The Dotted Lines

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 am helping redesign the Middlebury College website. So bear with me as I flesh out some of debates we are having as a group.

The last few meetings of the Web Makeover team have certainly been frustrating, and I’m not the only one to characterize it as such. We have many smart people in a room grappling with hard issues that really are central to redesign of the Middlebury website. If you heard us argue, you’d hear fragments of code: “the dotted line,” “fisher-price,” “platform.” It sounds as if we’re looking polka-dot fisher-price dolls on subways platforms in New York.

One major issue is this concept of “the dotted line.” At meetings with stakeholders across campus, we gently gloss over this foundational concept but inside our team meetings, every debate returns to the dotted line. It poses the question: what is the division between the external-facing, highly-branded, prospective student-OKd web pages and the internal-facing, down-and-dirty, everyday-use web pages? Where do we draw that line? And how can, in theory, information from the internal-facing (below the dotted line) be “fed up” to the external-facing (above the dotted line)?

Furthermore, there are other “dotted lines.” For example, the web authoring dotted line is also up for grabs. Should there be a small group of highly-trained web editors that author our web pages? Or should anyone in the Middlebury community be able to author a web page? Can we even make that decision?

One of the difficult pieces is that we are feeling pressed-up against time constraints. We are pressed to learn as much as we can from the Middlebury community this month. Surveys, focus groups, open sessions. This helps inform a RFP or Request for Proposal that we send out to design firms who can bid on helping Middlebury with creating the fancy design.

I think what few realize is that institutional web development is a messy process. There are debates and arguments, but all of that is good. You want people invested in the process. You want a diverse range of opinions and users and authors.