Leslie Thatcher Questions Summit County’s New Website

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During Today’s Local News Hour on KPCW, host Leslie Thatcher told County Manager Bob Jasper about problems she experienced on the County’s new website.  Thatcher said, “the biggest thing I really noticed is there is definitely a delay, when you go from page to page… [also] the really valuable  real-estate is the [information] that is on the screen and it seems for everything you have to scroll down.

For full disclosure, I had the chance to be part of the committee that recommended which web site the County should choose.  The one chosen was unanimously in the top 2 choices among everyone on the committee.  However, Thatcher is correct.  The new site is slow and takes a lot of work to get to the content one desires.

One of the major concerns with the previous website was how it looked. It was dated and some might have even called it ugly.  The simplicity and speed of the old site has been traded for aesthetics.  The likely reason the site is slow for Thatcher and others is that the home page is over 3MB in size, about the size of a music download.  The larger the page size, the more time it takes to download and display content.  Compound that with the fact that Summit County residents seem to use their mobile phones for browsing web content (75% of Parkrag’s traffic is from mobile) and it is going to be slow.

Thatcher’s concern about scrolling is accurate as well.  You want to have your important content “above the fold”, a phrase borrowed from the newspaper business which wanted the best stories up near the headlines.  In the case of Summit County, menu items and a picture are generally the only things above the fold.  While it would be better if important content was above the fold everywhere, this may acceptable on the home page. However, it is definitely not acceptable on secondary pages with important content.  If the County would remove the pictures and drop the hexagonal menu items from secondary pages, this would allow real content to move up and become visible.  It would also speed up load times, because the pictures are so large in size.

The good news is that once you do get to the content, it’s much improved.  You don’t have to look past the Agenda Center to see how much more usable this site is than the previous incarnation.  Related documents are linked right next to their content and you don’t have to use external programs to views agendas.  It’s a marked improvement.

The other good news is that the website is only about a month old.  If the County is responsive to criticism, such as Thatcher’s, they will be able to gradually improve the site over the next few months.  Once a few tweaks are in place, hopefully we will have a website that is not only pretty but smart too.

 

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