Sep 17, 2009
Indico's new face goes live
Indico has become a ubiquitous application at CERN, hosting (at the time of writing) almost 80,000 events and more than 300,000 contributions. It is a precious tool that allows users to benefit from a common platform that goes beyond a simple agenda system, and encompasses a complete event lifecycle-management tool.
In spite of its uniqueness and rich feature set, Indico has not escaped the effects of time: it was conceived at the beginning of this decade, based on the web technology available at the time, and was not really focused on user-friendliness or intuitiveness. In 2007, at the peak of the social web revolution, the differences between state-of-the-art web applications and the likes of Indico became evident. Criticisms centred on the complexity of the tool and the excessive number of mouse clicks required to perform any operation. In addition, the overall look and feel of the application was a little dated.
To address these problems, a series of studies was conducted. In the first phase, Indico was evaluated against the usability guidelines and best practices; and in the second phase, user feedback was carefully analysed, so that particular cases could be identified and user expectations addressed.
New Indico is now online
We are proud to announce that the new Indico is ready for use, albeit in beta form, at http://indicobeta.cern.ch. As with any new interface, users will need to familiarize themselves with it. However, we feel that people will find this investment worthwhile. Most should find it intuitive and simple because we have reused existing concepts and practices that have become de facto standards on the web.
Nowadays, internationalization is an essential feature for all web applications. With a large community of non-English-speaking users, the availability of different languages is a request that needs to be filled. The new Indico interface offers internationalization and a French translation is already available (other languages will follow). The tools that are being used allow other people to contribute and to easily translate the interface to any conceivable language. This important improvement will meet the demands of several educational institutions around the world. Figure 1 demonstrates that it is easy to switch languages in Indico and shows the final result after switching to French.
Simplified event creation
With the old Indico interface, a user would need to browse to the correct category and select the kind of event before creating an event. Now things are much easier. The "Create event" option is available everywhere, and the creation form (figure 2) is much simpler. It is a two-step process that involves choosing a target category and filling in some basic information about the event (an option to toggle to some "advanced" parameters is also available). The target category can be selected using an interactive category-browsing widget but if the operation is performed within a specific category, then this will be taken as default.
Lots of modern web applications make use of a technique called "inline editing", which allows the user to change information directly without having to switch to a modification view/form. We decided to give it a try with Indico and the results have so far been very positive. Inline editing is currently available from the "General settings" page (figure 3). For now, users can still use the old style to edit event data, but this will be discontinued if feedback remains positive.
Pop-up dialog boxes
One of the cornerstones of the new Indico interface is the idea that simple operations should not require a lot of page transitions. To achieve this goal, we have replaced some of the "auxiliary" forms with pop-up dialog boxes, reducing page transitions. Various operations such as "adding minutes", "uploading files" and "searching for users" (figure 4) have been greatly simplified by this new approach.
Shorter event list
The list of events inside a category can be quite long, for example in the case of long-standing periodic meetings. To make it easier and faster for the user, we have limited the number of events displayed to only the current month, and if there is space, its neighbours (figure 5). If other events are required, simply click on "Show them" and the display will be updated.
Improved category search
Searching for a particular event or category used to be a tedious task. Searching for a category was not possible and meant that the user had to browse through the categories to reach the required target. To solve this issue, we have introduced an "auto-suggest" feature in the search box (figure 6), which suggests category names matching the text input so far. Both the mouse and the arrow keys can be used to select the desired category.
New graphical conference timetable
The brand new timetable display interface is a groundbreaking feature (figure 7). It was completely rewritten from scratch, with flexibility and user-friendliness in mind. It now allows the user to browse the sessions and contributions in a graphical way that can be filtered by session and room. All of the information and functionality that was available in the old interface remains accessible, but in a simpler, more intuitive way. In management mode, the timetable view has been improved as well, and research is currently in progress to make drag and drop possible.
Customizable conference portals
Over the years, we have often been asked for more layout flexibility. In particular, many conference organizers did not want to use the default Indico layout. They would choose to create a "general site" for the conference and then link to the Indico page. From our perspective this was a great loss for both parties. It was possible for event managers to create custom pages with Indico before, but this feature was rarely used. We believe that by providing an additional level of customization, the new Indico conference site will better meet user's expectations. Indico now allows the conference organizers to upload their own Cascading Style Sheet files, making it possible to customize the look and feel of the pages. Some default templates are also available (figure 8).
The modifications to Indico are the result of two years of work and go from simple changes to the web interface to rethinking processes and operations deep in the core of Indico. We have put a lot of dedication and thought into this new interface, trying to make it as simple to use as current web technology allows. We hope that you feel as enthusiastic about it as we do. Send any feedback to email@example.com.
About the author
José Benito Gonzalez and José Pedro Ferreira, IT-UDS, on behalf of the Indico team