D.C. Web site gets extreme makeover

D.C. Web site gets extreme makeover

The District of Columbia has unveiled a revamped Web site at www.dc.gov. The services offered might be about the same as on the site's previous generation, but the packaging is considerably changed.

The major difference is a shift in focus to the user as opposed to the agency-centric organization of the site's previous iteration, said Suzanne Peck, the city's chief technology officer.

Before the revamp, the site was organized by city agency. 'You had to know which agency did what before you could find what you were looking for,' Peck said.

The site has added powerful search capabilities, she said. To provide quick navigation of the most popular topics, the new site uses SurveySolutions ranking software from Perseus Development Corp. of Braintree, Mass. The home page shows the top 10 subjects, ranked from one to 10.

The site added a main search engine from Ask Jeeves Inc. of Emeryville, Calif. A search for 'How do I get a liquor license for my restaurant?' turned up 1,231 pages, with the Web site for the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, at dcra.dc.gov/about/index_abc.shtm, listed first.

The new site offers 103,000 pages, each with a red, white and blue banner at the top and a photo of Mayor Anthony Williams. If, for example, the mayor adopted a dramatically different hairstyle, Peck and her staff could download a new photo and change all 103,000 pages at once. The content includes online forms, online services and searchable databases.

With all that content, the site had less room for graphics, Peck said. So her team used graphics that were a bit subtler, such as a watermark image of a family behind the text on the main page. The watermark changes with a click of the refresh button, showing one of 10 different families to better represent the city's diverse demographics.

The site also has beefed up language translation capabilities to accommodate the city's multicultural population. The city is using translation software from WorldLingo Inc. of San Francisco to translate site content into eight languages.

Also debuting last week was a new kids' page, called 'Kids' Capital,' featuring a cartoon of the mayor with his trademark bow tie. The section is filled with games, puzzles, history and Easter eggs, little surprises that pop up when some links are clicked. For example, a click on the city seal at the top of the kids' page sets off a flurry of cartoon bones and a skull, and a tidbit about an empty crypt in the basement of the Capitol that had been built for George Washington.

'The real glory of the site is that we didn't have to re-architect anything,' Peck said'all the city really did was change the links and add new search engines.

The site's facelift took Peck and her staff 120 days from start to finish, she said. City employees did the work and the project cost $350,000 'to do everything,' Peck said.

Peck admitted that some of the site's new features were 'stolen' from other sites. But perhaps now other municipality and state sites will be stealing from dc.gov, she said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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