It is an itch we just have to scratch: to remind ourselves of just how mediocre is our city’s attempt to communicate with the public, we periodically drop by the Beverly Hills city website. Outdated at its debut in 2008, it is a catalog of poor web practices. With a long-rumored site refresh to debut any day – don’t hold your breath -we take a closer look at our city’s public face – one that we should be ashamed to show around town!
The problems with our city’s website are so, so many. Long after most other sites have moved on from vulnerability-plagued Adobe Flash, we not only continue to use it, but put it front and center: where key homepage content should be, every iPhone and iPad user and everybody that’s chosen to eschew Flash sees an empty hole (above). It has been that way for years. Instead of creating a very limited, mediocre iPhone app – just to say we did – why doesn’t Beverly Hills just improve this website? (The iPhone app hasn’t been updated since it hit the App Store last year, which should leave plenty of time to give some TLC to our city’s main online portal.)
And boy does it need some TLC. Have a look at the menu chaos that attends navigation of the Beverly Hills city website (right). From the top row of tabs drops down long lists of sub-menu choices. Most have their own nested of third-order links. And if that weren’t bad enough, many links seem as if they were placed at random. And there are duplicated links too.
Our city’s chief Internet gateway is an embarrassing mess that makes finding even the most important content a real challenge. Usability grade: F.
Adding to the mess, much of the posted content is stale. Really stale. Looking for our city’s environmental sustainability plan? You’ll only find the 2009 draft version posted. We’ve asked many times that it be replaced with the final, adopted version (with no success). Looking to learn how Beverly Hills residents voted in the June election? You’ll have to turn to the Courier newspaper because none of that information is posted by our City Clerk. (Not that we haven’t asked.) All you can say about the content on this site is that there’s just so much of it, even if much is junk. Content grade: D.
What about civic engagement? If you favor active participation in city affairs like we do, you’ll want to be able to communicate easily with policymakers and departments. So check out our city’s ‘Ask Bev’ feedback platform. Stakeholders looking to comment or pose a question to City Hall will find there empty submenus. Key departments like City Clerk are missing altogether. Rather than invite participation, the industry-trailing Ask Bev platform dissuades it. Engagement grade: C.
The Beverly Hills site’s poor navigability is only complemented by its dour color scheme – a depressing palate that neither invites exploration nor rewards it. Where’s the contrast? The body of this site simply disappears into the background behind the page. The site has not seen a twinkle of color since those three social buttons first appeared. And aside from those icons, only that ubiquitous Beverly Hills iconic shield relieves the monotony. Aesthetic grade: D.
In contrast, the Convention and Visitors Bureau site is a slick effort characterized by bright colors, animated displays, and alluring (even lurid) glossy content. It invites clicking around. Now, our CVB takes a very hefty bite out of our general fund budget every year. Why not take a nibble back to fund a refresher for city’s main website?
It’s All About ‘Social’
One of the big changes to the Beverly Hills website was the addition of a social media (those three ubiquitous buttons). When our social media effort was hailed as a big step by Deputy City Manager Cheryl Friedling back in January of 2010, the promise seemed great. At least to City Hall: “The City is constantly seeking new ways to connect with and inform our residents…We want to reach the broadest audience possible and that means embracing new technology such as social media platforms.”
Amen to that! We’re all on board with information and connection. If only it happened here in Beverly Hills! If only our social media strategy lived up to the promise! Take a closer look: in contravention of standard practice, those three buttons don’t link to city accounts on Twitter and Facebook but instead to a social media page where the user then clicks though to accounts where departments post individually. Interested to learn more about ‘Beverly Hills Water’ on Twitter? We aren’t, but there it is.
In a sign of how little stock our city puts in social media, City Hall hasn’t even created a central Twitter account for the city. That could be where residents hear from City Hall about important issues, say, or where our Mayor and City Manager keep us informed on key policies. Where is City Hall itself on Twitter? Nowhere. Social media grade: D.
It’s one thing to talk about social media, but it’s all about the execution. Our social media page was under construction (right) for a full 18 months after our Deputy City Manager issued the press release. Today that page is a jumble of Twitter and Facebook links with no coherent social strategy behind it. It is as if our former ‘Smart City’ Mayor Jimmy Delshad said “We have to be on Facebook!” and somebody farther down the totem pole in City Hall was assigned that task. (You know that’s exactly how it happened!) So staff checked off the box but never really followed though. Execution grade: D.