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Some modest suggestions for AD Bjork

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Improving A&M athletics’ web presence

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Basketball Tournament- Tennessee vs Texas A&M
Courtney Walker knows web technology
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

I was listening to AD Bjork on the radio the other day and was thinking about what I’d like to see from Aggie Athletics from the POV of your humble hobbyist Women’s Basketball correspondent. Obviously everyone wants the Ags to win everything always but to some extent how balls bounce and who signs or transfers in every sport is only partly under the control of the AD. There are other things the AD could do in theory that would help winning or recruiting but that may still be impractical or too expensive within the priorities of the Athletics budget.

I have a couple of suggestions for small things that probably will have only tiny long term effects on wins but that should be completely under the control of the AD. I can argue that these things will help the bottom line through improving promotion of Aggie sports but I recognize that these will be small effects at best. Still, I’d argue that they reflect the attention to detail that is needed for taking a winning culture to the next level.

Fix 12thman.com

When I do the writeups on our games and especially when I do the Up Next sections of the game posts for WBB, I spend a fair amount of time looking stuff up on our website and the official websites of our opponents, both in the SEC and for our nonconference opponents. I also do web-related stuff in my day job (I’ve done my stint working on our departmental website and my research involves online data resources for microbial genomics). So I think I have some qualifications when I say:

12thman.com sucks.

The good news is that it doesn’t suck worse than almost every other athletics website out there. From what I can tell, A&M and other schools are all contracting their web tech out to the same company. The primary goal seems to be to host lots of ads. The bad news is that sucking as bad as other schools is still sucking. Web site suckage in general has two parts:

The user interface

The most basic function of a website (vs. say a media guide) is to be able to view content and navigate between different pages. These days that means the site needs to work on a wide variety of browsers and device types (phones, tablets, etc.) and needs to meet accessibility standards. 12thman.com does meet the accessibility standards (you can check on sites like this one) but otherwise it has issues. Menus don’t go to the right places - just now I tried to reach the WBB home page and wound up on some general page, and too often the wrong menu activates unless I shrink my browser window to mobile device size.

What’s especially pathetic is that the technical issues with 12thman.com are things that are not hard to address these days. A pretty basic Wordpress site would probably work better.

The content

The best and prettiest website is still not that valuable without content that users want to see, and users will put up with a lot of UI crap if the content is worthwhile. For an Aggie Athletics website there are some really basic pieces of information that IMO should be there: Information about the history of A&M sports. This includes things like:

  • Season stats from past seasons
  • Rosters
  • Player information
  • Old news stories

A lot of this stuff used to be on A&M’s website, but over the years it tends to get lost in various “upgrades”. I just did a test on 12thman.com by entering “Manziel” in the search box (where I had to use the tab key to enter information at all)

This is what I got

Searching 12thman.com for “Manziel”
jimhu

Really?

12thman.com is a mass of bad links. Some of these can be found by automated scripts that look for page not found errors, but others just go to live pages that are wrong.

Support the internet ecosystem around Aggie Athletics

The official website is only part of how Aggie Athletics gets seen in the online world. Online presence is a combination of things directly controlled by the Athletics Dept (website, official social media) and everything not directly controlled by the Athletics Dept. This includes sites like Good Bull Hunting and TexAgs and things that are not A&M-specific like our SBN parent and even Wikipedia.

There are two things that I would do if I was in charge of any athletics department. One is proactive: Have someone keep track of where we’re being covered and do things like make sure relevant Wikipedia pages are up to date. The other should be easier: put as much content as possible under open source licenses. I’m thinking of pictures, especially for the sports that are not heavily covered by national media - i.e. everything other than football and men’s basketball. This may involve paying photographers more but it would help make it much, much easier for sites like this one to cover games using pictures from the actual game instead of something from a previous season.

Why does this rant have a pic of Courtney Walker?

The stuff I’ve written above is just free-association by someone who has some experience with web content but to properly evaluate what should be done, it would be better to get advice from a pro. Finding the right people to consult in this area requires some care, however: too often the low bid web professional is someone more clueless than me who wants to use your money to fund their own continuing education in some popular platform (it used to be Dreamweaver; not sure what it is now).

Fortunately, we have a serious web professional among our former student athletes. During the last SEC tournament, Courtney Walker was interviewed about her current job with a company that does web development for big businesses. From the way she talked about her work, it seemed to me that it’s an outfit that knows what it’s doing.