About UNLedu and the WDN

The UNL Web Developer Network (WDN) is an open-invitation group of web developers working together to build UNL's websites.

The WDN operates by consensus, and a comprehensive list of standards (the Standards Guide) has been created to achieve a consistent experience for users of UNL websites. The Standards Guide is the guiding document for the WDN Quality Assurance process. The overall direction of the WDN is led by an elected Governance Board.

These resources are available to all interested parties, and your participation is welcome. Meetings are held on Second Tuesdays at 2 p.m. in the Nebraska Union. If you need immediate assistance, try the WDN chat room.

The first question we get is: "Why?"

You may not know it, but Nebraska is unique online.

Since 2007, UNL has had a unique set of standards for the development of the website that represents our university. All sites are published using a single template and codebase that we call the UNL Web Framework. This organization, the UNL Web Developer Network, was formed to encourage engagement and participation in that effort. To our knowledge, we're still the only R1 university taking this approach. Which naturally leads to a question: Are we nuts? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Did you know that unl.edu was recognized by eduStyle as the 'best overall website' of 2014?
Yeah, really.

You may be interested to know why this university has chosen this unique – for a university – path.

Our brand is important to us – While the term turns some off, especially in academia, brands are important. As a large public entity, our brand is our identity; it's our name and our face to the world. Well-managed brands benefit through each impression. In our case, UNL's identity – its brand – is enhanced each time a story about us comes out, whether it's told around the dinner table about a new Nebraska grad, or in the New York Times about an important new discovery enabled by our research. In our publications and websites, it's important that our brand is consistently and attractively displayed. The UNL Web Framework accomplishes that.

Our users are our focus Imagine you were shopping for a car. And every car you test-drove had different ways of steering, or a different arrangement of pedals. That would be a mess, right? Well, it's not very different from a website that randomly demands that users learn a new user interface at every second or third click. Ours doesn't do that. While there may be differing opinions about some choices we've made in terms of user interface or design (and there likely always will be), the fact remains that our consistent approach to the web enhances learnability of the interface and findability of the content.

Our community is our strength – The web is being reinvented every day. Over time, those little changes sometimes add up to big things, like responsive design, which is the ability to serve up pages that adapt to any screen size. Or CSS Grid, which creates an entirely new foundation for the future of web development, and which the Framework 5 release (2019) incorporates. In either case, no longer do sites need to maintain a completely separate website targeted to mobile devices. Instead, the site itself adapts to the parameters of whatever device it's displayed on. By continually reinventing the UNL Web Framework, we can incorporate new technologies, consistently throughout the website, at a level of efficiency that would just not be possible by taking any other approach. When responsive design was first introduced in the UNL Web Framework in 2012, this web community pressed forward together and quickly made the entire website, all 500,000 pages of it, optimized for any device, from 'classic' desktops and laptops, to tablets, to smartphones and more. The introduction of CSS Grid in 2019 creates amazing new design and presentation possibilities as we continue to move forward.

Our future is building – Just like the web in general aggregates bunches of little things into Next Big Things, the continual development of the UNL Web Framework continues to yield interesting results in delivering computing services directly, and transparently, to our users. Building an ecosystem in which we could maintain and update our codebase across multiple websites and web applications required some innovative thinking in code distribution. Today, synchronization of our framework code is a mature and every-day process. To that sync process, it doesn't matter whether that code is related to look and feel issues or if it's related to adding new functions. And some functions just make the most sense when delivered at the highest possible scale; when they're available from any page.

Today, each and every page of the UNL website offers a place to log in, and each and every page, when the user is logged in, carries a 'ticket' when logged in that allows the user to go from one service to the next without continually entering usernames and passwords (not all authenticated services at UNL take advantage of this single sign-on system, yet). Every page continually monitors for emergency alerts, and immediately displays any that are issued. Every page includes a comprehensive constituent-chat system that, when used well, brings us into direct contact with site visitors, giving them a personal touch of Nebraska hospitality. Every page is built from foundations that incorporate high standards of accessibility and code validity, giving developers a head start on supporting diversity and inclusion in the digital space, providing good search engine optimization, and delivering compatibility with the widest-possible variety of web browsers.

In the future, users could even – from any page – access a notification center that would aggregate the latest notifications from all major systems in one single drop-down panel (think Facebook notifications but, like, important).

It's things like this that make working on the UNL Web Framework interesting and exciting. Already, it's much more than a set of design instructions. Today it's an aggregation of best ideas for design and computing from across the university. As it continues to evolve, along with the web, its relevance and its ability to serve our users is only limited by our collective imaginations. Yours is welcome here.