So I was really looking forward to the City of Palo Alto’s new web site. After months of development, after several delays (it was to be unveiled in the spring), the site was opened on Thursday.
It is a navigational mess.
The old site was a clumsy place to find things. Do a search for “Alma railroad crossing” and you got every document that had the word “Alma,” “rail,” “road” “railroad,” “cross” and “crossing” in it – typically 976 search results. Sometimes the results didn’t even pertain to the topic I was looking for.
But this new site, which the city spent $225,095 to develop, plus an annual $25,000 annual set-aside to maintain it, plus the cost of a professional photographer to take photos for the site, is not a great improvement. I wish it were because many of us rely on this site to know more about the city.
As starters, the slate-colored background makes it difficult to read the white type. And if you want to copy and paste a section into a Word document, the pasted type is white, which then requires an extra step to turn it into a readable black. (Most corporate sites are now white with black type to avoid this problem.)
One search result for “water rates” that I tried to paste into Word appeared as a one-inch wide strip of information, and I could not figure out how to expand the cells.
Second, the search engine is dreadfully slow. It took 11 seconds to find the “utilities department,” and then I got 16 results – none of which gave me the home page of the Utilities Department. Ten of the 16 were for staff positions – like “associate power engineer” and “associate resource planner.”
Third, the home page has little information. Under “City Council” was an August calendar with “August 6” highlighted. Period. If I wanted to see the council agenda for that day, I had to go to a different site.
On two searches the engine simply froze.
I went to the City Attorney’s office site and only found a brief listing of the attorneys, with a bio of the head of the department, Gary Baum. Surely the attorney’s office does some work that should be posted on the web.
Okay, this is just the second day and changes will be made (I hope).
But I keep on wondering why Palo Alto did not model its site after other cities. I checked the City of San Jose’s site and it is much more user-friendly – and the search engine is considerably faster.
The new web site is little improvement and still user unfriendly. But it's a solvable problem.