Gone But Not Forgotten



Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.



Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Post and Testament

NOTE: This was the last of the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.



After a year and a bit of active posting*, the web re:Brand blog is signing off. The blog will stick around as an archive for the time being (no fixed dissolve date) and you can still comment here - though I will no longer respond.

Two reasons for the wrap up now:
(1) Your author has a new position within the City of Toronto focusing on Information Management and (2) the rebranding process itself is heading into a phase 2.

One of the items I'm personally most proud of in our rebranding efforts (phase 1), is how we exposed user comments through the process - that was the whole point.  I recently posted how we (The City of Toronto) are unique in presenting comments around our process.  Rather than say "users told us", but not point to a place where you can see the dialog, you can read what users have said here and on our Comments Wall.

It's an important point as far as I'm concerned - especially when you are talking about information sharing in a social media world.

Phase 2
We joke on the team that we're rebranding the re:Brand next and that's not far from the truth.  We learned quite a bit from our user engagements here, on the Wall, in-person focus tests, interviews, presentations, staff evangelizing, meetings, discussions, arguments, more meetings, etc.  None of it was wasted and even the negative was positive!

All of the insight has gone into a melting pot and plans are to bring more draft pages forward to the web. You will see some changes into 2011.  The "beta" space or "labs" space, where users can comment directly on new features, is still in the cards and there will be great value in that.

My previous post, equated the delay in getting The Beatles music to iTunes was akin to our taking a long time with the process of changing the website.  Indeed, it isn't (or hasn't been) a fast process.  We used to want to apologize for that but I'm not sure we should, given many of the items and factors talked about here on the blog.

Cheers!
So my role here is done for now.  Really have to thank those who stopped by and, especially those who engaged with me.  I also want to credit the re:Brand team members for their energy and support in the project.


  • Trish Garner
  • Don Sugden
  • Reham Gorgis
  • Marina Reckzin
  • Denis Carr
  • Derek Matthew
  • Gabe Caira
  • Roger Beckett
  • Larry Kline

Thanks a bunch and stay well! Hope to represent the City again in social media sometime in the future.

Keith

*There were 70 posts in total ... for those who like to count.

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#39

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Beatles, iTunes and toronto.ca

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

By now you may have heard that Apple Corps and Apple Inc have come to terms and The Beatles songs are now available on iTunes. Isn't that iWonderful?

Darryl Sterdan writing in The Toronto Sun doesn't think so. He believes the situation is "so Yesterday".  I think I would agree the group members missed an early opportunity in getting a foothold in the download community years ago, but  it's still is a big deal for them to be there.

Apple ... Apple ... toronto.ca
There are a few points from his article that triggered this post as I think about the re:Brand of toronto.ca:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Web Wars, Max Headroom and toronto.ca

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Just before I sign off as TOwebRebrand (stay tuned for a wrap up post), I want to get to a few "external forces at play" thoughts. Although these don't impact on a re-branded toronto.ca, they do impact on web users and expectations that are relevant to what we could do for and with users in the future.

Two articles of note:
Not on Facebook? Facebook still knows you
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/rorycellanjones/2010/10/not_on_facebook_facebook_still.html

AND

Google halts Facebook data usage – so Facebook pole vaults
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/nov/08/google-facebook-gmail-contacts-data

On the first, it's a bit of a surprise to me that facebook would have some insight on people who have ignored it and never signed up.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The City of Leon and something about something about something and something else

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

The re:Brand team was talking just this week about the parable of the tortoise and the hare.  Maybe toronto.ca is a bit like the tortoise. In a rebrand (redesign or refresh) context, we haven't gotten to the release stage of presenting major changes to the web yet and other city sites are ahead of us.

Of course, there are some examples right now that our users can see and ponder (see Parks, Rec & Forestry pages) but no whole scale, final, "this is it" changes from us yet.

This is why it's a bit ironic to find out about the City of Leon. Apparently they got their website done in 24 hours!

Amazing
When I stopped by and saw they have 2400 residents there it did give me pause. In fact, I think you could phone each and everyone of them - that's quite possible - to engage in conversation rather than using twitter or facebook (which they are doing). You know, if the phone were invented now, it would be the next big thing.

Anyway, it's a bit of apples vs. oranges to compare our challenges to their challenges.  I won't even go there but I will say ... kudos Leon!



And kudos to Luke Fretwell who posts about his effort in the process on his blog. If this doesn't illustrate something about something about something and something else I don't know what does. (fill in the somethings for me ...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What The Wall and toronto.ca have in common

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


Roger Waters (ex of Pink Floyd) made three appearances in Toronto last week touring The Wall Live. I saw the show and it was, in a word, spectacular!  I'm always trying to come up with interesting analogies for the re:Brand effort and there are several items worth mentioning coming out of the show.

In the first instance The Wall is all about alienation/isolation and how to deal with issues surrounding alienation/isolation.  If you look at our web you might say we alienate users whenever we provide bad web or bad web experiences.  We sometimes isolate ourselves and users by not providing enough information. We may not be as brutal as the Pink character's teacher or mother or wife but users do get alienated all the same.  

Roger aters and band on stage - picture taken by Keith McDonald

I took this picture at the show

Is There Anybody Out There?
One of the most powerful moments in the show is when the wall is built across the stage and the band is performing behind it. In song, Waters asks the question: "Is there anybody out there?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The new fall TV season and toronto.ca

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

What's the "new. exciting fall TV line up" got to do with toronto.ca?  Absolutely nothing directly ... but I think it's fair to say the risks to the networks when launching new TV shows are similar to the risks we face in launching a re-branded website.

Locally, if not even globally, our audiences have as much to gain and as much to lose by anything we do new or change. It may not seem to be at the level of Jay Leno moving to Prime Time and back to late night again (Hello, Goodbye Conan), but, in our little piece of the communications universe, it's pretty important.


All About Ratings
I've been posting here frequently about how the user experience has to be better when surfing toronto.ca. To me that's akin to a viewer liking a show enough to come back week after week, making the program a ratings hit.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

We want it!

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This video caught fire since we posted it to our City of  Toronto YouTube channel.


It's part of a full radio and TV campaign for recycling electronics. It's well done, educates while amusing viewers.


That's good communication by my book.


But I wonder how far we can take it?


I mean, the City probably couldn't sell the harder and delicate issues we face this way ... or could it?


Part of the issue with social media is that it is not a given audiences will come in huge masses and partake. (Ha, ha, the re:Brand blog is an example of that!) Indeed, the work has to have something about it that stimulates enough to make it "comment worthy" or "share worthy" thus becoming "buzz worthy" and maybe "influence worthy".


So it's food for thought ... how do you want to receive your information? With a smile attached to it ... a nod and a wink or deadpan serious? Is there a middle ground?


How about time and place - when is it OK to move along the "funny ha ha" spectrum and when isn't it?


Some of your thoughts would be helpful as we go forward in reviewing how we present content at toronto.ca.



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#33/2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ottawa.ca is to Ottawa as __________ is to __________

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Ottawa is yet another city to launch a changed website this year.  Now, of course, we are getting pretty close to home with Ottawa being in the same province.

So, I thought I'd title this post with the same type of "fill in the blanks" we've been throwing out on twitter from time to time - "our website is to the City as blank is to blank". We get an idea of how users see the website in relation to the City itself.

Love to hear your comments on what we might take from Ottawa.

I personally like the fact they are promoting their social media presence right on their home page with twitter, YouTube and flickr links as well as a dedicated twitter feed. On the screen capture I added to this page, I selected the YouTube link so you see a video segment in what is normally the twitter feed box.


I note also the spot underneath the social media spot for comments on the site changes. We would like to bump our comments presence on our website too but make it directly associated with specific web pages. I've long felt we'd get more comments if users could address their issues right from the pages they are on - we could also better associate what issues specific pages present for users.  What I'm talking about is what Google and others do at the end of pages - "Was this helpful?" etc.

Anyway, congratulations Ottawa ... who's next up for changes? We're still a ways away.

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#32/2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nice, New Nelson

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Hello, I'm back ... found this site while I was away.

Nelson BC launched an updated website at the end of July. I think it's pretty sweet.  Have a look and tell us ... should we go for more or less of what they are doing?



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#31/2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Everything old is new again ... not quite!

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

We found an interesting website today: http://web.archive.org known as wayback machine.  You can go backwards in time there and we did.  Here is a rendering of our toronto.ca site from 1999:



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Strikethrough the re:Brand

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

I'm seeing more and more blog authors using the strike through when they make errors mistakes and changes on their blog.  I'm thinking assuming it's to show transparency - you know, "I'm not hiding anything from you".*

But I actually hate it loathe it detest it object to it think it's pretty stupid.  It makes a post much harder to read and, if I used strike through for every error or change of mind I had, well it would be simply impossible horrific to read!

Maybe that makes me old school out of touch a contrarian but I really prefer a readable display - I'm not a fan of track changes in a document either. It's just too hard to follow.

But how far should we take this "openness" in an Open Government? Do we transfer the logic to our static web?  How about our print pieces?  Advertising on the Garbage trucks?  Tax Bills?

Monday, July 19, 2010

OK what does branding mean?

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


These just in from our Comments Wall: 
I was just on the City's website/webpage for Edwards Gardens.....ARE YOU KIDDING? That is the most spartan and pathetic 'description' for a civic attraction that I've ever seen and I have lived or visited from coast-to-coast. Do you not want people to visit this wonderful space? In fact, I found most of the 'information' on the City's website severely lacking, unimaginative, and just plain bland.  
AND ...
It is obviously too late. In the future, try first to understand what "branding" means. So far, there is no "branding" here.
To the first - this is the kind of comment relating to writing we've been asking about.  In some ways, when we write with a bit more pizazz there is a fear of criticism but I gather rather than a consistent listing this person wants more! We could definitely put some more meat on information like this - maybe you'd like to try adding your own descriptions - a great place for a Garden Wall perhaps?

(Assumption the person was looking at: http://www.toronto.ca/parks/parks_gardens/edwardsgdns.htm).

To the second - I would argue it's never too late.  The web re:Brand hasn't got a finite point exactly.  I mean, we are not just going to present pages and say we are done without a fair bit of due diligence.  So, perhaps you could say: "it's taking a while"!  I would also challenge that we don't know what "branding" means.  In fact the comment tells us a lot about our current brand.  So, maybe as we move along with the outcomes, a better brand - something we can all be real proud about - will become more evident.

Fill in the blanks:

toronto.ca is to Toronto as  ________ is to __________

Make a connection and tell us what our web means to you now or what you'd like it to mean to you in the future.

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#28/2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

GovCamp Toronto speaks to converted but that's the point for now

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Some (lengthy) musings on GovCamp Toronto June 17, 2010. 


COT Representation




First up, attendance was great form the City of Toronto. Is that important? I think so.  Among the many were CIO, Dave Wallace (my ultimate boss here in I&T), Howard Wunch (a more immediate boss in the Web Centre), Trish Garner (OK she is my direct boss). Outside of  I&T, Neil Evans from 311 and Michael Williams the General Manager for the EDC division (which is all about Economic Development & Culture - hence the EDC tag) were there. That's two heavy hitters showing interest.  In all I counted about 20 City staff there. I think that shows good uptake from us.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

My table presentation was so dull even I had to leave ...

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

I'm surprised to find no blog action from the GovCamp of last week. Doubly surprised in a way, since my table topic was "entering the blogosphere".

I wondered from the planing outset whether there would be any uptake on this topic at a camp revolving largely around opening up data?  Event organizers suggested it as a possible topic to our toronto.ca/open team and I thought it worth a shot - not only to add variety to the event topics but because I'm blogging and I wanted to find others doing the same. I can say categorically post event: "there isn't any uptake".

I think the main reason is the live conversation is still largely around getting data released (and all that means and/or implies) as opposed to talking about blogging about it. At least this is true from the government inside perspective.  It was still a bit of a shock though - out of all the government employees in attendance on this night - that no one stopped by the table to say they were blogging. There are lots of examples of the engaged community blogging of course but I can't find a gov employee blog per se. I'm not certain that makes me exclusive but chances are good if I gave a "gov employee blogging party" few people would come.


Monday, June 14, 2010

A rant by any other name is still a rant ... no?

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

This just in to the Comments Wall:
This website remains an embarrassment, year after year. Show us the money, or at least some results for our money ON A REGULAR BASIS. Why don't you use maps like the ones that real folks use everyday? Why is there no directory of staff and services? Why is so much old information still available? And who really cares about a 're:Brand'? Aren't grand scale website overhauls (at long intervals) generally accepted as folly now? Who's running the show? No more excuses.>
 I always like it when people sugar coat their statements like this - perhaps it would be better if they told us what they really feel. But, seriously, the above comment - and ones like it on the wall - do nothing to enable us to make a better website.  All it is is a rant and that may fulfill a need (one we haven't offered up previously) but, again, doesn't offer us anything of value.
Note: I suspect the reference to the "maps" is related to the launch of a new maps for road closures (http://map.toronto.ca/roadrestrictions/index.jsp). The mappers are indeed looking for feedback. It could be they haven't seen it - hard to tell. 
A while back I wrote about customer service being only as good as your last performance.  That would appear to be true here again - for the current web has clearly failed this person. But, and I'm speaking personally as opposed to "Mr. re:Brand", I would really like to see some more positive energy around the fact we are inviting comment at all.  Isn't that a small victory for the masses?


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nice site y'all!

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

More renewed web from afar.  Have a look at what Texas has done:  http://www.texas.gov/

texas website home page

What should we take from their work?

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24/2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pretty well exhausted but always room for more ...

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


... and that's about it for the re:Brand posts for the next while.

We're in analysis mode and taking things in.  The Lucky 7 post is your ticket to continue adding thoughts. Please do as we're not stopping listening to user reactions.


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23/2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How LOST and toronto.ca are similar

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

OK an admission here ... I'm still watching LOST but wishing we would just get the thing over with. The only reason I'm still hanging in is because of all the time invested in the program over its run.  So, I'm a bit hostile to it.  That being out-of-the-way, here's what I was thinking this week after viewing the Adam and Eve episode:

I thought of our website and the road we've been on for the last few years getting up to speed on making changes etc.  Like the main characters on LOST, we've encountered some similar obstacles.
Our city is sometimes called the "Big Smoke" , LOST has the Black Smoke.    

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hello Fijnaart, Gijón, Bandung and Urbandale ...

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

A cool thing I've always loved about the web is how items go viral and people from anywhere find you.  In the case of the re:Brand, stats are showing visits from all over the place.  In fact, there are many readers who seem to be following us from afar.





Friday, May 7, 2010

More doing business on web suggestions

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

A while ago we posted a request for business users to tell us how they use/want to use the toronto.ca web.  We just posted to YouTube Part 3 of the video series where we interview business owners about their needs.
Let us know if you support the kinds of adds Joe talks about.


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20/2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

While away I found some things "refurbished"

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Hi all ... back in business after some r n' r and discovered a few refurbished city websites while away.

QuinteWest presents a vibrant site on my first reaction to landing on the page. Note, they offer an eServices tab along with the traditional "City Hall", "Residents", "Business" and "Visitor" tabs.

We're definitely going to add more tabs - users have specific interests they want pulled out from areas such as residents.

Charlottetown offers a message by the Mayor as you land on the home page. Personally, I like this touch though I suspect many  web "heads" may very well pan it.

The Town of Middleton  also offers a Mayor's message too but in text form. I see they have a "Barrier Free Resource Centre" thing happening on their home page giving import to accessibility.

I guess the question of the day would be how long do you keep the front page alive with this content.  How new is new ... especially once you've been there?

All three sites certainly look fresh - I think our front page (new as of last year) conveys a similar freshness but the insides of our site are only getting sorted out now.

User Engagement

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 7 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Our testing indicated that 40% of respondents chose “Communication” (e.g. email, newsletters, alerts, and blogs) as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

53% of respondents chose “Submitting suggestions and feedback” (e.g. via email, surveys, blogs) as the most important way that people could use an improved City of Toronto website to engage and interact with the City.

35% of respondents chose “Contact information” as the most important area where information on the City of Toronto website could be improved or presented differently.

Some user comments:
“Having online discussion forums, especially for public forum consultations would be a great way to involve more people in these discussions without incurring greater costs for booking larger rooms. Also this would be a way for people with Accessibility issues to take part easier in discussions without being restricted to only doing so at an accessible, i.e. Wheelchair Accessible, location. City needs to realize the full potential of its web presence…, and hopefully realize that by investing in a good web site that they can save money in other service areas.”
“I believe that things like blogs where people can start their own threads to discuss various issues are very important. This will allow for the public to voice their opinions and at the same time provide feedback on the issues for the city employees.”
“Many citizens do not know about opportunities for public consultations. These opportunities (including online opportunities) should be highlighted. For every public meeting (e.g. community input on budget, there should be an online opportunity to solicit comments). A lot of people are unable to attend meetings. Citizens should be easily able to submit comments and feedback to the City, and receive a prompt response from appropriate staff.”
“I think communicating online is important, but please do not take away the other methods of communicating with the City e.g. phone, letter mail, etc.”
This is tied to having more web 2.0 features with online discussions and allowing feedback and e-contacts.

Tell us what you think ...

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18/2010

Accessibility / Customization / Personalization

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 6 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Our testing indicates 30% of respondents chose “Accessibility” (e.g. text size, captioning, and screen reader use) the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

32% of respondents chose “Non-English language options” the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

37% of respondents chose “Customization Features” (e.g. logging in, setting preferences, user profiles) as the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:
“The City's web site needs to increase its accessibility features for residents with special needs and needs to increase the options for people who do not speak English.”
“I believe strongly that every single page fails W3C validation, sometimes multiple times due to simple errors such as a lack of ALT image tags, no Document Type descriptions… Unacceptable for a government website to have this many W3C Accessibility errors in 2007.”
“There's really no reason that most of the documents published as PDFs and can't be published as plain HTML files with an option to produce a PDF for printing if necessary.”
“e-mail notification of events, activities etc based on preferences.”
This ties into sorting out full compliance with W3c standards, providing more translations, offering the ability to get updates,delivering more choices and options.

Tell us what you think  ...

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17/2010

Services

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 5 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Our testing indicates that 42% of respondents chose “Requesting a City Service Online” (e.g. road repair, garbage pickup, tree work) and 39% of respondents chose “Paying Online” (e.g. bills, permits, tickets, fines, program fees) as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

Once people used Online Services, 92% of them indicated that they would use them again.

In general, the users’ comments suggest that citizens would like to see new and more sophisticated online services made available, particularly in areas like bill/fine payment, permits and registration.

Some user comments:
“Anything the City sells should be available to be purchased online
"Ability to do payments online for all types of Services - pay bills, provide feedback, submit forms and request city services.” 
 “Have debit payments online.” 
 “Parking is one service that NEEDS online services to allow people to be able to pay bills online. They should also have the ability to dispute tickets online and to arrange for a date in court online, as currently they must either come in person or mail in a request to fight the ticket.” 
 “Why don't you allow online payment of property tax bills?” 
 “You should be able to get a history of your property taxes online without having to go to a municipal building, wait inline and pay $5 per statement." 
This is tied into automating services with a single log-in for easy registration and payments.

Tell us what you think ...


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16/2010

Content

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 4 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Timely updates are really important.

Some user comments:
“It has become apparent to me that people do not trust the website/ or do not understand it. If they did we would not get lots of calls asking questions like: 'I just want to check if what I read was correct'"
 “Have a news section on the homepage to highlight current, important events. Update it daily. Have strict parameters that outline what can and cannot be posted.”
 “Cue groups or divisions to remove old information so that you don't run across a page that's from 2000 that hasn't been updated and has old, inaccurate information.”
This is tied into providing timely updates, archiving and removing old content,providing better content delivery and, even using multi media better. We also are being asked to provide more advice and suggestions to users - career development and better citizenship.

Tell us what you think ...

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15/2010

Navigation

This is segmented part 3 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Our testing indicates 65% of respondents chose “Links to services/information on other government websites”

 Some user comments:
 “Take away the organizational structure and concentrate on the functions".
"Information should be organized by subject/service such as: taxes, water, trees, parks, parking, roads, transportation, etc, to make it easier to find, (and NOT under the name of the department that provides the services."
 “Organize current events for specific groups - parents, teens, cultural, community events like children festivals, etc.”
This goes to providing easier access to information, grouping relevant information in one place and organizing content around topics and functions.

Tell us what you think ...


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14/2010

Search

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 2 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Our testing indicates that 71% of respondents chose “Search” as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:
“Unless search words are nearly 100% accurate, few relevant "hits" come up.
"Allow users to find a person, service, facility, or city resources through a single search window; Currently search pulls a lot of old irrelevant content.”
 "Search function should return useable hits [not the zero or thousands and nothing in between]."
"I would like to search for information on, for example, swimming pool hours without having to open and search through a pdf document. I live on the border between North and South districts so I sometimes have to search multiple pdfs because I am looking at locations in the two areas."
"You can't search for a report on a Council agenda unless you already know which Committee/year it went through.”
“I should be able to use the search function on the City's web pages to find anything from by-law regulations to demographic to swimming classes.”
All this is tied up in search not finding information. A special reference to mapping being considered as search is significant. We need to display more specific information on a map, the application is slow and has a small viewing area.

Tell us what you think ...

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13/2010

Look and Feel

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.


This is segmented part 1 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

59% of respondents chose “Visual Elements”(e.g. graphic design, photos, and icons) to be the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:
“The look is so "dry" - there is no enjoyment using the site… All looks like a big plain newspaper.”“Looks like it was designed in 1999 for 640x480 screens.”
“The City's current website is pretty boring to look at - ultra corporate and uptight looking without any photographs or compelling visuals or design.”
“Design, design, design... Usefulness is not the only criterion. Your pride as a City employee should radiate in its design. The website should have some kind of character, just like the front page of a newspaper.”
All this is tied up in the design looking outdated, not very inviting, encouraging or inspiring and not exactly youth friendly.

Tell us what you think ...

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12/2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

7 .... lucky 7

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

I'm heading out on assignment for the next few weeks so this is likely the last post while I'm out. People on the team are going to monitor any comments so don't let my absence deter you!

Thought I'd outline the 7 things we've identified as the major areas for improving toronto.ca ... lucky 7 you might say:
  • Look and Feel
  • Search
  • Navigation 
  • Content
  • Services 
  • Accessibility / Customization / Personalization 
  • User Engagement 

What I want to do on my return is set up a post for each category so blog readers can go to any of these areas and provide focused comments right in the appropriate section. We're getting such uptake on the "cut to the chase" page, it sure seems likely that my ramblings aren't as important as just giving a comments space. Fine with me.

These links are on the top right side of the mighty blog for everyone too. For the full deal, allow me some license to write more here. Here's the 411 on how we arrived at the 7:

Look and Feel:


Our testing indicates 59% of respondents chose “Visual Elements” (e.g. graphic design, photos, and icons) to be the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:


“The look is so "dry" - there is no enjoyment using the site… All looks like a big plain newspaper.”

 “Looks like it was designed in 1999 for 640x480 screens.” 

 “The City's current website is pretty boring to look at - ultra corporate and uptight looking without any photographs or compelling visuals or design.” 

 “Design, design, design... Usefulness is not the only criterion. Your pride as a City employee should radiate in its design. The website should have some kind of character, just like the front page of a newspaper.” 

 All this is tied up in the design looking outdated, not very inviting, encouraging or inspiring and not exactly youth friendly.







Search


Our testing indicates that 71% of respondents chose “Search” as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:

“Unless search words are nearly 100% accurate, few relevant "hits" come up.

"Allow users to find a person, service, facility, or city resources through a single search window; Currently search pulls a lot of old irrelevant content.”

 “Search function should return useable hits [not the zero or thousands and nothing in between]." 

"I would like to search for information on, for example, swimming pool hours without having to open and search through a pdf document. I live on the border between North and South districts so I sometimes have to search multiple pdfs because I am looking at locations in the two areas."

"You can't search for a report on a Council agenda unless you already know which Committee/year it went through.”

“I should be able to use the search function on the City's web pages to find anything from by-law regulations to demographic to swimming classes.” 

All this is tied up in search not finding information. A special reference to mapping being considered as search is significant. We need to display more specific information on a map, the application is slow and has a small viewing area.







Navigation


Our testing indicates 65% of respondents chose “Links to services/information on other government websites”

 Some user comments:

 “Take away the organizational structure and concentrate on the functions". 

"Information should be organized by subject/service such as: taxes, water, trees, parks, parking, roads, transportation, etc, to make it easier to find, (and NOT under the name of the department that provides the services." 

 “Organize current events for specific groups - parents, teens, cultural, community events like children festivals, etc.” 

This goes to providing easier access to information, grouping relevant information in one place and organizing content around topics and functions.  










Content

Timely updates are really important.

Some user comments:

“It has become apparent to me that people do not trust the website/ or do not understand it. If they did we would not get lots of calls asking questions like: 'I just want to check if what I read was correct'" 

 “Have a news section on the homepage to highlight current, important events. Update it daily. Have strict parameters that outline what can and cannot be posted.” 

 “Cue groups or divisions to remove old information so that you don't run across a page that's from 2000 that hasn't been updated and has old, inaccurate information.” 

 This is tied into providing timely updates, archiving and removing old content,providing better content delivery and, even using multi media better. We also are being asked to provide more advice and suggestions to users - career development and better citizenship.  







Services


Our testing indicates that 42% of respondents chose “Requesting a City Service Online” (e.g. road repair, garbage pickup, tree work) and 39% of respondents chose “Paying Online” (e.g. bills, permits, tickets, fines, program fees) as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

Once people used Online Services, 92% of them indicated that they would use them again.

In general, the users’ comments suggest that citizens would like to see new and more sophisticated online services made available, particularly in areas like bill/fine payment, permits and registration.

Some user comments:

“Anything the City sells should be available to be purchased online

"Ability to do payments online for all types of Services - pay bills, provide feedback, submit forms and request city services.” 

 “Have debit payments online.” 

 “Parking is one service that NEEDS online services to allow people to be able to pay bills online. They should also have the ability to dispute tickets online and to arrange for a date in court online, as currently they must either come in person or mail in a request to fight the ticket.” 

 “Why don't you allow online payment of property tax bills?” 

 “You should be able to get a history of your property taxes online without having to go to a municipal building, wait inline and pay $5 per statement." 

This is tied into automating services with a single log-in for easy registration and payments.







Accessibility / Customization / Personalization


Our testing indicates 30% of respondents chose “Accessibility” (e.g. text size, captioning, and screen reader use) the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

32% of respondents chose “Non-English language options” the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

37% of respondents chose “Customization Features” (e.g. logging in, setting preferences, user profiles) as the most important factors that could improve how people access information and services on the City of Toronto website.

Some user comments:

“The City's web site needs to increase its accessibility features for residents with special needs and needs to increase the options for people who do not speak English.”

“I believe strongly that every single page fails W3C validation, sometimes multiple times due to simple errors such as a lack of ALT image tags, no Document Type descriptions… Unacceptable for a government website to have this many W3C Accessibility errors in 2007.”

“There's really no reason that most of the documents published as PDFs and can't be published as plain HTML files with an option to produce a PDF for printing if necessary.”

“e-mail notification of events, activities etc based on preferences.”

This ties into sorting out full compliance with W3c standards, providing more translations, offering the ability to get updates,delivering more choices and options.







User Engagement


Our testing indicated that 40% of respondents chose “Communication” (e.g. email, newsletters, alerts, and blogs) as the most important types of services to offer on an improved City of Toronto website.

53% of respondents chose “Submitting suggestions and feedback” (e.g. via email, surveys, blogs) as the most important way that people could use an improved City of Toronto website to engage and interact with the City.

35% of respondents chose “Contact information” as the most important area where information on the City of Toronto website could be improved or presented differently.

Some user comments:

“Having online discussion forums, especially for public forum consultations would be a great way to involve more people in these discussions without incurring greater costs for booking larger rooms. Also this would be a way for people with Accessibility issues to take part easier in discussions without being restricted to only doing so at an accessible, i.e. Wheelchair Accessible, location. City needs to realize the full potential of its web presence…, and hopefully realize that by investing in a good web site that they can save money in other service areas.”

“I believe that things like blogs where people can start their own threads to discuss various issues are very important. This will allow for the public to voice their opinions and at the same time provide feedback on the issues for the city employees.”

“Many citizens do not know about opportunities for public consultations. These opportunities (including online opportunities) should be highlighted. For every public meeting (e.g. community input on budget, there should be an online opportunity to solicit comments). A lot of people are unable to attend meetings. Citizens should be easily able to submit comments and feedback to the City, and receive a prompt response from appropriate staff.”

“I think communicating online is important, but please do not take away the other methods of communicating with the City e.g. phone, letter mail, etc.”

This is tied to having more web 2.0 features with online discussions and allowing feedback and e-contacts.

And so

...Some things we are doing already. Some things will take a bit longer. I would be remiss not to note that this blog is our first step in using web 2.0 for a project as large as a rebranding of the web. You can help out by letting others know we are in play here. And, yes, please comment yourself.


Thanks,
See 'ya real soon.

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11/2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

That "toddlin' town" website a model for toronto.ca?

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Chicago is getting the word out about their "new" web: http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en.html

Lots of nice things happening there. What do you think and how would you like to see toronto.ca adapt/adopt from their efforts?

City of Chicago website front page
Chicago's new website

I like these things about the front page:
  • front page lean and mean but clear 
  • decision points use intuitive language
  • not overwhelmed by huge visuals but tasteful blend of text and image
  • search works well on a few tests
Once inside:
  • nice use of layering off information  
  • I like lists and they like them too
  • unique presence for visitors 
Surprised:
  • use of images isn't consistent in size and placements at inner levels
  • link back to Chicago main site from visitors kind of buried
  • separate browser windows open for links to residents, visitors etc (maybe that negates the link back)
  • good discipline in not overloading things like "what's new" with hundreds of items
  • bureaucratic writing 
Here's an example of what I mean by bureaucratic writing:
  • In partnership with the non-profit groups Breaking Ground and the Safer Foundation, the City is using $4.6 million for a two-year program to provide job training and temporary jobs for about 140 formerly-incarcerated persons to take part in a new building “deconstruction” work program. In this program, city-owned buildings are taken down in an environmentally sound way that salvages the materials for re-use in the building industry. Breaking Ground is already training 32 workers, who soon will be traveling daily to work sites where they are removing nails and salvaging lumber from dilapidated buildings. The program not only provides income and job training to the workers, but also helps create a new green “deconstruction” industry to Chicago.
    The Boeing Company, as part of the City’s ongoing Recovery Partnership with Chicago’s philanthropic community, provided a two-year grant to the Chicago Workforce Investment Council to bring a leading deconstruction expert to Chicago to help the City design this program and to help Chicago build a market for deconstruction in the future.
  • The City is using $3.75 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for a two-year Neighborhood Clean-Up Initiative that will provide about 230 year-round jobs and job-training services to Chicago’s hard-to-employ populations, with an emphasis on the formerly incarcerated.
    The workers will gain practical experience and marketable skills in vegetation control, debris removal and the cleaning of neighborhood commercial strips.
  • The City is using $7.425 million in federal economic stimulus money to create about 295 community-based green jobs for the hard-to-employ, including the formerly incarcerated, over the next two years.
This is taken from:  http://mayor.cityofchicago.org/mayor/en/press_room/press_releases/2010/march_2010/0311_ex_offenders.html

The example is also inside bullet points and seems to negate one of the advantages of using a list - to set the page free of clutter. It's also from a media release page (but linked off of the front page). As a non-media person, I would much rather read about such news in a non-news release format. Why not make the page speak to me vs. media?

Speaking of which can you imagine media reporting all of the items in the bullets? No way.  Too much information perhaps for us all.  Drop the full details into another layer so the research geeks who want that much can get it but I'm not saddled with plowing through it.

Even the headline is a mouthful: 
Chicago Uses $16 Million In Federal Economic Stimulus Funds To Create More Than 650 'Green' Jobs For The Formerly-Incarcerated          
I also notice they are using caps for all the words in their titles which differs to us.  We haven't been able to get our content providers to be consistent with this practice however.  Maybe Chicago just decided: if you can' t beat them join them? Or would it be: If You Can't Beat Them Join Them?

What say you?
So that's some personal opinion.  I tend to focus on content vs. the look and feel since the content (and what it says to me) is most important.  I do like the look and feel (for the most part) of their pages - especially because I am not overwhelmed by any one thing. It's a pretty straight drive to get to where you want to go.

Love to hear what you think and what you think we could take from the "new" Chicago web.

person sitting in front of large painting of toronto.ca front page
Helping to evaluate toronto.ca - this could be you

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10/2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Join the dialogue

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Getting great uptake on our Tell Us What's Right or Wrong With toronto.ca "cut to the chase page" - join the dialogue.

person standing in front of huge mural of toronto.ca webpage

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09/2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Climbing up the Comments Wall

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Our toronto.ca Comments Wall has been up for close to a year now.

I recently re-read all of the comments from start to finish - it's getting to be quite a climb.  We are getting good pick up on this space - especially since we started providing links to it on the bottom banner of the toronto.ca web pages. Dah, what took us so long?

This is good for us and good for you.  Now you can find us and use the space to provide some feedback. And, boy we are getting feedback! When I compare it to the blog, the Wall is by far the most active.

One of the things that works well over there is the easy way to post a comment. I mean, the comments box is staring you right in the face when you land on the page.  You don't have to register or go through any process other than type and hit submit.  That's good!

Down side
If there is a down side for me it is the anonymous nature of the Wall.  I can only chat back to anonymous posts.  And for a longer follow up, I have no guarantee the person will come back to the page and see if there is a response. I can't connect with a poster via mail or other means.

I don't feel as close a connection with the anonymity as I would if there were an identified name.
Even if it isn't a true name, having a name listed at least differentiates one posting from another.There are reasons why the Wall is anonymous.  Privacy concerns and privacy laws are stringent coming from our side of the fence.Even here on the blog, we don't force you to post by having to register or use an ID. I have to remove personal info before accepting a post to the Wall or here.

But I digress from the content of the Wall comments.

We've recently upped the max. number of characters to 500 and that's in large part because we are seeing you want more space. Let's take a look at some comments to date.


Challenges
A lot of the comments give us pause such as this one:
Horrible.
You want people to recycle? Simplify your recycling rules.
Stop making me hunt for them, and when I want them, give them to me. No one cares about your "recycling sins" ads. They give me no information.
I go around in circles in links. I wanted to recycle something but I don't know exactly what it's called, and I can't just browse the list to find it.
Recycling is complicated. Recently an app showed up on toronto.ca for users to find out what goes where. See:   http://app.toronto.ca/wes/winfo/search.do



I personally think this goes along way to addressing what the person wants from us in their comment.  How much more simply could you present the info? Perhaps they simply didn't find the page in their search? And that reminds me - lots of people are using what many consider the "perfect" site to find content..  Take a look.  Did you know our internal search engine is actually Google?  Maybe we should more overtly "go that way" for our home page at toronto.ca? We've seriously considered it.




That raises the issue of finding what it is you want when you search for it. A lot of Wall comments mention lack of success in search. It's one of the reasons we chose to talk about search early in a few spots on the blog.  We recognize it's a key issue.

Here's another example:
It sucks, and needs a redo. The search function is utterly useless, and not enough services are online, although that is improving. The problem isn't the aesthetics, that's easy to fix; its the functionality that needs vast improvement. The ability to get what you need when you need it, looking pretty is secondary!
The comment is valid but what's most helpful is when a person lists their process and thinking.  How did they approach getting information? Such as:

Please consider creating a search form for parks that allows you to search by specific service (eg, playgrounds, sports etc) and by area. I've been using the website to try to find a park near me that has a playground, and it's been a very tedious process. Hope the rest of the rebrand goes well. :)

Beyond making our search engine respond with better results, we also are also going to have a kick at how we structure the navigation elements of toronto.ca.  I agree with the point about "functionality" - the functionality of the site is important and we need to rethink it.

I'll have more on our ideas for that a few posts from now.

It sucks vs. it's wonderful and I want it vs. I hate it
The other thing that stands out is how difficult it is to find consensus.  For every "I love it" there is an "I hate it"  Take these two:
Too much text information is presented (website seems congested & it is rather overwhelming to explore it). Visual elements are needed since text quickly bores the avg user. A "flash" based platform is more appropriate for a website catering to youths and adults alike (animations a welcome addition)
vs.
Don't use flash.

and
How is changing one page a site rebrand? BIG FAIL!!!!
vs.
I love it, it is great, less clutter and it is more KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method.

And what about 5 years on?
If social networking and social media is telling us anything it is that interaction back and forth is a keeper!

We don't intend to ever stop asking for comments so we're going to have to figure other ways of presenting the Wall at some point. I hope we'll see specific commenting on all of our pages - not just a general catch all spot page. We're talking about introducing "was this information helpful/not helpful" checks on all of our pages.


By the way, after climbing to the top of the current Comments Wall, I can tell you I distinctly saw light over the horizon.



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08/2010