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The Seward Park Website

The Seward Park website is promising, with areas for all the information we'd expect to see, and ample opportunities for visitors to submit information of their own. Webmaster Eric Mandelbaum seems to have created a very useful site.* There is just one thing missing — adequate information from our Board. A year after its inception, many of our committees still have nothing to report. Newsletters and websites have been campaign issues year after year. I haven't kept track of everyone's campaign promises, but surely some of our Board Members are failing to keep their promises.

Aside from the content of the site, I am concerned about the layout of the site itself. In spite of explanations of the webmaster of how structured the organization is, my observations of people's experience with the site reveals that it is indeed cumbersome. There are plenty of tips on the site on how to get the most out of it, but users normally want the experience of using a site and not learning how to use it. There are dozens of websites that ennumerate practices of good and bad site design, and I believe that it would serve to apply some of the better practices.

In my opinion, both these issues point to our Board's not taking enough of an active and constructive interest in the project to ensure a high quality site.

For what it is worth, I offer the following website design recommendations:

  • The use of frames — Readers cannot easily send links of pages to other readers. this kind of functionality would be useful for a board member to respond to shareholder email on a topic which is already documented on the site.
  • Whole articles — Listing every item in its entirety instead of just the headline forces the user to scroll in search of information.
  • No single place to find news — new info will be updated in the "status of" or "news, notes" sections, or possibly others. Do I have to regularly browse the entire site to find out if there is any new information?
  • Burried search — The search menu is way down on the right, and search results show up off the screen, requiring scrolling.
  • Transitions, sounds, animated images on logo, pop-up messages — This is a personal preference, but I'm not a fan of effects for their sake alone. I'm not sure if all the sounds or transitions have been removed from the site; loud, sudden sounds are annoying when surfing to the page late at night.
  • Home page — A successful website is one that has useful and up-to-date information on its home page. Even non-residents — except on the very first visit will not want to see the introductory message.
  • Use of screen 'real estate' — There is a left menu, right menu, top title, middle title, all crowding the information the user is looking for. Additionally, either the left (visitor's) menu or right (shareholder's) menu will be useless to half the people on the site. Clearly this was designed as a catch-all design rather than envisioning what a useful visitor experience would be.
  • Scrolling — The small center frame forces users to scroll on most screens of the site. Good site design normally entails fitting 'intermediate' content — stuff a visitor is just clicking through — to the screen without scrolling. Ideally, screen content should only be longer than the screen when browsing a list of archived material (and those should be in chronological or alphabetical order) or when people are engaged in reading the information they were seeking.

* I'm endebted to Eric for a number of valuable criticiques he made with regard to the SPBuzz site