City of Palo Alto website gets a brand new look

City introduces new video, social-media, organizing features to once-bland site

After years of tweaks, complaints and frustrations, the City of Palo Alto's website finally received a dramatic and long-awaited overhaul Tuesday morning.

The redesigned website, which remains at, includes a host of new features, such as videos, slideshows, colorful departments pages and an increased ability for users to organize information and customize their homepage. It also includes a heavier social-media element, allowing users to easily share information from the site with their Facebook and Twitter networks (among others); and a homepage that prioritizes links by popular usage. The prior website was a topic of derision within the famously tech-savvy community for its bland layout, static interface and heavy use of stock images.

The redesign was spearheaded by city officials in collaboration with a Website Advisory Committee composed of citizen volunteers. The city "soft launched" the beta version of the new site two months ago to solicit comments from the community before the new look became official at midnight Tuesday. City Manager James Keene said in a statement that the city's collaboration with the citizen committee and community feedback during the beta period made the "great initial redesign" even better. Nearly 5,000 users tested the beta website, according to the city's announcement.

"We handled the transition from old site to redesigned site with this 'beta' site approach to ensure ample opportunity for community comments," Keene said. "We were delighted to get so much useful feedback from the public during the 'soft launch' period."

The redesign process, according to the city, included officials from 13 different departments and a dozen community volunteers with expertise in Web design, management and analysis.

"We set out to make the website more visually engaging, more interactive and easier to navigate. We feel we achieved those objectives," Bob Harrington, a member of the website committee, said in a statement.

Even though the new site launched this week, city officials emphasize that it remains a work in progress. The city plans to continue to update content and navigation and to make further changes in the future to keep the site consistent with the latest changes in technology and city programs.


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Posted by easier to use?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

I never had a problem with the look or content of the old web site. My problem was that the old web site was impossible to use. The material was poorly organized and the search feature never found what I wanted. I hope that they put more effort into search and organization in this version of the web site.

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Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2012 at 11:17 am

Could the Weekly include links to prior Weekly articles on the City's web site re-design of several years ago? At the time, much was written about the design's shortcomings. Thanks in advance.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 18, 2012 at 11:28 am

Recently the Santa Clara County Grand Jury took a short look at the rework of the Santa Clara County web-site--

Web Link

The conclusion of the Grand Jury, expressed clearly in the title of their report, pretty much can be applied to the City of Palo Alto web-site rework.

I did some Beta testing of the V.3 PA web-site, and concluded that while the interface to the V.3 web-site is different, the web-site's content has not changed appreciably:

Review of PA V.3 Web-site:
Web Link

One of the clear problems that any web-site has to deal with is determining the target audience. That might be a little difficult for a local government; However, if that government makes a commitment to providing a first class web-site, it will spend time trying to solve that problem. The human interface is not the key component of the solution to that problem--content is. Currently, the PA web-site does not seem to understand that content is important to people.

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Posted by SWProjectManager
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Wayne - excellent points and good letter to the city manager (typo: can also result in a lot of “cohesiveness” - should probably be "loss")

I am encouraged by the readily available Feedback button and the Contact Us links (for suggestions, missign content, etc). I suggest liberal use of them (I just submitted 4 items).

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Posted by JBrown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Aesthetically, the old one was nicer. Too bad they did not just fix the functionality.

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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm

There is a big difference between "User Interface" and actual content and organization.

I have often bench-marked Palo Alto relative to the city of Santa Clara. Every time I gave up trying to find something on the Palo Alto web site, I found the similar content easily available in the Santa Clara site.

FYI, Santa Clara has had an award winning and competent City Manager while we suffered through the previous two City Managers.

If Mr. Keene gets around to replacing the Palo Alto IT leadership, we may end up with a useful web site instead of a joke.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm

It is hard to tell just by looking to say whether this is an improvement. It is only when you need to find something that you can tell if a website is any good or not. I often found the old one difficult to find the necessary information. I will reserve judgment until such time as I am looking for something and see how long it takes to find it.

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

>>"If Mr. Keene gets around to replacing the Palo Alto IT leadership, we may end up with a useful web site instead of a joke."

He did, and this new website is the result.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I went to check it out. OMG, another bloated home page that takes forrrrrrrever to load. Bleah.

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Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Does it have a RICH PIG for a mascot??? fits arrogant Palo Alto

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Posted by Wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

I understand that typically the most vocal are those with complaints, but I am surprised there have not been more positive comments.
I tried navigating to the areas of the Palo Alto site that have always been an issue for me - even though I had been to those pages before, they were always hard to find. Without exception, I found these pages without having to do a search. The navigation is far more intuitive than the previous site. I am thrilled by the new design.
It is very difficult to design a site for the masses, especially since everyone would like to see their top few links as the most visible. The IT department did a fabulous job of providing a common sense navigation - the only way to meet the needs of such a large user population. Kudos to whoever was involved!!!
For those of you having trouble, take a few minutes to move around the links, use the A-Z index at the bottom, or the site map. The site map is one area that needs some work though - I tried to find each of the referenced pages on the site map, but was unable to. The site map needs to be built up over time, since it is often used like a "glossary" for those having trouble finding something.

Thank you Palo Alto!!!

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