Stanford Report Online



Stanford Report, October 18, 2000
Web Watch: Harnessing the university's web requires cooperation

BY ANDY KRACKOV

In the mid-1990s, Stanford launched its first home page with links to the campus' limited web universe. That page, certainly pioneering at the time, pales in comparison to the present Stanford Web. Today, the university home page alone gets roughly 40,000 hits a day. And there are more than 1,200 entries in our A-Z index of Stanford websites, which is undoubtedly an incomplete listing of the web resources available here.

Size and traffic, of course, are not the only measures of the web's growing stature at Stanford. Each quarter, an ever-increasing number of critical university functions are available online. For most of us, hardly a day goes by that we don't visit the website of a school or department, check our benefits through the Human Resources site or consult the Stanford Web for some other important reason.

As our web presence continues to evolve, and as all of us continue to experiment with this new medium, this may be an opportune time to explore the implications the Stanford Web will have on the university. It's obvious, for example, that the web is changing how we communicate with each other and with external audiences.

But just how has the web changed that communication? Understanding the effects of this new medium certainly is more of a challenge than simply acknowledging them. This column, a monthly examination of the ramifications and opportunities brought by the Stanford Web, will help us appreciate how our web content can help us communicate with those we most wish to reach.

A good place to start this exploration is a look at those who visit the Stanford Web from outside the stanford.edu domain, including alumni, prospective students, job applicants and the local community. External visitors may represent as much as 65 percent of all Stanford Web users, according to one measure by Information Technology Systems and Services.

One important point to keep in mind about web visitors is that they go wherever they please on the Stanford Web, not where we send them, and this fact alone intensifies our need to share information and collaborate universitywide on the web. A prospective student, for example, may be as likely to log on to the School of Engineering's website to read about a faculty member as she is to leaf through the printed admission viewbook. Or a job applicant, in addition to visiting the Jobs @ Stanford site, may research the department where he's applying by examining its web offerings.

But fortunately for us, the web does much more than increase the number of voices with which we speak; it makes it easier for people to come to us directly to find out about Stanford. Even a few years ago, people far away from campus knew of Stanford primarily from what they read in the newspaper or watched on television. Today, when Stanford research grabs the attention of the national media, those seeking more information may visit our own site in addition to the New York Times' or CNN's.

Similarly, someone in Menlo Park who wants to know more about Stanford's construction plans may search the Stanford Web as well as read the Palo Alto Weekly. In the process, she also could find out about events on campus, Continuing Studies classes and exhibits at the Cantor Arts Center.

Four years ago, one of my freshman advisees described how he excitedly logged on to Stanford's home page the summer before coming here just to see the pretty pictures of his future home. Visitors undoubtedly look for similar welcome mats all over the Stanford Web, and they form general impressions of the university from the small slice of Stanford they see online.

What a welcome mat we could create with a little ingenuity and some additional information sharing. That's the good news: Through the web, Stanford can indeed play a more pivotal role in determining the impressions people form about the university.

There's also a tremendous challenge for a university that speaks with so many engaging voices. No longer may Undergraduate Admission be the primary source of Stanford information to prospective students. Nor can we expect the local community to find out about Stanford just from what they read in area papers. We don't necessarily want them to. Taken as a whole, the sites that compose the Stanford Web share the burden of communicating to the world what's going on at Stanford.

Information sharing, then, is necessary to meet this challenge. Some of this coordination is mundane -- for example, making sure links work or that our editorial content is up to date. But a lot of this work will require collaborative, universitywide efforts to understand precisely how our sites are being used, and where we succeed online in communicating with those we desire to reach.

Among the ways we could collaborate, collecting usage statistics about who visits our sites would help. Understanding how departmental administrators want to use web tools, for example, to find policies and guidelines, also would be useful. And we could share ideas about how portable web devices and other future technologies could enhance our web offerings.

We hope this column will provide a forum for the communication challenges we face with the web. In the future, we could focus on efforts to centralize the web resources faculty, staff and students use regularly. And we also could examine an unfortunate consequence of Stanford's good name: the proliferation of non-Stanford sites that imply an affiliation with the university.

In 10 years, perhaps this column will be as quaint a reflection of a bygone era as our original home page is now. But making the most of the web over the next 10 years is a central challenge. It will force us not only to keep abreast of new technologies, but also to explore how we can deliver news and information to a public that's increasingly coming to the Stanford Web.

Andy Krackov is Stanford's Web Managing Editor. Contact him at krackov@stanford.edu.


photo: L.A. Cicero