A few weeks ago, the City of Eureka unveiled its ‘new’ web site. I have new in quotes because while it is new, complete with a new URL it has the look and feel of an ‘old’ web site. It was built with a proprietary Content Management System (CMS) by a company called Civica Software which specializes in city government web sites.
Don’t get me wrong, the site is a big improvement over the previous one. Still, given they spent quite a bit of money (I have heard $40,000 but have not been able to confirm this), I would have thought some more thought would have gone in to site in terms of functionality and design. And I don’t want to sound like this is sour grapes because our company, which builds web sites, didn’t get the contract for this one. The truth is, we didn’t even have a chance to bid on it. As far as I know, neither did any other local company. So much for supporting the local economy. That part really does make me a little sour. So, maybe that does color my critique. But you can be the judge.
So, what do I mean that the web site looks old, even though it’s new? Primarily, in terms of design, I think it’s the big clunky looking graphical buttons and headers. That style just has a feel of 1998 about it. but that’s really a matter of taste and so very subjective. Objectively, all the graphics makes for a much slower download time. For people on dial-up this can be painful. Additionally, none of the graphics have alternative text in the code. That means if you are surfing the web with images turned off, or if you are sight impaired and using a screen reader, the headings and the navigation will be pretty much inaccessible. This is not a good thing for a government web site.
I am also dismayed at the non-forward looking functionality of the site. A government site should be all about keeping the public informed: Tell us what’s new, tell us what’s happening. Because RSS (Real Simple Syndication – a service that allows someone to subscribe to a page or a site and have new information delivered to them automatically) is not available on the site, I would have to remember to visit the site on a regular basis to check for updates. Very old school. RSS is a great way to stay current with lots of sites. Use of RSS has not penetrataed to the vast majority of Internet users, yet. But a forward looking brand new government web site would be leading the way.
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Finally, and this one really got to me: The site allows you to subscribe to announcement mailing lists but these are not automated. If you subscribe, someone at City Hall manually adds you to a list in ther Microsoft Outlook application. If you want to unsubscribe, you have to send this person an email and they physically remove you from the list! I guess the assumption is that not too many people will sign up for these lists, so it’s not too labor intensive. But then, that too is not very forward looking.