Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Utah Wins Best State Website

Hey… I've got some news for you. As part of running a blog for the past five years, I've had to become fairly acquainted with the issues and techniques of web development. And, as such, find myself frequenting the blogs of "opinion leaders" in the area of web design and development.

One site that I visit fairly regularly is: Design Shack run by Josh Johnson, Joel Bankhead and David Appleyard. In addition to writing articles about how to blog effectively, they occasionally scour the web themselves and give ratings and rankings to sites they find in some particular category – and they are very well thought of.

One of their recent articles was a ranking of the websites run by each of the 50 U.S. states. Now these sites are government web sites, published by the state as their "official" presence on the web – not only to represent the state but to be the "gateway" for it's citizens to contact and obtain services from the state. Just take a guess which state won the very top honor.

Oops, that question was a bit of a no-brainer because the answer is right in the title of the post. Utah won the "Best State Website" of all 50 states! And, the reviewers said, their decision was also a no-brainer because the evaluation was clear-cut and obvious.

Their full article can be found here: Best and Worst Design: 50 US State Websites; but let me extract some of their rankings for those western states which we at Offroading Home are most interested in.

I have to say that the layout and function of a state's web-sites is of no small importance to anyone who wants to interface in any way with state government these days. It's were one can go to find MAPS of things within the state as well as the plethora of rules and regulations controlling offroad vehicle use.

Which means that, of necessity, I have been lurking about these exact sites for several years – and, believe me, I can attest to the wide and varied range of quality exhibited in these sites. From easy and precise to obscure, dysfunctional, obtuse, confusing and completely unusable – the entire range is there.

When I saw their article, I read it with most intent comparing their ratings with my own experience. Almost to a "T," I agreed wholeheartedly, and I commented their blog to say so.

I've listed the Offroading Home states below, in the various categories of ratings and have given you an easy link to the state's site so you can visit it and see for yourself – don't just take my word for it.

They judged each site based on the appearance and functionality of it's web design, giving a bit of extra weight for the visual appeal component. They did say that if they hadn't given that extra weight, Rhode Island would have been ranked higher because it used "responsive design" (appealing on everything from desktop computers to mobile phones) a difficult and very forward-thinking form of web design.

They divided the state's sites into three categories (five if you count best and worst). Those in the "cream of the crop" category did most things right but fell down in things like use of ugly "canned" (stock) icons and images, awkward navigation and other small things. Those in the "could be worse" category, they said, had Ugly typography, poorly styled links, and nasty low resolution images in addition to organization and useability concerns.

Then there were sites which prompted them to exclaim: "Really? This Is What You Came Up With?" so that's what they called the category. I have to preface this with the fact that these guys were really trying hard to be nice and positive about their rankings – probably because they didn't want to alienate any of their blog audience. However, there were web sites which were basically a "train wreck of hideous aesthetics and nightmarish organizational schemes." Those went into this category.

In fairness, the sites in this category looked like they really hadn't received much, if any at all, thought or effort. The first state in the category, the author said, was his home state: Arizona and was probably the best in this category because it had fairly good organization but was "right out of the 1995 web design manual" and "didn't reflect an understanding of modern web design practices."

To test some examples for yourself, click on over to the Utah site and see if you an find things; then, click to the Nevada site. Select "about" and you will see "maps." Click on "maps" and you see a cute little representation of a "404" page which means "it's not there," a broken link; which, to me, looks like they're trying to say that "Nevada is closed down" – pretty much like what Harry Reid and the "fiends" of Gold Butte are trying to do.

I thought that I'd list the rankings of the western states; if, for no other reason than, you might could use the link to your own state's site.

Best and Worst U.S. State Web Sites - Western Version

Learn A Little More

Some time back I posted a video by Hank Green, fifty-percent of the Vlogbrothers, who published a video blog about sending the government a check every April. John, along with his brother Hank, make up the Vlogbrothers who post nerdy-centric videos about "decreasing the 'suck' in the world" while at the same time "increasing the Awesome."

In this video, Hank continues his expose about how NASA does both.

NASA: Decreasing the suck and increasing the awesome.


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