The PSU Website: Just How Good is It?
The internet is taking over print media more and more every day. Unfortunately, not every college utilizes it to the fullest. Russell Powell, a PR officer at Elms College, realized this and recently wrote an editorial for The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing his thoughts on what a college website should be like.
Powell writes that the web is truly a new medium, and should not be treated merely as an electronic publication. Because people have been treating the internet as an electronic publication, web sites haven’t been utilized properly. Web editors need to learn how to properly organize the vast amount of information on a website, a large problem for a school as big as Penn State. Of course, according to Powell, the website also needs to remain functional and easy to use, and web designers cannot take shortcuts.
After discussing websites as a new medium, Powell changes the topic slightly, to discuss how websites should become colleges’ primary news outlets, rather than secondary destinations. With print media dying a slow, painful death, colleges need to realize the importance of putting news on their websites, and in general keeping their websites “fresh” and updated.
At the end of his article, Powell leaves four key points that college web designers should take note of. Does Penn State follow these and have a good website? Let’s see.
His first point is that websites should “simplify without being simplistic.” Most parts of the PSU website hit this right on the mark. They usually include enough information to leave one satisfied, but not enough to overwhelm. At a large school like Penn State, this does mean there can be a very high number of pages, but most are divided up well, and as long as one knows what part of the website to look on, finding information is never too hard.
Powell’s second point is “don’t make work,” or rather, don’t make things more complicated than they have to be. Include things like phone numbers or e-mail addresses in multiple places. This is something that Penn State does well. Most of Penn States’ websites either include relevant contact information, or have a visible link to contact information.
The third point is that site designers need to “set priorities,” especially in regards to news. Penn State, through Penn State Live, does do a good job of this. Penn State Live is the Universities official news source, and does a good job of keeping readers up to date with news, though it may not be relevant to non-students.
The fourth and final point that Powell makes is to “be nimble.” Websites need to continually be updated and kept up-to-date. This is something else that Penn State, despite being such a large university, is good at. Many pages have “last updates on” dates that are relatively recent. In addition, I have never found a page on the website to have out of date information.
I would say that overall, Penn State’s website “passes” Powell’s test. The site is simple to use, though it contains all the information one needs, and it is kept up to date both with news and other information. Powell’s article and “test” seems to place too much emphasis on news, though. While news is important, there is other content too.
However that’s not to say that Penn State’s website is perfect. There are too many sub domains (*.psu.edu), and a way should be found to consolidate them. If nothing else, some of the lesser known ones (did anyone else know about the General University Reference Utility, or that Penn State hosts a “Web Style Guide”?) become lost among the more frequently visited parts of the site. But for now, Penn State’s website works.
Have your own ideas on what Penn State’s website should be like? Any parts of it that you either hate or love? Let us know!
Disclaimer: State of Technology did not look into the ANGEL and Webmail quagmires as part of this post. That’ll be for another time.