The state of Oregon government websites

The Oregon state government is attempting to change all of their websites into a single look and into a central content management system (CMS). While I can see some advantages with their approach, I can see some problems ahead for them and also I disagree with some of the methods used.

Advantages

Single look promotes individual web site as part of the whole of government web presence and in return each individual web site gains credibility.

Easy implementation of a whole of government search engine. It is cheaper and easier to index one site than multiple sites. However, transactional sites are usually outside of a central CMS and need to be indexed for an effective whole of government search engine.

Cost savings, with a central CMS you only need one licence (unless you go open source which is an option), more importantly one set of support staff and only one training source across the whole of Government.

Staff transfer with only one CMS across government, staff can move their skills between departments, making people a valuable and reliable resource. Western Australia is disadvantaged here. I can name the CMSs used in a dozen different departments and they are all different. Which means there is no talent pool to call upon, which means if some of those departments lose key staff, they will be in trouble until the can recruit and train a replacement.

Problems

It is too late to implement the single look and expect to get good results. I was impressed by the Government of Ontario and their consistent branding of their web sites in the mid nineties and they have managed to maintain a relatively consistent look since them. Western Australia introduced the common branding guidelines some four years ago and while all WA state government web sites use common badging there is no consistency across the numerous sites, 50 different WA government web sites you get 50 different looks. I would suggest that a mainly because the freedom gained from the years before common badging lead each department to developing it’s own vision of web aesthetics. Forcing a single look through a common template might resolve some issues it is also will be meet with greater resentment than branding guidelines.

I have worked in government for twenty years and have an understanding of some of the politics involved. Removing control of a web site from a department will be seen by some people as lose of power and will be resisted.

Disagree

With design talent like Mark Wyner in Oregon why is the site look so ugly.

Why in 2005 build it like it is 1999. The use of a nested table layout, invalid HTML, fixed font sizes and requiring javascript to be able to navigate smacks of a designer (and I use that word loosely) who learnt their HTML in the mid nineties, has not learnt anything new since then and goes by the theory that if it looks good on their screen it will work for everybody. Anybody who wants to access the site using a device other than a normal size computer screen, using a browser other than IE, has less than perfect eyesight, has javascript turn off or has problems controlling a mouse, in other words getting close to half of all web users, are better off using the text only version of the site.

I believe having a text only version is an insult to people with vision difficulties, it is like saying yes our building has wheelchair access, just go down the alley, round the back and through the loading dock. Any competent design team can create a single version of site that can be accessed by various devices including screen readers, any browser and for almost any user.

The whole concept of the externally provided text only sites smacks of laziness and a lack of understanding of requirements of 508. It is saying we have meet our commitment to 508 by using this service. I would not be so sure, these images are from Oregon Government home page the first is from the table based website, you know where each link belongs, unlike the second from the text version below.

image from www.oregon.gov site
text only view www.oregon.gov

Is the kid’s page link a link to a kids page for this site, oregonlottery.org or the state legislature?

I am not saying the Lift Text Transcoder is a bad service, the exact opposite it makes the Oregon government websites accessible to a lot more people. However, it is an automated service which to be understood by those who use the service on their web sites and checked. Accessibility is better if built in from the ground up, not from a service added afterwards.

While I think it is a positive move by the Government of Oregon to go for a single look and a centralised CMS, they need to do to get it right by building their foundations solidly, in other words create an attractive common look, build accessible templates that meet 508 requirements, before doing battle to get everybody onboard.

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One Response to “The state of Oregon government websites”

  1. Myles Eftos Says:

    I often find it amusing how government departments have no problem throwing money at a case or feasability study, but then bork at actually forking out for the support staff. You can have the best CMS in the world, but it is next to useless unless you have well trained people that can actually use it.

    This goes beyond training up a secretary, they need to realise that a web presence is an important commoditity – HIRE STAFF THAT DO WEB!

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