Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Something stinks and it isn't Simplot

Many people have expressed less than positive feedback in regards to the city of Grand Forks' "revamped" website. I'm not so hot on it myself, either. However, most of the displeasure seems to be directed at the look of the website. I haven't heard many people talking about problems with the functionality of the site.

I have major concerns with the forms that citizens can use to report streetlight or sidewalk problems. Don't get me wrong...I LOVE the idea of the city's website including forms like these. I requested them long ago and was told that city staff would "look at" the idea. Guess they finally decided to go with it. Other cities have implemented forms like this so I'm not sure why it took so long for Grand Forks to follow suit. Doesn't the city actually want all the streetlights in town to work? Sometimes when I drive around town, I get the feeling the answer is no. Still, I'm glad to see the city has added the ability for citizens to report problems like these. A city should have working streetlights and walkable sidewalks and the 53,000 (or so) people who live in Grand Forks should be a pretty good "patrol" for spotting problems.

As far as my concerns with the forms...

First, the design of the forms is all wrong. Take a look at the streetlight repair request form. Why should a citizen have to provide their name and even their phone number in order to get a burnt out streetlight bulb replaced? Does the city really have to call the resident to talk about the bulb? A burnt out bulb is a burnt out bulb...that's the end of the story. If the city wants to get back to the citizen, why not ask for an email address? That would be a much easier method for both parties. Next, why is there such a detailed section about your address? Does the city think that citizens should only be using the form to report problems with the streetlight(s) directly in front of their house? What about all of the burnt out lights on major thoroughfares? Can't citizens report problems in those areas? Maybe I'm wrong, but it kind of seems to me like this form was designed to elicit the least possible number of requests possible. It could be set up to be much more user friendly and in a way so that citizens could easily report problems they see in any part of town...not just on their own block.

My other problem with the form? So far, the only request that I submitted has not been fixed and, when I check the status of the request, it is constantly listed as "Pending". When did I submit the request? A couple of weeks ago. That's too long, in my opinion.

It seems to me like the city put about as much thought and effort into designing these forms as they did into the overall look of their "revamped" website. Try a little harder next time, ok?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't speak for the city, but as a city employee (police officer) I know that there are several false reports of all natures around the city. I think the section about providing the address and phone number, etc. is sort of a protection for cases where one person goes in and reports falsely. At least then there is a starting point for the city to look at. Just a thought

Rob said...

I guess false reports could be a problem, but taking a step back and looking at the situation I just can't see there being a whole lot of people falsely reporting burnt out street lights.

wendian said...

Unfortunately, I think this is a case of "old school" vs. "new school". The website seems to have been designed by someone who doesn't quite understand how people use the internet and what citizens expect from a city website. This is really just an extension of the city staff in general, which is "old school" in nature and doesn't cater to or "get" their younger audience. Even if the web designer is a young, hip 20-something, the city doesn't function as a young, hip 20-something. Yes, the website is a great improvement compared to the one before, but they've got a ways to go (the greenway isn't even listed in the directory).

It's unfortunate, and I hope they continue to make significant improvements to the site, because, when done properly, it could be a really slick tool for both the city and the citizens.

NanoBison said...

I think the new website is the outcome of someone higher up saying "I have a nephew or son who is really good with web design" and they decide to give them a shot since they'll work for $7/hr and still be happy. I've seen that happen numerous times in the Web Business. If that work was the result of a local Professional Company, Grand Forks should have looked outside the city for that service then. Maybe Sundog (Fargo) or Electric Pulp (Sioux Falls)...

NanoBison said...

Actually this is the level of quality that a "city" website should have been shooting for : Greater-Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp

wolfgf said...

We needn't look outside the city for informative, stylish web design.

Look at the CVB's site, created by Simmons Flint.

visitgrandforks.com

Tu-Uyen said...

I'm not sure why putting in your name and phone number is a big deal. The city utilities people already have that sort of info.

Anonymous said...

Tu-uyen,

Speaking of CVB (were we?)...

I learned that huge numbers of Canadians came down for the Air Show a while back.

Has any research been done to find out what kinds of stores, concernts, attractions and events Canadians want? With a million folks, hungry for new entertainment venues, a short drive away, it seems we haven't done a fraction of what we could to attract them.

PartTime said...

Maybe we could get a Hooters..........hehehe

Tu-Uyen said...

Anon.,
As a matter of fact, there has been research. Back in 2002, the CVB hired consultants at Randall Travel Marketing.

The consultants said that the No. 1 reason tourists come here is to shop. They also like to drive around and absorb the small town atmosphere.

As far as shopping goes, though, we don't appear to have exactly what they want.

Randall said tourists really want an outlet mall. They would also like Columbia Mall to have a better tenant mix. That was in 2002 so it'd be interesting to see if we've gotten what the tourists want yet.

Stores like Gordman's (and, I think, Kohl's) are somewhat like outlets because they sell name brands at lower prices.

And Columbia Mall has changed a lot as well.

vcsuvike said...

The new city web site does need some work. Although many of you point to flashier things, you have to realize government websites do have a strict code called the W3C. Which is the web version of the ADA. The new website fails at it too. There are ways of making a basic, functional, and appealing website. I agree it was a step in the right direction, but not far enough.

elucidarian said...

There's a bit of a stigma these days attached to submitting one's personal info for purposes that don't give them a direct benefit for apparent reasons (like phone service or magazine subscription). People growing up with the internet have been taught to provide false details to protect their identities and e-activities. Anonymity has come to seem like a universal right.

I understand the city wanting some proof of identity in cases like this. I don't know that they're employing the best methods, but it's hard to teach an old (school) dog new tricks, and we should give them credit for whoever is trying to make the City web-functional. That said, I sure hope they didn't hire any pricy consultants for what they came up with.

Anonymous said...

Another local web site producer:

http://www.commark.com/

Anonymous said...

It's like the people who work at city hall live in a vacuum. Don't they surf other cities' sites, including Fargo's (above).

We can't accept that it's "better" when there are so many examples of cities and municipalities who do it "well."