Sunday, January 5, 2014

INTRODUCING: Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce v 5.0

Re-evaluating and updating the Dunwoody Chamber site is as much a New Year's tradition in our house as much as a bottle of champagne, baked brie, and watching Ryan Seacrest until 1 AM.

But seriously folks, a change in leadership at the Chamber is an opportune time to review the site's functions, and compile feedback from the board, from members, and from the public about how to make it more usable.

There were some new problems to be solved.  The large banner in the previous edition was supposed to be clickable - as in click the picture and get a page of new information.  Didn't work.  Hence the translucent grey bar with text in it that couldn't be styled.

There was talk of hosting podcasts/video/audio archives.  The drivers I had available weren't up to the job and didn't work consistently in all browsers or devices.

Then there's the "real estate" question.  Everyone has their favorite piece of information or their favorite widget that they want to see on the front page, above the fold.  That was tried before and the page was crowded and busy in no time.

Most of all, whatever solution was implemented, it had to be easy to learn and update by office staff and volunteer committee chairs.  

The solution to this "wish list" was a full-scale software upgrade. Since 2009 the site was published in Drupal 6.  Drupal 6 was created before the boom in JavaScript animation, slideshows, and all of the interactive interfaces typical in tablets and newer smartphones.  The overhaul upgraded the Chamber to Drupal 7 with accompanying modules to streamline the features expected on the web.  

The interface you see above is intended to get the most popular and urgent information into the visitor's screen ASAP, and make it easy to discover something new during the trip.

First, the banner.  Go ahead, give it a click!  With a small amount of planning an editor can upload an image, write up a page of information and in a moment it becomes part of the slideshow.  The upgrade also allows editors to schedule their content to appear - or disappear - at appointed times, making the effort to manage the pages even easier.  The banner was resized to add a new column:  a list of upcoming events with links to descriptions and online reservations resides in a sleek column that is easy to find, yet not jumbled with everything else.  

Second - the icon bar below the banner is the latest solution to the "real estate" question.  Run your mouse over each icon (or tap on it if you're using a tablet.) More goodies appear in a hidden "mega-menu" that only becomes visible when you want it.  By employing a mega-menu, more content can be added to the front page without cluttering it.  From the front page, you can search the member directory, find job postings, find the "hot deals" listings, and review news and lists of our newest and returning members.  Just for fun I threw a video into one of the panels.  Chamber members can log into their brand new, streamlined Member Information Center from the front page as well.  Best of all, it's easy to update by office staff when it becomes necessary.  There's a couple of new additions in the pipeline at the moment.

Third - mobility.  This site like its predecessors is comfortable to use on any size screen from a tablet up to a TV set.  But what if you're on a smartphone?  The best solution in the past was to use a stripped-down site provided by ChamberMaster, the third-party providing support for all of the membership functions.  Again, that wasn't cutting it.  This design is "responsive":  that means the website detects the size of the screen a visitor is using to view it, and then rearranges the content so it's most comfortable to view.  So now the entire site -every little page, blurb, widget, webform, and goodie - is available for absolutely any screen.  (I'm still keeping the ChamberMaster site active, just in case this site needs repairs or upgrades for an extended time.  The essentials will always be available.)

Have a stroll around and find even more goodies:  all committees using social media have their feeds and links available:  see who has Twitter feeds and or FaceBook "Like" boxes with the latest posts.  Did you find a page particularly useful?  Hit a share button at the bottom of the page.  Event information can be sent around via the most popular social networks as well as email and text message.

The most current and fast moving information (like the latest Business Radio X shows and "Business Connection" articles) are organized into blogs.  Blogs are the fastest and easiest way to take an article and get it onto the site without the hassle of having to organize it, put it in a menu, etc.  Very useful for our PR staff who don't have the time to futz with learning a website.  Log in, plug it in, and done.  Right now there are two blogs.  Depending on how some committees and their communications evolve, there may be more.

But wait.  There's more.

Some functions are "sleeper agents".  They're loaded in because there's an indication that they may be needed in the forseeable future.  But not yet.

Translations - if it becomes necessary, pages may be translated into other languages.  The visitor can either select the language they want to read, or the website can detect the browser's default language (if it's other than English) and present the correct translation if it's available.  You may have noticed there are significant Spanish- and Chinese-speaking communities around us.  This add-on may end up bridging several gaps.

Document management - don't you just hate it when you stash your Word or PDF files in the "cloud" and you can never find them again?  Ditto.  If it becomes necessary, documents will be stashed in a library with permanent links and even a custom sort-and-search function so you can find what you're looking for via title, date of publication, committee, department, or any other criteria.

Audio/Video - YouTube has a lot of uses but if you need to host an exclusive podcast you need your own drivers.  Mobile-friendly audio and video drivers are at the ready when we get the call.

Per-Page theming.  An oldie, but a goodie.  Should any committee desire it, individual pages or sections of the website can get a completely different look and feel and layout than the rest of the site.  This function was used a couple of years ago (the Dunwoody Music Festival the original YPODs page, and the first Greater Perimeter Business Expo were themed by their pages, even though they were all parts of the main Chamber website) but you never know when you'll need it again.  

And that brings us up to 2014.  Always growing, always improving.  Although it doesn't look like it, the programming of this website was a one-woman job.  When you're organized and you're determined to get your system to work for both your visitors and editors responsible for updating it, you can make magic!

So with this launch - my schedule just opened up.  If one of your corporate New Year's resolutions is to bring your website into the 21st century, drop me a line via my blogger profile or Facebook page.  Your company can benefit from a brand new solution made just for you.

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