With elegant, functional sites like Google, Facebook and Nytimes.com setting the standard, people are used to nothing but the best when it comes to websites. So when a relatively small, non-technical organization is tasked with communicating with the public on equal terms, often both sides are equally flummoxed by the results.
Such is the case with the local government in Saugerties, whose members, in a wide-ranging and frank discussion last week, freely and frankly admitted the shortcomings of their web presence when it comes to showcasing the community to visitors.
“The current websites are not user-friendly,” said town Economic Development Committee chair Beth Murphy. “They provide great information about what’s going on in the town and village but not the type of information a tourist might want.”
The occasion for this agonizing reappraisal was a visit to the Village Board by Murphy, back on the committee after taking a break during Supervisor Kelly Myers’ administration.
The main issue was economic development: How can Saugerties use the web to attract tourists and get businesses to relocate here? Ideas include making sure the sites work with all mobile devices, are well designed and user-friendly, showcase the quality of life here and provide a guide to local businesses.
What seems not to be clear at this point is whether existing sites should be replaced and consolidated, or if the economic development goals should be addressed with a new site and the old town and village sites left untouched. Those sites were designed by former village trustee and Chamber of Commerce chair Mike Campbell.
“We want a website that shows, and explains what makes our community so attractive, and shows the lifestyle of Saugerties,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the committee would be open to merging the existing town and village websites with the one they hope to have in place sometime in the future.
To the idea of having one consolidated site, trustee Patrick Landewe said, “It sounds like you’re trying to lump together three types of audiences, referring to local users seeking municipal information (like public hearings on laws or when fire hydrants will be flushed), information for tourists, and information for businesses, including those considering relocating, the search and wooing of which is a major charge of the Economic Development Committee.
“I wonder if we will neglect one to tailor the site to the others,” Landewe said.
He noted there is already a good site for tourists looking for lodging and he often refers them to either the Saugerties Area Chamber of Commerce website and discoversaugerties.com or saugertieslodging.com.
“We need to keep our current sites,” said trustee Jeannine Mayer. “They provide a lot of information for residents.”
Former Supervisor Myers frequently discussed the town’s plans for its new website last year. Murphy said last year the committee spent $6,500 to hire Collins Communications, an Albany-based company, to come up with a user-friendly website with a better interface. That project is still in the works.
The committee receives $10,000 a year as part of the town’s budget, but they are unsure of how much a new website might cost and how much it would cost to maintain, so they would like some money from the village to help.
Village Mayor William Murphy said he would be open to putting money in the village budget, which is in the process of being prepared, if the committee can show a need.
The committee is also looking at setting up a page on Facebook and Twitter. One trustee expressed surprise that the committee didn’t have a Facebook page already, noting that the fire, police and even water departments each have one.