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June 2004

A site to behold: www.ucar.edu

Numerous data sets in one place. Fast facts about climate and weather. Overviews showing the breadth of the organization’s research. Every major UCAR, NCAR, and UOP division and program at a glance.
These are some of the highlights of the organization’s new umbrella Web site. Launched on May 26, it showcases key goals and accomplishments in everyday language while spotlighting Web pages of individual programs and providing a research area for scientists.

“This is an invaluable communications tool worthy of a world-class research institution,” says UCAR president Rick Anthes. “The site will increase our presence on the Web as well as provide important information for researchers and members of the public alike.”

The redesign is largely the work of the Web Outreach Redesign and Development (WORD) group, an interdisciplinary team of staffers from across the organization. The UCAR President’s Council endorsed the project last year amid high expectations for raising the profile of the organization’s research.

launch

Several members of the WORD team and other contributors to the new site celebrated the launch on May 26. From left to right (front row, kneeling): Wendy Abshire, Leonard Sitongia, Anne Oman, Kathleen Barney, and Susan Friberg; (back row, standing): Catherine Shea, Dennis Ward, Debbi Lake, Kris Conrad, Susan Montgomery-Hodge, Lucy Warner, Markus Stobbs, Lynda Lester, Don Middleton, Betty Valent, Carlye Calvin, David Hosansky, Zhenya Gallon, and Rick Anthes. Go to the web for complete list of WORD members and contributors.

The umbrella site, at www.ucar.edu, acts as the gateway to all UCAR, NCAR, and UOP Web pages. The WORD group will constantly refine and update it.

The previous design was several years old, a considerable period of time in the fast-changing environment of the World Wide Web. Its emphasis on links to divisions and programs within each of the three organizations sometimes confused users who did not know where to find information about specific types of research.

The new site, in contrast, focuses on research initiatives and the broad scope of atmospheric science rather than organizational structure. “The main benefit is it really integrates everything in one place,” says WORD co-chair Markus Stobbs (SCD), the site’s designer. “It’s thematic. You can follow your interests, exploring topics instead of being bound by organizational structure, divisions, and programs.”

Catherine Shea of the NCAR director’s office, who also co-chairs WORD, adds, “This is an important step for the whole organization. It makes us more accessible to the public, and it has the added benefit of educating ourselves about each other’s programs.”

Frequent updates

The dynamic site features constantly changing content and eye-catching graphics and animations.

The new home page has six slots that are regularly updated. These include a “fast fact” about the atmosphere and a spotlight on an internal Web page (both updated hourly), two recent news releases (updated every time a news release is issued, which is about 1–2 weeks on average), and a feature story on research and a profile of a scientist (both updated monthly).

From the home page, a user can click on “Our Organization,” which has links to all divisions and programs as well as an overview of UCAR, NCAR, and UOP. Another link leads to “Our Research,” a series of pages written by the UCAR Communications office (which also produces Staff Notes Monthly).

Aimed at the general public, “Our Research” provides a sweeping overview of the organization’s studies of the atmosphere and the Earth-Sun system. “It’s essentially an introductory education on a wide spectrum of atmospheric science topics that’s pulled together into a compelling and eye-catching series of pages,” Markus says.

Users can also link to “News Center,” the revamped Communications home page, and to “Education,” the EO home page that also links to additional educational programs in the organization, such as COMET and GLOBE.

An important feature for scientists is the “Research Tools” page. For the first time, scientists can go to a single Web page for links to a wide array of data sets, models, computing applications, and more. The navigation bar also has a “Libraries” tab that takes users to the NCAR Library, DLESE, NSDL, and others.

Packed with information and easy to navigate, the Web site may spin off a number of additional benefits. Members of the WORD team hope it will raise the organization’s profile with the general public, educators, news media, and policy makers. Because it provides so much information about the organization and its research, several staffers have already noted that it’s helping them with their work.

SCD’s Lynda Lester, a WORD member who is enthusiastic about the team’s accomplishments, says, “It does an elegant job of portraying the expertise, credibility, and impressiveness of a national research laboratory.”

Two minutes early

For members of the WORD team, who volunteered their time for the project, the months leading up to the launch proved intense. As Communications staffers took the lead on writing and editing copy, others on the production team worked long hours tweaking the design, tracking down visuals, and overcoming technical challenges. Zhenya Gallon of Communications, the site’s interim managing editor, coordinated the content. About 40 additional staffers pitched in with contributions and suggested changes.

Under the guidance of Web Engineering Group system administrator Andrei Rodionov (SCD), the site went live at 8:58 a.m. on May 26—two minutes ahead of schedule. Markus, Andrei, and SCD’s Leonard Sitongia celebrated immediately with a bottle of sparkling apple cider.

But the WORD group’s work is continuing. Over the next few months, it will proceed with “Phase 2.” This will include a number of improvements, such as enabling scientists to personalize the “Research Tools” page for their needs by using the SCD Portal. In addition, news features will be turned into feeds that other sites can use.

“The philosophy of the group is to keep evolving and stay current with Web technologies,” Catherine explains.

Several divisions and programs have expressed interest in adopting the new template for their own Web pages. WORD has placed the template on the Web at http://word.ucar.edu/template/, where it can be picked up by anyone in the organization.

The template was designed for flexibility and ease of use. For developers who want to explore creating dynamic pages, Leonard created a Java architecture that gives developers maximum control over the elements on database-driven pages.

Divisions and programs can choose to stay with their own Web designs, but several are already looking into using the new one. “The WORD interface really updates our look,” Markus says. “We’re encouraged by early interest we’re seeing from groups interested in adopting it.”

Staffers who have suggestions or comments about the site are encouraged to send e-mail to wordbugs@ucar.edu. Or they can contact Markus directly or ext. 1238. •David Hosansky

On the Web:

The umbrella site

More about WORD, including a list of members and contributors


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