New features include ADA options, access to town's social media feeds, mobile features.
It’s not just a pretty face on the World Wide Web.
Longboat Key’s new-look website, its first spruce-up since 2011, is more modern in its design, more functional for users with and without disabilities and, says Jason Keen, the town’s Information Technology director, just a better experience all-around for users and town staff.
“Originally, the site was very outdated,'' Keen said. "And what we found, it was difficult to work with.’’
Keen said the new site went live on Tuesday, Feb. 18 shortly before he stepped into the Town Commission meeting to demonstrate its new design and features. Among the immediately apparent improvements: the site scales from desktop size to tablets or mobile devices while still retaining its function; it offers a variety of accessibility options for disabled users and includes the use of visuals to reflect the Longboat Key lifestyle.
On the homepage, a video immediately plays in the background, zooming in on a satellite view of the island, transitioning to views around town. The colors of the site and the video blend into unified look. A series of buttons on the home page link to regularly used information, such as beach conditions, meeting calendars and agendas and Town Manager Tom Harmer's monthly newsletter.
Links to the town's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds are packaged on the home page as well, allowing users to see what the town is posting without the need to be a signed-up user on those social media sites. Though there was a space on the old site for emergency information, the town late last week was able to keep users updated about a power outage and traffic problem on the north end of the island with an alert box at the top of the page.
Among the features not immediately seen: the previous site required assistance from a third-party hosting service to make significant changes to website content. The new site, the design of which was purchased through a company called Granicus, offers the ability for town employees in each department to directly maintain content in their specialty areas. In working with the new template, employees can see exactly what their updates will look like before they're posted to the site for all to see.
"With the other, the older one, when they would do the editing, until they hit that save button and then hit the preview, what they put in there could look nothing like they imagined,'' Keen said.
The previous version of the website did not allow for size changes, so what a user saw on a smartphone was essentially the same as a desktop user, which didn't always offer the best user experience, Keen said.
"What we didn't have on the other site was the mobile side,'' Keen said. "So if you go on your phone now it's just buttons. So we're going to expand those buttons to make it easier for people to find the traffic maps, beach conditions, permitting and things like that.''
The town worked internally and with Granicus since last summer perfecting the look and function of the new site. Functionality is one thing, Keen said, but the style, look and feel of the site was important, too, to convey a message about the town.
"It kind of showcases the town and shows not only how beautiful the town is, we try to do that with the video, but it also shows it's very active out here,'' he said.
Driving a lot of the push for the update was the town's 2019 experience with a federal lawsuit, ultimately dismissed, that claimed the town's online products didn't provide ways for blind or other disabled users to access the same information as everyone else.
The new site offers users an option for text to be electronically read aloud, the ability to change colors, contrast levels, font sizes and more. Coming soon is software that can scan the entire site to identify any document that might not be viewable by readers with disabilities, so an employee can take action.
The new website is the latest in a series of tech upgrades the town has made.
In September, a new system for video streaming town meetings was unveiled, which makes use of multiple camera angles and an upgraded method of displaying documents during the broadcast. Live closed captioning also debuted in 2019, with the push of a button.
Late in 2019, the town also installed digital kiosks in Town Hall, linking users to town information and services and Sarasota County's library services. All told, the redesign and site hosting for a year, the new website cost the town $15,000.