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Wilbraham upgrades town's website to promote transparency

Date: 12/17/2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — In an effort to make information more accessible to the public, the town of Wilbraham has made significant upgrades to its website.

"One of the major focuses with the redesign was transparency and making information readily available," Nathan DeLong, director of Information Technology, told Reminder Publications.

DeLong explained that the website's old design was extremely flawed, especially in terms of accessibility.

"The old site had a very dated design," he said. "The structure was very rough and it was cumbersome to get around."

Utilizing CivicsPlus as its new website vendor, the new website has increased functionality and the more frequently visited portions of the site are more prominent.

"One of the things we did is look at the logs on the old site to see what people were looking at in order to make the most desired information the easiest to access," he said. "For example, the No. 1 place that was visited was the calendar and town events page, so we made that a prominent feature on the new homepage."

The town events calendar module is one DeLong said he is very happy with. In addition to being easy to use for visitors and easy to add events for government personnel, it also incorporates features that allow the public to access and download documents pertinent to the event, such as meeting minutes and agendas without having to search elsewhere on the site for them.

"That module is very robust and allows us to be more government process oriented," he said. "It's very easy to link an agenda or other information."

Drop down menus on the homepage were another feature DeLong said would increase accessibility.

"With the old site, to even find a department, for example, you would have to click a link to get to a directory and you'd have to find it from there," he said. "With the new site, all you have to do is hover over one of the options on the navigational bar at the top and all of your options are there in front of you."

The new website system also gives town officials a better platform through which to update information.

"With the old system, you had a specific computer program you had to use to update the website, so you had to be at your computer to make any updates," he said. "With CivicsPlus, we can update the site remotely if needed, which can be a valuable tool, especially in times of emergency."

Those interested in receiving updates on town business through email or RSS feeds may do so with the notification feature, which is also included on the website's updated homepage, DeLong said, adding that notifications posted to the website can be cross-posted on Facebook and Twitter to maximize their exposure.

While the website had always carried a link to Blackboard Connect, the town's reverse-911 system, the new design also makes that feature more prominent.

DeLong explained that the town currently is only using a fraction of the site's full functionality, adding that his department is currently working on developing an "On Demand" module through which meetings and programs broadcast on Wilbraham Public Access Television can be viewed online.

Eventually meetings could be streamed live over the website.