Portals: learning lessons from Edinburgh
This is part of a series of reflections on this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop.
On the final day of IWMW there was an entertaining and useful talk about portals by Martin Morrey from the University of Edinburgh. Their MyEd portal was a source of inspiration when the University of St Andrews developed iSaint. So it was interesting to learn more about Edinburgh’s experience.
In some circles portal is a dirty word because it is difficult to pin down exactly what is meant by it. We were once told that a portal is “anything with a web interface”, which makes you wonder why they don’t just call it a website.
Martin Morrey shared a Gerry McGovern quote:
A portal is like a website… except it takes five times longer to develop.
It helps to have clarity about what you actually want to achieve, which is why I like to avoid using the word portal.
Martin said that the dream is for the portal to just become part of the website. They should be flipsides of the same thing.
That is certainly what we should be aiming for here as well. There are plans to implement a common look and feel across all digital platforms. There is talk about disguising the branding of our various systems. Users should not have to think: “should I log into iSaint for this, Moodle for that, e-Vision for the other?” There should be a unified user experience.
Like St Andrews, Edinburgh have trialled apps as their mobile presence. Edinburgh had a mobile app called U@Ed, which shared a lot of the functionality of MyEd. The University of St Andrews has had two stabs at creating a mobile app. First there was mSaint. Now we have St Andrews Mobile.
Martin shared some interesting statistics on how Edinburgh’s mobile offerings have fared. They found that the U@Ed mobile app gets very little usage. More people were in fact trying to access the web version of MyEd on their mobile device.
- 300,000 visits a week.
- 30,000 mobile visit a week.
- 9,000 downloads from app stores.
- Under 1,000 visits a week.
This tallies with our experience at St Andrews. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the mobile app is not heavily used. It is generally recognised that users do not like to go through the hassle of downloading, installing and running a mobile app just to access the information they want.
Edinburgh are now focussing on creating one place that works on all devices, reflecting what users want.
Mobile access to portal trumps app regardless. Dump the app, make the portal mobile friendly. Involve students in the design #iwmw14
— mike_mcconnell (@mike_mcconnell) July 18, 2014
It is an interesting time for us to consider these issues here at St Andrews. We are currently investigating the creation of an intranet. Whether (and how) we should use portal-like concepts, and whether we should continue with iSaint, are bound to be big topics of discussion.