Well, the vote was just one person – me – but I think if there really were a contest for worst municipal web site, New Rochelle would certainly win in the “30,000 – 74,999 population category” and make a strong challenge for “Worst in Show”.
The New Rochelle web site is a byzantine monstrosity that is largely useless for all except the most dedicated and persistent users. Many of the most useful links – and there are a few – are buried so deep within the web site, the path to arrive at those links is so slow and confused, the wall surrounding the information so impenetrable that the only purpose for having the information there is so the City can say it’s there. Suffice to say, the phrase “user friendly” does not come to mind while connected to the New Rochelle Online web site. The good news is that the link to pay your parking fines works!
Let me be blunt. Whoever is in charge of the City’s web site should be fired or relieved of their responsibilities. Even the simplest, easiest to correct problem with the site has been left unaddressed for YEARS. Here is the home page as of 10:30 AM this morning. See any problems?
You do not need to be an expert in technology to know that photograph of City Hall on the home page is perhaps the least flattering representation of City Hall that could possibly be obtained – the image is low resolution, the colors are washed out and oh by the way, it’s CROOKED. Now some malcontents might say that a picture showing a crooked City Hall is an ACCURATE representation but I am not sure why the City wants to represent itself to the world in this manner. Anyone with even the most basic photo editor and two minutes to spare could enhance the color, sharpen the resolution and align the photo correctly. Of course, no software is going to correct for the DEAD TREES in the photo. I wish I knew what the two flag-less flag poles are meant to symbolize, maybe they are meant to make a statement about how the City of New Rochelle is a law unto itself.
Although it would take a minute to fix, the image on the home page, the image that most prominently greets visitors to the City of New Rochelle web site is a washed out, faded, slightly out-of-focus, slightly crooked photo of a building, doors closed (Welcome to Oz! The Wizard says go away!)
In the upper right corner you will see a vague sort of error message which reminds me. Here’s another tip. You do not make changes to a LIVE web site in the middle of the day. Any decent web site developer would work on the site in a digital “sandbox”. This is a version of the web site that is stored locally – not live on the web – where the developer first tries out any changes to the site. Once everything appears to work, you copy over the files to the live server. This is always done during off-peak hours – not at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday as is the case here. This carelessness is why the New Rochelle web site is displaying error messages in the middle of the day.
Incredibly, a third of all Internet users are blocked from accessing the vast majority of the information available at “newrochelleny.com”. That is because of the much of the content is actually hosted by a third-party provider at “gistrend.com” which does not support web browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer. If you attempt to view the gistrend.com link using anything other than Internet Explorer you will get the following error message: “GIS portal currently not supporting browsers other than IE”.
NEWSFLASH…to City Hall…and all ships at sea! More than 30% of Internet users do NOT use Internet Explorer. Ever hear of Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.? By using a service that only works with one browser (there are hundreds) the City has blocked about a third of all Internet users from accessing most of the information available on the New Rochelle On-Line site – and 100% of Mac users (Microsoft stopped updating “IE for Mac” about nine years ago).
Don’t even get me started on how slowly the site loads – if you are not connecting via broadband you can fugghetaboutit. As I have broadband the speed of the site is tolerable but I am in the minority. According to the most recent estimates high-speed or “broadband” internet penetration in the United States is about 25% . So, the vast majority of users accessing the site are forced to crawl through hyperlinks at a snail’s pace in order to navigate the City’s web site.
Maybe the site could be renamed New Rochelle On-Line but Only for Extremely Patient Microsoft Customers Affluent Enough or Lucky Enough to Have a Broadband Internet Connection.
Is it any wonder then that the City’s web site get just a few hundred visitors a month? By the time a resident find what they are looking for on the site they could have driven to City Hall and back.
For those interested in what a quality web site looks like check out the Center for Digital Government. The National League of Cities partners with the Center to promote the Digital Cities Survey. Hundreds of cities participate. Here are just a few of the top-ranked web sites listed there (all cities the size of New Rochelle – or smaller):
I know the City is going to cry poor or tell us that there is a new site “coming soon” or something like that but if Flower Mound, Texas can have a first class web site then why can’t New Rochelle. For pity’s sake alone how about investing just a buck or two for a new photo on the home page. Heck, I have a very nice Nikon D-80 that takes great pictures. I’ll even lend the City my camera.