Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

Show & Tell, 27 March 2015

📥  Show & Tell

As our beta project starts producing visible results we're making a slight change to the Show & Tell format. Each session will have a presentation of the beta product to date, with a brief overview of the features shipped in the previous sprint.

Beta demo - Ross

In the first of our project updates Ross demonstrated the fledgling CMS Editor, showing how a user can log in and create or edit content.

He also introduced Pivotal (our project management tool of choice) and talked through the backlog for our current sprint giving an overview of how we are managing the work.

CMS usage - Phil

"Who is using our CMS?" A simple question from Rich Prowse, but actually gathering meaningful data proved to be tricky.

Phil took us on a journey down the rabbit hole and showed how we hooked into the CMS authentication components to produce a raw dataset, then used a combination of our training records and person lookup system to add useful context to that data.

We learned that logging interactions within our applications has the potential to be very valuable, that writing detailed documentation is actually useful, and Rich learned to not ask any more questions.

Moving parts - Tom N

I gave an overview of the many different aspects of our beta infrastructure. From version control repositories and continuous integration servers, to the machines the applications run on, and the databases they talk to - all have needed careful configuration for each of the environments we are running.

I went through the building blocks that are now in place to allow us to effectively develop the beta applications.

Events booking discovery - Liam

We have been investigating new ways to book University events and Liam gave us a run-down of the selection process which led us to Eventbrite.

Starting with how we currently book and promote events, the team gathered a range of requirements from our users and organised them into 'must', 'should' and 'could' categories. Our review candidates were prioritised by these requirements and Iris spent a week reviewing the most promising options. By the end, Eventbrite came out as the best option for our needs.

Meanwhile, Kelv spent some time looking at the various APIs and quickly discovered that Eventbrite also won in this field by a clear margin.

Eventbite API - Kelv

Finally, Kelv gave us a demonstration of his work with the Eventbrite API which is expected to form the basis of our eventual application. We want to be able to manage events through our own screens, but to save the event back to Eventbrite.

Kelv gave a quick overview of the important features of a good API and then showed us his discovery work, creating an event and pushing it to Eventbrite.

Why not join us for a future Show & Tell? You can see the forthcoming talks on our agenda page or if there is something specific you want discussed, get in contact and we'll see what we can do.


Digital team sprint notes, 31 March - 13 April 2015

📥  Communication


In the last sprint we:

  • Created a styled template to output content items as pages
  • Configured tests that simulate user interactions to make sure the app behaves as expected
  • Added a clear description for each content type to help publishers choose the best template for their information
  • Merged the original Faculty Engineering audits with the new inventory template
  • Delivered the first iteration of Organisation list, detailing Heads of Service, Lead Publishers and top-level folders
  • Verified all content inventories were complete
  • Verified content inventories were assigned to the correct organisation
  • Worked with Takashi our Business Analyst to produce a ‘big data’ analysis of all the inventories so that we have an overarching view of the composition and scale of our current content
  • Documented migration choices for Lead Publishers
  • Fixed 3 bugs related to button wrapping and styling.


  • Technical support resolved 111 tickets
  • Content team resolved 5 maintenance requests

Up next

In this next sprint we will:

  • Start modelling organisations
  • Develop roles and permissions
  • Enable specific content types (people and team profiles)
  • Enable arbitrarily repeating content elements
  • Start work on Professional Services transitions
  • Test CMS features with publishers.

Next sprint notes will be published on 28 April 2015.


Beta approved

📥  Beta

The University’s strategic goal is to be recognised as an international centre of research and teaching excellence. The quality of our digital domain plays an essential role in delivering this vision.

From Alpha to Beta

An ‘Alpha’ version of a new University website and content management system was trialled between January 12th - February 27th 2015. The technical infrastructure, design patterns and content strategy performed well when subjected to performance monitoring and user testing. As a result, we recommended that the University proceed to the ‘Beta’ phase of a new, involving upgrades to our digital publishing platform that build on the model trialled in the Alpha.

We are pleased to announce that the request to move to the Beta phase has been approved by the Digital Steering Group. I’m sure you’ll agree that this presents a great opportunity to improve the University's digital publishing and service delivery. (more…)


Why static publishing and why Hugo?

📥  Alpha, Beta, Development

As we've written before, we're going to try to use Hugo for statically publishing There's a nice video showing it publishing 5,000 pages in under 7 seconds, and our testing gives similar numbers.

Static site serving has been big news over the past few years, mainly fuelled by the release of Jekyll. The problem for us is that we have many thousands of pages and many of these tools are written in Ruby or Node.js and are slow. If we want to change part of the site template then every page would need to be regenerated, and we want this to happen as quickly as possible.

At the moment there is almost no delay between making a change to the site and seeing it live on because we deliver pages straight from our database, but this means maintaining a more complicated and fragile infrastructure than we would like. Switching to a fast, statically published site will improve site stability and reduce our maintenance overhead, allowing us to spend more time on features.

Hugo is a young project and has some of the rough edges you might associate with that, but we're pretty hopeful that it will see us through the next period of innovation on the platform. If we do run into serious problems then we will probably switch to Jekyll until we were in a position to either scale out direct hosting from Rails or introduce a dedicated caching layer like Varnish.


Digital team sprint notes, 17 - 30 March 2015

📥  Sprint notes

In the last sprint we:


  • Prototyped 17 content types
  • Enabled publishers to choose a content type
  • Enabled publishers to create a content item
  • Enabled a basic publishing workflow (draft, edit, review, publish, delete)
  • Set up a queue of publish jobs for passing to the publishing application
  • Created a table of content items held in the editing application
  • Applied our styling to the editor application
  • Configured static assets for production
  • Completed content inventories of all major sections of
  • Documented inventory process
  • Met with faculties to hand-over inventory results and discuss the auditing process
  • Dealt with our first 3 Beta bugs (happy to see them, happy to squash them).


  • Technical support received 113 tickets, of which 96 were resolved
  • Content maintenance received 16 tickets, of which 13 were actioned.

Next sprint notes will be published on 14th April 2015.


A brief overview of the technical platform for

📥  Alpha, Development

Our current CMS platform was introduced in 2007. It is a large, monolithic Java application which is hard to extend or customise. For the Alpha of a new CMS we wanted to base it on a popular web framework which would allow us to easily customise and extend a core platform, whilst also allowing us to use a broad range of third-party libraries.

We decided to base our Alpha on Rails, Contentful and Hugo. We used Rails to build a lightweight admin interface which changed our content in Contentful. Clicking 'publish' then sent a webhook notification to another Rails application we wrote which then used Hugo to regenerate the static HTML page. This general system design of loose coupling worked well and was a good introduction to the strengths and weaknesses of each of the tools we used.

We will keep Rails and Hugo as we move into the beta, but the libraries for interaction with Contentful were just too slow for us to use in real time. After we'd finished our Alpha a set of third-party libraries were released which might have helped, but nothing would be faster than connecting to a content store running here, and so that's what we'll do for the beta.

Deploying our Ruby on Rails applications

📥  Development, Tools

We are moving away from a Java based infrastructure to writing applications in Ruby on Rails. An important part of our former infrastructure was the ability to automatically deploy our software via the continuous integration server via a series of Ant tasks so we have been looking for a good way to do the same sort of thing with Rails code.

The established choice for Rails automated deployment seems to be Capistrano however there have been complaints about its speed and there seems to be a shift towards Mina which behaves differently under the hood.

Our intended development roadmap has us building a large number of small Rails projects all of which will need very similar deployment scripts so we also need a sensible way to manage the distribution of those scripts. We wrapped them in a gem which could simply be added to the project Gemfile and added a helper script which can set up a project and generate deployment new environments as needed.

We have made the gem public on our team github account with some instructions for use in the README and will be pushing updates as we add features and fix problems. If you find it useful, please let us know!


Digital roadmap update for March 2015

📥  Roadmap

Welcome to latest edition of the Digital roadmap update, accounting for progress made in February and our priority plans for March and beyond.

Progress made in February 2015

  • We reported on the findings from our Alpha prototype of a new, with the overall conclusion that the simplicity and the clear layout of the Alpha received positive feedback and it helped users complete their tasks easily.
  • To help us understand how much content we have on the current website and what kind of content it is, we developed a content inventory tool and it was subjected to successful trial-run with the Faculty of Engineering & Design.
  • The Prospectus editor app now includes course variants, reusable content, improved UI and has been subject to further testing by users.
  • We contributed to the first iteration of research editorial schedule being actively maintained by Research Marketing Manager, Press and Digital.
  • An audit of international social media activity was completed and the report is available on the wiki.
  • We benchmarked our site against peers with a strong international reputation and uploaded the report to the wiki.
  • We ran a thorough review of event management applications and prototyped the preferred candidate with positive results.
  • A nice new Open Days landing page was deployed that was the result of some great user research.

Plans for March 2015

  • Following the successful Alpha, we have had approval from the Digital Steering Group to proceed to the Beta phase. So our priorities for March are to get the build of the new underway and run an extensive audit of content with departments to work out departments what needs to come across to the new site.
  • A new Library landing page also made it into our plans after some positive user research results, and this is already live at
  • We’ll push on with our upgrade of the wiki and our Oracle databases.
  • We’ll progress the development of a content strategy for research.

The next version of the Digital roadmap is scheduled for w/c 13th April.


Show & Tell, 13 March 2015

📥  Show & Tell

All our developers were at Bath Ruby, so it was a decidedly content-heavy series of talks this week with the exception of Dan who went all Saul Bass on us whilst describing how media ohh, spoilers.

Social media audit – Miao

First up, Miao talked us through the International social media audit that she recently completed - the aim of which was to identify the most appropriate channels to use. There were two stages to the work, using Google Analytics to find the channels that provide the most traffic to our website, and auditing the top 5 channels. There were definitely some global trends in terms of which tools were most used, and it was interesting to note that a couple of countries are locked into channels that are unique to them.

Miao also discussed how cultural differences had an impact on elements such as design, usage and language perception - as well as how mobile devices played a vital role in people's interactions with these channels.

Miao concluded by sharing 2 next steps based on her discovery work that we plan to put in place to improve our service to the International market. Questions from the floor created discussion around acquisition traffic, exploring platforms that were dominant in certain countries, and relationships with our International student bloggers.

Beta update – Ross

As you may know, we've recently completed a trial of a new approach to our design and content delivery. We called this the Alpha stage. Ross presented us with comparisons on how the old (i.e. the current) site and the new Alpha approach, focusing on the differences in structure, organisation and governance. All of this discovery underpins the next stage, the Beta, and Ross guided us through the major distinctions of this proposed phase:

  • introducing a horizontal 'thematic' route
  • revamping content to be active in tone with clear calls to action
  • putting effort into curating as well as creating
  • moving to a modern, flexible adaptive design
  • developing a resilient tech stack
  • crafting a bespoke solution for publishing.

Business discovery findings – Hanna

How do universities communicate with business? In general not very well or clearly it seems. Hanna presented her findings after auditing the content we provide that is targeted at external businesses. She looked at how our business landing page compares to other top-level sections of the site, and to see how engaged users are with the links provided there. Although the overall views are a lot lower than other areas of the site, Hanna stated that as we are unsure of the scope this could be a normal (or even excellent) amount of traffic. You should share your stats with us so we can see.

Using a list of common terms universities use to communicate with external businesses, Hanna identified more content targeted at businesses elsewhere on our website. The conclusion was that we should look to update our content to get rid of any duplication, restructure the business section and revisit the business landing page in particular to make it clearer and more task driven. Finally Hanna expressed a desire to get out from behind her desk and actually talk to the users of this content - find out who they are and what they want - as analytics can only give you one side of the story.

Agile content – Rich

Ahh, Richard.
Richard took us on a journey through the concept of agile content using scenes from The Wizard of Oz. In 2014 he attended the congility conference (aside; did you know Lanyrd was created by 2 University of Bath graduates? We rock.) and was so impressed with Marli Mesibov's talk that he gave us a condensed version. Spliced with scenes from The Wizard of Oz, did I mention that?

Marli stated in her manifesto that content online was created in a waterfall fashion, a hangover from the days of print when each item was signed off and then couldn't be changed. Rich began by declaring that creating content for a digital arena allows for more, and we need to move on from this old model. He spoke about the need to start building intuitive user experiences by continuing to place user stories at the heart of everything we do, because they define a requirement for a piece of content. Richard went on to point out that the way we operate as cross functional sprint teams reflects how Marli recommends that the content team is only a part of the content creation process - developers and designers should be fully involved as well.

Richard ended by highlighting how we are gaining the trust of our wider publishing community through the process of creating guidelines, style guides and strategies - and by creating a delivery process that everyone can contribute to and use, essentially making living guides.

Questions from floor covered how we've introduced paired writing as an approach to help with some perceived issues with the speed of content creation, as well as identifying departments in the university that had already adopted our approach and how it was going for them.

Richard left us with the message that taking an agile approach allows you to focus on fixing one thing, rather than being swamped by everything that needs doing.

Richard Prowse discussing Agile Content with scenes from The Wizard of Oz

We're off to see the Wizard!

Anatomy of a responsive website – Dan

Headlining this particular Show and Tell was Dan, who explored the anatomy of responsive design. We plan to use this approach extensively in the new design templates for Beta and beyond, and Dan explained how it allowed you to tailor the presentation (and the delivery) of content to specific devices by targeting their screen resolutions (we also consider print as another valid delivery platform and are giving serious consideration to how content is presented when printed out). Serendipitously (or maybe it was all planned?) Dan's talk elaborated on points made by both Miao and Ross - that of the importance of having adaptive content that is optimised for mobile devices. To achieve this, you need a minimum of three things: the viewport meta tag in your HTML, media queries in your stylesheets, and a fluid grid for your layout.

Dan went through each of these requirements individually, explaining how to implement them and making it all sound very easy and fun (which it kinda is).

You can see the entire presentation here – Anatomy of a responsive website – it's beautifully crafted as we've come to expect from Dan and I really recommend you view it.



We’ll come to you - subscribe to our blogs by email

📥  Blogs

With increasing numbers of University of Bath blogs appearing and posts about our latest goings-on being published more often, how can people keep track of what’s new?

Email subscription

We are running a pilot to enable people to subscribe to blogs by email. The sign-up widget appears in the blog’s sidebar and underneath the comments form on each post. All that’s needed is an email address.

The pilot will last for a month and during this time you can subscribe to the Digital, Opinion or Travel Updates blogs. Assuming all is well and there's take-up for the service, we’ll style the subscription widget and add it to the remaining 43 blogs.

How it works

Subscription management and emails are all handled by WordPress sends the subscriber an email asking them to confirm that they definitely want to subscribe and this provides a link to a subscription management page.

All 'New post published' email alerts include a link through to personal subscription management pages where subscribers can manage the blogs they follow and unsubscribe easily at any time.

The number of subscribers for each blog appears in the stats section of the blog dashboard.

Let us know your thoughts

It should be a really useful addition to our blogs, but if you experience any problems let us know at