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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

EDITORIAL: More can be done to improve the Brandeis web experience

Published: January 28, 2005
Section: Opinions

Brandeis recently unveiled a redesigned, technicolor homepage. Leaving aside questions about how prospective students will perceive Brandeis, not to mention potential employers, we find it a bit odd that with all of the hoopla surrounding the new site launch, not much has really changed. In terms of content, the home page is the same as before, only now news stories include pictures and brief summaries. In terms of useful information, the new Featured Campus Events section is a nice addition. But other then that, not much seems to have been added, content wise.

Clearly the look of the homepage has changed, but that look does not carry through anywhere else, and the new second-level design is only applied to a few sections. We are left in a state where pages may use one of four or five different designs, depending on how recently they have been updated. While this is a useful way of figuring out what information is up to date, it is no way to run a professional web site.
Academic Affairs, while charming, looks like it was created in 1997 – and it probably was. Student Lifes site does not seem to correspond to anything else, and does Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy even have a website?

Every academic department web site should have a clear, up-to-date listing of professors, of classes, of major requirements, and of phone numbers. All of this information is contained in various databases, and the wizards over at ITS should really be able to link it all together, slap it into a pretty design, and roll it out.
Other sections and departments should be updated, and should contain notes clearly indicating when last they were changed. Looks should be standardized, and the highly useful but not highly publicized Go keyword functionality should be improved, expanded, and marketed.

The so-called portal sites (For Students, For Alumni, etc.) should be improved by adding actual content, rather then long, scary lists of links. If those who make decisions feel that lots of links is the way to go, at least categorizing them in some fashion so that the pages are not so overwhelming would be a useful compromise.

The idea of adding small calendar and email buttons to the top right of the ITS site was a stroke of brilliance, and we are disappointed that such subtle, useful touches have not been carried further, and applied to more sections.

There is a huge amount of information on the Brandeis web, useful and interesting information that students, staff, faculty, and alumni would do well to be able to find. But at this point, much of it is so buried, so uncategorized, and so messy that it is never found, and for an institution as large and complex as Brandeis, that is a real shame. We urge Brandeis to take a long, hard look at the web services it provides, and to begin making changes that will do more then add pretty colors. Nice designs are one thing, truly useful designs, well laid-out and with full attention to presenting the most relevant information in the best way possible, is another thing entirely. The Brandeis community deserves the latter.