Earlier this month, Pittsburgh officials announced the immediate rollout of a new city website complete with mobile-friendly design and a slew of new features. Weeks later, it remains a work in progress, with occasional functionality flaws that were to be expected and are being addressed, those same officials said.
The website, pittsburghpa.gov, is a sleeker, shinier version of its predecessor, complete with a host of new features and online apps. It was unveiled earlier this month and marks the first significant update to the city’s page since 2011 — an update inspired by both the city’s desire to live up to its tech-savvy image and by similar websites in similarly-sized cities across the country.
In the weeks since its launch, users have noticed significant changes to the Pittsburgh site but also a number of changes that are still en route or in limbo.
So what has this meant for taxpayers trying to access city services online?
At times, problems have manifested as difficulty accessing departmental web pages via search engines like Google, a likely result of pre-existing URLs not being redirected or forwarded. (Troubleshooters should access pittsburghpa.gov, and search from there directly.)
The hiccups have also extended to accessing apps — like “Burgh’s Eye View,” a clearing house of city data — through links anchored on the city’s new homepage. City officials say that specific issue, which has since been corrected, involved the app itself, not the homepage link.
“They’re working on fixes every day,” Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, said of the city’s Department of Innovation & Performance, which is in charge of the new site’s rollout.
McNulty added, “[They] welcome users to report any other issues via the Feedback button on the homepage.” That button disappeared from the site earlier this week as an update to the feedback form was being tested. It was back on the page by Thursday.
‘Just the beginning’
It’s unclear exactly what issues have been brought to officials’ attention thus far, and they didn’t have specific examples to cite offhand. But they also described a process more akin to that of a community mural painted in public, than of a finished artwork delivered to a museum. One blogger went a step further, comparing (hyperbolically, we hope) the act of web redesign to a “never-ending battle” fought in the trenches.
Sounding not at all shellshocked, Lee Haller, director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation & Performance, told The Incline this week, “We’re viewing this very much as a product that will be continually updated as any other software product is. The site that we just launched is just the beginning phase of that.”
Haller pointed to municipal websites in cities like Denver and Boston in explaining the inspiration behind the redesign here. He also pointed to the desire for a more contemporary online look for Pittsburgh, a place in the midst of its own tech makeover.
“I think the previous website, from an aesthetics and web design standpoint, was not up to modern standards,” Haller said. “From an access standpoint, it was very difficult for people with disabilities to use our website. We tried to make a new one that was more flexible. But it also should project a more modern, forward-thinking image for the city, and that was our thinking.”
In a press release heralding the site’s big reveal earlier this month, the mayor’s office touted the eventual additions of new features including more interactive maps, dedicated pages for immigrant/refugee communities in multiple languages and a social media center to “further enhance the connections between city government and residents.” Many of those features will continue to come online in the coming months, the press release added.
The project — helmed by a team of four — was more than a year in the making, he added, with mockups made and discussions held with pertinent departments. Per the city, the website “was created in house by I&P employees. There are no direct costs associated with the website or launch.”
And with the new site now being live, the fixes are happening live, continuing in real-time and certainly for the days and months to come.
So about those glitches…
As for the unscheduled glitches seen with Google searches since the rollout, some had been at least partially fixed as of Thursday, with search results for specific departments leading not to an error message as they previously had but instead to the city’s new homepage where relevant links can be found.
“We had thousands of pages of content to migrate over and anytime you do that some issues need to be resolved post implementation,” Haller explained of the search engine quirks. “Anytime you’re integrating content from an old website into a new website, thought needs to be put into redirecting, and we’ll continue to work to resolve those issues.”
There was no timetable immediately available for the completion of that process.
As for the issues seen with the “Burgh’s Eye View” app, Haller added: “The server that hosts ‘Burgh’s Eye View’ has had some issues. It’s hosted by the city but that issue is a separate issue and has nothing to do with the technical launch [of the new site]. I anticipate [the app] should be back up shortly.” It was by Wednesday.
“We’re pretty happy with how launch has gone so far,” Haller said. “Based on the feedback we may change the layout of a page or two. So I would fully anticipate we’re gonna learn from users’ behavior over time and adjust to improve.”