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City's new Web site slammed by community

Original post made on Aug 10, 2007

Aiming for elegance, the city of Palo Alto's new Web site has been nearly universally decried. But city staff remain convinced that with refinement, the city's Web site, launched Aug. 2 with an investment of about $240,000, will be a significant improvement over the city's old site, which was also highly criticized.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 9, 2007, 2:55 PM

Comments (26)

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 10, 2007 at 8:47 am

Even IF the website gets fixed, it STILL cost $240k! That's the problem I have with it. What do you think?


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Posted by tree hugger
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 10, 2007 at 9:14 am

I believe the new Web site is symbolic of the way the city of Palo Alto operates in most other matters: Slowly, expensively and ridiculusly complicated.

Hopefully, they'll quickly fix this incredibly cumbersome and unintuitive Web site. Our tax dollars at work...






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Posted by Simon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2007 at 10:54 am

SEE FRANK'S WEEKLY MEMO BELOW See if you agree with me that this is the most self-serving bunch of BS ever. What planet are you on, Frank? The more you talk, the wider your credibility gap becomes.

August 10, 2007, Palo Alto, CA

FRANK'S WEEKLY MEMO

New City Website Generates Public Interest and Feedback

Over the last week, many members of the public have explored our new
website and weighed in with their impressions. Some like the sleek new look while others like the move towards classifying information into "themepods" such as Living, Visiting and the Environment. Many are pleased that we retained the department listing for those familiar with locating information that way. Others find the phone directory to be helpful. As with any change, whether to a new website or way of doing things, we also have received some constructive feedback. As a result, we are reviewing our search application's methodology and functionality to help ensure that users obtain
the results they expect when searching for common terms. From the staff side, we are still working on indexing all of the many documents, pages, news features, etc., that were a part of sifting through outdated web pages and converting relevant information into the new content management database system to enhance search results. We are continuing to make updates to the site on a daily basis as City departments provide their feedback and alert us to missing content.

In the near term, we are focusing on the following enhancements:
Refining search capability
Increasing interactive functions, including more online forms
Continuing to update the site to fix incorrect or missing content
System tuning

Our new City website is a "living" site that will evolve over time as we better leverage its capabilities, enhance its existing features, add new content, and refine our information categorization. This is an exciting change for the City and we look forward to continuing to "grow" our new site.

Here are some improvements I'd like to see, Frank:
- Be able to search for a CMR and find it.
- Search an employee's name and get their address and direct phone number
- Have Google be the internal search engine rather than the "improved" version which no one can get to work
- Hold a series of public meetings where the site's capabilities are demonstrated and questions are answered from the floor
- Actually show up yourself at these public meetings so the community can communicate their true feelings, rather that this rose-colored glasses version you seem to prefer


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Posted by Mencken
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2007 at 1:19 pm

This is what happens when municipalities (or corporations) put too much faith in "branding" or "image" consultants. It almost always leads to a lowest-common-denominator experience. just like network television. Pablum.

Do we know who we are? Are we able to PROUDLY say who we are, without having to finesse it through the filters of non-resident consultants who get paid to put forward their simple-minded, homogenous signifiers that come out of the tradition of soap-selling?

The web site, and MOST of what Palo Alto tries to do to "promote" itself is even more plain than plain vanilla. This is a tragedy, because Palo Alto has a lot to offer, with a great history, and otherwise competent people working in and for it.

So far, with this website as a great example, we have managed to create a image of a city that could be aptly described by Gertrude Stein, when she said about another city, "there's no there, there".

Were is the VERNACULAR in our city's communication efforts? Where is the SOUL? There is far too much measured strategizing, and overthinking.

In a word, our city's image mavens need to "chill", put their ear to the ground, and let the images of the city that they render from that experience flow from their heart, instead of the brains of "strategic consultants" who live on the sugar frosted hills of Vanilla Lane, in Lala Land.

Leave the latter group to the mind-numbing new crop of luxist merchant at Stanford Mall, where they continue to dumb down the shopping experience to a riot of shopping bags and $900 shoes.


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Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 10, 2007 at 4:07 pm

The City of Palo Alto web site contractor Pixelpushers, Inc., doing business as Civica, has been the contractor for many government web sites.

Click on Web Link to find the links to 36 other government web sites and compare them to the new Palo Alto web site.

For some reason, Pixelpushers, Inc. (Civica) has not included Palo Alto in the links to web sites it has helped build.


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Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2007 at 4:57 pm

To be fair, it appears that high-style graphics were not applied to the other websites that Civica built. Lock at San Carlos's, for example, copyrighted just last year. It seems functional and accessible, with pull-down menus (including "e-services" and a "visitors" section that includes restaurants among the info offered). See it at Web Link

My sense is that the graphical interface gets in the way of the content on Palo Alto's site, a problem one would think can be fixed.


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Posted by karen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2007 at 5:51 pm

Karen W.,

The clearly better things about San Carlos' is that it's much more readable because of the color choices; the photos are less obtrusive and not of idiots; and it's a much faster site.

But it's not robust in the face of larger fonts. Also, I hate stuff that moves :-) And the navigation stuff is not in at least some of the sub pages, it's off to the side. And no way I could find to contact individual employees.

So I think Civica does not get off the hook.

By the way, the town I've retired to has a new web site at www.northkingstown.org It was built in-house for zero extra dollars using some software package. It uses google to search, so that's very fast, as are page loads. It's not perfect, but 1000% better than Palo Alto's, and the price was right :-)


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Posted by Aleks
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2007 at 7:45 pm

I think the new web site is pretty good. Colors might not be the most reasonable, but that is easily changed. The front page is great, and the search results are categorized well. For $200K, I think the city got a good deal. The old web site was truly awful, I could not find anything without going through the search box.


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Posted by Kris
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 10, 2007 at 11:51 pm

I agree with Aleks, the front page is nice and overall I think the site looks really good. Much better than the old one. :) I guess my only critique is that I would have like "real" photos of PA, it's so pretty.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2007 at 1:13 am

I really disliked the colors of the site... it makes me feel down and depressed! How sad!


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2007 at 10:20 am

I think the new site looks great -- good job, to whomever designed it. It was clearly a huge undertaking and I think the result is quite impressive. People who are complaining (based on the ridiculous things you've all decided to take issue with): you clearly all have way too much time on your hands. Get outside -- it's a nice day.


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Posted by Needs glasses
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Can anyone read this page?
White text on yellow background is hard on the eyes!

Web Link


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Posted by And I live here
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 12, 2007 at 9:19 pm

A competent Web designer would check

Web Link

and

Web Link

before going public with the Web face of a Silicon Valley city government. I'm embarrassed.


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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 12, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Point that tool at just about any web site, www.google.com for example, and you will find it issues errors. Try it at www.sun.com, or www.cisco.com

So I think using that as a metric of competence might be flawed.


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Posted by PH
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Man, this site is sad, sad. I tried using it over the weekend to find some basic information and it was a frustrating, unfruitful experience. Now I find out that it cost 1/4mil -- outrageous!


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Posted by And I live here
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 14, 2007 at 1:56 pm

Competence.

Google's, Sun's and Cisco's websites are viewable and work well in the common browsers. Cityofpaloalto.org fails that test (the form pages especially). Google? Google's site uses trimmed down HTML style that works and loads faster because it is trimmed down. Cityofpaloalto.org has no such sleek HTML style, nor competence to implement it well. It has a broken website. So starting with valid HTML and CSS would be smart for Cityofpaloalto.org, not to mention checking that the whole site, form pages included, works well in the common browsers before paying $240,000 for it. Aliens Web Link are not the only folks using Firefox.


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Posted by Andrew P.
a resident of another community
on Aug 14, 2007 at 11:38 pm

I could have built a better web site for the city for 1/5 the cost. Jeez!


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Posted by R Knight
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2007 at 12:10 am

Blogpost about the quality of the code: Web Link

I was awfully shocked at the quality of the code. Building a big municipal website is not an easy task. And normally I wouldn't be a Monday morning quarterback about the code. But this deserves some criticism.

Hopefully it isn't too expensive to make some modifications.


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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 16, 2007 at 11:25 am

Looks like someone wanted this story buried among posts about restaurants and park events.

Hmmmm.....


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Posted by Roger
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 17, 2007 at 9:08 pm

Wikiversity page: City_of_Palo_Alto_official_website Web Link

Please help document this there


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Posted by Cant find stuff
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2007 at 1:53 pm

I couldn't find the sites for a couple of commissions.
Also the library section has pictures of children only. No libraries, just children. Well maybe they really are being turned into childcare centers as someone said.


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Posted by aboyd
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2007 at 4:29 am

Just in case people missed my comment on the other story, I wanted to mention that I've created a Greasemonkey script to fix a lot of the problems with the city's site. Greasemonkey is a plugin for the Firefox browser. It allows you to run a script of changes on a page after you download it. So if the page appears ugly, you apply the script and it may appear better! If you're interested, I have explanatory text here:

Web Link

Thanks.

-Tony


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Palo Alto your website is TO COMPLEX!!!

Costly and Fancy does not work!!!
Please simplify!!!

It took me a lot longer to find the little bit of information I needed than it should have.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 9:07 am

This quote from R Knight's blog (linked to, above), says it all

"All of this points to one thing that particularly frustrates me. The city of Palo Alto spent a lot of money on an ***antiquated Content Management System (CMS) that spits out dreadfully bad code***"

So, is Civica going to pony up, or do we have to sue them?


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Posted by Bobby Mendicus
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2007 at 9:15 am

Well, we could sue Civica...or we could fire Benest and the "hard working" employees at city hall responsible for this...or we could do both!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Would you fire a Sales Manager at Toyota for delivering you a lemon? Get real. City staffers and resources are stretched thin - mostly because of the buck passing that has masqueraded as policy here over the years. Read *in* to the first post by Mr. Borock above (his second post is not germain). Can you appreciate that the city tried to do the job right, and hired a contractor *who did NOT deliver a functional product*? That's not the city's fault.

I'm upset by the website, too - and there is *some* culpability by the city, but it's a minor culpability, compared to the egregious failure of a paid contractor to deliver a satisfactory product.


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