WSO aims for more clarity, less ambiguity with new site

Wave goodbye to the hand: the new Williams Students Online has arrived.

The open hand with extended fingers that had been a part of WSO for two years has been replaced by “roll-over bars” that give a description of the link beneath the pointer. A search site that provides both a keyword search as well as a site map minimizes haziness. While the code is still being processed, the site’s design has been completed since February and the use of the site is well underway. The WSO staff, who have worked on the page since September 1998, is pleased with the final outcome.

Critiques of the site, have been largely heeded and taken into account by the WSO staff who swiftly alter the site’s construction to make it more user friendly. Kate Tan ’99, who is responsible for most of the site’s design, said that initially, the WSO staff received comments from students who claimed that the site wasn’t labeled well. As a result, the staff spent a fair amount of time “shifting stuff around.” She said that many times, people were looking for things that were not there. The message boards, for instance, were waiting for a new, updated program that could best display posted messages such as the Ride Board and Book Board.

A new, popular aspect of the site largely imagined by Tan and developed by the entire WSO staff is the NOW section (wso.williams.edu/now). According to WSO staff member and site architect Jason Healy ’00, the site includes “everything the apathetic Williams Student needs to know in one place: news headlines, Weekly Calendar events, Daily messages, the menu, and the weather.” He suggests that “everybody set their browser to start up to it.”

The site has had mixed reviews. “I like it…especially the NOW section with news updates,” said Biniam Gebre ’99. “It’s a lot more resourceful. I liked the hand diagram but it got kind of old.” Other students were wary of the newness. “I don’t like the new page at all. The cryptic headings left me guessing as to what would be found under what topic. The new page seems to be trying too hard to be ‘hip’,” said Justin Belcher ’99. Becky Semble ’01 noted, “I was a big fan of the old page, but I think I’ll get used to the new one in time. Web page stagnation can be bad.” Semble respected the old page for “the intuitive guidance of the hand, the symbolism of the integrated aspects of the web site in a five-fingered unity, and the eye that caught my attention each time I visited WSO.”

Healy attributes most of the disgruntlement to users’ unfamiliarity with the site. “I think the new page is much better organized. People have complained that the new site is difficult, but it is simply because it is different. The new site actually puts our pages into categories that, once learned, make sense. We have a coherent scheme to navigate throughout the site, and a color scheme to match. I think that it’s much more coherent than the previous site, which had been up for two years. It was time for a change,” Healy said.

One of Tan’s major goals in remodeling the site was “to put things where they should be.” For instance, the organizations in the MEET section that were previously listed under the ambiguous heading “Student Life.” According to Tan, this included anything and everything that did not fit under the other headings. These miscellaneous snippets were placed under diversified and detailed headings. A new listing titled “Gone” contains obsolete organizations, for example.

Tan’s aim was “to make [the main page] as clean as possible” without making it vague. Tan started working with WSO as a sophomore when most of her duties revolved around public relations issues like putting up posters. After spending a year abroad in London and taking a CSCI 105 course, Tan felt motivated to put together a new architecture for the site, based on what she felt “would be most logical for the average student.” She acquired many decoration ideas while studying abroad in Europe. For instance, the idea for the electronics board decoration of the HOW section came from an electronics book she read during school in London. “Basically, I got most of my design by reading really cool books,” she claimed.

Among the other members of the WSO staff who made contributions other than the site’s design was Chuck Hagenbuch ’00, who has matured to a System Administrator after having started out as what he titled a “gofer” his freshman year. “My main contributions are the web-based mail program and the online housing plans,” notes Hagenbuch. He claims that his rewriting of the system that generates the pages has already alleviated problems. “It should be must faster than last year. The server won’t groan every time someone wants to see what rooms are open in Perry, Wood and Bascom all at the same time,” he said.

Geoff Hutchison ’99, who agreed with other staff members that “it was time to rethink the site,” is another staff member who came onto the WSO scene during his freshman year. Hutchison is credited with the design of the search section, the site map and the search engine. Most of his help occurred behind the scenes; he dealt with HTML translation, security problems and account details. In guiding users get the most out of the site, Hutchison recommended “making a bookmark for the SEARCH and NOW sections.” He feels that “the SEARCH section is probably the shortcut from one section to another.” Hutchison advises students unfamiliar to the site and confused with the new structure to use the SEARCH engine as a tool for viewing what is contained in each section.

Other WSO staffers who worked on the renovation are Joe Masters ’02, David Ramos ’01, and Ayesha Johnson ’99.