Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Town Website is Officially Launched

Earlier this month a decision was made by the Select Board to launch the new official town website at recognizing that there were still significant shortcomings.  Here is short video clip of this SB discussion (courtesy of LCTV).

This new redesigned website is a big disappointment for town residents given the missing and/or outdated information, bad links, etc.  Only within the last week has outdated information been removed from the homepage and more timely news added.  At this point the town website's functionality and usefulness are significantly less than that for the pre-July 2010 time period.

An example...
Where is the School Building Committee's new HS project cost information (bid information + Guaranteed Maximum Price) obtained earlier this month?   It was posted here on the Longmeadow Buzz blog (New High School Project Bids) but not posted on the "new" town website .

It's taken more than 10 months to "redesign" the website using recommendations developed by the Website Task Force.  This group appointed by the Town Manager made a specific recommendation that the town adopt a "WordPress" CMS (content management system) platform because it was free and easy to manage at virtually no cost to the town. (I guess you get what you pay for it.)

During the past 10 months I benchmarked and posted here on the Buzz blog what other towns have done to develop and maintain their websites (including some cost estimates) but my suggestions and recommendations were not followed by the Website Task Force. 

Here are links to those earlier posts...

Roadmap to a New Website
The Cost of Technology
The Cost of Technology- Part II

Where is the new Longmeadow website?

The Select Board's decision this month to re-establish the previously dissolved Website Task Force and ask it to develop a set of policy guidelines as to who can post what on the town website indicates we are still a long time away from having an effective town website.

I would think that Kevin Warenda- Longmeadow's new Director of Technology (Schools + Town Government) and his IT group should have the primary responsibility for developing and maintaining the town website including the policy decisions about posting guidelines but this does not appear to be the case.  Comments by Ms. Swanson and Ms. Crosbie at the end of the above SB discussion are somewhat encouraging when they asked about the Select Board commitment of additional $$$ resources to improve the website from its current state.  Hopefully, IT related support for the town website does not take on the same complexion as the long standing school/ town government maintenance issue.

I encourage town residents to send their comments about the need to improve our town website to all Select Board members.

Here are their email addresses:
Robert Aseltine-
Robert Barkett-
Paul Santaniello-
Mark Gold-
Christine Swanson-


alan said...

You've made it quite clear that you're bitter about being fired as webmaster. Yes, it took the overworked town IT staff (both of them) longer than expected to convert to the new system, from the outdated legacy-coded site you'd left them with. While the town could have shortened that process by spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on one of the proprietary systems you suggested (and locking themselves into that vendor's product and fee schedule for the forseeable future), the open-source solution is actually working a lot better than you want to admit.

For the record, the meeting the Town Manager called recently was the result of a miscommunication. The task force had already written draft guidelines to cover content, and in the meeting we quickly realized that existing policies already cover most of the other needs. We adjourned after about 20 minutes.

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...


I think that you have clearly missed a couple of points...

1. First of all, I am not bitter about being fired as webmaster.

2. I am upset that it has taken the town almost a year to develop a website that does not have any greater functionality than the one that it replaced. There are also many broken links and missing pieces of information that make the new website less useful. Timeliness of postings still has a long way to go.

3. Use of an open-source CMS which is "free- right out of the box" is hardly at no cost. You are right that the town's IT staff (both of them) are overworked. Both have likely spent many working hours developing the new town website using the "free" website tool that you and the taskforce recommended.

The IT director's time is not free and probably costs the town (including benefits) at least $75/hour.

4. The other task force recommendation that town employees would post content on the website also doesn't come at no cost no matter how easy it is.

5. During the last SB meeting, there was discussion suggesting that town's IT dept would not retain responsibility for management and oversight of the new website. Good luck!

alan said...

1. Fine, but you sure sound that way.

2. No greater functionality? So your static HTML site could be edited by nontechnical people in a distributed fashion, provided full backup in a database, and offered millions of design and theming options while retaining full W3C and Section 508 compliance? I didn't think so.

3. Any system will require staff time. Vendors who charge huge up-front and ongoing fees still have to get content from somewhere, which means town employees have to write it. It's also absurd to calculate an hourly rate for salaried employees.

4. See 3. The content is already being written by town employees in the form of memos, minutes, mailings, and so on. The new site just adds a modern distribution system for that information.

5. Responsibility for the site can be distributed however the town wants. The IT staff will probably need to handle the back-end indefinitely, but they can authorize any number of town employees to post, allowing them to get out of the content-creating business.

Jim Moran, LongmeadowBiz said...

1. :-)

2. From a visitor prospective, the new town website offers does not offer any significant advantages over the old website.

Section 508 (1998) requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. I don’t believe that this 13 year old regulation applies to local governments.

I’m still waiting some of the millions of design and other options to be implemented with the new town website. :-(

3. Wrong. There is a cost associated with every salaried town employee and that includes the cost of benefits. If a town employee is given a work assignment such as the design and setup of a new website, the time needed to complete it is not available to do something else…. unless of course you think that because he is salaried, he is being paid 24/7.

If the town needed to hire an outside consultant to supplement the IT staff, there would be an out-of-pocket cost. In reality this is what happens unless you think that our IT dept has excess resources and is overstaffed.

I wonder how many man-hours were committed to getting the new town website up and running and what number of other IT projects were put on hold. I guess from your view of how things work, it didn’t cost the town any money at all.

4. I sure hope that the IT staff will continue to handle the ”backend”. At what cost?

One other thing, if you check out the School Dept website, you will find that > 95% of the hundreds of updates that have been made in the past year have been completed by only one school department employee.

I would be impressed if the town was able to get more than 3 employees to regularly post new information on the town website.