WebRedo: The Traveling Salesman

Over the next month, I will occasionally be documenting some of the things I’m learning as I work with Middlebury’s Web Makeover Team. Last month, I mentioned that I will be doing a J-term internship on institutional web development. In other words, I’d be helping redesign the Middlebury College website. So bear with me as I flesh out some of debates we are having as a group.

Week One of the “internship” has been a whirlwind mostly because I’ve been caught up in meetings left and right. I almost feel like a traveling salesman, an evangelist for web Change, with a capital “C” but a small “w.” I’m selling the process of the Web Makeover — getting people to buy-in to not only a new website, but a different kind of website that is interactive, multimedia-oriented, and hopefully segmented in the right way that each user has a unique experience.

And sometimes it’s a challenge to convince people that a website they like (nearly 70% of students rate our current website as good to excellent in ease of use)  should change. But I often use the example that Prof. Mittell came up with: if you don’t use the same computer you did ten years ago, why do you use the same website we created ten years ago? The pitch essentially is that the foundational technology (CMS software) that manages the Middlebury website must change so we might as well take the opportunity to be forward-thinking in creating a website that can adapt to a rapidly-changing Internet-scape.

My concentration this past week has been the “stakeholder meeting.” This process is designed to gather requirements for what a new website but also serve to bring the varied/disparate departments, offices, and constituencies into the loop of what we’re doing. We generally realize the direction that the website is headed but stakeholders help us figure out what exactly we need that can benefit as many as possible.

And this is a delicate balance. I had several people tell me they want to be more central to the new website. They want real estate on the homepage. They want a direct “in” with students. It’s almost a competition within the school. And yet the boundaries of your well-defined “position” within the school (hierarchy) also exist as a boundary to work within.

In case anyone missed the memo, everyone is on-board with having a web presence. How you convince people beyond that fact is what counts.