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UConn's website has come a long way in five years
January 18, 1999

Five years isn't all that long - relatively speaking. But when you're speaking about the World Wide Web, it is an eon. So it's hard to believe that the University's Internet information system only just passed its fifth anniversary on January 17.

On that day in 1994, UCINFO - now known as UConnWeb - was born. The text-only, mainframe-based system began as a gopher (an information delivery system developed at the University of Minnesota in 1991), as a way to deliver information via the Internet. UCINFO was designed around two components, Gopher and Mole, which initially provided access for anyone connected to UConn's mainframe computer.

Planning for the campus information system began the previous summer, when the University Librarian at that time, Norman Stevens, and Barbara Cervera, a university assistant librarian, carted equipment to a meeting of the Computing Committee and presented a demonstration of how other universities were using Gopher technology.

"We wanted to show how technology such as this could be used by the University in providing information to a large audience," says Cervera.

A committee of faculty and staff known as the UCINFO Special Interest Group (a subgroup of the university-wide Computing Committee) was soon set up, reporting to Fred Maryanski, now vice chancellor for academic administration.

A steering committee set up early planning and policies, and began lining up departments which would upload information to the Gopher. "We had to convince people that this was something worth doing, that making their information available and keeping it up to date was important to them and to the University," says Cervera, who was the first chair of the UCINFO-SIG.

Among the earliest departments involved were: Admissions, which posted basic information for prospective undergraduate students; Student Union Activities, which posted the beginnings of what has become the University's Master Calendar; and University Communications (then known as Public Relations), which posted daily news releases and the Advance calendar.

"The group recognized from the beginning that there were considerable marketing capabilities available to us through the web. We thought it was very important to get information about the University out to what has become a very wide audience," Cervera says.

The original UCINFO was developed by staff of the University Computing Center, with individual departments responsible for uploading and updating their information. With the advent of graphic web browsers - notably Mosaic - in 1994, UCINFO took on a new look, the first of several facelifts over its short life-span.

In the summer of 1995, as the content burgeoned, University Communications was approached to provide a staff member to manage the content and organization of webpage menus. Since then, Mark J. Roy of the communications staff has served in that capacity.

"The challenge has been to provide an information system that is easy for people to navigate through," says Roy. "Everyone with a departmental homepage would like to be on the University homepage with a link, and the earliest versions of UCINFO had menus with as many as 50 links. With each revision we have pared down the list to specific categories which take users to the information they want.

"We don't have a perfect system - nor will we, because the Web is constantly changing. Web developers used to talk of a 'web year' being equivalent to three months. That is how rapidly it was evolving. I read recently that things are calming down, and a 'web year' is now considered to be a longer period, but the technology is still developing quickly," Roy says.

Last year, a redesigned UCINFO gained a new name, UConnWeb, and incorporated the new University seal and logos. UConnWeb-SIG has been restructured and is now chaired by Roy. With some new members from the faculty and staff, and undergraduate and graduate student members being sought, the group will develop a strategic plan for UConnWeb, to further develop it for external and internal audiences.

"We weren't the first, but we were right there" when online information systems for universities were being developed, says Cervera. "And there is much more to come. I'd like to see more interactivity, such as online chats across the University on important issues. There are more things we can achieve, and critical areas still to be developed with this technology."