This week, I had the privilege of speaking at HighEdWeb 2016, held in Memphis, Tennessee. As usual, it was a great conference full of informative sessions and even better people. For me, that’s really the highlight – seeing people I’ve known for years, sharing our successes, our struggles, and a drink. Or three.

This year, I talked about the new HTTP/2 protocol. Modern browsers require HTTP/2 to be served over TLS, so an SSL certificate is needed. While many of our .edu sites have SSL certificates, they can be a pain to install on other servers, test sites, and other projects we work on. I walked through installing Let’s Encrypt certificates.

Here’s the excerpt of the session:

When it comes to web pages, speed is always important. Users leave if a site takes too long. Google ranks faster sites better. Our browsers, computers, and smartphones have all evolved, but HTTP/1.1 was last updated in 1999. In internet years, that’s 5 lifetimes ago. Now, HTTP/2 has emerged as a modern update for serving content to users, quickly and securely. In this session, we will discuss HTTP/2, its improvements, challenges, and opportunities for web developers in higher ed. This speed comes at a cost – HTTP/2 is, for now, only servable via HTTPS, so we will explore easy SSL generation with Let’s Encrypt, a new certificate authority offering free SSL certificates.

You can view a PDF of my slide deck.

Highedweb DO IT LIVEIn my nearly 20 years of working in higher ed, I’ve been fortunate to have given dozens of conference presentations, but this year’s HighEdWeb presentation broke new ground for me. I’ve sat in many technical presentations where the presenter showed their tech, or their code, but not too many where some of the work was done live at the podium.

So I challenged myself – I thought what better way is there to show how easy it is to install a Let’s Encrypt certificate, so I took a big risk and did it live, in real time, on a real site, in front of 60 people.

I practiced many times, and most times it worked, other times the process was full of errors. On Tuesday, however, it went flawlessly and I generated and installed an SSL certificate successfully. Man, what a huge relief.

The Twitter backchannel was great:

Since the SSL certificate creation process went so smoothly, I also decided to turn on HTTP/2 on one of the test sites I included in the talk. Luckily, turning on HTTP/2 in Nginx is just a matter of adding a few bits to a config file. I did that, restarted Nginx, and showed that we were now serving HTTP/2 traffic. It was cool to have a bunch of folks in the audience testing the sites for me as we went and confirming the results.

All in all, the session was a lot of fun to put together and present. I learned a great deal during my research process, and based on the feedback, it resonated with folks as well.

If you’ve been thinking about submitting to do a presentation at a conference, such as HighEdWeb, I strongly recommend you give it a try. Presenting is exciting, rewarding, work-intensive, scary, and fun. This year’s talk was my third full session at HighEdWeb and my first solo presentation (minus the poster I did ’05), and it’s exhilarating to be up there sharing your experience and adventures.

Looking for some presentation tips, here are two great presentations from the Management and Professional Development track I co-chaired with my friend and colleague Aaron Rester from Roosevelt University.

The first, given by Genevieve Howard, talked about 5 public speaking skills you can incorporate into your presentations. You can view her slides here.

The second was given by the great Karlyn Borysenko and the great Jeff Stevens. Entitled “The Art of the Presentation,” it was full of tips and best practices when it comes to giving an engaging, memorable presentation.

These two presentations should arm you with the knowledge you need to be able to share your expertise and knowledge with your higher ed colleagues. It’s taken me around the world, so I strongly endorse giving presentations.

It’s interesting to see Google really pushing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and featuring sites that are AMP-ready more prominently in its mobile search results.

What’s AMP? Good question. It’s one I’m going to let my friend and colleague Jen Lombardi, owner of Kiwi Creative, explain, as she did in this blog post for the EdUI conference. She says:

With faster cellular data networks and increased access to Wi-Fi, people have come to expect that websites will load quickly and be easy to explore. But what if pages didn’t just load fast…but instantaneously? That was the goal of a group of publishers and technology companies that started the open source initiative named The AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) Project.

Introduced by Google on February 24, 2016, AMP pages now load 85% faster than standard mobile web pages…and this speed matters. According to one study, mobile pages that load one second faster experience up to a 27% increase in conversion rate.

Google says this:

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.

It’s interesting to watch Google reach into this space. Many of our sites today are responsive, but I find that even when responsive, the sites are huge, often unoptimized messes. This is especially prevalent in WordPress, where each plugin adds its own javascript and CSS files, and it doesn’t take long for a simple one page website to be well over 1MB in size. That’s crazy, especially on mobile.

AMP is forcing developers to reconsider the information they’re presenting, but the reward is more visibility in Google.

While AMP pages are getting pushed big time by Google, implementing this new technology can be tricky. For example, all your CSS must be inlined and not in external files. One more thing – that CSS has to be less than 50k. Search Engine Land has a deep dive into how to create these pages.

Want to see an AMP page in action? Here’s a post I did about Instagram a few months ago, but in AMP format. Have a look not only at the design but at the code inside it. You’ll get a taste for how much you have to shift, style wise, from external files into the actual HTML file.

As this site is created in WordPress, I turned to an AMP plugin created by Automattic.

Spoilers: there’s no setup or config for this. You install it, turn it on, and that’s it. It does all the work in creating the correct template, inline CSS, and body copy in all the ways Google wants it to be. My pages are also passing the AMP Validator tests. Yay.

AMP validation results for this site

This plugin also adds a meta tag to your regular WordPress theme, again with no added work on  your part, alerting Google that an AMP version of that page exists. It looks like this:

<link rel="amphtml" href="" />

That’s enough for Google to know there’s and AMP version and present it, if necessary, to site visitors via search.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re mind is traveling down the rabbit hole of all sorts of web development issues – issues like SEO, analytics, design, and more.

Read Jen’s post above as she covers SEO and design nicely, but AMP does allow developers to do analytics, ecommerce, and even advertising. This post from Google talks about how to integrate Google Analytics into AMP pages. If you use Jetpack and WordPress stats, this is another thing that the AMP plugin sets up automatically for you.

If you use WordPress, you should try this plugin. If you don’t use WordPress, the process to implement AMP can be more difficult and time-consuming, but if you rely heavily on Google, the reward may be worth the effort.

I can take or leave most infographics on the web, but this one caught my eye.

I’m probably not far off when I say internal communications can often be a struggle at most of our institutions. Whether it’s a consistent voice, a set schedule, or just getting approval from everyone who needs to approve a message, internal communications is a challenge.

I found this infographic by Newsreaver  interesting in the way it looks at the strategy and measurement of internal communications.

Have a look. Click for a full-size version. It’s a big one.