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  The Ishmael Community: A Contest -- Redesign the Ishmael Community Website -- More Info

A Contest -- Redesign the Ishmael Community Website -- More Info

Here's the original information about the contest...

Questions have come in about the contest...we have answers!

What's the deadline? When does the contest end?

We have not set a hard deadline since there is still so much to do...usability and the rest, for example. We announce it now so that the juices can start flowing...ideas can start surfacing...thoughts can start bubbling up...

I am thinking about making a submission for the contest. Before we can really proceed with some design ideas, we really feel that we need to know some of the constraints that always exist in these kinds of projects. Are you planning on posting more info about the contest in the near future?

We will post more info as the project develops. We are really looking for designers who have been users. Much of the time websites are designed by people who, a) don't ever use the site or b) are so familiar with it, they don't see the needs of the casual user. So, we are specifically NOT putting a lot of constrains on this contest because we want the users/readers/enthusiasts to really consider what would be useful to THEM. Here's a quick story that will help illustrate the point... DataDrive has been involved with the Ishmael site for 5+ years and we know it inside and out--we designed the last 3 organizational schemes. A few months ago we sat down and started to think about relaunching the site yet again and started to make lists of possible ways of organizing the content: by subject, by type of information, by timing (as in chronological), by theme... But then we stopped and said, "Who cares about all these arbitrary schemes? What do the users/reader want?" We were stumped. We had/have no idea what would be more useful than what is there. So, that's why we decided we needed data...and not just visitation statistics--we have over 50Mb of visitation reports starting from 1995, see -- We need information on what people want to find and how THEY would go about to find it...hence the usability studies and questionnaires.

You mention that you are going to use focus groups, usability studies, and questionnaires to determine the site's structure. Are you planning on posting this structure and then allowing the designs to be built off of it?

Yes, absolutely, we will make all this info available to anyone who wants to see it.
Another important consideration that sets boundaries for the design of your site is your audience. As the Yale University guide suggests "If you are creating a site for a specific audience and not for global interests you often have more flexibility and can ask more from your users". Asking more from your users could mean entertaining the idea of some multimedia based experiences for the splash page... or for various parts of the site itself.

We have always tried to design the site for the lowest common denominator (browser, connection, user). The degree to which we have succeeded is debatable! Here are the (consistent) trends:

  • More than 500,000 hits per month, consistently, for the past 3 years
  • 50,000 user sessions per month, consistently, for the past 3 years
  • 12 minutes per session is an average visit, consistently, for the past 3 years
  • 50% of the visitors go to at least 4 pages in each visit More than 10Gb of data are transferred each month
  • 5-12% international users, consistently, for the past 3 years
  • After Canada, Western Europe, Australia, Asia and Middle East are the top international regions visiting
  • More than 22% of users return to the site more than once in a month (5% return 10 or more times/month)
  • AOL bring us at least 10% of our visitors each month
  • More than 35% come to straight from search engines, not from links on other sites
  • People visit every day, all times of the day, almost, from work and home
  • More than 75% are using MS IE, 90% of those 4.x or better
  • About 80% are on MS Windows operating systems (about 50% of these are Win98)
  • The most popular areas:

    So, bottom line? Most people are from developed countries with new operating systems and new browsers...suggesting faster connections. So, we can make a few assumptions about them, but I am still in favor of staying on the conservative side.

I do Flash, Shockwave, QuickTime VRML, XML, Client-side Java, Java-beans, SilverStream. and JRun. Will the new site include all these technologies?

No. Ishmael is on the web because of the content--the ideas. We don't need flashy marketing to get people's attention. That's not what got your attention, right? It was a dialog with a telepathic ape, or a story of a disenchanted priest, or a promise of some other way of being that is more meaningful. Leave the window dressing to those who need it... The folks who are enchanted by shiny things are not who we can reach--they are not the ones who are coming to find what Ishmael has to offer anyway.

We need to remember that developing countries, those without access to high-speed internet connections and new Dell workstations, are the ones who have very limited access to knowledge about Mother Culture and how she is trying to totally overwhelm their every activity and thought. Ishmael needs to be accessible, worldwide.

Given that, we don't want to get too far away from where we are right now...caution, techno-babble coming up...

Currently the site is built with:

  • Mainly server-side technology--making few demands of the client
  • interactivity is via Macromedia's ColdFusion v4.5 and a little client-side JavaScript
  • uses Perl to do what ColdFusion isn't good at
  • runs off a MS Windows NT server
  • uses server-side includes on MS IISv5
  • runs from a database: MS SQL7 server
  • uses cascading style sheets
Because of the cost involved with migrating, most of these things won't change in the relaunch. Keep that in mind.