Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Web Politics...

A reader writes:

I read your 6/5 blog posting, "Prune Concentrate," with great interest.

Here at xxx University, my group is charged with redeveloping our website to better align content with the needs of the audience.

Anyway, what you're alluding cuts right into the most difficult part of the web development process at any large .edu institution ... the politics of the web.

Here, as I suppose there, sites aren't generally built around anticipating the needs of the user. Most sites are built around the premise that this or that unit offers this package of services and resources, and the units want credit for doing that. That's where we end up with sites built around the organization chart of the institution, rather than the needs of the site user.

You're challenging that orthodoxy, it seems to me. How are you navigating the politics of it?

So its not just us. And I have to agree with him that the major challenge in moving from a traditional University site to a more user centric one is politics, not technology.

The good news is that resource constraints may be the key to a solution. Around the university, nearly everyone realizes how important the web has become, but individual units and departments are finding themselves increasinglt less able to keep up with the demands being placed on their respective sites by our faculty, staff, and students -- and, of course,  by our president, who is oh so interested in the web.

My hope is that by focusing on the heart of asu.edu first -- the part of asu.edu that receives significant traffic -- and building a user-centric approach there -- we can demonstrate and alternative that will encourage individual units to want to make their content part of that new way. In the bargain, we should be able to make it more cost effective for the units to maintain their presence on the web.

As we pick up speed -- showing the success of the new way in terms of visitors, return traffic and the like -- we can contrast that with the stats on the older parts of the site and draw more content in.

We're underway with the administrative content now, working with BTS, USI, and others to remake the face of the eServices page. Proving out this model for web services will give us credibility for the bigger challenge of developing a user-centric model for presenting the academic content provided by departments and schools.

Again, resource incentives will help I think. If we can deploy a more comprehensive directory function, providing deeper access to students and faculty, then the need for individual academic departments to build and maintain their own may decrease. A university wide citation index, selectable by department, school, individual or research interest would relieve some of the pressure on individual academic units to try and keep their individual sites current.
The reader closed his comments by saying:
Attempting any kind of comprehensive web development at a university is
kind of like having an abscess and going in for the root canal. You scheduled the appointment because of pain, and the appointment causes even more pain as the drill gets going, but dealing with it is inevitable and there's an expectation that life will be quite a bit more pleasant on the other side. At least that's my hope...we'll see if my head doesn't end up on a pike.

Rooting for you dude...keep your head clear of pointy objects...


Katherine A,  July 18, 2006 at 4:52 AM  

True, it's a very, very political issue ... but the firm new stance on it (web presence branding for asu.edu) should be welcomed. Key to getting the welcome with sweets and flowers is the pervasive message that this will make maintenance and support much easier for techies and users will be more successful in locating what they need, where THEY are.
Persoanlly looking forward to the new asu web models and slicker directory functions we can take home and show off to mom and dad, Katherine A.