Clicking on to Carroll County about to get easier, better Web site to add information, expand

June 15, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Despite the enormous success of Carroll's site on the World Wide Web, county information specialists have decided to do a makeover.

The tinkering is almost complete. The Web site will be shut down for two days at the end of this month to make the transition to a new and expanded format that will be accessible July 1.

The Carroll site is already a local favorite, offering a wealth of information quickly at the click of a mouse button. It is easy to use, even for novices.

So why risk spoiling that?

Not to worry, says Maggy McPherson, county director of information services, that won't happen.

"All the things you like now, you'll still find," she says. "The basic thing is that we're making it easier to move back and forth" between sources of information on various pages, adding categories and ending duplication.

Phenomenal growth

In the three years that Carroll has had a presence on the Web, the number of people looking at its site has grown phenomenally.

When it made its debut in April 1995, only a few dozen people visited the site that month. On April 28 this year, the site registered more than 100,000 "hits," as visits to a Web page are called. The site averages more than 30,000 hits a day.

The way information is disseminated to the public has completely changed, McPherson says.

It needs to be accurate and readable, but it must be updated constantly -- literally up to the minute, she says.

If, for example, a Washington dignitary called to schedule a visit to Carroll the same day, that news would be posted on the county Web site immediately, McPherson says.

Changes in scheduled meeting times or to the County Commissioners' agenda are put on the Web as soon as her office receives them, McPherson says. A few local Web users check the site periodically each day, looking for updates. If McPherson is five minutes late with the routine posting of a weekly schedule, "people notice," she says.

"I get phone calls or e-mail right away," she says.

The county gets as many phone calls, drop-in visits and e-mail inquiries about information available on its Web site as it does from people using other means to obtain county information, McPherson says.

"What we're finding is an increased number of Internet information requests," McPherson says.

Easier access

Mostly, people with questions say they looked for something on the site but couldn't find it. Or they're making suggestions about information they would like to see included, she says.

She also gets lots of compliments on the site.

The change in format is intended to provide easier access to information. The county will add more local agencies and link them to more sources of information.

"Our greatest disadvantage is that we're always playing

catch-up in terms of what's happening in the industry," McPherson says. "We're balancing our resources in an attempt to respond to that."

She hopes to use sections called frames to make the county page easier to navigate. The home page -- the entrance to the Web site -- will give users a choice of clicking on a picture or using a text box to search the site or visit pages dealing with agriculture, business, community services, government, education, public library and other subsites.

Each subsite will provide pictures and text designed to give people a choice about how to get information and enable them to move around without returning to the home page.

More changes ahead

The new format is not aimed at Web enthusiasts, McPherson says, but will "serve all 145,000 residents in the county -- from kindergartners to fourth-graders to senior citizens."

The changes in the system are only beginning, McPherson says.

"In the next phase, we'll be looking at ways to provide services online," she says.

She envisions providing job application forms through the site and allowing residents to renew dog licenses or apply for permits to add decks to their homes.

"The Web is one way to participate in the marriage of information and technology, but the Internet is not the do-all and end-all. Sometimes we need hard copy."

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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