January 22, 2008

Royal Institute's "new" website is a mess

A couple of months ago the Royal Institute launched a new look for their website, royin.go.th. Instead of the red color scheme they've been using for a year or two now, it's now green. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be significant. Overall, though, it seemed that the website was just a makeover of the old one. Same popup menus that don't work correctly in Firefox, same basic layout, same underlying structure, same content.

There's plenty left to be desired already. They're breaking some cardinal website-making rules here. For one, the website uses way to much Flash or other fancy graphics where it should be using plain text. That means you often can't search the page for what you're looking for. Also, any text in a graphic won't turn up in search engine results, either. They gave their newly updated online dictionary the unrememberable URL rirs3.royin.go.th (why not dict.royin.go.th? or rid.royin.go.th?). I'm also not exaggerating when I say that not one page on their website has a sensible address. It's all php and arguments and question marks and module numbers. Occasionally I've run into the problem where when you go to a given page from the menu, it doesn't show the updated URL for that page in the address bar, so you can't even directly link to that page. The list goes on.

Maybe I'm being
too harsh. The Royal Institute definitely deserves to be commended for embracing the internet and putting so many resources online. But they need to stop valuing style over substance and usability. If given a choice between the very simple 1990s-style website used from 2000 to 2005, and the poorly-designed, dysfunctional versions we've had since, I'd take the one that looks like an oldschool Geocities site any day. The content is great. The site is awful.

Hold on to your hats, though.
Since the launch of the most recent website, not only did it fail to fix any of the major issues of its predecessor, it's been getting worse. I noticed today that they're destroying previously existing functionality. The offender here: the search box.

Search functionality is wonderful. Electronic text and the ability to search it is literally one of the most important advances of the late 20th Century. But it's not a very good substitute for browsing.

I'm sad to have to point out that the Royal Institute has decided to remove the ability to browse some of their standard resources. Before things weren't exactly peachy--you would probably get a barebones e-text that you had to click through all the pages of. But now when you click on many of their menu options, you get a page devoid of content except for one little search box. Among the butchered resources:

Classifiers (ลักษณนาม)
Royal vocabulary (ราชาศัพท์)
Province and district names (ชื่อจังหวัด เขต และอำเภอ)
Foreign country and capital city names (ชื่อประเทศ/เมืองหลวง)
Bodies of water (ชื่อทะเล)
Elements (ชื่อธาตุ)

On top of that, the search doesn't even work right now. This is typical, though frustrating, of the Royal Institute's website development. They make some change in the site that breaks existing links and features, and then eventually make them work, instead of launching a fully tested and fully functional site. But even if it were functional, this is a bad move on the part of the Royal Institute. I can only hope the browsing is a "broken" feature they are planning to eventually reinstate, but it doesn't look like it.

I feel for their web guy. I'm pretty sure it's a one man operation, and that he's making less money than he would in the private sector. I'm also quite sure that all of the people he has to impress with his website design don't use the internet, or at least not on a daily basis (or for more than e-mail). Let alone understand issues like browser compatibility or search engine optimization.

In other news, I'm going to the Royal Institute with my boss today to talk about how CRCL might be able assist the causes of the Royal Institute. From what he told me of his conversation with someone from the Institute, they have lots of complaints about the new dictionary. So I've prepared a polite list of the main problems with the new RID99 online, based on my previous posts.

At least I have high hopes to go along with my high expectations.

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