Edgartown clicks with new web site
Edgartown is set to unveil a new town website that will put more information in the hands of residents and visitors. Testing will begin on the newly redesigned site next week, and if all goes well, the site will be launched to the public the following week.
Want a permit application for a yard sale? Need to know who said what at the last zoning board of appeals meeting? Wondering whether you can throw a party on South Beach? Curious about where tax dollars get spent, who is spending more of it, and who is spending less?
"Just about anything you can think of," said Art Smadbeck, Edgartown selectman, in describing the information he wants to see on the new web site. "That's my goal. I don't know whether that's possible."
Mr. Smadbeck believes the current site has not served the town well. "The technology is changing all the time," he said. "You have to keep up. The current site is nothing more than window dressing. It didn't work; it wasn't usable."
In October, the town hired Adam Darack as its first information technology manager. Mr. Darack grew up in Wellesley, and spent many summers on Martha's Vineyard, where he developed a fondness for the Island, and all the outdoor water sports available. After graduating from the University of Vermont, he searched for a way to return to the Island to live, work, and start a family.
Included in his experience before moving to the Island three years ago were a number of technology jobs, but none in government. He said his first annual town meeting, where residents questioned his salary, was both a new and difficult experience. Among his hobbies are stints as an amateur stand-up comic in Boston nightclubs. Though he was tempted to crack a few jokes, he says standing at the microphone in front of town meeting was far more uncomfortable than trying to make audiences laugh in Boston nightclubs.
In addition to improving the town's information technology infrastructure, one of his first tasks was to revamp the town's website. As the town grows and information multiplies, town employees find more people demand more and more information just a click away.
Photo by Steve Myrick
"Google has spoiled people," said Mr. Darack. "They know they can get anything they want."
In researching how people use town websites, Mr. Darack determined that there were four main categories of information people want to find when they visit the Edgartown site.
They want information on the town departments, like the names and phone numbers of town officers they need to reach. They want documents, like the minutes of government meetings and town bylaws. They want a calendar that shows future meetings and events, and they want the answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) readily available. So the new website will feature those four areas prominently across the top of the page.
Content is King
Many websites suffer from a familiar lifecycle of usefulness. They are launched with slick graphics, and lots of relevant content, but in a very short amount of time the content becomes outdated, and people responsible for updating it discover that it takes more time, and more technical knowledge than they imagined.
"If you're not driven to have a good web site, you're not going to have it," said Mr. Darack. "A town website is the kind of thing you have to put a lot of work into, so updating it isn't a laborious task. I evaluated the town's site. I don't think it's bad; it was just extremely difficult to update it."
Mr. Darack chose a content management system that makes it easy for non-technical people to transfer documents to the site. He wants to make disseminating information comparable to computer functions everyone already knows. "It's as easy as attaching a document to an e-mail," he said. "If you make it as easy and simple to use as e-mail, it works." Mr. Darack hopes that rather than seeing it as a chore, town employees will see it as a way to save time and effort. "If I take all the questions that get asked of all the departments multiple times a day, and I get that on the website, I can save them a lot of time."
"Each individual department is going to have to take some responsibility," said Mr. Smadbeck. "Adam's job is to make it seamless."
That task may be complicated in ways Mr. Darack didn't expect. On the same day Edgartown's new web site is scheduled to launch, Mr. Darack and his wife are expecting the birth of a child.