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April 16, 2015

April 2015 Newsletter

Table of Contents

  1. Hodgson and Front Range Community College Win 2014 Sitefinity Website of the Year Award in the Education Category
  2. Europe versus Google, Part Deux

Hodgson and Front Range Community College Win 2014 Sitefinity Website of the Year Award in the Education Category

By Brendan Magee
We’re excited to announce that Hodgson’s partnership with Front Range Community College (FRCC) has resulted in the production of an award-winning website! Just this past week, winners were announced in 16 categories for Telerik Sitefinity Website of the Year 2014. After making the cut as one of three finalists in the education category, the FRCC site was voted the winner, thanks to top-notch creativity, design, user experience, functionality, and overall presentation.

Hodgson became involved with FRCC when it was selecting a new content management system (CMS) for its site. At that time, we arranged demonstrations of Sitefinity for FRCC stakeholders, and we set up sandbox environments to allow FRCC’s development team to evaluate the features of the CMS through a fully hosted trial installation.

After FRCC’s web team had settled on Sitefinity as its new CMS of choice, FRCC engaged Hodgson to design and build an innovative site that would offer users an intuitive, personalized experience.

We began the project by working with FRCC’s internal team to define the functional and business goals for the new site. With the requirements in hand, Hodgson’s designers crafted an entirely new look and feel for the FRCC website.

The updated design features prominent, red call-to-action buttons characterized by the “torn” effect prominent in FRCC’s print marketing materials. The dropdown menus in the main navigation are designed to draw the user further into the site and to encourage exploration (the featured images liven up these menus as well). Furthermore, the grid layout of the homepage and landing pages (e.g., the “Getting In” page) gives the site a very clean, balanced feel. It also allows users to easily find the content they seek, as it’s presented in clear, discrete blocks throughout the site.

As part of the creative process, Hodgson’s project team conducted usability testing on designs to ensure that the finished product would conform to usability best practices. One key element of usability is the “breaking from tradition” approach to the main navigation. Often, higher education sites use a standard menu that includes “Academics,” “Admissions,” and “Student Life.” Instead of staying with established conventions, the FRCC team had based the new navigation primarily on the timing of the prospective student’s engagement with the college. During usability testing, we found that the new menu concepts created by FRCC were very clear and intuitive, and that an eye-appealing dropdown menu would draw a visitor deeper into the site.

Another important feature of the site is its capacity to provide a personalized experience to students, parents, and faculty based on which of the four campuses a visitor was associated with. By making a campus selection, a user has a personalized experience on nearly 40 percent of the site’s pages.

Incorporating the blog into the website also was a priority for FRCC, which has an extensive collection of blog posts, contributed by students and faculty. WordPress blog posts are imported into the site based on tags and categories assigned to each post. Throughout the website, the blog widget is filtered to display posts specific to the content on the page, providing a greater amount of relevant information for the site visitor.

In addition to the elements discussed above, Hodgson’s developers built other useful features into the site: custom .NET controls to filter and display calendar events; campus alerts and emergency notification functionality; a searchable, sortable faculty and staff directory integrated with Active Directory; and IntelliResponse search results with a “Top 5 Questions” widget, which displays questions relevant to content on the page (e.g., the “Financial Aid” page).

We’re particularly proud of what we were able to accomplish in our work with Front Range Community College and its team. We hope you’ll tour the website and leave us some feedback.
FRCC Homepage

About Front Range Community College
Front Range Community College (FRCC) is a two-year institution of higher learning with campuses in Westminster, Colorado; Longmont, Colorado; Fort Collins, Colorado; Brighton, Colorado; and online. It is the largest community college in Colorado and the No. 1 transfer institution for the University of Colorado-Boulder and Colorado State University.

Europe versus Google, Part Deux

By Brendan Magee
It seems that last year’s ruling by the European Court of Justice on the “right to be forgotten” was a harbinger of things to come in the relationship between Google and European governments. The latest news is that complaints about business practices have landed Google in some hot water. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas explains the points of contention:
Google has a hugely dominant share of the search market in Europe, of circa 90%. Complaints about its search business have focused on specialized search services around particular verticals such as shopping, travel, and hotels—where the accusation is that Google displays its own results in a more prominent manner than competitors. Other complaints have related to online advertising and pressures Google may have been placing on advertisers to use Google ads.
Apparently, Google circumvents its own rules and algorithm in determining how certain search results are displayed. The European Commission specifically alleges that Google favors its own product comparison service, Google Shopping (Is that a thing? I didn’t know that was a thing.), over better or more relevant results from competitors. Europe wants Google to play fair and return the “best” results only, even if those results come from a non-Google company.

Concurrent with this complaint about search results is a series of charges that Google’s Android operating system is limiting competition unfairly. The European Commission details the problem thus:
Android is an open-source mobile operating system, meaning that it can be freely used and developed by anyone. The majority of smartphone and tablet manufacturers, however, use the Android operating system in combination with a range of Google's proprietary applications and services. In order to obtain the right to install these applications and services on their Android devices, manufacturers need to enter into certain agreements with Google.
Google has basically brushed off the accusations by claiming that its competitors are not suffering from any of their search or mobile practices (No harm, no foul—right?); furthermore, they say that consumers are free to use other search engines and mobile operating systems, if they so choose. Sure, let me go Bing that on my Windows phone!

Joking aside, I’d say that Google does have a point. If people really have a problem with Google, they should feel free to turn to Microsoft or other companies instead. I suggest this in spite of the way in which I mercilessly mock my Windows-phone-owning roommate every time mobile technology comes up in conversation. He often asks me if I’ve heard of some cool new app, and without fail, I say, “Yeah, that sounds great! Is there a Windows phone version of the app?” I can’t help but grin smugly as his smile turns to a grimace and he utters a defeated “. . . no.”

Alright, that’s enough Windows phone bashing. The most intriguing take I’ve read on this whole situation comes from David A. Graham of The Atlantic, who points out how this case may illuminate cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe, especially in the area of business ethics. In this country, we strongly resist censorship of any kind and value free speech above many other rights—these values are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, after all. In Europe, however, there is a greater willingness to restrict certain kinds of speech (by hate groups, for example), especially when the vast majority of citizens would find such speech reprehensible.

Google has 10 weeks to respond to the Statement of Objection issued by the EU, so keep your eyes peeled for developments. Whatever the outcome of this individual dispute, it will probably have serious implications for how Google and other tech companies conduct business in Europe and the rest of the world.