Joomla! at the University of Haifa
Background and Some History
The University of Haifa, like many other universities, has thousands of websites. From the main website of the university, to the faculty and department sites, to research centers and personal websites of researchers.Until 2004, virtually all websites were HTML-based, using outdated technologies like frames and tables.
At the end of 2004, we began to see new, modern concepts such as "separation of design from content" using CSS Ver. 2, and another BIG idea: Content Management Systems.For us, Content Management Systems were first and foremost able to meet the simple need of customers, i.e. faculty, departments and research centers. Their employees can update their sites without needing to learn HTML, not to mention CSS. The only skills required include a combination of an ability to work with a word processor and some e-mail software.
Why Did We Choose Joomla!?
We tried a number of CMS's using different technologies, such as Php-Nuke, e107, Plone and others. These systems, some of which were very common in various places already, met the basic needs. But in terms of design, we encountered difficulties, especially as our knowledge of PHP and CSS was insufficient and we could not manipulate these systems as we pleased. I discovered the opensourcecms.com site, which led to Mambo CMS, combining ease of use with reasonable options of design and good support for Hebrew. An Israeli support community grew led by David Gal and Reem Jacob, founders of the Israeli branch, and a lot of support and help also came from Yair Lahav. My bosses at the university's computing department received Mambo with mixed feelings. On the one hand they saw it as an amazing technology, but on the other hand I could not give my managers a phone number they could call (money was not a problem) in case of failure.
The First Project
Our first project was called "A Virtual Open Day” where people interested in studying at the University could learn about the department lecturers, etc., over the Internet without having to leave home. The project budget was relatively low and depended mostly on advertising, so I had to find a forum that could stand the load (hundreds of users simultaneously, and ten thousand hits a day). I suggested PhPBB, and when I was asked for a support phone number, I explained that there is none, however the support I get from Israel and the international community is far better than any commercial service. Virtual Open Day was a great success (in the following years many universities copied our format), followed by the unwritten approval to begin the serious use of Open Source CMS. The transition from Mambo to Joomla! made my heart beat fast for several days. The option that I had recommended caused some stress for a while, but eventually the migration of the entire community of users was realized.
Price vs. Benefit
We spent much time on the personal study of CSS, how to design templates, and some internal marketing efforts in parallel with the various university entities. The beginning was not easy: we needed to "sell" a system we did not know well enough, that was not always able to meet all customer needs. However, the ability to update the information themselves and the low cost (external bids were received between $15,000 to $25,000 for parallel capabilities) were in favor of the system. At this point we already had several systems all based Joomla 1.0, some with very intensive use such as the university speakers site which recorded thousands and tens of thousands of hits during the Second Lebanon War.
Time went by and Joomla 1.5 was introduced. Transitioning to it took us quite a while and we only actually started to work with it two years after it's release. As our skills in template design improved and we understood its many advantages over version 1.0, we began producing more and more 1.5 sites.
The Process of Constructing Sites at the University of Haifa
The process of setting up sites includes making calls profiling customers, process design which offers customers a numberof design suggestions, and finally integrating the design with Joomla!. We propose ten content items, and customersand their representatives are guided about providing content. We getall sorts of requests,such as implementing RSS feeds on cancellation rates, or advertising university events on the plasma screens spread throughout the campus. We found very quick Joomla! solutions for these needs. Application and simplicity win almost every contest in providing competitive solutions. One such solution is rolling messages based the student portal SAP.
The Adoption of Joomla! as the “De Facto Standard” by the University
Toward the end of 2009 and early 2010, a committee was chosen to recommend a "standardtechnology" for intranet websites on campus. The committee consisted of people from research centers and faculty. The Committee conducted seminars on the largest commercial companies in the market. I was given only one hour to show Joomla! But I had already created more than one hundred websites, and had wonderful support from the Israeli and international Joomla! sites. In one day's time the Committee recommended that almost all of the university's websites be built with Joomla!.
Courses and Future Vision
I have created a Joomla Course website and conduct basic Joomla! training. The course is intended for the university webmaster community (30 people), and they learn the system from installation, configuration of a Joomla! site through the inserting of content, use of extensions, backup, and the principles of template design.
Currently there is a decision that in the future most faculty will build Joomla sites. Today we stand with several hundred sites, and within two years this number is expected to double. We plan to train some of the programmers to be able to create components and modules that will communicate with the University legacy systems like SAP.
Last year began the transition to version 1.6 and successive versions. We are increasing the use of framework templates, especially JA T3 and its derivatives. These templates simplify the design process very much, and enable a standard look across all university sites, including access to sites via mobile devices of any kind.