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BU Bridge Logo

Week of 19 February 1999

Vol. II, No. 24

Feature Article

OIT's free service wires BU for Web

By Hope Green

A bumper crop of Under Construction signs is springing up around campus, and they're not just for the new residence hall and medical buildings. They are part of a virtual world, where the Office of Information Technology (OIT) is helping students, faculty, and staff members to lay the foundations for their own Web sites through a service known as PeopleWeb (http://people.web.edu/).

More than 284 new sites have appeared since the OIT first announced the free service in December, according to Richard Mendez, director of OIT's Networked Information Services. Faculty are including research projects and publications on their sites, while students and staff members are displaying résumés, listing their favorite books, and creating virtual profiles of themselves complete with family photographs. Campus-based organizations are using the Web to post event calendars and gather feedback.

"In order to communicate in this world," Mendez says, "you must be able to speak and write well, and of increasing importance is the ability to communicate well on the Internet. The University recognizes the value of everyone on this campus learning to become not only a Web user but also a Web publisher. It's like learning a new language."

peopleweb screenshot

PeopleWeb offers templates and online tutorials that enable members of the BU community to create their own Web sites.

PeopleWeb is open to all BU students, faculty, staff members, registered student organizations, and academic program guests. The handle http://www.bu.edu/ webcentral/publishing/people/ brings the user to a page containing step-by-step instructions on how to apply. For the novice Web designer, there are template pages with slots for such items as résumés and publications, and a means to link with other sites. For those wishing to create a more complex design, PeopleWeb points to online resources for learning html, the computer formatting language of Web publishing. Courses in html will be offered next summer and fall at 111 Cummington St. While the PeopleWeb site includes a page of responses to frequently asked questions, there is also an e-mail slot for communicating with the IT staff. "We won't leave anyone out in the cold," Mendez says.

In the future, Mendez hopes to add a counting feature to track the number of site visits, a key word search engine, and audio and video. Brandon Itkowitz (ENG'99), Web site content creator for the BU men's a capella singing group the Dear Abbeys (found by clicking the Groups section in PeopleWeb) says he is intrigued by the idea of adding recorded music to the site. Already in place is an automatic link to an e-mail message screen, where visitors can provide the singers with feedback on their last concert or request a song for the next. Previously, students launched their sites from providers outside the University or found other servers on campus that did not offer support or tutoring. "PeopleWeb will be a more stable and secure place to hold our site so I can pass it on when I graduate," Itkowitz says.

Mendez installed a service similar to PeopleWeb at the University of Texas, where he worked for 14 years before OIT hired him in 1998 to launch its networked services division. Here he supervises a staff of three technicians who focus on Web publishing by departments and individuals. It is still relatively rare, he says, for a college campus to dedicate a work group solely to this purpose, but he expects this will change with the times. A growing number of institutions, he points out, are adding distance-learning programs in which class lectures and student papers are transmitted electronically on the Web. "When the Internet was first used in colleges, everyone thought of it simply as a repository of information, and now it's much more than that," he says, "so we don't even know the direction this technology will take in the future and how it will change people's lives."

PeopleWeb is designed for individual and organizational publishing only. Departments interested in Web publishing should visit www.bu.edu/ webcentral/publishing/dept/.