Web Services

Application Services | Technology Services

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We met on August 12 to discuss some of the new projects and applications available to campus webmasters. We also touched on the status of some of our ongoing projects. Here’s the powerpoint from the meeting.


Since our last meeting, we have hired a full-time support administrator for the Web CMS, Tiffany France. She has been through several extensive RedDot training seminars and is working on creating the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign website in RedDot as both a learning exercise and a way for the various departments that regularly update the site to more easily keep it up to date when CVC kicks off this year. She will also be working on implementing a newly redesigned Technology Services website within the CMS over the fall, which we are planning to introduce in the spring semester.
As Tiffany goes through these two sites, she is learning a great deal about how the system works and will be prepared to help other departments implement their websites in the RedDot CMS.

New and Improved!

We’ve added or updated several tools to help departmental websites better cope with existing needs, including revamping our events calendar, fixing our mailto script, creating a new form processing application, and creating an application to view iTunes usage statistics for those who use iTunes U to host content.

Events Calendar

As of our meeting, the Events calendar now integrates a fully interactive version of the Academic Calendar for students and faculty to more easily plan their academic year. The interactive additions will link students directly to documentation and help on how to do things such as add/drop classes, etc.
We’re also working on cleaning up the data entry form for new calendar events. Previously, it was all done on a single, very long page. Now the process is spread across four pages to help decrease information overload. In addition, we’ve added a few more options:

  • Public/Private Events – Public events will show up on the university-wide calendar for anyone to view. Private events will not show up on the university-wide calendar, but will appear in the departmental calendar RSS feed.
  • RSS Keywords – RSS keywords allow you an extra level of filtering for your RSS calendar feed. Think of them as user-definable categories for your events.

Mailto script + Recaptcha

As you may have already known from previous emails on the WUG-L listserv, we updated the mailto script about a month ago. We added Recaptcha functionality to the script processor to filter out automatic spambots that have been sending through various web forms hosted at VCU. Read the updated documentation for the mailto script for more information.


Ever wanted to save form results in a spreadsheet automatically in addition to receiving them in an email? We created myForms.vcu.edu to do just that. Simply log in to myForms.vcu.edu, add a new form, and point it to your form and confirmation pages. Then, it’s just a matter of pointing your form action to the myforms script and adding a hidden form field. MyForms will automatically record data entered on your form into a CSV spreadsheet and email you as well. Read the full documentation on myForms or begin setting up your own forms at myForms.vcu.edu.

VCU iTunes Stats

Faculty and staff who post content to iTunes U have been wanting to know the statistics for their content practically since we set the service up. Because the servers are hosted by Apple, it was not as simple as recording the logs and parsing them with Urchin. Apple sends us weekly emails with spreadsheets attached, but the data recorded in the spreadsheet is too dense for the average staff person and contains private information on who logs in and what they access. Obviously we can’t share private data with everyone, and iTunes publishers don’t want to know minute details of server logs.
So we created a statistics application to parse the spreadsheets and pull out the important data, easily viewable by content area down to the specific track. For a specific period of time, you can view:

  • The number of people who browse each section
  • The number of edits done to a specific section
  • The number of times an individual track is previewed (previews are 30 second sound bytes streamed from the iTunes server)
  • The number of times an individual track is downloaded

Using the slider at the top, you can limit the statistics to a certain weekly period. (You can’t view down to specific dates simply because the data we receive from Apple is by weekly intervals.) You can click on linked sections to view more specific data about them, down to the content level within individual course albums.

Google Search Appliance

We have set up the Google search appliance we purchased earlier this year and are now running it for the VCU homepage and main search page. Using the Google search appliance is beneficial for several reasons:
Better control of indexing

  • We can crawl new and updated sites as soon as they are available. Using the old Google-hosted solutions, reindexing a site could take up to a month if the site had just been indexed prior to the update.
  • We can crawl authenticated content securely. If you have password-protected content you would like to have indexed, let us know where it is (and either provide access or a generic crawling account) and we can add your private content to the index. Note: we don’t crawl private content unless it is requested. Private content will show up in results if it is indexed, but will still require authentication before it can be viewed.

Better control of results

  • KeyMatch results let us highlight/recommend specific sites for specific search terms. This is a pretty obvious benefit, but try running a search for “registrar” to see an example.
  • We can remove duplicate results, old data, and unwanted listings from our own search engine quickly.

We will have documentation for how to set up your own website to use the new Google search appliance up shortly.

Project Updates

VCU Blog Upgrade

We just got the server space set up for the upgraded version of the VCU Blog. We will be installing, testing, and porting data over to the new version this fall. There is no current ETA on when the new version will be ready; if testing and porting data over goes well, it could be available by late September or early October. We will be using the latest version of Movable Type 4 Enterprise.

Central Authentication Service

This application has already been deployed for limited use. It is in use by several non-critical applications including the updated training site (for training managers) and test applications. We have tested it as an authentication mechanism on Jupiter to password-protect website directories. If you want to explore using the CAS for your site or web application, we are willing to work with you to set it up.sd

VCU Wiki

We have MediaWiki installed and set up if you absolutely must have a wiki for your school or department. However, on extended use, we feel that MediaWiki has several detractors that prevent it from being the best solution for the problem we are trying to solve.
The interface for editing and creating new pages within MediaWiki is not intuitive; non-tech-savvy web users may balk and get frustrated using it. It is also not friendly for administrating groups of people – in order to set up group access for private wikis currently, several people in our department are involved in manually setting them up within LDAP. We would like to see a wiki that automatically allows wiki admins to set up their own group of people who have access.
We are currently back to evaluating alternative wikis.

Urchin Upgrade

Google released recently Urchin 6. Sporting a new interface similar to earlier versions of Google Analytics, it should be a very useful upgrade in the tool belt of our many web users. We are in the process of acquiring it and will hopefully have more information to post about this soon.


We have a production PHP server working in a limited mode. Currently we support several non-secure department websites on our PHP server. We are waiting on the announced production MySQL server before we are ready to fully support PHP in production; at this time, a target date has not been set. Because there is no MySQL server, departmental websites hosted on the PHP server must rely on locally hosted MySQL databases that are more difficult to back up properly. Currently every department hosting a site on the PHP server is responsible for backing up their own database. We also cannot support secured (https) domains on the PHP server at this time.
If, understanding the current limitations of the system, you still wish to host a site on the PHP server, you may request an account.


Go.vcu.edu is live. It works, and is ready for your keywords. However, we are working on a new version that will be even better. We envision a version with a homepage that has updated lists of the most popular keywords as well as access to all of the available keywords. We envision keyword management for anyone who wants to suggest keywords (approval is still ultimately moderated to prevent spam or abuse) including keyword/link updating, keywords tied to a specific user so they can update them easily, and integration with the CAS for easier use.

Spring Follow-up

Jupiterold will be retired at the end of August 2008. The last known website running on Jupiterold was moved off on August 26th. Due to the security risk of running Frontpage extensions on an Apache-based web server, Technology Services will be eliminating support for Frontpage extensions on the people server (www.people.vcu.edu) and will be retiring the CVCO server at the end of December 2008.
We also want to remind you of the Technology Services Change Management System. We built this application last year to track all of the technology changes we make in our department and help our users to keep abreast of what changes might affect them. You can view all upcoming changes at go.vcu.edu/changes; you may also want to consider signing up for listservs related to specific functions to notify you when services or applications will be unavailable. You can sign up for notification emails by clicking “Do you want to be notified?” at the bottom of the page above.
Finally, we mentioned last time that the VCU home page would be redesigned this year. Due to VCU’s 40th anniversary and a number of other projects, this project has been postponed until 2009.
If you have any questions about any of the above information, please don’t hesitate to contact the VCU Webmaster, Stephen Grainer.

Categories Meeting Minutes