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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Plainfield's 'mystery' website? Not really.

Welcome screen of the new city website has clean, inviting look.
Does Plainfield have a 'mystery' website? Not really, despite an anonymous comment on Plainfield Today this past week that suggested one.

What Plainfield does have is a new website that has been under development by IT Director Chris Payne, and about which he has spoken before the Council on several occasions. You can see the 'front' of the new website here.

It is part of a general overhaul, including not only a '.gov' domain name, but a makeover of the email system, with new '.gov' emails for employees and elected officials. Plainfield must begin to take into account court rulings requiring that government officials use their officially provided email accounts for the conduct of city business, so that they can be archived in one place and it is easier to see that the 'Sunshine' law is not being broken.

The new website will also -- hopefully, since no one outside Mayor Robinson-Briggs' inner circle has seen it -- be more rationally organized and include state-required data such as budget documents.

In an editorial on Saturday (see here), the Courier pointed out that local governments have been required for nearly a year now to have the current operating budget and those of the past three years online.

I was unable to find the mandated documents on Plainfield's current official website in expected or unexpected places. (I did note, though, that 'Audit and Control' does not even appear among the divisions under the Department of Administration and Finance.)

Best practices in website design involve having test groups involving potential end users throughout the development process to avoid the unpleasant surprises that can come when a well-intentioned site goes public without any prior review (see usabililty guru Jakob Nielsen on 'thinking aloud', the No. 1 usability tool here). To my knowledge, this has not happened with the site under development. Will there be anything to embarrass Mayor Robinson-Briggs? We shall have to see when we get our first peeks. is a great resource for best practices in developing a government website (see here), and Fast Company magazine has done a 'best and worst' slideshow (see the latest here).

Welcome page for Danville, VA (pop. 43,055).
The Center for Digital Government has annual website achievement awards (see here) and among its 2011 outstanding websites was that of Danville, VA (pop. 43.055) -- see here.

Home page of West Hollywood, CA (pop. 34,399).
The Web Marketing Association (see here) also reviews websites annually and gave the City of West Hollywood, CA (pop. 34,399) a 2010 award -- see here.

Both of these cities are smaller than Plainfield and show what can be done in communities with modest resources.

Meanwhile, Plainfielders await, breathlessly.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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juggler314 said...

Wont hold my breath on that one. Websites developed by committee tend to go horribly horribly wrong. Check out this highly relevant cartoon on the topic:

The fact of the matter is the website doesn't have to be great, it could just be a simple bulletted list of relevant topics - so long as the info is there. And unless there's a good process in place for the various departments and people to get data into the website that wont happen. Given how tight budgets seem to be, even if plainfield has a full time IT person...developing and implementing a website in addition to everything else they would have to do...very tough.

Anonymous said...

Good thing you are not holding your breath - been over two months already.