Web sites for public organisations should be more like buildings than books.
Yesterday I went to visit a friend in Wellington Hospital. It's being torn down and rebuilt, but business carries on as usual. I expected to get confused and lost.
Big signs pointed to reception, a small lobby in a one-storey block in the heart of the building site. Now what?
A nice young man in an official vest approached me.
"Can I help?" his manner said. I don't think he even uttered the words.
"I need to find Ward 17," said I.
"That's in the Grace Neill block," said NYM, and led me to the building, the lobby, the lift, the board that said Ward 17 was on Floor M.
He did not say Welcome to Wellington Hospital. He did not spout a random range of services offered. He did not urge me to come and live in wonderful Wellington. He did not tell me how many hospitals were run by the Capital and Coast District Health Board. He did not tell me to how put one foot in front of the other or press the elevator button. Just like a good search engine, he took me straight to the ward I needed.
When you walk into your local city council building, you already know, more or less, what the city council does. You walk in for one specific reason: maybe to report a leaky drain, get a dog licence, attend a council meeting or ask about rubbish collection days in a certain suburb. You don't want to be overwhelmed with irrelevant information. You might want a form, you do want clear signs and maps, but you don't want a speech and you don't want an essay.
And if you walk into the wrong building, you don't want a wordy, second hand paraphrase of official information. You want someone to tell you the address of the correct building, where you can get information from the horse's mouth.
Old-style local government sites want to tell us every conceivable fact about our cities, whether we like it or not. New-style sites have figured it out. They imply, "Can I help?" and take us straight to the service we want.
Image: from Layher.co.nz