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Conservation services website in need of a revamp

I recently commented on how good government’s consumer affairs site was, and now I want to take a look at conservation services (www.conservation.bm).

Not bad. Still, sorry Mandy, you did ask for my comments so here they are in the spirit of constructive criticism. I am currently involved in revising the European Commission’s homepage and have worked on other EU sites, so I am aware of the issues that might face Bermuda’s departments.

I think those discussed here are relevant to web creation in general, and communication in particular. However, I gather Bermuda’s earnest departments have a further problem a lack of resources, both human and financial.

Still there is a lot that can be done with very little and for very little, especially in presenting information. For a site developed ‘in house’, without the use of any website design experts it’s an achievement. It is a good step toward a better presentation and access to the information the department wants people to have and use.

The aim of government sites is to provide a service to citizens, in the case of conservation services, information on Bermuda’s heritage, both natural and man-made. Such information would help Bermudians value such resources and ultimately get them on the side of conservation.

The site must work to draw more Bermudians to the information and, better yet, involve them in preserving that heritage.

It contains a good deal of useful information, but much of it buried in a basic template. OK, so I think it looks clunky and so 1990s, but who cares if the information is there? I really like the shipwreck guide and better yet, the information buried under the link “Species ID”. The pull down blocks on the main menus are a good start to good navigation what the experts call usability.

Information on what’s protected is clearly signposted for visitors. And it is a great idea to set up the biodiversity section as a photo gallery, with links to a wealth of information on each area. There is real work and passion behind this site.

The task now is how to draw more people in, keep there and drive them to that great information more efficiently.

As with any revision, draw up a plan on the aims of the site, what the departments wants it to achieve, and the potential audience (those who care about conservation and Bermuda’s heritage, and those you would like to convert, for example).

For any government department about to create a website or revise one already in existence I point you to a very readable manual produced by the US government at www.usability.gov “Research-based Web Design & Usability Guidelines” really lays out the process in a very understandable manner.

OK, it is some 290 pages long, but just the bit on planning is a good overview. It is a document I would refer to at various points in a process rather than reading from start to end.

As I understand it department is using the services of SquareSpace.com, a very well-known webhost that started with the aim of making it easier for the non-geek to create and manage sites.

Unlike other webhosters SquareSpace deliberately stays away from such systems as WordPress or Drupal, where you will find entire CMS and templates designed specifically for government sites and with great usability, flexibility and presentation.

That to me is a major constraint, but then there is a huge learning curve with WordPress, and much more so with Drupal. There are many very good (and beautiful) sites created using SquareSpace, which has the ready made building blocks that aim to make web creation as intuitive as possible. That was after all the aim of its founder, when he started SquareSpace in 2003.

As one Drupal developer stated: “If you don’t need the power and/or flexibility of Drupal, but want to create a user-maintainable site, it’s not a bad choice…Not dissing Drupal here the right tool for the job, and for some jobs SquareSpace is the right tool and Drupal is overkill.”

I suggest the department should build on what it has, given the resources it has. This may involve taking the time to plan the objectives of the site a little better, and the layout will fall into place. Do some no-cost usability tests with other people in the department and other government employees by getting them to find things on the current site.

That will give you good information. Then choose the SquareSpace blocks to drive the site better and develop a more user friendly theme.

They do provide 60 or so templates for use by subscribers, so perhaps instead of using the “basic” template, it’s time to take the time and actually see which modules and templates are best to achieve the aims of the department.

The revision does not have to be done in one go. A great problem with many who start on revisions is to try and do everything at once to create the “perfect site”. They end up not getting anything done.

Develop a plan and build according to resources. SquareSpace allows you to move at your own pace so you end up achieving your aims.

Send any comments to elamin.ahmed[AT]gmail.com

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Published September 28, 2011 at 8:58 am (Updated September 28, 2011 at 8:57 am)

Conservation services website in need of a revamp

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