Monday, 5 January 2009

New website for Pető Institute prompts wider question

What should a website be?

The Pető Institute’s further revised website is now in operation (previous report: Sutton, 2008a), cheerily bedecked for the festive season. Most of it in Hungarian, with a few pages also available in English.

The word Nemzetközi is tucked away, buried in the Hungarian version, and remains omitted from the Institute’s title. Its English translation, ‘International’ is absent from the English-language pages.

The new internal structure of services, training and other activities (Sutton, 2008b) is included in the Hungarian text but not (yet?) in the English.

The URL (Internet address) remains unchanged:

Centre websites

Almost every CE service, program, association and company has a website. The organisations portrayed vary enormously in size, social purpose etc. and their websites vary accordingly. A lot of money and effort has gone into creating this very varied Internet presence, which for the search engines at least takes a high precedence in the public definition of Conductive Education.

No doubt over the years there have been considerable internal discussions around the world about ‘what to put in the website’ but there has been no public examination of what has actually been put up or of the possible principles that might help guide future publication of this kind. No attempt will be made here at an empirical survey of the former but the Pető Institute’s new website is a useful reminder of this important and unexamined sub-sector of CE activity around the world. Time, therefore, for a first stab at the latter.

What might be included?

Every institution differs in what it wishes to convey, and every potential reader has different requirements. That said, here are four minima for consideration.

Purpose. What is the organisation there to achieve?

Activities.What does the organisation actually provide, for examples its programs, services, training courses, publications and other activities?

News. What has been happening, what has appeared in the media, what big is coming up next?

Needs. What does the organisation need, personal, political, material, financial, whatever?

Contact information. Is there enough to meet all potential users' requirements?

Is there anything important not covered here?

Some guiding principles?

Separate but interacting with the actual content are some underlying guiding principles, or at least some critical questions. Here are a few, in no order of prioriy.

Transparency/spin. Websites serve a variety of functions (whatever their authors intend of them!). Different organisations legitimately have differing priorities, education about CE, recruitment of clients, commercial interests etc. What are yours?

Audience. You cannot of course control this but it must be considered. Have you taken proper account of the possible requirements of would-be (and present) service-users, course-participants and employees, of professionals and researchers, the media, and supporters (personal, political, financial)? Do you have a language policy?

Accessibity. Does the site meet recognised standards of disabled-accessibility?

Something on Conductive Education. Most centre websites feel obliged to write something about Conductive Education. Why?. When you’ve read a few dozen (and I must have seen a couple of hundred or more over the years) then one might rather wish that many of them had not! At the very least, try to disentangle general principles from what the organisation itself actually provides to meet its particular goals in the context in which it works (now there’s a test for you!).

Updates. Elaborate professional designs are expensive or donated, and tend therefore to be set in time because it would be too expensive to change them. Things change, and a spanking new website can be (will be) out of date in a couple of months. What inexpensive mechanisms can one adopt to remedy this?

Interactivity. A ‘static’ website is old news nowadays. People will soon stop coming back, even for the occasional update. What mechanisms can be incorporated or associated to generate interaction with the audience, questions and answers, message boards, forums groups, etc?

KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. How long to you think people are going to spend on a site that they have clicked on? How are you going to deal with this?

External links. Do you have too few to be of use, or too many to be used? Why you are putting them in anyway? Read carefully those that you include (not least with your hoped-for audience in mind).

Design. Of course this is important, but don’t leave the design of your site to the nerds and the web-designers. What are you doing to ensure the primacy of the message?

Photos and videos. Vet these very carefully. Visual images are powerful communicators and increasingly a site looks bald without them. In some cases, though, baldness is certainly preferable to thoroughly bad hair. Like it or not, photos and videos will be scrutinised very carefully, by friends and foes alike. Images of cutesy kids and smiling folk are all very well, but not if they also illustrate poor conductive practice. What mechanisms have you established to sift out images that convey misleading messages?

And so farewell. All good things must come to an end. Everything must be removable. Internet is already no stranger to the junk and flotsam of long-‘dead’ centres (even centres that were never really there in the first place, apart from as aspirations). Do you have the means for the last person leaving to switch off the light?

Afterword

A lot of people around the world have struggled with the problem of creating CE websites , and surely have all sorts of experiences and understandings to pass on.

And it should not be forgotten that service organisations are not the only kind of Conductive Education entity already with a web presence. Conductive World is an example of one kind, the Conductive Community Forum is another, then there are the conductors’ associations in Hungary, Germany and New Zealand, and a few meta-organisations such as ACENA… Some at least of what is written above may apply here too.

References

Sutton, A. (2008a) A little more through the window, Conductive World, 19 February
http://www.conductive-world.info/2008/02/little-more-through-window.html

Sutton, A. (2008b) Major changes at Pető Institute, Conductive World, 5 September
http://www.conductive-world.info/2008/09/major-changes-at-pet-institute.html

1 comment:

  1. Andrew
    You will find your reference to the Nemzetközi Petö Intezet (International Petö Institute) if you look in the Fömenu (main menu) on the right of the first page and click on Galéria.
    Once in Galéria click on “röved bemutato film” (short introductory film) and there you will even find a bus with the words Nemzetközi Petö Intezet written on the side!
    Susie

    ReplyDelete