Blog from October, 2013

A lot has changed in the SLIC interface since last year. We are happy to present to you an updated SLIC Portal, which includes a lot of new features:

  • Browsing the categories is now much easier thanks to the hierarchical "tree" that lists talks and courses
  • We will be uploading a lot more course lectures from previous years!
  • Searching slide words now takes into an account the state of the categories' checkboxes
    • users can search globally or narrow their search down to a specific category
    • the search terms stay in effect when the user opens a video page (effectively searching within the selected presentation)
    • search results can be further sorted based on various criteria (e.g. by displaying the most recently presented talks first)
  • Video page and the corresponding presentation information have been updated to provide more details
  • Slides' timing information has been added to show when a slide has been shown multiple times

For a more detailed report about the new features keep reading this post. Also, you can check the SLIC Help page for a quick overview of the site's features.
As usual, don't hesitate to contact us with feedback.

(Click on the thumbnail above to see the full-resolution image).

?Notes from Alexander Danehy, the SLIC Portal interface developer:

Upon laying eyes on the development branch of SLIC Portal, many new features are instantly noticeable. To keep things clear, we'll start at the top of each page and make our way to the bottom.

This landing page is internally known as "browse", so you may see me refer to the front page with that nomenclature, occasionally.

[Search Bar]
We took many of the frequently accessed features and put them in the search bar, to minimize click-through requirements. Such features include narrowing down by presentation year, the ability to sort by various, numerical criteria, and a new feature, which allows the user to filter out slides which do not appear in a video. Alongside these features is a new button, specific to the next section in this post.

[Document Tree]
Since the last release of SLIC: Portal, we have gone through a great deal of discussion centered about the notion of browsing. As a long-time user of computer and Internet technology, I've grown accustomed to the widely accepted methods for finding information. Along the way, Google seems to have been the authority on what's "best" for users, in this context. As such, discretizing "Search" and "Browse" has been a complete non-issue. Usually, a user has a general idea of what she wants, so she types in some relevant keywords then browses through the results that remain.

However, in SLIC, we've decided to employ "Searching" separately from "Browsing". That's not to say that the traditional, Bing-type search-then-browse methodology is not present, in our system. On the new SLIC Portal, you will find a file tree, similar to that found in many operating systems. As long as I've been a part of SLIC, the notion of a "Course" has always been separate from "everything else", otherwise known as a "Talk". As such, there are two roots to the tree.

The "Talks" tree is organized by "who held the presentation" (organization), "what kind of presentation it is" (category), and "the event containing the presentation" (event). Multiple talks can occur at an event. We feel that this structure is sensible since it essentially equates to "largest to smallest element". Think of it as a date format: 2013-08-01. In this format, the largest time period is listed first (year), followed by the second-largest (month) then the smallest is last (the day). The same basic structure holds for "Courses". "Institution" -> "Department" -> "Course Title" -> "Semester". Similarly, multiple lectures occur in a single course.

Arriving at such a structure hasn't been easy. The SLIC team sank weeks into deciding what the "best" approach can be. Truthfully, I found that process fascinating. We all use user interfaces founded in one paradigm or another and we all just assume that such an implementation is obviously the "best". But throughout the aforementioned process, I discovered that everybody has an opinion on what would be most functional and practical. Stranger yet: everybody provides infallible reasoning for his or her opinion.

Having nothing selected is equivalent to having everything selected. Selecting any single node in the tree will then narrow the list of visible presentations to those associated with the selected node and its parents. The tree is a straightforward, one-to-one projection of the database and can theoretically grow infinitely, as the database does.

Along with the tree are buttons to make large selection changes easy and quick. "Check All" and "Uncheck All" do precisely what they say they do. We also have added the ability to hide the tree. As the collection of talks and courses grows, so will the tree. After a while, it is likely to become unwieldy and hiding it will clear up a lot of real estate on one's screen.

[Information Bar]
This is largely a new home for data displaced by the newly available and visible features. It shows the number of presentations relevant to one's current filter set (text search, year range and tree node selection) and the slide count, therein. This also houses the "Reset" button. Clicking this will clear the search terms, reset the tree to "nothing selected" and reset the year range to be all-inclusive. It fully-resets the state of the page as if the user has just arrived.

[Slide Information]
Going forward, we will refer to a collection of slides on the page as a "slide scroller".
If a slide appears in a video more than once, there is now a visual indicator overlaid on the slide. Clicking such a slide will present the user with a list containing each time that slide appears. When the user clicks one of those times, the page will then act accordingly (if on the VIDEO page, it will seek, if on the front page, it will load the VIDEO page then seek).

- Video -
[User states]
The same way that the application will remember a user's display type choice (slide bars or just cards), the application remembers where a user left off, in a video. If a user watches a video partially then leaves, ANY TIME she returns, the video will seek to the last-seen point and activate the current slide.

[Seeking Options]
If a user drags the playhead (seeks in the video), the application will now be aware of the currently-shown slide and seek to it. When doing this, the application will center the currently active slide on the page to make it apparent which slide is considered "active".

Lest we forget: we're tracking video views, now.
SLIC is fully-portable and will work on ANY LAMP or WIMP stack (it will probably work anywhere, for that matter but it hasn't been tested anywhere else). It also fully supports SSL, should an administrator choose to do so. ALL of SLIC's front-end code amounts to approximately three megabytes; and that's if a user hit EVERY file along the way, which doesn't happen under normal circumstances.