Boston Unveils Pilot of Overhauled City Website to Solicit Feedback [Jan. 14, 2016]

Submitted on
Thursday, January 14, 2016
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StateScoop

By Alex Koma

Boston’s IT staff is collecting public feedback on the newly released pilot version of “boston.gov,” taking a big step closer to launching an overhauled city website.

The city launched the pilot version of the site last week, giving users a sneak peek at three of its new pages and offering them a chance to vote on what sections of the site they’d like to see next.

“On the one hand, it’s a little scary to be developing in public,” Lauren Lockwood, the city’s chief digital officer, told StateScoop. “But our hope is that by exposing ourselves and bringing people into the process that we end up with a better product.”

With roughly a million words on the current website’s 20,000 different pages, Lockwood said the city has been hoping to clean up the clutter with a new site for a while now. She said her team started the process by surveying people “inside and outside city hall” to figure out what about the site needed to change, then set about collaborating with a design firm and a developer to create the new Web portal.

“We set out to create a website that’s not only more useful for our residents, but also more welcoming,” Lockwood said.

Indeed, Lockwood noted that her team sought to build a site that’s “equal parts warm and official,” and also “act as a helpful human.”

Part of that process involves simplifying the content on the website — Lockwood said the current site contains huge blocks of text that require an 11th grade reading level to understand, something the city is hoping to change with the redesign.

The pilot site doesn’t contain many pages, but Lockwood feels the test version embodies many of those attributes her team was striving to attain. The homepage contains links to three initial topic pages for users to explore: “starting a business,” “having a car in the city” and “winter is coming.”

Each page contains information that’s “department agnostic,” Lockwood said, so that users don’t have to hunt on each agency’s page to find what they’re looking for.

“If you want to learn about winter preparedness, rather than going to the parking website to learn about parking garages and the 311 site to learn about how to report cases of unshoveled sidewalks and on and on and on, now we include that in one place,” Lockwood said.

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