ok so it's the easter break. Wahey! and for some reason the uni website had annoyed me for the final time. it has driven me to dispair for many years and finally decided to tell someone. and this is the result of my rant.
For those who share my pain and hatred for the uni web site, i shall update this entry with any response i get, which hopefully will be valid answers to my valid comments, even if they were written with a hint of sarcasm and humour.
To whom it may concern,
My name is Phil Flynn, I'm a finalist on the computer science degree
scheme. It has been an issue of mine since joining the university that the
reading website is practically unusable for anyone other than prospective
students. I assumed it was just me, however after the last student-staff
liaison meeting, I discovered that it was also a hate of both staff and
students in all other years. Please take the following comments with an air
of humour however please see the frustration from our side.
The problem seems to be that during the website design, there either wasn't
any or if there was any user acceptance and usability testing it was of the
wrong nature. The site seems to be tailored to drawing in students however
for those who are here and require any kind of university related
information, the site provides obscurity to the point at which Google is
your only chance, which it shouldn't be.
For example, timetabling, term start and end dates and other information
such as the medical practise is practically impossible to locate unless a
search is made from Google, that is of course unless the user really likes
digging through pages. There are no functional links (or if there are, no
one has ever found them) to provide this information. It is easier, faster
and more reliable to simply search for it than navigate the uni website. If
this was the intention during development it is an extremely poor method of
design. If there is a reason for this obscurity, I can't think of one but
still, then providing the information and simply not linking to it is a
truly appalling method of hiding information.
Starting at http://www.reading.ac.uk/ how many mouse clicks does it take to find
the term dates of an undergraduate studying computer science. Go on try it
Take for example Sheffield universities website (http://www.shef.ac.uk/). It
is bright, uncluttered, updated daily and a pleasure to navigate and as a
real bonus the search function works reasonably well. The Reading website
is cluttered, unclear and unusable. It cannot be doing anything (positive)
for the image of the university. If the reason for the poor construction is
lack of funding, which I find hard to believe for such a critical public
facing form of media, why not provide it as a final year project or even as
coursework for the 2nd year GUI/HCI module which Prof. Rachel McCrindle
teaches. This module involves the creation a complete website that complies
to w3c standards and involves usability testing and consideration. The
results are surprising and at the very least would show other takes on the
presentation and format the site may take.
Looking at the previous versions of the reading website
(http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.reading.ac.uk) it seems that
between the years of 2001 and 2002, the website on first impressions
actually appears usable, or at least readable. Before 2001, its just plain
dated, and after which everything goes to pot. None more so than the
dramatic change in 2007 and afterwards.
Another VERY annoying aspect of the reading domain is the incorrect
forwarding of addresses without the "www.". In that there is none. Is there
a purpose for this other than to force people to use FQDN's? As a potential
student it doesn't look particularly good when every other institution can
manage it except us.
In conclusion, for the next website design please please PLEASE perform at
least SOME user testing; perhaps even using students... the actual users of
the system. Websites should be easy to read and use, especially when the
goal is to attract students who are going to pay £X thousand a year to
study and support the university.
As a side note, can the examinations office please release the exam results
in a productive manner? There are at least two correct methods to this
problem and one fundamentally flawed method. The method that is currently
being employed is delivery via risis. This approach should work except the
entire university is alerted to the fact that the results are up and there
is no surprise that the site falls over within 5 seconds (although it
probably provides a few giggles for those in support watching the traffic
graphs peak). What is wrong with either emailing the results to students,
or hiring some cloud computing for the day? Yes the latter involves
spending money, but seriously, is $50 REALLY going to sorely missed for a
few hours of usable service? (http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/) Failing those two
options, restrict risis to bands of users, alphabetical or module groups or
whatever is best suited during results. Could risis be hosted on a better
server or traffic load balanced efficiently? It behaves like a Pentium 2,
when it decides to actually serve pages.
Finally, for sites that require certificates please consider either getting
certificates for the .rdg.ac.uk domain also or simply forward to
.reading.ac.uk. The short cut is incredibly handy but hampered severely by
poor maintenance and housekeeping.
I accept that a lot of the problems might be due to 'higher powers that
be', however if the site isn't usable what's the point in it being there. I
look forward to hearing your comments and views. Yours sincerely