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.
"It will definitely be an ongoing process," Chief Information Officer Glenn Loo said Thursday, adding that city staff are working to make sure information is available on the site.
"We knew that by introducing a new look and feel it was definitely going to be generating some comment," Loo said. "We hoped that people would give it an opportunity ... look into the information that's being presented and hopefully see some improvements."
"We feel we've accomplished this."
But site visitors have faulted nearly everything about the new http://www.cityofpaloalto.org . Information is hard to find, the Web site is too boastful, its photos appear fake and the white-on-grey text is hard to read, users have noted.
"To be blunt, it is unacceptable," Annette Ashton and Sheri Furman wrote in an Aug. 6 letter to the City Council. "This site is flash and form over function."
At its Aug. 6 meeting, several council members noted they have been bombarded with negative comments about the site.
"I've been surprised at ... the unanimity," Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg said. "One person did say it's an embarrassment to our city. ... It's apparently pretty awful."
"I haven't heard one person who has heard a good thing yet," Vice Mayor Larry Klein said.
But council members John Barton and Jack Morton defended the site.
"Folks worked extremely hard and thoughtfully on this. They recognize it's not going to be perfect," Barton said.
He encouraged visitors to give their feedback by clicking on the comment form or "missing link" link at the bottom of each page.
"I think we need to give it some time. As with any Web site, those holes will be filled eventually," Morton said.
Councilman Bern Beecham acknowledged that some criticisms of the site are valid. He said that users who think the font is too small, can simply adjust their Internet browsers.
The site was created by city staff, Civica Software of Newport Beach, which received about $125,000, and Creativewerks Inc. of Sausalito, which was paid about $90,000.
The new Web site has large photos, some taken by city staff such as the shot of a child and adult fishing at Foothills Park. But most are stock photos that appear staged.
The "Living in Palo Alto" page, which features a slim jogger's bare belly, has generated much comment.
"How could anyone think that was an appropriate choice?" a Midtown resident going by the name of "Disappointed" wrote on the Weekly's online forum, Town Square.
Loo said he has also received comments about the photo.
"This is definitely up for consideration should it be unacceptable to the community," he said.
The floppy-eared dog on the Animal Services page, a favorite within City Hall, would be tricky to dislike.
But the Recycling Program page, which shows two young boys -- one white, one Hispanic -- grinning while hefting a recycling bin and the "Visiting Palo Alto" page, which features two middle-aged women, thrilled to have spotted something behind a window, have both been criticized for being over-the-top.
"And who are those demented women 'shopping' in the Visiting section? Does anyone in real life act like that about a store?," asked College Terrace resident "Joyce" in a Town Square entry.
The text on the site has a pronounced public-relations tilt, residents have noted.
Site visitors are called customers. The Recreation Page proclaims the city is "26 miles of fun" and the "Business in Palo Alto" site states calls Palo Alto an "extraordinary" spot for a business.
"The attempt was to be more engaging and enthusiastic and definitely to promote the community," Loo said. "I believe residents and businesses are proud of the level of services we offer here ... and I think that's reflected through the Web site."
One Town Square commenter did have a suggestion to help users navigate the site.
"Let's build a community-based Web site of tips on how to use the official city Web site, plus a collection of well-organized links to any useful information found buried in it," wrote a University South resident going by the name of "Webster in Waiting."
Loo suggested that visitors use the on-site search engine, rather than external ones, and he urged visitors to send in comments.
The Web site is at http://www.cityofpaloalto.org .