Think about your friends. Are you wondering how they are doing today? Just tune into Twitter, or look for their Myspace or Facebook status updates.
Need movie times for your big date tonight? No problem, just Google them.
Chances are, you may have even ordered a pizza online.
It is safe to say that the Internet is replacing the physical infrastructure of many businesses and organizations. Essentially, it has taken the place of the smiling employee at the counter waiting to provide you with service.
Despite the obvious, it amazes me that in the midst of all this change there are organizations that do not seem to grasp how important their Web sites are.
Simply put, first impressions are lasting impressions. And with more and more companies and organizations going online, it would seem that a crisp Web page has a chance of meeting the public’s eye long before customers walk into a store.
As a growing university with much potential, I am surprised USF is not demonstrating this importance with regard to the various affiliate, department and individual college Web sites.
In browsing the USF network, it seems as though there are some sites where design and functionality are taken seriously, such as the Marshall Student Center site at msc.usf.edu. Then there are sites where the focus is mainly on content, such as the Bull Runner Web page at usfweb2.usf.edu/parking_services/bullrunner.asp.
“Web critique, like web development, is not an exact science” is the disclaimer on the acclaimed Webby Awards Web site, presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, also known as the Academy.
Yet visual design, functionality and content are three criteria the Academy uses to evaluate a Web site before awarding it a “Webby.” In other words, does it look good? Does it work? Is it worth reading?
Many of the USF affiliates and individual college Web sites do their jobs and they do them well. And by all means, I do not want to dishonor the amount of work put into some of these sites. As a former web designer for a major research company, I have an appreciation for how much work goes into putting together a single Web page. However, of all the sites that I came across on the network, I was only able to find a handful of sites that exemplified design, functionality and content in equal proportion.
To the prospective student who goes from a well-designed page to one that looks poor by comparison, there are implicit messages being communicated that could impact their decision to enroll.
For instance, there may be an implication that the affiliate with the blander page receives fewer funds. Another message could be that the University lacks unity and internal communication due to the inconsistent designs between pages.
Ideally, I feel that it is best to let the students decide whether these sites are up to par. After all, many of these sites represent them or offer services to them in one fashion or another.
At the very least, I feel some communication between webmasters is warranted in order to achieve higher standards for the various sites and more continuity in the various designs.
Even with budget constraints, I wouldn’t doubt that there is plenty of talent within the student body willing to help bring a project of this magnitude into creation, if cost is an issue.
This could also create an opportunity to build school spirit by allowing students and faculty to submit various designs along with their feedback so that our online image is worthy of the USF name.
If nothing else, such a move might improve the University’s chances of attracting prospective students.
Jeremy Castanza is a junior majoring in economics.