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City Launches New Web Site

The City of Gustavus today unveiled a new web site that replaces and incorporates three older web sites. The new site uses a content management system for greater usability by visitors and authors alike.

Old city web siteAs part of its effort to improve public involvement, the City of Gustavus today threw the virtual switch replacing three older web sites with one new site using the latest techniques for managing on-line information. For the general public the new site should be more attractive and easier to search and navigate. For city staff and volunteers the new site should ease authoring, leading to better timeliness, completeness, and organization of information. The overall goal is strengthening the Gustavus community through improved communication among city entities and with the general public.

New city web siteThe new City of Gustavus web site is intended as "your home page" for Gustavus residents. It replaces the old city web site, the old Gustavus Community Network site, and the old Gustavus Public Library site. On the new site, the library and Internet access are "Services." The community information from the old GCN site comprises the "Community" section of the new site. The old GCN and library sites considerably predate city incorporation. They were created as a collection of static, hard-to-manage web pages confusing what community information was where and on which site. The new site has an overall structure for all community information and an excellent search feature enabling one-stop shopping for news, information, and discussions by and about Gustavus residents, whether or not it relates directly to city government.

An essential feature of the new system is the ability to create and manage pages without any special software or web editing knowledge. Given an account with the right permissions, changing a page is as easy as navigating to it, clicking edit, making the changes as one would in a word processor, and then clicking save. At the same time, different areas of the site can have different permissions, so the city has the flexibility of assigning authors to some areas of the site and keeping other parts under tighter control. The Plone content management system upon which the site is based also uses "review states" or "workflows" to manage permissions, so an author can create a page and submit it for publication but must have it approved by a reviewer before it becomes visible to the general public. The combination of easy authoring, flexible delegation, and workflows seemed like a good match for the highly distributed, volunteer-based collaborative approach Gustavus uses to operate its government and deliver its services.

The home-grown project also models the frugal values of the Gustavus city government and showcases local talent. The Plone software is free and runs on the existing library server. The total cost of the new system was $3,000 obligated to local consulting start-up Corvid Computing to establish the new site, transfer content from the old sites, and train city staff in the use of the new system.  At launch day that money has not all been spent but final touches and enhancements and training will continue beyond the launch until the budgeted funds run out. "This is our first real Plone project," according to co-corvid Nathan Borson, "the more I use it the better I like it. This is an extremely flexible, extensible system that will meet the city's information needs for many years."

Pending a content management policy of some kind, the city webmaster is clerk Kapryce Manchester. After saving her first meeting minutes to the new site on Friday she commented, "that was too easy!" Manchester will be aided by city council member and dumpmaster Paul Berry, community and community network section volunteer webmaster Nathan Borson, and likely other city staff and volunteers.

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