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Town’s Website More User Friendly After Recent Facelift

July 14, 2011 by John Rook

Technology is constantly advancing and the hub of all of it seems to be the Internet.
There was a time when only large corporations would have elegant looking, high-tech websites from which to spread their message. Now, seemingly every sixth-grader with something to say has a personal site with images, video, links, and a search engine.
Looking at that trend, the Town of Cheshire realized it was falling behind. It had a website, designed initially in 2003, but its design and usefulness had failed to keep up with the times.
Designed based on Town Government organization, the site was admittedly cumbersome. If you didn't know which department handled recycling or dog licenses, you could get lost searching for the information you sought.
That is all a thing of the past.
Just last week, the Town of Cheshire launched its new and improved website. Its functionality is based on usability, with the target being that any user can find what he or she is looking for in three clicks. A resident doesn't need to know the machinations of town government any longer, they just need to know what they are looking for.
“We really hope people use it,” said Arnett Talbot, executive assistant and public information officer. “It is a work in progress, so we truly hope people use it and make suggestions as to how we can make (the site) better.”
Talbot was the point person on the redesign, taking on the majority of responsibilities for completely overhauling the site. According to Talbot, the desire to change the website was generated out of Town officials’ recognition that the site was not user friendly enough and an effort to improve communication between the public and the Town, a priority of Town Manager Michael Milone, Talbot indicated.
In 2009, a committee was formed to look at every aspect of the site redesign. Members of the committee, who came from different departments within town government, looked at everything associated with the project, from hosting options to different software packages. It also reviewed numerous websites, both from municipalities and non-municipalities.
The committee even had a professional come in and speak to them about what they would need to run and maintain a viable, modern, easy-to-use website.
When a decision was ultimately made as to what kind of upgrade the Town would want, Talbot and others went to work on the research. They looked at how many hits the website received over certain periods of time, and which areas of the site received the most attention. They also asked for departments to report on what kinds of questions were frequently asked by members of the public.
“We had to recognize that people might not know how things work, nor should they really,” said Talbot. “We had to make sure that navigation was simple.”
That's why the site is now based on programs and services rather than on department functions. It also provides easy links to things like meeting agendas and minutes, so that interested residents can have that much asked-for information quickly on hand.
“I'm sure some people went to the old site and were discouraged,” said Talbot. “I hope they now come back.”
In addition to the functionality of the site, the information provided has all been updated, which required Talbot to essentially rewrite the entire website. It was painstaking work, but Talbot acknowledged that she “knew what she was getting into” as she had managed the former site for the Town.
“The difficulty was, we weren’t just changing our old site, we were completely restructuring it,” said Talbot. “We had to get people to think differently about how to set it up.”
Since its debut, the site has not experienced any major glitches, aside from some minor problems, such as a few links not working and a special issue at the bottom of one of the pages. However, Talbot said she is interested to know what people think, and what they can do to make it better.
“We have gotten some really nice feedback from people so far,” said Talbot. “Most people will say something like, oh, it's a lot easier to use, but can you do this.' We don't take that as a criticism, we take it as people liking the new site and wanting to see more on it.”
And residents can expect more in the coming months, such as the ability to pay taxes online and sign up for programs at Parks and Recreation. Talbot even stated that social networking will show up online at some point, although the Town is still figuring out exactly how to best implement it.
“The website should be very fluid and we always want to take advantage of technology,” said Talbot. “In today's society, it is really something you have to have.”
To see the Town's revamped website, go to www.cheshirect.org.

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