University’s Information Technology Division has launched a beta version of the new eWeber portal.  Everyone at WSU will automatically transition to this new version on March 5.

Students can explore the beta portal by visiting www.weber.edu and clicking the new eWeber graphic under the traditional log-in area.

“The current portal was not very flexible and was running on code that was many years old,” said Peter Waite, web service manager. “It was somewhat outdated and didn’t allow is to incorporate the new Web 2.0 features that users expect, so we launched this project to develop a portal that had a lot more flexibility and could adapt to what users want more than us dictating what users want.”

The new flexibility features of the portal focus on the tabs and boxes, also known as channels.

Users can drag and drop the boxes, such as the Announcements and Today’s Events boxes, to different locations around the page or even stack them on top of each other to place favorites in easy reach.

The magic wand tool at the top left of the page sets all the boxes back to a grid layout.

“When it comes to dealing with layout, the magic wand is your best friend,” said Nicole DeFriez, project coordinator of the IT Division.  “If they get stacked skiwampusly, the magic wand puts it back together.”

Users can also move channels around to different tabs and create new custom tabs, adjust the width of channels and order tabs, all by clicking and dragging.

Besides the flexibility features, the biggest change with the eWeber portal is that it is now owned by WSU and doesn’t require licensing of a third-party product.

“One of the big things we wanted to do was to save some money for the campus,” said Ben Barraza, web systems architect. “Big enterprise pieces of software like portals run into the millions of dollars to purchase.  We made a conscious decision with budgets being so tight that we wanted to put this together in-house and save a little to a lot of money.”

After the initial purchase of the software that supports the current portal, Barraza estimated the yearly licensing fee was over $50,000.  If the IT Division had not created an in-house system, Waite said they probably would have switched to a new vendor.

“If we would have had to do that, we would have had to petition for funds upward of 250 (thousand) to a million dollars,” Barraza said.

Waite said the vice president of the IT Department will choose how to allocate the money saved within the department.  The money they saved could possibly be allocated to getting more wireless Internet support at WSU or creating more and improving current WSU mobile apps.

“We have the mobile website that launched last fall at m.weber.edu that has a collection of apps that students can use now,” Waite said.  “We’re working now to get those into the apps stores, so it’ll be more convenient, so you don’t have to type the URL into the browser.”

The vendor that supports the current portal has done so since 2003.  During the past nine years, according to Barraza, the vendor has not upgraded the system despite many changes to the Web and how users connect and interact with websites.

“Now we control the rate of the updates and the responses to the changes in the Internet world,” Barraza said. “We can be a lot more responsive, we can be a lot more flexible, and we can cater to the needs of the WSU community rather than the industry as a whole.”

The eWeber portal will continue to change and, according to Waite, improve.

“This isn’t the end,” Waite said. “We’ll be making incremental improvements to the portal from here on out . . . We like to make them on an incremental scale, so they’ll be less abrupt to users.  That’s the plan, though, to constantly improve it.”

Among the new eWeber features is a channel where students can provide feedback to the site developers.

“I love the ease and being able to change the layout,” wrote one WSU student. “It’s so much better, but I think there should be a snap-to-grid functionality.”

Waite said feedback is crucial to the portal’s further development.

“Part of the reason for the beta was to gather as much feedback as possible because we think the users are the ones determining the future of this system, whose needs we’re trying to meet,” Waite said.

Barraza said the IT Division anticipates that the system will have a few bugs in it, but that they need feedback to help them fix those bugs now before people have to fully rely on it.

“One thing that’s true with the Web in general is that modern websites are all about empowering the user and letting the user define their experience in the website,” Barraza said. “That’s the direction we’re trying to move with this portal.  It has the potential to be a big part of your electronic life at Weber State, and we want it to address your needs.”

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