Campus directories done right

Not to throw too many tomatoes, but the Daily Emerald made a very “newspaper” mistake today with their website. I’d like start a discussion about “the better way to do it.”

Case in point: The Daily Emerald, I believe as a part of their magazine edition for IntroDUCKtion, created a campus directory. The directory includes dozens upon dozens of email addresses, URLs, and phone numbers for student organizations and sports at the University of Oregon. In the print magazine, which I don’t have access to because I’m in Portland, I’m sure this list of contact information is beautifully presented in an approachable, useful format. Unfortunately, this same list made its way into the website as a long, ugly, flat text file:

Daily Emerald Campus Directory - July 13, 2009

In my humble opinion, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

What if, instead, we approached this directory as the database that it really should be? This web-native directory would have profiles for every student organization much like students can have profiles on Facebook. I’d be able to search for organizations based on the name, the location on campus, people currently involved, the mission of the organization, tags, etc. If I found a organization I was interested in, I’d click through to their profile. The profile would then give me access to all of the contact information I might need in addition to the most recent or popular articles, images, videos, updates from the campus’ microblog, etc. There’d be a small wiki section for the organization or sport where I could read up on its history and know that the information I was getting was true because it had been curated by the beat reporter.

I see at least two advantages to this approach, in addition to making all of the information much more accessible (versus the flat text file). One, you’d only have to build this once. Two, you’d save the reporter or designer a lot of time having to search for the most up to date contact information because they could just pull the information from the database as they’re creating the print product.

Think of role of the student news organization less as a newspaper and more as a platform for impartial, accurate community information to be shared.


S.P. Sullivan July 14, 2009 Reply

Just to push this a little further, what would you use to create said database? I ask because I’ve been thinking about doing the very same thing for, and what The Emerald has is exactly what I didn’t want to waste our time doing.

Though in their defense I just went into the CollegePublisher admin [they haven’t locked me out yet], and there’s no such feature, but I wonder if you could jury-rig it with an HTML element.

Would what you have in mind be something you build in-house or a WordPress plugin like this one? I like the plug-in because it’s clean and pretty customizable, but it might be too simple.

Daniel July 14, 2009 Reply

Haha, that’s a very good, pragmatic question. To be honest, I think it’d really be defined by the scope of your project. If it’s simple enough, it might even be worthwhile to build it from scratch with PHP. I know that Will Davis is currently building a classifieds system because he doesn’t like any of the other options out there. I believe it would be more trouble than it’s worth to try any jury-rig it into College Publisher although, if you were locked with CP as a CMS, you could just build your app on a subdomain or something.

Personally, I’d either take one of two routes: build a directory app with Django that ideally integrates with the content management system, etc., or have the directory be a component of a more general campus wiki. The Design Camp session on news wikis might have a lot of insight for you on that. In addition, we’re thinking about having “challenges” for newspapers this fall as an extension of Design Camp. The challenges would be a competition to see who could build the best X application/tool, although maybe not compete head on, and they’d get some sort of recognition at the end. Some ideas in a nutshell.

albert July 15, 2009 Reply

Problem is, this database sounds like a lot more work.

And flat text files aren’t so bad.
Ctrl-f/Cmd-f is your friend!

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