As I have been traveling and talking with folks about the church, one of the questions consistently asked and about which it is assumed that this techno-moderator could do something about is the current PC(USA) website.

So . . . I casually posed the question to Rob Bullock, Director of Mission Communications and here was his response.   think about this as a personal "hanging out in the hallway" response as opposed to an "official statement" type of response.   I found this very helpful, thanks Rob!

The current PCUSA website was designed in 2000 by the same designer who created the PCUSA seal. It was designed for the lowest-bandwidth user to have quick download times (therefore lots of text and tiny images), and for what was then the common 640 x 480 screen (thus, lots of Presbyterian blue on the sides of a very narrow “live” area). Neither the design nor the underlying technology have been significantly modified in the last eight years. Our web team has done a phenomenal job of trying to keep the site current within those constraints.

Since its launch, the site has grown (and grown and grown and grown) to approximately 31,000 pages and more than 180 sub-sites. This is on par in size and complexity with the site for the Smithsonian. The numbers fluctuate daily as new content is added and old content is removed. Amazingly, there is no Content Management System for the current site – every page is hand-coded. Another interesting tidbit – this page-count represents content from only three of the Church’s six agencies (OGA, GAC & PILP). The Foundation, Board of Pensions, and Publishing have their own, separate websites. All of this contributes to a user-experience that is frustrating on a good day.

We launched the website project in August, 2008, with the objective of examining and overhauling every aspect of our web presence. Design, technology, applications, and content are all on the table. Karen Schmidt is the project leader. The core project team is: Rob Bullock, Director of Mission Communications – GAC (manager); Dianna Ott, Director of Creative Services – GAC; Michael Trier, Information Services Coordinator – GAC; Sam Locke, Funds Development Services Manager – GAC; and Kerry Clements, Director of Communications and Technology – OGA.

We selected Happy Cog Studios as our design/developer partners. Happy Cog’s founder, Jeffrey Zeldman, is a superstar in the world of web development, best known for getting all of the major browsers to agree on standards for how web pages are delivered to users. Happy Cog’s approach to “Standards-based Design” will allow the new site to display properly on any platform – from Internet Explorer to your iPhone. It should also clear out most of the coding clutter that bogs down search engines. For all of its prestige and stellar reputation, Happy Cog has chosen to remain a small shop, choosing only a handful of projects to tackle each year. Some past clients include WordPress (the blogging site), Thompson-Reuters,, and Amnesty International, to name a few. We’re honored that they have taken on the Church’s site, and immensely pleased with the enthusiasm and passion they have brought to the project – along with the professionalism and creativity we had expected.

We’re now in the midst of the Information Architecture stage of development – crafting the site map and wireframes which serve as the blue prints for the new site. In many respects, this is the most challenging part of the whole project. How do you organize 31,000 pages of content in a way that is easily intelligible to a vast array of users? How do you deliver it so that the user finds exactly the information they want with as few clicks as possible? How do you organize the information on each page, and which data gets what real estate? In January, we’ll conduct some highly controlled user testing to see if the structure we’ve come up with actually makes sense to average users. Once that’s complete, and the IA is set, we will finally begin redesigning the interface.

Looking ahead:
Given the scope and complexity of the project, you can imagine that this is an enormous undertaking. Our commitment is to have everything completed by the next Assembly. (My personal hope is that it’s done by Christmas, 2009.) The content migration alone will take months, as we examine every page of the site and either copy the content into the new CMS, or archive the page (for content that’s out of date or no longer relevant). We’re also retooling or replacing many of the side applications – everything from marketplace and online giving to “Find a Church” will be updated. Some things will likely come online earlier, so users may start seeing improvements as early as this summer.

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