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French Version

The University of Balamand releases its new web site : Interview with Mr. Riad Saba

Mr. Riad Saba, you are Network Manager at the University of Balamand, you have coordinated the development of the new version of the University’s web site.

Why did you decide to launch a new version of the site?
The previous version was developed during the late nineties, and a facelift took place in 2002.

The design was becoming old-fashioned, the interface was not user-optimized, and the services available through the site were lacking. This led to the decision to revamp the whole site in order to have a more user-friendly interface, to make the site more manageable and more useful.

How important is on-line presence for a university today?
I simply believe that to be on-line is to be! Today, a university or any educational institution can not afford not be on-line, or even to only have a basic web site. This is why we have invested in the web site quite heavily during all development phases.
From a design perspective, a significant effort has been made. A specialized committee worked on the structure of the site to make it concise, to determine the combinations between the content that was immediately available and the content that needed to be developed or edited, and to determine the optimized location of the content in the stucture.
We also emphasized on having a user-centered web site in the sense that the new site leads or guides the user to the relevant pages based on the user category. Whether site visitors are staff members, current students, or new applicants they will reach pages where the content has been combined and compiled specifically for their user category. This renders the site more user-friendly.
There are also other aspects I would like to address. The internet user average age is decreasing rapidly and the Internet is becoming more relied upon for up-to-date information. Potential students log on to university web sites to compare and make their decision regarding the University of their choice. When admitted to the University, students heavily rely on the web site to find the information they need, be it for student life, cultural events, information related to grades, final exams, class schedules and so on. The new web site will reduce the length of time it takes for information to be available on-line. On-line presence has thus become a necessity for our community, or people who would like to join our community.

What are the objectives you want to achieve with the new web site? How do you plan to achieve them ?
The objectives cover several areas. As I said before we want the site to be a user-friendly site with an attractive design, which is fully manageable. We defined an interface that allows rapid access to information. We also designed the site to be fully database-driven, featuring a search engine that will retrieve documents and pages matching the search criteria and automatically sort them by order of pertinence.
The other part we wanted to address is the administration part. The content of new site is managed through a powerful CMS (content management system). This means that the content can be updated in a timely fashion, and in a very straight forward way, even by non technical people. By opting for such a system we broadened the number of content contributors to the site thus enriching the content both in quality and quantity. This system also serves to reduce the overload on the technical team.
The third improvement is the process workflow that allows users, content contributors, designers, developers, and managers to coordinate their efforts to efficiently put content through its lifecycle and enventually on-line after the information has completed the cycle. The content development life cycle has basically four steps: content authoring, validation by the content authority, proof reading, and then publication.
We consider the web site as an electronic publication and we pay great attention to this media which is considered an official public University document.

Y.R: Precisely, how many people were involved in the content authring of the site?
Well, the content authoring was really done internally, for there is no central content editing function right now. Usually, you would have an editor who collects the content, produces content if requiered and finds areas of need and pushes to get content. Right now, the editing function is decentralized so we basically prepared the structure with the responsible committee and then we gave each person, each owner of the content, if you wish, the task to prepare the content and deliver the photos to be published on the perspective site.

Do you know the number of visitors you had on the previous version and their repartition by type (students, professors, etc…) and geographic origin ?
Yes, we got some statistics in this regards. Let me just say that it was less than what we wanted it to be. With the new site we not only want to attract more visitors, but we also want the new visitors to keep coming back to visit the site.

How many people were involved in the development of the site and how long did it take?
The process was quite lengthy. The decision to upgrade the site was made two years ago. We then proceeded with the contractual agreement with the companies that were in charge of the development, the design, and of the promotion of the site. The most time-consuming phase was the content gathering and content editing phases.

What are the new features introduced on the new version that were not available on the previous one?
The site features an internal search engine that enables immediate access to information based on keywords search. It also has a photo gallery, with a virtual tour in the planning. Visitors can also sign in and put their comments or suggestions in the gest book. We also plan to have a forum where people can share and trade ideas on different topics.

Which adjective would describe the new site best?
Well, allow me at least three adjectives!
Beautiful design, usable interface, attractive feel, comprehensive content and…new !!
Let me seize this opportunity to thank the university administration for the trust it placed in the team in charge of the new site. I also would like to thank all the people who took part in this project, specially Mrs Ramona Abboud who is an excellent programmer and a very diligent person who has provided great support to the project. I also thank the companies who have contributed in producing a state-of-the-art web site.

Beirut 22-11-2005
Yann Rotil
University of Balamand

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