Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What is the Purpose of a University Web Site?

Yesterday our CIO was going over the new Web governance structure being implemented at our campus. According to him, one of the missions of this new Web governance structure is to "determine the purpose of the university's Web site."* It seems like a reasonable question.

Now, I've taken a small poke at that issue in a previous post, but I got afraid and ran away from it because it seemed big and scary.

But it's a real issue... or is it?

If you put it in the terms of, "does our university Web site have a purpose?", you better hope the answer is "hell yes!" instead of "not that I'm aware of", but trying to define that purpose is not so easy.

Of course, you're all saying, "the Web site doesn't have a single purpose." And let's face it; it's not even one Web site; it's many Web sites, under the control of many different people, and serving many different audiences and needs.

As a result, I'm not personally convinced that we can come up with a "definitive" answer to this question. I believe that we have to take a more molecular view of the site. That is, I think that we can say, "OK, we need to do this. And we need to have that. And there has to be this component", without having to have a complete "big picture" view.

Not that I don't believe in the "big picture" approach, or even agree with it; I do. I just feel that the Web as an environment, as a tool, and as a platform is too complex and evolving too rapidly for definitive, big picture answers.

Of course, that doesn't change the political reality that the CIO expects the Web governance suckas (er... committee members) to determine the purpose of the university's Web site.

Personally, I plan to be sick that year.

I'm sure some of you have encountered this issue. How have you approached it? Dealt with it? Defused it? Succumbed to it?

*(for the sake of simplicity, I'm assuming here that he was referring to the campus's public Web site, www.csuchico.edu, and not all the other Web-based applications, such as the portal or the LMS).


Paula said...

Just this week someone asked me this very question as part of a discussion about our web site redesign. I didn't have an answer at the moment because I had completely forgotten about the opening section of our web policy were it states that

"The campus web site is a place to access official University information, to disseminate and extend knowledge and to foster the free exchange of ideas."

I figure I forgot this for two reasons, the first is because it is such a broad purpose and secondly because to me the purpose of the site depends on which audience I am referring to.

In any case, maybe a broad statement like that might pacify your CIO.

Anonymous said...

We feel like we need to get people to agree on prioritized list of purposes/goals/audiences so that our new web site can be successful. We understand the site simply cannot be all things to all people - which is why we have an internal portal and other sites - and we are trying to educate the rest of campus about that reality.

collegewebguy said...

this is a great post. among many at this site. Good reads. The silver bullet for the problem of audience is the upcoming portal initiative that we'll launch in a few months. Then we'll be able to have our internal audience use a "site" set apart from the university homepage. ..and have more room to focus on recruitment.

Anonymous said...

These are the three goals that make up the purpose:

make the brand shine

it works for audiences:
prospective students, students, teachers, alumni, supporters and it even works for topics: programs, knowledge, etc...

Martine Lafleur
HEC Montréal