Top 5 HEWeb Developments Since #heweb10

Did you know that the universe is expanding faster every second and eventually will expand faster than the speed of light? It’s expanding so fast, scientists tell us, that there are some galaxies whose light will never reach earth, because they’re already too far away.

We mention this only to provide some comfort: There are things out there that are changing faster than the Web landscape for higher ed. Really. Science says so.

But, man alive, it does seem like things are moving faster when it comes to the wild world of HighEdWeb. Since we all were together last in the Queen City (aka, Cincinnati) there have been some seismic changes and announcements that have sent us all scurrying around like Kent Brockman to welcome our new giant overlords.

Here’s a round-up of the top developments since #heweb10:

1) The Year of Mobile

You couldn’t swing a dead Motorola StarTac without hitting someone who wanted to talk about mobile sites for higher ed this year. There’s so much interest, organizers made Mobile a track at this year’s HighEdWeb Regional in Rochester. Everybody has been talking about mobile, says Paul Gilzow of the University of Missouri.

“This was the first year we had clients ask us about their site on mobile device, and so far, it has been every single client to ask the question,” he says. “We went from nobody concerned about it, to everyone concerned. “

That keen interest put pressure on web shops to be ready to handle those demands and, in some cases, get clients to cool their jets. Instead of just rushing in, it pays to have a sound web strategy, whether you go with an app, a mobile site, a mix or something else entirely.

Dave Olsen of West Virginia University, advocated a carefully considered mix in his #HEWebRoc presentation, because there’s just “so much freaking content” that your users are clamoring to access. And they’re not just using iPhones and iPads to find that content.

“Does your school have one web site?” he asked.  “Then why just have one mobile solution?”

As more and more mobile devices are loosed upon the world in 2011-2012, expect a steady diet of mobile questions to keep filling your project pipelines.

2) App companies

Chances are your inbox lit up at various points this year with messages from app vendors. Apps that told us when the shuttle buses on campus are running. Apps that took you on campus walking tours. Apps that hooked you up with sports schedules. You name it, people were pitching it.

The explosion of offerings posed some opportunities and challenges for higher ed. The power of a well designed and executed app can make for legions of happy campers on your campus. It can be tough though to make sense of all the competing features, and difficult to judge the benefit of using a third party versus the cost-savings of trying to build apps in-house. Are all the stakeholders in your school singing from the same choirbook or did your Law School go out and sign up with company A for a different app while you’re looking at company B? How do you avoid what Rachel Reuben calls “Oooh Shiny Syndrome?”

3) QR Codes

These things spent 2010-11 multiplying faster than a wet Mogwai. You could find a QR code on everything from admissions postcards to campus tour stops, from direct mail to deodorant. Heck, three sessions at this year’s conference have QR codes in their titles. One report from Queaar.com says QR code scans are up 4,589 percent in 2011.

To be sure there’s some value in a properly executed QR code campaign. But with great power comes great potential to do nonsensical things.  Sometimes, you ended up with an institution posting a QR code on their Facebook feed, and asking you to scan the code with your smartphone.

You know, when you’re already on the Internet.

The moral of the tale of the QR codes? Do it, but don’t blindly over do it. There’s a life lesson for ya kids.

4) Google+

You give Larry and Serge’s gang enough time, enough money and enough do-overs and, eventually, you get a social media network that’s keeping Mark Zuckerburg up nights. Higher ed web types stampeded through some loopholes in the beta and started vigorously kicking the tires on Google+ plus in June and July and waited to see what would happen. At press time, there still wasn’t a mechanism for institutional presences on Google+ but that can’t be far off. And many have already noted the possibilities for classroom and other educational uses for the network.

Early in the Google+ experiment, Patrick Powers, Director of Digital Marketing and Communications at Webster University, noted the potential for targeted messaging on his blog. There “can be circles for alumni, donors, current students and prospective students, and each can receive targeted messaging,” all while maintaining privacy. The evolution of Google+, and the battle that’s been joined with Facebook, will be one of the biggest topics of intrigue in the ‘net world in 2012 and beyond.

The approximately 40 million users that Google+ has attracted sure caught Facebook’s attention. The 800 lb. social media gorilla instituted a series of changes in September, culminating in a redesign that included more user lists and better search tools. Predictably, many Facebook users spent the next week posting on Facebook about how much they hated the Facebook changes.

5) The Resources Question

It’s no secret that everyone loves to complain about their budgets but the 2010-11 budget cycles prompted much vigorous debate on how higher ed web folks were deploying their people power and how they were spending on technology. Public colleges and universities from New York to California watched their state capitols trying to guesstimate what legislatures would do to their budgets. Some schools cut deep into academic programs or did away with them entirely. Others laid off staff or froze hiring.

From the one-person shop to the school with a division’s worth of employees, directors thought long and hard about where their resources were being used and if they could save money through better strategy. Some reorganized their departments to be more efficient and play to the strengths of their staffs. Others turned to third-party vendors for help. Still others had to make difficult decisions and cut staff.

But the constant, through it all, was that people still expected their web pages to look beautiful, run fast and provide oceans of information without any downtime. How will these same offices deal with the budget dance in 2012?

This is not to paint a bleak picture, or even to suggest that the questions and challenges and opportunities laid out here have a “right way” of getting done. On the contrary, you have access this week to a whole conference full of answers, strategies, and tips from friends and colleagues who are singing from that same aforementioned choir book—enjoy connecting with those in the field.