I've never really given this to much thought. In some regards yes I would agree that the official websites for the cities of Springfield and Chatham Illinois could use a little work. When comparing the two. Both suffer from a lack of a few basic features. One of these items is debatable in some peoples minds. Although RSS has yet to fully take off. It is my opinion that a site lacking RSS is doing it's visitors a disservice. Not to mention limiting the resources that may put that website to use. Many search engines now pull data from RSS feeds to determine relevance of content for keyword searches. If your updating a page often it would be wise to have RSS functioning on your webpage. An RSS feed should be easy to find and be able to be picked up by any RSS capable browser. The most important thing to have even if you skip RSS feeds is an easy to find and use search function. You can have all the neatly categorized topics on your site. While I personally find this useful. Many people seem to ignore them. Very few people will ignore a search box. Especially if they know what they are looking for. People who know what they want don't want to have to hunt for it. You also need to make sure that the search offers up relevant search results. The one thing I absolutely hate about my site is that it doesn't give any wild card results or suggestions. If you misspell or type a word. My search will just say there was nothing found. Without a baseball bat and someone willing to listen. I won't be able to get this fixed. Which is frustrating.
These two basic features are something that is lacking in regards to both the Springfield and Chatham Illinois city websites. Neither has an easy to find search. And these websites aren't using RSS. When updating their websites with weather information or other emergency data. Visitors won't be able to get this information in real time alerts. When you use RSS you can be alerted to an update from a website. Or when using RSS in a web browser that is RSS capable. You can easily see an update has taken place even before you visit that site. This would also help search engines to spider the information faster to get it included within their index. That means people who need the information have more options to access it.
From looking at three city websites. One from a well known technology driven town. I see one thing that is missing on all of them. RSS of course which is interesting in the case of City of Seattle website. But even more interesting. Is the total lack of real time communication. Would it really kill the mayors of these cities to write a weekly column on the website? Would it really be horrible to have a mayor write a column online asking for real time feedback? Wouldn't this give their constituents a feeling that the mayor takes the job seriously? This would also help to get information about the city more in the public eye. Not to mention that search engines would index the site more often looking for updated stories. This allows for a better chance of a city website being included under more keyword searches. Which in turn might get more visitors to the site. The hopeful upside to this would be more people being interested in the services and destinations the city has to offer. Meaning more tourist dollars in some cases.
Are the city sites really that bad? Yes and no. Most of us would be able to find what we wanted within a decent amount of time. Categories are indexed fairly decently. But again a search box should be provided. The City of Seattle site has two of these right at the top of their webpage. This website even offers video on demand of various items of importance.
Now to the whole Mayor Timothy J. Davlin has taken over the City of Springfield website. It would seem that this is just a very recent happening. Using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. I can see no such issue from 2006 on back. The website had a slightly different look when Karen Hasara was mayor. With some random searches I can't see a time where she plastered her name all over the official City of Springfield website. Maybe with the recent election Mayor Davlin felt his name needed more press on the website. Then again he is the current mayor. Many articles on the website are bound to include his name somewhere.
Could these websites stand an update? Most websites could from time to time. Mine has taken on many different forms over the years. I've had font issues that no one would help me resolve. I've finally been able to get that fixed to my liking. My site is very basic compared to many others. Over the past few years I've moved a lot of stuff off the main page to other standalone pages within the site. These are linked on the righthand side of the website. Although there are some text ads above the RSS feed icon and search box. I personally feel both are easy for visitors to find and put to use. All websites in my opinion should take care to make these options easily accessible. It is very rare that I will continue to use a site without an easy to use search function. That includes a search function that gives valid results. Did I mention RSS makes it easy for others to put your content to use? Example.
Proper titling of pages is another important factor to keep in mind. Put the page title or article title before your website name. This helps people to better find your content when they bookmark pages within your website. If they have taken the time to bookmark multiple pages. It will only cause aggravation and wasted time if all the saved pages are listed with the website name first. Many websites fail miserably in regards to this basic functionality test. Keep titles as simple as possible as well. One popular site I use often has a mess of junk for titles. Lucky for them their content is definitely better than their titling skills. I'm surprised search engines don't consider their titles Spam.
Now lets compare the city sites to the State Journal Register website. Personally I find it interesting that anyone could find the Dave Bakke article on the State Journal Register website. My first thought would be to look under the Opinion header on the top left hand side of the page. Considering this article would seem like an opinion piece. I was wrong you would have to look under Top Stories. Personally I don't feel that title fits the article. Since I knew the writers name it would just be easier to search using that name. This would hopefully provide me with the latest articles from this person. Or better yet provide an RSS for each writer. Especially considering the Top Stories RSS feed for SJR seems to be broken.
Now lets compare the overall look of the websites. Not sure how Dave Bakke could be critical. Except for Mayor Davlin getting a bit happy with his name all over the city website. I say this do to the fact that the SJR website is designed very similar in nature to the City of Springfield and Chatham Illinois websites. The State Journal Register site looks very similar to the City of Springfield site in my opinion. Same column structure. Same basic linking design. The only difference is that the SJR site finally embraced RSS after many years. Oh I know I had nothing to do with that. It was all in the works etc etc long before I said anything. Funny how the site got RSS just a little while after I did my article taking them to task for lack of RSS. I know coincidence is nothing new in this town. Cough cough – excuse me – sorry about that.
For the record the picture of Davlin is actually a bit smaller or very close to the same size as when Karen Hasara was mayor. A quick search would show this to be correct. Depending on which year you chose to look at the website. Ok with a closer look Major Tim Davlin's picture is a bit bigger. Hasara was at 85 x 110 pixels. Davlin is at 106 x 155 pixels. Keep in mind the site has seen several redesigns when both of these people have been in office.
To me this seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. Neither website really is doing it right in my opinion. Lacking basic functionality. Everything is very cluttered on both sites. Granted there is a lot of information and departments that need to be addressed on the main pages of both sites. Even though it lacks RSS and a weekly mayor feature. I'd have to say I like the City of Seattle website the best. I'll link to the article that got me started on this below. As well as my previous article on the subject. Along with all the websites mentioned above. That way you can make up your own mind. I'd never say my site will win any awards. Many would say I need a proper header with an actual site icon or something. I only partially agree on that. On any given day someone can find something to nitpick at. But having a basic search box is just webdesign 101 in my opinion. You can argue against RSS if you want. But not allowing a visitor an easy properly functioning search is just plain dumb in my opinion.
Quick side note. I'm almost sure it was The Eleventh Hour who had an article up on the State Journal Register RSS release first. I found this finally the other day and bookmarked it. But I think I accidentally deleted that set of bookmarks last night. Long story. The search on that site gives me nothing. I think that is do to the title used for the article. I hate not being able to link to a story that should be included here.
The City of Champaign website looks clean, simple and has a search box that is easy to find. To me this is more fitting of the City of Springfield. The Capital City of Illinois should have a nicer looking website.
In my opinion the Dave Bakke article was more about politics – go figure – politics in Springfield, IL than website usability.
What is RSS how do I use it and why should I use it – Iggy Uncensored
State Journal Register embracing the internet – Iggy Uncensored
Would you sell out for a link – Iggy Uncensored
Are you looking for cable television satellite or a broadband provider – Iggy Uncensored
The Eleventh Hour Web Unsightly
Disarranging Mine On the Springfield, Illinois web site
City gets poor grade on its Web presence State Journal Register
Disarranging Mine SJR goes RSS
The State Journal-Register Online SJ-R.COM
City of Chatham Illinois ChathamIL.net
Welcome to the Official City of Decatur Web Site
City of Champaign Official Site
The Official Website of the City of Springfield, Illinois
City of Springfield website Internet Archive Wayback Machine
Seattle.gov – the official site of the City of Seattle – Home Page
Would you like to discuss this topic in real time. You can do so here.