I won't even bother covering everything I've missed. If it's important to the context in the future I'll fill in the details. It's a good policy: no playing catch-up just to make myself feel better. Work on what's important!

I stumbled across this recently. It's a well-considered and -supported solution to one of the many facets of institutional disorganization that bothers me about U of T. You'll note that every single organiziation and body within the university, every college, department, institute, and administration group has a different layout. Many of these feature poor design; some make me nauseous. Even the pages stemming from the root have a background that wraps badly at modest display resolutions (1024 x 768 and more) - which is amateurish in the the extreme. In many cases addresses typed without www. preceding, for example,, give needless error pages. That sort of thing should be handled automatically.

I'm not sure whether the existing lack of sound policy is to blame, or the ridiculous attachment webmasters always seem to have to their own designs. In any case, the whole university's public face (to potential undergraduate and graduate students, research and industry partners, and the media) would improve with:

  • A detailed but accessible CLF including templates, sample code, graphics (or a toolkit for producing them), covering text pages, contact listings, forms, tables etc. CSS is critical here to ensure webmasters don't add their favourite style of borders, rollover graphics and font scaling to various page elements.
  • A standard for incorporating dynamics pages, whether from PHP, ASP, CGI or other code, into the CLF. This could be done by providing a wrapper script.
  • Better URL/subdomain management.
  • Guidelines for RSS syndication of news.
  • Better, heirarchal organization of category pages with clear explanations. Rather than a website directory, a list of colleges a separate list of departments, a separate list of faculties etc. should be linked from the home page.

I'd go so far as to suggest the university develop or adapt an open-source CMS to be used by all departments. Creating a self-installing package that would set itself up automatically while prompting webmasters for department contact information and wrapper graphics would be the best bet. Ideally, layout should manage itself, while webmasters focus on keeping content up to date. Many webmasters I know, myself included, love to tinker with code and layout, but time should only be wasted on tinkering private pages. The university's major departments should have clean, well-maintained websites that present users with easily-accessible information, not a series of navigational puzzles.

The Government of Canada does a fairly good job of enforcing a common template across its various ministries - one that is simple but usable. A smaller organization such as the university should be agile enough to whip its web presence into a shape that reflects the technology-aware, forward-looking institution it hopes to be.

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