Background

Like many institutions, over the years the college’s primary Web development efforts focused on developing great Web resources for prospective students, parents, and the general public.  The result was that once a student matriculated, their web experience deteriorated greatly from their experiences with our prospective student portal. Information was hard to find, multiple logins were required to access information and services, and the site did nothing to help bring about a sense of community.

During the spring of 2007 the College’s Web Strategy Group identified addressing this gap as the top Web development priority for the 2007/08 academic year.  The goal of the project was to create a Web environment that would:

  • Streamline the user experience by providing a single entry point to most commonly used services for a particular constituency group
  • Increase faculty, staff, and student satisfaction by making common transactions more intuitive, easier, and online
  • Improve communication between the college and the campus community and within  the campus community
  • Provide a collaborative environment
  • Improve sense of community
  • Improve efficiency
  • Improve quality of content on the Web / Information Provided

To meet these goals a small team was assembled to examine solutions at other institutions and develop a project proposal.  Their recommended solution was to create a dynamic internal “home page” or “lightweight” portal environment which would leverage our existing content management systems and infrastructure, provide one-click access to various Web resources, and allow individuals to customize their experience and bring in information from outside of the college.

A lightweight portal is defined as a simple user interface framework for portal presentation and interaction that uses existing services (as opposed to introducing a new system and application infrastructure).

The team examined a number of existing portal environments, including those provided by Oracle, SunGard, and the open source uPortal.  The team felt that each had functional limitations, required significant technology infrastructures, and / or were not able to take advantage of existing web services that were already in use.  In addition, none of the existing products provided a modern interface for user experience that we believe our students, faculty and staff have come to expect in the age of Facebook, Twitter, iGoogle, and the like.

The college decided that the best way to proceed was to write our own system by leveraging existing Web developer resources supplemented with a previously known external developer.  Using the open source MooTools Javascript framework as a foundation for our development, the service was built almost entirely using javascript and XML, with a little PHP and mySQL to manage user sessions and the portlet library.

Initial development work started in September, 2007.  An invitation-only alpha version was launched in January, 2008, and the first college-wide public beta followed in March.  The initial production version launched on August 11, 2008.  Along the way the development team met with constituencies across the campus, held public demonstrations, and solicited input from the campus community.  The response was overwhelmingly positive to what we were developing.   Version 2 of myHome was released in August, 2009 introducing social networking features and a sophisticated mobile version.