Class Web Sites
This page is a record of the class of '65's experience with the class Web site in the period leading up to our 40th reunion. Please edit it to add your own experience or suggestions.
Description of the site
The site has two major sections. The first section consists of the standard pages that HAA makes available to all classes through a database-driven template system. You can see our pages here. These pages are pretty but not particularly flexible. You have to live with a standard set of pages dictated by the “Class Navigation” links on the left. You cannot change these links, nor can you modify the “Other Links” below them. The content of the pages we used was as follows:
- Class home—Welcome message and a note that most of the content was on the reunions page. We also have information about submitting class notes.
- Reunions—Basically a list of links to reunion-related content. In the period leading up to the reunion we also had messages at the bottom of the page.
- Class Officers—A list of officers
- Contact Us—Directions for contacting the Webmaster. It would be nice to add more contact information but, because this is a public page, it attracts spam to any email address posted on it.
In order to get around the limitations of the HAA site we created a second site at www.harvard65.org. This site is hosted on a server belonging to me, although you could do the same thing with space rented from an ISP. (Note that this page is redirected to the HAA class reunions page. We did this to provide a simpler URL for people to key in and still arrive at the HAA page.) On the www.harvard65.org site we had a number of pages/features:
- In the early part of the cycle we had information and photographs from pre-reunion events around the country.
- Schedule of events and activities—We had to spend some time and effort to keep this up to date as things changed. It would be helpful if there was some way to automate the posting of revised schedules from the master copy.
- Who’s planning to attend—This was a major feature of the site. Originally we posted the names of classmates who returned a postcard indicating that they “hoped to/planned to” attend. We also had an email link that allowed people to ask to be added to the list. Once we started to accept registrations (at the HAA site) we added a feature that allowed us to display the classmates who had registered in green. This was the most popular page on the site.
- Reunion survey—We collected data for the reunion survey on line. Due to avoidable technical problems his was a mixed blessing; we’ll discuss this further below. (Feel free to go to the site and create a user and experiment with the form.)
- Home for Little Wanderers—Information and, at one point, a sign-up sheet for a program at the Home for Little Wanderers.
- Reunion Paraphernalia—Information about stuff available at the reunion.
How it worked out
The site was up from March ’05 through the reunion at the end of October. The basic statistics are as follows:
|Total page views:||11,359|
As you can see from the following chart, most of the traffic was generated around the reunion:
The following chart shows the level of interest in various pages:
Note that the chart underestimates the importance of the schedule page because we changed its name part way through. If you add together the visits to schedule.htm and schedule.asp, you will find that if is only a little ways behind the attendees.
Clearly the attendees page and the event schedule were the big successes. I would regard these as fundamental to a good reunion site.
The online survey was a mixed bag. The big problem was that I was careless when I programmed the survey form. Normally, you would set up extensive error checking and reporting with that sort of a project. I was overconfident and in a hurry so I left that out and paid the price. Specifically, certain kinds of data entry caused the user to fail to record their responses without being aware of it. Even rudimentary error checking would have prevented this. Beware!
It’s clear that there were some classmates who would have preferred a paper form—although only eleven people asked for the paper form, which was offered in the registration materials. On the other hand, having all the data in a database without any keying (other than the eleven paper forms) made the analysis much easier. I’d do it again next time.
What went wrong
The sign-up page for the Home for Little Wanders program was a failure. Only two people signed up using it and we ended up taking the page down because we thought that the low numbers were discouraging people from signing up. On the whole, I think that it is probably a mistake to have alternative means for signing up for something. The HLW was on the registration materials. That was sufficient as a signup sheet. The page was an unnecessary and confusing extra.
The problems with the class survey were a major headache (and heartache). As discussed above, the lesson is to provide error checking so you can catch problems early and fix them.
Suggestions for improvements
One of the best sources for ideas is to look at what other classes have done. You can see a list of class Web sites at:
Among the nice ideas that I found on other classes sites but didn’t manage to implement are:
- A list of classmate’s Web pages. There were a number of different ways of handling this. Some simply pulled the data off the Web. Some asked classmates to submit pages. Some included work sites and some only personal sites. My own approach would be to include (mostly personal) sites submitted by classmates.
- A list of books written by classmates. One had a link to Amazon. Don’t know if they’d set themselves up as Amazon associates so the class could collect some money from the sales but they ought to.
- Several classes had links indicating that they were posting class survey results but in all cases the links were broken. I take this to mean that the results were posted and that people complained that they were too freely available. (See suggestion below concerning log in to post.harvard.edu.)
It would be very helpful if there was some way for the class site to insist that certain pages could only be accessed by people who are logged in to post.harvard.edu. This would allow us to be rather freer about posting email addresses and information that we don’t want widely disseminated—like the class survey results.
We used a url of Harvard65.org. Other classes used url’s such as hr1964.org, hr73.org and even hrreunion.org. I’d suggest the hr19xx.org format, since it’s more inclusive. (Although nobody complained about our url :)
The standard HAA class page has a link to the Crimson. I think that it would be nice to have a page with links to stories from our time at college. It’s hard work to dig these out yourself.
Clearly these Web sites are works in progress. There is lots of experimentation going on; the technology is changing rapidly and the Harvard sites are also changing. I believe that in the future, as more ideas are implemented these sites will become more interesting and more useful. These are early days.
Also, if other Web masters would like to ask questions or share ideas, I’m happy to talk.
Whbean 20:04, 14 May 2007 (EDT)