Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Clicks to a Brighter Future

What grade would you give Pottstown's web site?
Council agreed unanimously Monday night to hire a Manhattan, Kan. firm to create a new web site for the borough.

The price tag is "not to exceed $35,278."

This might seem like a lot, but given the number of things the borough wants to do through its site, and the fact that it is truly the borough's "front door" to a younger generation that can literally live anywhere, it strikes me as money well spent.

Interim borough manager Mark Flanders told council the work will be done by CivicPlus in eight phases within the coming year, and the borough will only pay as each phase is completed to the borough's satisfaction.

It could be done as soon as six to eight months, said Flanders, who observed the schedule the company has outlined "is pretty aggressive."

CivicPlus only serves counties and municipalities, according to its website and, among its claims to fame, is a "digital town hall" and official web site it created for free for tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.

After tornadoes ravaged Joplin, Mo., CivicPlus helped create a new
town web site during a "Hack-a-thon."
"The new site showcases many of the community engagement features of the CivicPlus system, including emergency alerts, Citizen Request Tracker, email and text message subscriptions, and Joplin's Voice -- a module that gives residents an open forum for dialogue on topics that matter to them. Ideas and opinions can be voted up or down, and the city has a chance to enact ideas based on feedback," according to the CivicPlus.

No word yet if such functions are all planned for the new Pottstown web site.

As fellow Mercury Reporter Frank Otto reported last month, the web site replacement effort in Pottstown was begun under former manager Jason Bobst, who now runs the show at West Norriton Township.

“We’re trying to be as transparent as we can with the new website,” Bobst told council last month.

CivicPlus has built sites for both Upper Uwchlan and Upper Merion, Bobst said.

Bobst displayed Upper Uwchlan’s site. He said all information on that site is available within three clicks, something he said Pottstown’s new site should aspire to reach.

“If you go to our current website you can’t get to it in three clicks,” Bobst said. “There’s no way in under four clicks, five clicks, maybe six clicks.”

Forms, reports, registrations, paying bills, all could be done on-line
with an improved borough web site.
On the new site, residents and business owners will be able to upload concerns over such issues as potholes, traffic light issues and other maintenance problems, Otto reported.

Pictures in such cases will also be able to uploaded to illustrate the problems. Those who upload the issues are supposed to get a tracking number and the issue will be added to the borough’s work order system, according to Bobst.

Forms regarding voting, billing and permits will also be available directly online, according to the borough’s plan.

Hopefully, it will improve the borough's interaction with the community, especially its younger members.

"According to the Experian Simmons Spring 2009 New Media study, 80 percent of those 18-24 first go to the internet when researching community events and resources— before newsletters, bulletin boards or even a visit to Town Hall," wrote Scott M. Alexander, the Mayor of the New Jersey  Borough of Haddon Heights and President of PoliticWeb.com.

"Seventy percent of those 25-34, 50 percent for those 35-49 and 30 percent for those 50+ also go to the internet first," he wrote for an article in the January, 2011 edition of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities website.

"This is a key motivation for municipalities, no matter what size, to design and build websites that are able to meet their resident’s and visitor’s needs. Many municipalities aren’t aware that their residents want more from their municipal website," Alexander wrote.

"The majority of municipal websites are 'homegrown,'" according to Alexander.

"Although this might save some dollars upfront, these sites often don’t meet the needs of site visitors. They are hard to use, and don’t provide up-to-date information."

O.K., even the older generation is getting used to mobile devices...
Further, if Pottstown wants to attract a younger generation to town to live and grow, having a thorough, transparent and easy to use web site creates a good first impression.

(Would that a company that calls itself "Digital First" had learned this lesson in designing the functionality and friendliness of its own newspaper web site .... ahem).

In addition to revamping the website itself, Bobst also expressed the desire to make a mobile version of the site, which is an even better idea given that the younger the user, the less likely they are now using either a home computer or even a laptop.

They are most likely to access the site, or read this blog, on a hand-held mobile device of some sort. It's good to see that the borough it taking this matter into hand.

1 comment: