as coming from a student in that area as well. So it's just kept everything current and allowed everything to come in one place.

I think people have also learned, too, that not only can they follow the stream that's on the page but then they can actually see that there are other things they want to follow on Facebook and things like that. It helps them identify some of those real sources.

Our Residence Life and Services recently put a stream on their page as well. What they have is each, almost every building house has its own Facebook page, and we're pulling those Facebook posts in. These are some of those Hollywood zombies, I would say. "Who's excited for homecoming next week?" That's all it says.


But this is on the Residence Life and Services homepage, and what that does is when a student comes to see what's going on on campus or figure out where they're going to live or figure out what the students are saying or what they're talking about, it's actually a real-time look at everything that's going on.

And then the Residence Life official blog also comes in here as well.

Our Public Affairs has a stream as well. I think one thing I'll note here is that this is all on their own. We're not really helping them out a whole bunch on here. So you notice all the avatars are kind of the same, but they're not really, like this one right here is Facebook and this one right here is Twitter, because they really like their logo and don't want to change it up a whole lot.


Sara Clark: But at least they're posting and they're keeping some things fresh. And they've been able to do this. We set it up for them and then they just do all the social media and we don't have to do a lot for them and we can pull this stuff into the homepage. I think what we've done is just pulled one of these sources into the homepage because it is so confusing, and then let them have multiple sources within their own site.


Here's the President's website. It also has a stream. He doesn't have a lot of content, but we produce all of his content. We have a video here from the State of the University Address and the audio, and this is his "Clif's Notes", his name is Clif, so that we can have the newsletter out there.

But what it does, even though it's not necessarily happening all the time really quickly, it is those last five, 10 things that he's communicated to the campus, and it's easy to find those things.

And it has been a good way for when he's doing things, like when he's on a radio show, we can add that in here, or if he's posted an article in the Missouri State Magazine, the alumni publication, we've added that in here, too. It's a way for us to show that he's in a lot of different places pulled together in one spot.

And we've been able to brand his stuff so that you can tell what's going on, make sure we do all the engagement of the photos and everything so that it pulls that together into one presence.


But we do have to train constantly. We set up the stream, it got really good reviews across campus, everybody is able to use it, know what's going on. But no one knows what it's called. No one knows how to get on it, really. They're not connecting two and two.

And I think that's fine, because a lot of the people that we're showing all the social media to are those people that would never be on social media, and if they were, it might be two minutes once a month. It's just enlightening them to everything that's happening.

Some of the things that we've done is we did a podcast in our Web inSites edition that just talked about, 'This is a stream. This is how you get on the stream. This is how you would get a Facebook page. This is how you would talk to us about it,' just so that every time anyone asks us about it, we have a consistent way to be able to share that with them.

We also have done several blog posts about what the stream is and how it works. We have a web guild, which is a professionals' group of people who actually do just Web as their job, and we talk to them about the ins and the outs of what the stream is and how they could use it and how it could be reused on their sites.


Audience 2: It's dead.

Sara Clark: It is!

Audience 3: The zombie got it!

Sara Clark: Yes!

The last thing we do is we write a lot of guidance, because we are constantly explaining to everybody what it means to be on the stream and how it works.

And it's a good thing for us because now we're able to not only tell them about the stream but to give them suggestions on how they could make the stream better, how not doing the same thing on Facebook and Twitter, or maybe they don't need two accounts, but it's just another way for us to touch with them because it's not just them talking to Facebook and themselves anymore. Now they also want to be on the homepage. So they're willing to open up a little bit and maybe change their strategies around a little bit.


We do have some things that we're planning to do in the future.

We want to integrate a 'Like' button so that when you're looking at a Facebook item you can 'like' it and it shows another 'Like' that shows right there. The problem with that is you have to be fan of a page to 'like' something, and like I was saying, no one has to be a fan to see our stream. So it's a little complicated there. We're still working through that.

We want to be able to retweet from the stream and build that up.

We want to be able to have the links for the comments on the blog and the Facebook right there in the stream so you can click, type it in, and it has the other comment right associated with it.

We also want to have a feed of the entire stream we pulled everything altogether into this one consistent way. It would be nice if someone could subscribe to it in their RSS reader and then be able to have everything in other ways as well.

We'd also like to have a 'Share' button so that people can share those things, but sharing an item is different depending on where it came from, or maybe that came from Facebook but they want to share it via Twitter. We're still trying to work through some of those things as well.


And what we didn't want to do was have this consistent 'share' thing that's going to show up 17 times on the screen on every single item, like how you can put those things on a news release and it doesn't look so bad but if you had it 17 times on the page it would look a little overwhelming.

And then the last thing is we also want the items to auto-load. Right now it's whatever you get when the page loads, and when you come back you get whatever you get, so it's not like it's automatically updating or it doesn't tell you that there are new items waiting for you.

Any questions? Yes.

Audience 4: Talk a little bit about the back end.

Sara Clark: Yes. It's a SQL database and it's a .NET app that runs on the server. That's a programmed com that runs on the server every so many minutes that goes out there and pulls those things back. It was written in C Sharp and then the front side is just HTML that's pulling that stuff out.


Audience 4: It was all written in-house?

Sara Clark: It was all written in-house, all by Chad in the middle of the woods, yeah.


Sara Clark: Yeah?

Audience 5: This is more of a comment, but I just thought, I really enjoyed the talk but one of the things it reminded me of when you were talking about watching out for sources that talk too much, the people that twice a month write something versus someone that's 10 times a day, it reminds me of a Facebook page that I administer.

I have a bunch of RSS feeds collecting stuff onto it, but I didn't want it to suffer from an event like the health care system, between all their blogs they might have like eight new things all in one day, but I don't want them all to show up. So there's this tool that I use. It has a thing that lets you decide how often to check, how often to refresh, and when it posts, how many to post. So I might say, 'You check this thing once a day, but only ever post two things.'


Sara Clark: Yeah, I've seen...

Audience 5: And the next time you come back it says, 'Oh, I already posted these, but this is something else.'

Now, it's a problem with the stuff if you're talking about you want everything to be super, super current, but our news releases, it checks in the hour, so on the blog it checks every few days.

Sara Clark: Yeah. I know what you're talking about. I've seen that on Facebook, too.

I think our main goal was to make the stream be as current as possible, so the moment it's available, it's changing it up versus holding things back for later.

Audience 5: Yeah. And the tool that I use, it's got an add-on. It's like an app. It's called RSS Review. I also use that on my personal Facebook because I'm a prolific photographer and I was having some people who were saying, 'Oh, I really, really like those pictures. Oh, my God, you've got to stop this thing!' because I would upload all these pictures of deviant art and there would be 25 in a row. So now it only does three a day. And even if I stopped posting, it wouldn't start itself the way I want.


Brad Mitchell: I was going to say another reason we did it where we're limited to 30 posts, that's another excuse for us to give people guidance. 'Here's how you should be using social media. You should not be posting five things at once. Spread it throughout the day.' When they know that it's not going to show up on the stream for 30 minutes, I'm forcing them to do it the way I want them to do it. Kind of.

That's just one approach, I'll just admit that. But it helps give them guidance as to using it correctly, which is great.

Sara Clark: Yeah?

Audience 6: So you're posting not just on the homepage but also these other sub-sites. What kind of options can we set up for that? I mean, obviously source, but...

Sara Clark: The options as far as...?

Audience 6: If you are to post apartments or the housing sites, you can choose obviously the source that you want to show there, but is it a wonderful thing?

Sara Clark: No. Right now, it's just basically the sources.


We tag things by the audience that they're for so that they can show up on that current students page, but then we also categorize them by a group so that we can show them where we want to show them.

Since we've been so conservative, right now our strategy is that if we want to have a new stream somewhere, actually showing the stream really isn't intensive, but if the stream is only going to contain sources we already have, great. If it's going to mean we have to add six new sources to it so they can have a stream of all new stuff, then we're probably not going to go stream and we're probably going to go a different route and just have a feed of something. So we've kept that feed in our back pocket and the stream is a little bit more conservative right now.


Audience 7: What do you consider the measurable successes?

Sara Clark: I would say the measurable successes are the actions that happen because people know about things, whether they participate in something that's online or they attend an event.


It seems like most of our stream stuff is event-driven, promotion of things that they want them to do. I mean, it's not like you can directly measure unless you're going to survey how they found out about the event, but I think it's just a little bit more knowledge and engagement.

And it's been interesting to me as I talk to people across campus about what they understand and how they found out about it or what they know, they don't seem to have any problem going through the stream and seeing what's on there. But some of them, if I say, 'Did you check out the Missouri State Facebook page this morning? We posted this thing,' they'd be like, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.'

I think that in and of itself, because at the educational standpoint of letting everybody know that all this stuff is out there, they just didn't know it was there or wanted to use it at any point.

Brad Mitchell: I have also noticed people, if asked if how they found out, they said, 'Oh, it's on the homepage,' and I'm like, 'Really? I don't remember us posting that as, our homepage, I think it's the big things.' But it was on Facebook. They didn't realize it was from Facebook, sort of thing. So it's just another way, I think a lot of people are just, they're going there to find out what's going on and just, like you said, engaging them.


Sara Clark: Any other questions? Yes.

Audience 8: Since the stream treats every item as equal, in other words they all get the same treatment, were you slightly tempted to have a little way if you could anchor a certain item if there's something really, really good, if you don't want to visit your downstream, because everybody's not watching the homepage or whichever page all day, so they necessarily miss a lot. What if there's something really great you didn't want them to miss, that you wanted it to persist longer?

Brad Mitchell: Ah, my Gmail.

Sara Clark: You want to read his Gmail? Sorry.

Sort of. I think that when we... It's gone again. Oh. I have an idea. No, not that idea. I want to make it not full-screen. You can do that. Look at that!



This is our homepage blown up. Up here at the top, we have a huge photo area. When we add something that we want to stick, we put it in the photo area. We don't rely on the stream to be able to do it. And then down below, we have another photo area of our news that sticks, so we put things there when we need them to show. And then we have another promo area over here that sticks.

We've tried to avoid the temptation of making our stuff stay on the stream and make the stream be actually active, because we have all this other real estate that we can control to be able to stick those important things that we want to have there. We constantly get photo requests and things like that, too.

So it hasn't ended up being that big of an issue.

Audience 9: [Indiscernible]


Sara Clark: Yeah.

Brad Mitchell: I want to say 25.

Sara Clark: It's cut off on around 25 here. And when you go to older items, it goes even further.

Brad Mitchell: It's, I think, a week's worth or something like that on this page. Sort of an archive.

Sara Clark: And then it's cut off after that.

We didn't want to make our homepage necessarily be short. We tried to make it be more like the experience of, you just keep scrolling if you really are interested and want to see more if you haven't been there recently.

All right. Well, thank you so much for coming to our presentation.