I regularly read the City of Yarra website to find information about local services and to discover new local events. The more I read it, the more frustrated I get with how out of date it is. I’m in the mood for a whinging rant but I’ll also give them some free advice about how to create a modern site that meets the needs of the community.
Problem: the site is designed to be viewed only in Microsoft Internet Explorer. It looks crap in other browsers and creates an inferior user experience.
The City of Yarra website as viewed using Microsoft Internet Explorer v7 on a Windows PC
The City of Yarra website as viewed using Mozilla Firefox v3 on a Windows PC
Note how the layout is compressed in Firefox and the stylesheet does not correctly place text around shapes. The footer, for example, is pushed under the graphic elements above it.
Solution: design and test the site so that it looks the same on all browsers.
Problem: the events calendar is incomplete, out of date and a poor way to share information.
Solution: develop an inclusive and comprehensive calendar of events:
- Instead of a flat text page, deliver the content via a content management system that can deliver a feed of content ahead of the scheduled dates of events.
- Build an interactive calendar (using existing tool such as a Google calendar) that people can subscribe to or reuse or syndicate the data from the calendar.
- Allow individuals and organisations to add events to the calendar and post events on the website.
Problem: community consultation is often sought but the mechanisms for responding are tedious to use and provide a disincentive to participate.
Solution: use interactive tools such as a forum, wiki or commenting on pages or posts in a content management system to collect community opinions on particular topics.
Problem: I want to make an FOI application to the council, but I can’t do it online. On the FOI page they explain that I have to print out and complete a form, and post it in with a cheque for the application fee.
Solution: offer a text version of the PDF form that can be downloaded, completed and returned by email. Allow an online payment for the fee. The council accepts online payments for rates, so why not for other fees?
The City of Yarra site should be built using a content management system with a mix of static pages and dynamic posts, it should have a sophisticated taxonomy and metadata structure and it should include mapping, hyperlocal and geoweb features. I could provide far more detailed advice, but they should pay me for my expertise and that is not going to happen in a hurry, so I’ll limit what I give away here.
I suggest and predict that within a few years, local governments and other not for profit local community organisations will be managing and publishing local news sites like the ones I have been developing this year. Councils can provide a service to their residents by building the online infrastructure, such as up to date local news, as much as the physical infrastructure, such as roads, needed by residents.