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Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap
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Abandoning Your Maginot Line: Or, Why your Homepage is a Trap

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A discussion about the failed defensive effort of the Maginot Line during the invasion of France, and how it pertains to our dogged use of the home page in higher education. Presented at the HighEdWeb Florida conference in Gainesville, 2013.

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  • Hello, my name is Jeff Stevens. Today we’re going to talk about the Maginot Line, and why our home pages are traps. (:06)
  • France was a scarred nation after the end of World War I. Years of trench warfare had led to the death of nearly 1.6 million people, and wounded over four million. As the nation began to heal, one of the most important tasks of the French government was to determine how to best to defend the nation from possible future attacks out of the east. (:30)
  • General Andre Maginot had served in the first World War at Verdun and had witnessed the success of the heavy fortifications there in holding the line. Based on these observations, he proposed a grand plan for the defence of the French border. (:44)
  • Maginot championed the idea of building a series of interconnecting bunkers and heavy fortifications along the border that protected the areas that were not impassable by heavy tanks. These fortifications would be connected underground to a freight carrying railroad that would resupply them, and could hold off an attacking force long enough for the French military to assemble safely beyond the border to repel the attack. Collectively, the entire project became known as the Maginot Line. (1:05)
  • The Line wasn’t actually a line per se, but a series of large and small fortifications, artillery encampments, and barriers designed to provide overlapping coverage in fire power. (1:15)
  • Over the course of years, the line grew, stretching from Switzerland to Luxembourg and the Ardennes forest, and starting again past Belgium to the Strait of Dover. It was perhaps the perfection of the defensive fortifications, a state of the art trench that would be insumountable (1:33).
  • It was a resounding failure (1:36).
  • In just 35 days, the German forces routed the French and marched into the city of Paris, leading to an armistice and the absorption of France into the ever growing German reich (1:48).
  • What went wrong? (1:51)
  • (2:03)
  • The French had built a system that took trench warfare to its logical conclusion. But the Germans had reinvented war. Blitzkrieg, rapid advancement with mechanized infantry, meant their lines weren;t slow moving. Their new advanced tanks were unemcumbered by landscapes that were unpassable decades before, and the Germans slipped through the Ardennes forest and Belgium, avoiding the wall the Maginot Line presented. (2:27)
  • German planes flew over the line unhindered, and unopposed by a French air force, which ad been underfunded in favor on the line. (2:37)
  • The wall was never as foolproof as the people of France had been led to believe. Diagrams like the one here were prevalent in French culture. It was a propaganda tool – to convince the Germans it was impregnable, and to reassure the French people that they were safe. (2:55)
  • Copied, duplicated, and researched. Eager to protect themselves from the Germans, the Czech government built their own version f the Maginot Line. When the Czechs allowed the Germans to occupy the country, the Germans were able to study the defenses and devise ways to attack the fortifications in France. (3:14)
  • Another adage comes to mind: those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it (3:20).
  • Which brings us to our home pages. What can 1940 teach us about them? (3:26)
  • In higher education, the home page has become our Maginot Line. All of us in this room have experienced this. Everyone wants a piece of the home page. They want to be in the slider, they want to be featured in a new site, they want a button or banner of graphic or widget. At each higher level of the institution – department to college to university – the political battle to be INCLUDED gets more and more pronounced. But is this fighting the last war? (3:55)
  • Look at this site. Last month there were nearly 500,000 page views. 115 thousand and change visited the home page. Those are big numbers… (4:12)
  • But over 370,000 went to other pages (3:20).
  • This site, 56,000 home page views (4:25).
  • And 158,000 to other pages (4:30).
  • Our visitors go around the home page.
  • They go over it.
  • Using search engines brings in our visitors directly to the pages they want, not our carefully crafted entrances (4:44).
  • And if they do enter from the front door, they gravitate to the navigation and search function there that get them where they want to go (4:52).
  • We spend so much time carefully planning a home page, that, like the Maginot line, has various overlapping content areas that maximize the exposure of the width and breadth of our schools to the end user… (5:12)
  • But more often than not are not heavily used by those audiences. Please note, I have met my legal and moral obligation to have used this image in my presentation. (5:40)
  • Case in point: our featured sliders. In 2011, Michael Fienen, the webmaster of Pittsburgh State University in Kansas, looked at the efficacy of the traditional school image carousel, or slider, by comparing the analytics of several different schools for event triggers on carousel links. Carousels were often one of the least clicked items on a page, provided that they were only used for delivering news content. If used for definitive call to actions – deadlines, events, etc. – the click through rate was much higher. (6:21)
  • But go and look at a dozen different schools and institutions, and we’ll see the slider is still used for traditional news delivery nearly every time. Higher Education homepages suffer the same fate as the duplicate Maginot fortifications of Czechoslavakia and France – prospective students and other audiences have seen the same thing duplicated from site to site. Familiarity makes user experience easier and translatable, but it also makes the audience complacent and more ready to dismiss those things that appear to be the same as things they have seen before and that they have already decided is not relevant to their interest. (7:07)
  • We need to approach the user needs from many angles, and the home page is just one approach, and often not the best approach. Each pages content, its key words, and flow in the information architecture has to be examined for home it interacts with the rest of the site, for every page is a potential gateway. Communicating this to our clients is one of the most critical strategic goals we can impart. They need to invest as much time and energy in this structure as they do in what is communicated on the home page. (7:27)
  • Carl Smith of nGen Works has described the home page as the lobby of a hotel. While flashy and attention getting – the lobby isn’t where guests want to stay – it’s meant to get you into a room with a view and a bed. Visitors only come back to the lobby when they can’t get what the need from their room or when checking in or out.When his firm begins to build to construct a site, they start at the tertiary pages and work backwards to the top. By concentrating on those pages that have the bulk of the content and where most of the heavier calls to action occur, they meet the sites functional needs for user interaction. Once the tertiary and secondary pages are completed, the necessary content for the home page begins to coalesce. (8:00)
  • Of course, no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. (8:05)
  • As surely as there are ineffective types of content on our home pages, there is content that can be wildly successful, and content that has the potential to do so. To find that content, we need to be able to shift to the needs of the audience. We can’t be held to one rigid plan for what goes on the home page. We need to be able to iterate what we post. Change its shape, its size, its location, its emphasis. We need the ability to shift focuses and priorities, and to be able to limit or cut the fat and excess, building ever more lean and focused entrances (8:38)
  • Don’t be this guy. Despite his superior intellect, Khan lost to Captain Kirk because he couldn’t adapt fast enough, and think to fight in three dimensions instead of two (8:53).
  • Space. The final frontier. And also a great segue, because this is what we’re striving for today. Not a home page made of concrete, meant to withstand, unchanging, in the face of what comes. We need something agile, able to be modified, adaptable to changing conditions. Web communications has left its timid earth bound beginnings and entered the space age. Look how much the industry has changed in five years. Look how much it’s changed in one year. Our ability to be responsive and ever-changing to meet our audiences needs have never been easier. All we need is to lead the charge. (9:38)
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