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Fast Track to a Mobile Website

How The University of Vermont developed and is maintaining its mobile site with minimal investment
University Business, May 2012

At The University of Vermont­, a small public research university, officials had realized that mobile would become very important to our stakeholders. It was 2007 and mobile adoption rates had begun to skyrocket. Smart phones had begun to proliferate nationally and at the institution, which has an average combined enrollment of 12,500 undergraduate, graduate, and medical students.

Our first mobile site, developed by students in a computer science class, was published in early 2010. While this early site was very rudimentary, it cemented an interest and need for a website specifically designed for mobile devices.

As we began to see steady increases in mobile traffic in our web traffic data, we knew we needed to develop a mobile strategy for the website. Technology-forward schools were providing easy access to staff and student directories, real-time bus schedules, interactive maps, news feeds and more to their community via advanced mobile websites and custom mobile apps. But many schools were behind in providing a mobile experience that also truly encompassed student recruitment goals.

In thinking about implementing a mobile solution, we recognized that there wasn’t one device type or platform that students and staff favored. Many different smartphones, from iPhones to BlackBerries to Androids, were being brought to and used on campus. Additionally, many students and staff members were using feature phones that had a wide variety of screen sizes, keypads, and touch screens. Some also had tablet devices.

We wanted to effectively reach prospective students and keep the current student body engaged through mobile while supporting a diversity of devices. However, we did not want to be forced into creating new or additional content that we would have to manage for multiple device types. Moreover, we needed something that was scalable, easy to deploy and maintain, and cost effective.

In the summer of 2011, the admissions office, working with a student, began working on an iPhone app. In parallel, we began seeking a mobile web solution. We turned to the open source Kurogo mobile platform to meet our needs.

Kurogo’s device detection and its ability to support a mobile optimized website that works on smartphones and feature phones was very valuable. Since our target audience would be accessing the site from a broad range of devices, we needed something that would work for everyone.

We did not have many development resources available and needed a mobile solution up and running quickly. Using a single summer intern and a small portion of a single staff member's time, we were able to deploy a site in August 2011 after about two months of active development. Tapping into existing content feeds from our website and modifying others, we created a mobile site. The site included not only Kurogo's news, events, directory, map, directory, and emergency information modules, but also our own custom modules with access to admissions, course, degrees, and other essential information.

Additionally, we easily customized the look and feel of the new site to integrate with our web branding. This was particularly important because, while we have very talented people on staff, our team is responsible for requests from a variety of internal stakeholders and does not have extra cycles to spare.

After deployment, we have been able to maintain and improve the mobile site with minimal investment of resources. We plan to review the first year's traffic data on the mobile site and then release an update in the summer of 2012 including new content, such as photos, an improved athletics interface, and additional admissions information.

The UVM mobile site provides essential information to prospective and current students, faculty, staff, alumni and other visitors. Prospective students can review our list of majors, watch videos about life on campus, find out about campus tours and open houses, see application dates and other information and view a map of campus locations.

Current students can browse courses, find contact information and office locations for professors, and peruse student events.

Faculty, staff and alumni can browse news, on-campus events and more.

Our diverse audience can find all the information they need in a mobile optimized format.

We've seen a steady growth in traffic to the mobile site with visits tripling in the first eight months to a current level of about 10,000 visits per month. In today’s age of mobility, it’s critically important to adopt a mobile strategy. With the right tools and a solid team, other schools can follow our example and get up-and-running quickly.