Makeover at Geonet

A major makeover of the Geonet website went live late today. The completely changed website layout was originally scheduled for launch at the end of February, in order to bring together news on geological events with relevant background material of public interest.

The makeover is a dramatic change from the original website which had been largely unchanged since the seismic drum page was added in 2002.

The layout follows an unfortunate model launched when the US Geological Survey re-worked its website last year and, whilst it makes more information available, it tends to flatten information on events in parallel branches separating data from graphics. Whilst technically elegant, it requires visitors to look in at least two different places to find information about an event such as an earthquake.

The immediate benefit of such a separation will be a faster serving of data after a large earthquake which attracts many page requests from the public. However, whilst this satisfies the immediate need for information, the designers have overlooked the fact that a map with associated data was a good model and this should have been retained for the “recent quakes” pages where site visitors might like to see the information grouped together on a single page after the event.

It is also apparent that the pages have been optimised for the dreadful Internet Explorer browser, with text associated with graphics not resolving properly in Mozilla. What’s more, viewers of the pages containing volcano images may at first think they are looking at panoramic views as the borders between the now half-hourly images have been removed.

The homepage is something of a hotch-potch, losing the immediacy provided by the old website. It now contains a selection of “recent quakes” in a busy sidebar with “news” and “volcano alert bulletins” whilst the main part of the screen shows a brief comment about Geonet and a graphic of Mt Ruapehu. This is poor design for an information site that might be expected to be the starting point for members of the public wanting to know something about a major geological event.

Despite these shortcomings, the website will make more information available to the browsing public. However, users on older operating systems such as Windows 98 may experience problems resolving some pages which are optimised for more modern browsers and screens. But that, as they say, is progress. Backward compatability is a bit passe these days but, I would say, something that should feature in a government-funded organisation’s website.

The new layout will allow for planned improvements in coverage of geological events by year’s end.

As time permits, Wild Land will re-tweak its links to parts of the Geonet website over the coming days.

3 Responses to “Makeover at Geonet”

  1. Chris says:

    You pretty much said what I was thinking. Whilst an over-haul can be good and allow for a ‘nicer feel’ with more information – I don’t like them having separated the maps from the data…

    I think once I get used to it (it is day one after all), who knows…I might come to like it more…

  2. Darren McManaway says:

    They haven’t applied e-government guidelines very well – which is somewhat surprising.

    I also agree with your comments regarding the earthquake data and breaking the maps away from the details. This will result in more server calls when a large event happens – placing more load on their servers which will likely slow things down.

    The code is bad as well, in some cases it’s not valid XHTML and there are many comments and whitespace left in there which increases the page weight – and a fair number of the links don’t have title tags, limiting accessibility for some users and I was surprised to also see inline styles in their code – a big no no for a government website.

    The new User Interface is taking some getting use to – I’ve visited there maybe 20/30 times since the go-live and I’m still getting used to it – but I’m sure that over all and once it becomes second-nature, we will find the site more useful than the old one.

  3. Bernard O’Neill

    I’m not a technical guru but, from an ease of use perspective I also preferred the previous version of the GNS site to the tabbed array now presented. I also noted that the form and function seemed to mirror the US site.

    I suggest it will be easier for them to add more content in a logical way with the new layout but tabbed browsing is supported in Mozzila anyway. I also noted rendering graphics not working that well with Firefox (superior to IE anyway) but assume this is an early technical problem.

    Bye the way, thank you for a great website.

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