This summer ITS Digital Services will move the web.unc.edu WordPress network to the cloud while also making some big changes to improve accessibility and branding.

Web.unc.edu is a self-service network on which anyone with an Onyen can create a professional-looking website. The network contains more than 5,000 websites, with the vast majority created by students for coursework.

All ITS-supported WordPress sites will move to a cloud platform, Pantheon, which Digital Services uses already to support a few sites, including Alert Carolina. Pantheon, the cloud hosting provider, offers robust development and testing tools that haven’t been available locally.

Kim Vassiliadis headshot
Kim Vassiliadis

“Moving all of our websites to our current Pantheon portfolio allows for continuity of services and support, with everything available under one dashboard,” said Kim Vassiliadis, Manager, Digital Services & User Experience.

Will free up resources

The migration to the cloud, she added, also helps to free up resources for ITS’ Infrastructure & Operations division, which supports the WordPress services currently hosted on ITS servers.

In addition, the move gives Digital Services the opportunity to rethink offerings, address University branding and digital accessibility, and educate users that website ownership comes with responsibility.

Websites that end in “.edu” are designated for accredited postsecondary institutions and are meant to demonstrate credibility.

“As the University expands its digital footprint, we want website visitors to easily distinguish between websites that represent the University in an official capacity and sites created for a classroom assignment or personal use,” Vassiliadis said.

Unc.edu URLs for official University websites

Digital Services will create a new tarheels.live network. All existing web.unc.edu sites will keep their unc.edu URL, but new sites will have tarheels.live as part of their web address. Details are still being finalized. New “unc.edu” URLs will be reserved for official University websites, such as academic departments, University centers and initiatives.

To obtain the “unc.edu” URL, website owners must show that their site represents the University, demonstrates its purpose to exhibit trustworthiness and meets baseline accessibility requirements. They also must attend accessibility training, provided by the University’s Digital Accessibility Office, within a semester.

Websites that students create for a class probably wouldn’t qualify for unc.edu URLs. Neither would a website created for personal use.

Between September 2019 and April 2020, users created 1,374 websites on the self-service network. Of all those sites, 56% were created for a class. Employees made just 307 of all the websites, or 22 percent.

For sites made for a class, often the website’s purpose or intent is not clear. Also, many of these websites created for class projects are never touched again. In addition, some display copyrighted images without permission, and some don’t comply with digital accessibility standards.

Websites need to be accessible

In December, UNC-Chapel Hill created a Digital Accessibility Policy to ensure that its websites are accessible to everyone.

“UNC takes pride in being an inclusive institution, and our digital work should be inclusive as well,” Vassiliadis said.

With “unc.edu” URLs by default, websites look like they are official University websites. Using tarheels.live URLs removes the sense that these sites are officially connected with UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We recognize that this is a big change,” Vassiliadis said,” but we believe this will strengthen trust in the University’s digital presence.”

Aligns with Carolina’s strategic plan

These changes to the web.unc.edu self-service network also align with the University’s strategic plan, called Carolina Next, which the University unveiled in January.

Carolina Next calls for UNC-Chapel Hill departments, schools and entities to optimize operations or, in other words, operate in an efficient and effective manner.

Another initiative within the strategic plan, Build Our Community Together, encompasses investing in a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. Digital Services’ emphasis on increasing digital accessibility helps foster a sense of belonging and equity in achievement across different populations.

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