Monday, 4 January 2010

Playing with the news

We've changed the way that we do the news items on our web site. Up to now I've just been plonking new copy at the top of a "news and events" web page, which is pretty inelegant and often means that the news loses quite a lot of impact. The council's web team have tweaked the content management system (Immediacy, I'm not a big fan of this software) and we can now work with each news item as a separate page, aggregating the headline copy onto the news page. The potential effects on the "news and events" page are obvious.
  • The page is now more easily readable;
  • We can point people to individual news items by giving them the URL, which means we can also share the news on facebook, etc.
  • The aggregating tool used on this page can be used, with tweaks elsewhere. This means that the front page can always be dynamically updated.

Less obvious, but potentially very, very useful, is the mother-daughter relationship of the news item. At first we worked with the news items' being daughters of the news and events page. Then we realised that if the news item was the daughter of the children's library page, for instance, then that page could have a news feed just about the children's library (it's in the right-hand column under the contact details). This is a potentially very useful way of providing news in context.

Taking this a step further led me to abandon some work I'd been doing a while. I'd been working with the web team to set up a new underlying taxonomy of pages that reflected the work we actually do rather better than the National Local Government Navigation structure does. We'd got as far as starting to set up some parts of the children's library structure when this new development came round. I've not entirely abandoned the proposed taxonomy but it was mapped out on the basis that we'd be using static web pages. There's a lot of scope for delivering the same outcomes with a simpler taxonomy using a mixture of static and dynamic pages in a way that should be easier for the reader to use. It's early days yet: I'll concentrate on the children's library and the books & reading sections first as they have the most incoming news and the greatest potential for me to over-complicate things. If I can deliver something manageable with these the rest of the library pages should be straight forward.

One thing I can't do easily with this function is to deliver a news feed for each library (assuming, of course, that each library provided news!!!). Because the news item have a simple mother-daughter relationship with another web page I have to make either/or choices when it comes to something like the page about Middleton Library's reading group, for instance. Does it go under "books & reading" or does it go under "Middleton Library?" The convention I'm using is that the theme always overrides the location. Which doesn't mean I can't rig something up about events at Middleton Library: I just have to be a bit creative about it. Probably the least messy way to do it would be to have a page providing an periodic report (realistically at the moment this would be annual in most cases; millennial in one or two) with a combination of a news feed of items attached to that library and links to appropriate items elsewhere on the site. One to look at in a couple of months.

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