In May 2009 I wrote about some of the problems with the City of Yarra website. In June I wrote to them and volunteered some ideas about how they could improve their website and their communications. In July I wrote about this here and about how the City of Yarra had announced that they planned to update their site.
In November I undertook a comparative analysis of Melbourne local government websites and acknowledged that, despite its functional limitations, the City of Yarra site’s content was better than comparable sites. No further news was made available about their proposed site update and I forgot all about it until the new site was revealed last week.
A screen capture of yarracity.vic.gov.au made on 21 August 2010
I revisited my previous posts about their site and reminded myself of the predictions I made last year about their new site. Before I get to that, however, my initial response is mixed. The good news is that there seems to be more content. The bad news is the structure of the site is poor.
The homepage features two different news sections: ‘Hot topics’ and ‘Latest news’. Neither links through to a dedicated news page, despite the fact that the latter contains the same content as the ‘News and media releases’ page, and neither section has an RSS feed.
Similarly, the ‘Things to do’ section on the homepage does not link through to the ‘Events calendar’ page, which is buried within the ‘Events and attractions’ section of the left hand navigation on the homepage. It does link through to a ‘Things to do’ page, which is the same static page as on the old site. So there are now two separate events pages on the site. That’s ridiculous.
The events calendar itself is badly designed. It defaults to events for December 2010 (in other words, the events most in the future are listed in descending order), which is not very helpful (and it does the same when you search for a specific date range). It doesn’t display the events in an actual calendar format and there is no iCalendar (.ics) feed of the data.
Back to my suggestions from 2009. I’ll list each and give a YES / NO as to whether it has been delivered:
- design for all browsers, not just outdated versions of IE – YES
- use a modern content management system like WordPress, not whatever antiquated platform currently used – YES
- use interactive tools, such as a calendar that can accept user input and provide data output eg google calendar – NO
- publish syndicated content via RSS or Atom, especially for press releases, news, events etc – NO
- provide convenient tools for community consultation and participation, eg forum, wiki – NO
- online submissions and payments for all interactions with council – NO (some payments were already available online and it does not appear that the variety of possible online payments has been increased)
- integrate maps – YES
My summary last year was ‘I anticipate that they will use a horrid inflexible CMS like Drupal or Joomla with no interactive features and no RSS feeds‘. And guess what? I was completely right! Yes, the site features a clumsy corporate CMS with no RSS feed for news content and no events in a calendar format.
Apart from displaying properly in a variety of browsers, adding a mobile version and featuring more content, the site fails to improve on the old site. It does not implement many of the features that the new CMS presumably is capable of delivering (RSS being the most obvious).
The information architecture and navigation are awkward and not remotely intuitive. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a site designed by a committee of bureaucrats who outsourced the project to no doubt expensive corporate consultants who have no understanding of the purpose (communications and public relations) of the site. I’m not impressed.
As a major piece of communications infrastructure it’s a failure because it exhibits a fundamental disconnect between the platform and the content and fails to deliver a significantly better user experience. City of Yarra ratepayers deserve better.
Update 30 September 2010: the City of Yarra site finally has RSS feeds! Yes I know, it’s revolutionary. I know you’re reading, City of Yarra people. Thanks for listening my advice. Perhaps one day you may even pay me for it. I deserve it more than the idiots you’ve employed to date…
A screen capture of yarracity.vic.gov.au made on 30 September 2010