The City of Menlo Park's website is an important tool. It receives about 50,000 visitors per month and more than1 million monthly hits. New features of the site, which went live to coincide with the new Activity Guide's registration process, include:
• Notify Me, an automated email and text notification system that allows users to subscribe to city related updates such as news flashes, calendar events, meetings, and job opportunities.
• The ability to submit a request of the city or to report a problem (e.g. a pothole) online and then tracks the progress of that request.
• The OpenGov transparency tool, which I reported about back in February, will enable users to review the city's revenue and expenses and parse the data in a clear, graphic format. Graphs can be quickly and easily captured and downloaded or communicated via email or text. The city will provide month-over-month rolling data going back five years.
• A customizable toolbars to more quickly access relevant information.
• A section for "New Community Members" with information on the basics for getting started living in Menlo Park (e.g. utilities).
• Easier to find information/ navigation. (e.g. If you've ever tried to navigate to Menlo Park's Historical Society on the old websitewhich had a less-than intuitive housing under "Library" you will appreciate the new approach.)
• To initiate conversations with city officials and staff, the redesigned site boasts a new feature called "Speak Up" which is somewhat similar to The Almanac's Town Square. Users can publically raise issues with or without using their name. Residents will continue to be able to access CCIN, the City Council online email log, which will retain the older familiar format.
The redesign is still far from over. Curtin says Menlo Park plans to continue to work on how to consolidate some of the back end systems in an effort to reduce cost and redundancy. On the front end, the city will be continuously monitoring which documents (e.g. new fiscal year budget documents) are most frequently requested and will make those easily findable for users as part of a regularly updated FAQ. He says the city's team will continue to work on better organizing website information in order to reduce the number of "layers" users must weed through. Curtin also wants to make more city forms available for processing online.
In summarizing the months-long redesign effort, Curtin concludes: "Overall, I'd say we wanted to make it more visually appealing, add more functionality and most importantly, keep the end user in mind. As with any new website, there may be a few glitches that need adjustment over the next few weeks, so please bear with us. We'll be adding more content in the coming days, weeks and months, and have exciting plans for the continued enhancement of the site."
With a budget of $75,000 for the redesign, Curtin and his team managed to do something that all users are sure to approve of before they even check out the new site: they came in well under budget at $49,600.