Yesterday, I got an interesting call from the marketing company that’s working on a redesign of the ARRL website. I had an interesting chat with a young woman there who asked a bunch of questions about how I use the site, but I’m guessing that this wasn’t a typical user interview. For one thing, I’d bet that I was the only one she interviewed that develops and maintains websites for a living. I may also be the only one who’s run for an ARRL board position.
I asked her quite a few questions myself, trying to get an idea of the direction that the redesign was going to take. My guess is that very few of the other people she interviewed asked those same questions.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think the ARRL website is OK. The design could use a little updating, but that’s pretty much always the case. I’m of the opinion that the graphic design of a website should be redone every two or three years.
The navigation could perhaps be simplified a little, but there’s so much information there that simplifying it will be difficult. I have used the site so much that I rarely have difficulty finding what I want. When I do, I use the search engine, which does a pretty good job of finding what I’m looking for.
The biggest problem that I see with the ARRL website is that much of the information is out of date. The two sections that I’m most familiar with are the clubs section (I used to be the Affiliated Club Coordinator for the MI Section) and the volunteer instructor sections. The content of both of those sections is showing its age.
This is really the crux of the problem. A fancy, new design is not going to solve the content problem. I’ve designed websites for clients that languished because they didn’t work at keeping the content up-to-date and useful. I fear that the new ARRL site, once launched, will meet the same fate. It will have a great new design, but the same old content.
When confronted with this, ARRL staffers usually fall back on the old saw, “We just don’t have enough resources.” I don’t doubt this, but when I volunteered my services to work on the instructor section, I was basically ignored. I said this in my election campaign, and I’ll reiterate it here. The ARRL must find a way to get the members more involved. My feeling is that there are lots of talented people out there who would be more than willing to work on ARRL projects, but the headquarters staff are just unwilling to get them involved. I’ve never been able to figure out why exactly, but my theory is that Newington has a severe case of the “not invented here” syndrome.
We also discussed how the ARRL might include some social networking features into its new website. This really is something that the ARRL should jump on, imho. The ARRL website should have a feature I’ll call “hambook,” something akin to facebook. Actually, there’s probably not even any need to develop this, but rather somehow use the facebook API to let facebook do most of the work. There are also other websites out there with social networking tools, such as ning.com, that the ARRL could use to promote social networking amongst hams.
The ARRL might even want to get crazy and do something along the lines of Twitter. After all, aren’t the DX spotting websites just an earlier, very specialized form of “tweeting”?Somehow, we should be able to expand on that concept and do some interesting things with the packet network and/or D-Star. This is obviously still a partly-baked idea.
At any rate, I’d love to hear from you on what you think about the current ARRL website and what kind of features the new website should have. I’m going to email the company working on the new website and maybe they’ll even monitor this post to hear what you have to say.