How do you take your website to the next level? That's what I and many others were here to find out in today's Web Manager's Academy workshop. First, our illustrious presenters: Frank Cervone (Northwestern U), Jeff Wisniewski (U of Pitt), Marshall Breeding (Vanderbilt U), and Darlene Fichter(U of Saskatchewan). All did a terrific job (IMHO) of taking a complicated topic and breaking it down into understandable (and by association, do-able) chunks.
The big thing in library website design/functionality seems to be database-driven applications. Sites that do more than present static content are more effective (if done correctly) at presenting information. If I understand the connection correctly, providing a database-driven site within a content management system is the favored flavor. One need not be an expert to get started. However, to paraphrase Mr. Breeding, "Learning scripting and programming languages will pay big dividends in the long run."
We discussed open source solutions as well as commercial applications. In terms of content management, especially in the case of multiple web authors, using a CMS was considered a "no brainer." Pros were support for versioning/rollback (in case somebody hoses up a page or deletes something they didn't mean to), the ability to control permissions, operate with standards and templates, and elimination of any publishing bottlenecks. For a control freak like myself, it gives me the willies.
Designing with web standards including W3C-compliant code and CSS - I think my team is doing this pretty well. I added a task to my TO-DO list because of this part of the course. I'll need to go through my web logs and determine which browsers are being used to access the site. It could be that we can do some things differently. If nothing else, this section confirmed my thinking that we should be trying to move to CSS positioning/layouts in addition to using CSS for "styling." A couple of resources that were referenced: Glish.com and The Layout Reservoir.
Throughout today's workshop, the theme of "mythbusting" was very evident. In terms of CSS, the reality is that you don't have to learn a whole new "language". Layouts and style sheets are "free for the taking" at several sites other than the ones I mentioned above. Using CSS doesn't mean being boring. If anything, it means being able to provide access to your site for users with differing capabilties - desktops to cell phones. (Why someone would want to search a full-text database with a cell phone is a bit beyond me...)MOVING ON
We also explored search visualization tools - engines that cluster search results for greater understanding by the user. Two of these are Endeca and Aquabrowser (I'll provide links later). Some of you may have seen the announcement of EBSCO's visual search tool last week. It is apparently using some of the same technology as the Aquabrowser product.
User surveys have demonstrated that students and faculty don't like having to use/learn multiple search interfaces - one of the reasons Google Scholar is becoming so popular. What many of the new tools do is take silos of information and illustrate the "complex relationships in interdisciplinary fields" for the searcher.
SO, "because people aren't going to get religion and search the way we would like them to," we (librarians, info scientists, etc) need to give them tools to make their search strategies more effective. Hence, federated search, openURL resolvers, and visualization. If you'd like a tool to play with and are a person who prides himself on your grasp of the English language, you might have fun with VisualThesaurus.com.
Finally, we discussed usability and what some of the latest research in the field has uncovered. Contrary to what I thought, usability aspects are considered guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. So following conventions is a good idea; being ordinary is considered a good thing. DESIGNING FOR YOUR AUDIENCE is paramount. What was disturbing to me (and I should have realized this after reading "Ambient Findability") was that credibility of a website is not based on the ethos of WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE rather, users evaluate a site's credibility base on DESIGN LOOK! *Look of incredulity*
So, those who advocate "content is king" may not be getting the traffic they desire if their site doesn't convey credibility to the user. Huh.
Well, those are the highlights from my perspective. There are other blogs over at the Information Today site. Stay tuned...--Durst