In an age of constant advancements in Internet technology, we're glad to see Brown make efforts to upgrade its Web-based services. During the past year, the University has abandoned outdated systems in favor of newer, more efficient ones.
Computing and Information Services switched the school's e-mail servers from Microsoft Exchange to Google's Gmail service, a move that will save the University millions of dollars and greatly increase inbox capacity. More recently, CIS announced plans to launch the Brown Course Scheduler, a Mocha-inspired update to the sterile and convoluted Banner system that will allow students to browse and register for courses through a more user-friendly interface.
We applaud the University for working to improve its Web presence, adapt to advancements in technology and respond to concerns raised by students and faculty. The Herald reported Friday that members of Brown's administration and information technology staff will now turn their attention towards revamping the University's main Web page — a plan we strongly endorse.
Many people find the current homepage difficult to navigate, a problem that Director of Web Communications Scott Turner acknowledged in an interview with the editorial page board. The aesthetics and practicality of the sliding montage on the homepage are debatable, and the overall layout could certainly be more welcoming. Indeed, Brown currently trails the rest of the Ivy League in the number of "unique web visitors" per month, according to a March 5 article in The Herald.
The homepage is often the first introduction to Brown for prospective students and parents, so it's crucial to have a Web site that is visually appealing and easy to use. The other recent online changes involving e-mail and course registration were adaptive fixes. But we hope that the University will use this opportunity not simply to correct current problems with the Web site, but to design something innovative and distinctive — in other words, something that will still be cool and navigable in five years.
Although the University has already hired an external consulting firm, the redesign team should still enlist the vast creativity of Brown's students and faculty. We suggest that the University announce a design competition. Students, interested faculty and staff members could submit designs and the winning entry would be the starting point for the new Web site. This sort of competition would give the University access to a wealth of ideas and talent while also allowing community members to have a voice in the redesign process.
Innovation has arisen from collaboration with students in the past. Input from the students who originally designed Mocha was crucial in the creation of the course scheduler, CIS Vice President Michael Pickett told the editorial page board. In fact, those students were asked to design the new system and make Mocha's features compatible with Banner, though they ultimately declined because of time constraints.
We're excited about the progress the University has made in improving its Web services and we look forward to seeing the design process play out. The only other suggestion we'd make is to avoid any videos of students singing about why they chose Brown. For some reason we just can't figure out, Yale's admission office tried to do this. The result was a 17-minute production that can only be described as frightening. They've set the bar for Web-based outreach pretty low, and we know Brown's new homepage will exceed it easily.
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