Gone But Not Forgotten

Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Climbing up the Comments Wall

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Our toronto.ca Comments Wall has been up for close to a year now.

I recently re-read all of the comments from start to finish - it's getting to be quite a climb.  We are getting good pick up on this space - especially since we started providing links to it on the bottom banner of the toronto.ca web pages. Dah, what took us so long?

This is good for us and good for you.  Now you can find us and use the space to provide some feedback. And, boy we are getting feedback! When I compare it to the blog, the Wall is by far the most active.

One of the things that works well over there is the easy way to post a comment. I mean, the comments box is staring you right in the face when you land on the page.  You don't have to register or go through any process other than type and hit submit.  That's good!

Down side
If there is a down side for me it is the anonymous nature of the Wall.  I can only chat back to anonymous posts.  And for a longer follow up, I have no guarantee the person will come back to the page and see if there is a response. I can't connect with a poster via mail or other means.

I don't feel as close a connection with the anonymity as I would if there were an identified name.
Even if it isn't a true name, having a name listed at least differentiates one posting from another.There are reasons why the Wall is anonymous.  Privacy concerns and privacy laws are stringent coming from our side of the fence.Even here on the blog, we don't force you to post by having to register or use an ID. I have to remove personal info before accepting a post to the Wall or here.

But I digress from the content of the Wall comments.

We've recently upped the max. number of characters to 500 and that's in large part because we are seeing you want more space. Let's take a look at some comments to date.

A lot of the comments give us pause such as this one:
You want people to recycle? Simplify your recycling rules.
Stop making me hunt for them, and when I want them, give them to me. No one cares about your "recycling sins" ads. They give me no information.
I go around in circles in links. I wanted to recycle something but I don't know exactly what it's called, and I can't just browse the list to find it.
Recycling is complicated. Recently an app showed up on toronto.ca for users to find out what goes where. See:   http://app.toronto.ca/wes/winfo/search.do

I personally think this goes along way to addressing what the person wants from us in their comment.  How much more simply could you present the info? Perhaps they simply didn't find the page in their search? And that reminds me - lots of people are using what many consider the "perfect" site to find content..  Take a look.  Did you know our internal search engine is actually Google?  Maybe we should more overtly "go that way" for our home page at toronto.ca? We've seriously considered it.

That raises the issue of finding what it is you want when you search for it. A lot of Wall comments mention lack of success in search. It's one of the reasons we chose to talk about search early in a few spots on the blog.  We recognize it's a key issue.

Here's another example:
It sucks, and needs a redo. The search function is utterly useless, and not enough services are online, although that is improving. The problem isn't the aesthetics, that's easy to fix; its the functionality that needs vast improvement. The ability to get what you need when you need it, looking pretty is secondary!
The comment is valid but what's most helpful is when a person lists their process and thinking.  How did they approach getting information? Such as:

Please consider creating a search form for parks that allows you to search by specific service (eg, playgrounds, sports etc) and by area. I've been using the website to try to find a park near me that has a playground, and it's been a very tedious process. Hope the rest of the rebrand goes well. :)

Beyond making our search engine respond with better results, we also are also going to have a kick at how we structure the navigation elements of toronto.ca.  I agree with the point about "functionality" - the functionality of the site is important and we need to rethink it.

I'll have more on our ideas for that a few posts from now.

It sucks vs. it's wonderful and I want it vs. I hate it
The other thing that stands out is how difficult it is to find consensus.  For every "I love it" there is an "I hate it"  Take these two:
Too much text information is presented (website seems congested & it is rather overwhelming to explore it). Visual elements are needed since text quickly bores the avg user. A "flash" based platform is more appropriate for a website catering to youths and adults alike (animations a welcome addition)
Don't use flash.

How is changing one page a site rebrand? BIG FAIL!!!!
I love it, it is great, less clutter and it is more KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method.

And what about 5 years on?
If social networking and social media is telling us anything it is that interaction back and forth is a keeper!

We don't intend to ever stop asking for comments so we're going to have to figure other ways of presenting the Wall at some point. I hope we'll see specific commenting on all of our pages - not just a general catch all spot page. We're talking about introducing "was this information helpful/not helpful" checks on all of our pages.

By the way, after climbing to the top of the current Comments Wall, I can tell you I distinctly saw light over the horizon.

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