Monday, June 05, 2006

Prune Concentrate

After a long absence, I am back at the blogging post, with a new look and a new mission. The new look is courtesy of ASU's University Technology office. The new mission is to discuss the tactical and operational issues related to the implementation of ASU's emerging technology strategy.

Before I dive into the virtues of today's topic -- Prune Concentrate -- l want to extend my appreciation and apologies to the "standing room only" group that attended the "State of IT" presentation over in Life Sciences E Wing on May 25th. Next year I promise a larger room. If you missed the meeting -- or just want to relive the magic :) -- you can download a podcast of the event here (or the video here).

Now on to Prune Concentrate...

The long sought cure for acute blogger's block? The worst marketing idea since Milk of Magnesia ? No. Prune Concentrate is a prescription for improving in the short term, a step along the road to complete amazondotcomification.

Consider the following excel spreadsheet of web stats that Nate Wilken put together this past week. It shows a couple of interesting things about

  • is ASU's highest ranked page (with a PageRank of 9) and it receives about 1/3 of ASU's total web traffic.

  • Half the remaining web visits are to one of 55 ASU pages, the top ten of which are:











So the lion's share of our traffic hits a relatively small proportion of our site's pages. Which should make creating a world class web presence easy -- establish a single look and feel and concentrate development and maintenance effort on the places people go. Sounds good, but it's not the strategy we follow.

Instead, the lion's share of ASU's web development and maintenance energies are spent in creating new pages, with distinct looks and distinct branding, that end up receiving relatively little in the way of visitors but require significant resources to maintain.

In we have the web traffic and GoogleJuice commercial players would pay serious marketing dollars to generate. And in my opinion, looks the part of a first rate homepage. But the pages just one link away from the homepage, while still receiving the traffic, do not recieve the attention. We're just not making the best use of our high value real estate.

Consider the eServices page as an example. Located one link away from the highly ranked, the eServices page is one of ASU's top ten, a prime piece of web territory. But instead of a cleanly designed web portal, eServices presents a laundry list of links to services and information located on the individual homepages of a plethora of different organizations within ASU. With at least 10 different brandings, designs, portal schemes, and login screens, these services create differences without distinction.Which is not to knock the folks that create and maintain the eServices page. Its just that it was created after the fact, as a mechanism to cope with the proliferation of places where vital information was being published.Enter Prune Concentrate. Prune, as in the reduction of the number of distinct looks, feels, sub brands, and organizational affiliations. Concentrate, as in the gathering of critical content in those places on our site where traffic already gathers.Despite all our efforts to the contrary, our users -- the applicants, alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends -- don't really care if a service comes from Human Resources or Central IT. Its all ASU to them. Our insistence on attribution is just confusing. Multiple login pages, different web designs, portals aplenty -- all of these serve to make our users wonder if they've come to the right place.So as a first step in ASU's amazondotcomification process, we're setting about the task of reworking the eServices page so it feels like a one-stop shop for all of ASU's electronic support. Consistent branding, clean single sign-on, the elimination of overlap. We'll try to do it incrementally, so you start to see benefit right away, and we'll try to keep the dust to a minimum. Meanwhile, if you have other ides about high-traffic, high-value web real estate that isn't reaching its full potential, let us know.

BTW: There are some other really interesting pages in the top 55. Coming in at 45 in May was a page devoted to the Take Our Young Women to Work day event sponsored by the UCW. Number 42 is The Logicite, developed to assist philosophy students at ASU. Wonder how they're driving their traffic?


Troy June 6, 2006 at 5:52 AM  

Here Here!

Well spoken, and let me doff my cap in reverence and appreciation for all that Nancy is, does, and has helped me to become! Three Cheers!

Troy June 6, 2006 at 5:56 AM  

Sorry, meant to post under John's BI Blog

Deborah Hamilton,  June 7, 2006 at 1:52 AM  

I think your proposal for streamlining navigation, look and feel is timely. We need a more coherent and cohesive navigation experience. I can appreciate the intent of 'amazondotcomification' of the ASU web experience. I also agree that no one cares where information is housed. Rather, one simply wants information as quickly as possible.

That said I'm not sure another metaphor - it takes a village - might better capture the spirit of your initiative? Political affinity aside the redesign of will require the cooperation of multiple stakeholder groups throughout the university. In addition, your reference to the web site as a 'prime piece of web territory' infers there might be advertising dollars associated asu's web 'real estate.' Is there a plan to capitalize on this potential as well as to share any advertising income?

my two cents

Martin Bebow,  June 9, 2006 at 6:51 AM  

I've just been testing a new web service called PageFlakes that lets you create your own personalized start pages. What it does is enable you customize a start page to include whatever interests you, or is useful to you. It's kind of like an rss feed reader but with much more functionality. I got hooked on Flickr because it had a Flickr module included with the initial setup of the page.

This, I think, is applicable to Debrorah's assertion that we need a more coherent navigation experiance. I see these personalized web pages as the beginning of the end of the navigation metaphor for the web. We are used to the idea of 'going' someplace on the web. Eventually I believe we will be much more comfortable with 'being' someplace on the web - our own web place that has everything we need to pursue our jobs and our interests.

One thing that Google does that I really like is send me e-mails with the lastest developments in clean-coal technology. But why an e-mail? Why not have a place on my web page that would collect the lastest developments in areas that interest me and that would be one click away from view. One click away! No more scrounging around looking for stuff. Maybe Google new start page will offer something like that. Maybe PageFlakes already does and I just don't know it. Things are changing so fast.

So I guess my point is that in looking to change the way ASU is established on the web, we should be thinking not only of web pages but of web services. These services could be added to a personal web page and would be one click away from view. Taking a financial aid example, instead of sending out e-mails to tell students about their awards, turn it into a web service where a student could click and see what their awards are on their personal web page.

Perry Horner,  June 12, 2006 at 2:30 AM  

I really enjoyed the part of the IT address where you displayed in full view the disconnect between pages and sites. I am wondering though, where does the oversight on ASU.EDU design actually reside? Is it PR, President's Office, UTO? Clearly UTO has taken the initiative roadmap the goal, but who will ultimately lead this transformation?

Adrian Sannier June 13, 2006 at 1:24 AM  

Anne Rowsey writes...

I think it's important when looking at web stats to take other factors into account besides page rank. Duration on a page (if your stats software records this information) and exit pages are examples of other important factors. For instance, if a page has a high page rank, but also is commonly an exit page, that likely indicates that users expect to find helpful information there, do not find it, get frustrated, and give up on the site altogether. The high page rank alone might indicate that it is an important page, but the other indicators offer information about how useful the page actually is.

Similarly, high hit counts may not indicate that a page is particularly useful, even if users remain on the page for a time; the page may represent "the best of a bad lot", and be the only place that users are able to find information. The high hit count, then, should not be taken to mean that the information is efficiently or effectively delivered in its current incarnation - only that its content is of interest to users.

I think it would be instructive to post some sort of survey for users to respond to, so they can share their preferences, ideas, and requests. Analyzing metrics will show us how users currently behave, given the present set of circumstances, but receiving open-ended feedback about what they'd like to be able to do, can open our eyes to the possibilities they see for using as an efficient and effective tool.

Hans DeBano,  June 14, 2006 at 12:19 AM  

Although ASU's Google Search Appliance only receives roughly one search request every four seconds, as opposed to the truly large numbers who bang on the ASU home page and web site, it too offers potential to "concentrate". Furthermore it's based on demonstrated and focused interest. Here's a fairly typical "top ten" list of searches using the GSA (others at:

1. emma
2. blackboard
3. calendar
4. academic calendar
5. tuition
6. bookstore
7. athletics
8. transcripts
9. library
10. jobs

These search queries dovetail nicely with what we know from your post about the "juiceist" ASU pages (athletics being a special case)

I've posted on the nature of GSA searches over time at: and argued that it may be appropriate to "concentrate" different content at different *times* of the year.

Another rich source of data about what people are trying to find would be statistics on ASU's A to Z index ( Data there could indicate popular links (index entries) that people follow through that mechanism. (Collecting those statistics now is difficult because if the link they follow in the index points elsewhere, to an ASU department web sever for example, we won't have web logs that indicate that path was followed.)

The data from these sources we have about what people are trying to find (GSA, A to Z index) could suggest minimal link sets that should be in your web one-stop shops.

Technically, the way to get even more concrete feedback on your one-stop shops (including A to Z index) and the relative popularity of the links included there, would be to record a data point each time someone clicked on the page link (before redirecting to the target page). The *one-stop shop page* wouldn't need to be "dynamic", but the links on that page would point to a dynamic page on an ASU server that recorded the information and then redirected.

B S» Blog Archive » Google prune juice June 14, 2006 at 3:29 PM  

[...] So I just quit my job at asu and it was apparantly just in time to miss the hot new googleprunejuceification. Rats. [...]

Anne Rowsey,  June 15, 2006 at 2:21 AM  

Well said, Hans. I think looking at frequently requested searches and A-Z stats is a great way to get at what users would like to see on the site (as opposed to what they are able to do with what is currently there.)

Deborah Hamilton,  June 15, 2006 at 5:02 AM  

Martin wrote:

One thing that Google does that I really like is send me e-mails with the lastest developments in clean-coal technology. But why an e-mail? Why not have a place on my web page that would collect the lastest developments in areas that interest me and that would be one click away from view. One click away! No more scrounging around looking for stuff. Maybe Google new start page will offer something like that. Maybe PageFlakes already does and I just don’t know it. Things are changing so fast.

I agree with your assertion that information should only be one click away. I've been reading a lot about information theory of value as it relates to 'entropy' (randomness) as a way to make sense of all the changes taking place on/in the web environment.

As an aside, I just began playing with as a personal 'curation' strategy (self-organization) on the web. Like you, I think we now have the tools - bandwidth, compression applications, etc. - to have information in which on is interested pushed to as well as pulled from the web.

my two cents

Jo Namio,  June 15, 2006 at 2:35 PM  

As someone who maintains and otherwise keeps track of multiple websites on this campus, each of which has it's own unique look and feel, I applaud ANY effort to bring the proliferation of designs for departmental websites to a grinding halt. There are days when I have updated so many department websites with so many different looks to them that my eyelids twitch.

The problem has always been the departments themselves, and their territorial possessiveness of their websites. They want to own them, run them, design them, make them uniquely their own. This might be a very hard habit for them to break. But I applaud anyone that can give them a gentle push in the right direction.

Micah DesJardins,  June 28, 2006 at 12:57 AM  

Here's some comments:

1. Amazondotcomification seems like an oversimplification. Basically, Amazon has one mission. Sell Stuff. Their entire site centers around driving the business, which in turn revolves around getting people to add things to their cart, and then buy it. Everything else that they do is in support of that.

ASU (as I see it) has a number of complicated and inter-related missions. You can boil it down to "Teach People" but in doing so, you've oversimplified the problem. The service needs for admissions in attracting prospectives are different from the needs of researchers who are trying to collaborate which are different from currently enrolled in classes which is different from community outreach and so on and so forth.

2. Distinct Branding is *NOT* always bad. Disney uses over 30 distinct brands, Time-Warner uses at least 60. Here's another excellent example:

I agree with you that having a very strong primary brand is important and that from a top down perspective we need more coherency across our web presences. At the same time, I think we should be careful in terms of leveraging consistency with diversity.

Blind adherence to consistency without regard for other concerns is a sure innovation killer. We absolutely need a strong brand, but we also need to look for ways to preserve flexibility and freedome within the organization to "go another way" not just in terms of technology, but in terms of very basic things such as interfaces. It is my personal experience that this is the sort of flexibility is the sort of thing that drives innovation from within. Don't tell people what they can do, give them requirements and let them exceed your expectations. The model is Google, with its small nimble teams, open culture and commitment to innovation through their 20% program (which as I understand it gmail, googlemaps and googletalk all grew out of.) That doesn't mean they don't have standards, guidelines and procedures. It means, they're willing to "break the rules" within reason in order to see what happens.

To coin a phrase: Don't let consistent branding turn into "consistent blanding" of our web presence.

my 0x02