Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ News Up Front

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 30, 1999

Posted to MuniMall Newsletter, 01 December 1999.

Who is reading your community web page? To judge from a survey of community home pages across Alberta, most readers are tourists.

At least, that seems to be who community web page designers are targeting. Enter almost any Community home page and you'll find a nice picture, a slogan, and a description or history of The town.

For example,

"Manning, one of the newest towns in the north, was named after a former Premier of Alberta. The Town sprung up after the Second World War on the banks of the Notikewin River between two small hamlets - North Star to the south and Notikewin to the north."


"Legal is a unique multi-cultural community with a French heritage, located in a prime agricultural area just 20 minutes north of St. Albert."

Now tourist information is important and often forms a valuable part of a rural economy. But in all probability, unless you are Banff or Jasper, tourists aren't your primary audience.

The next largest group of visitors, at least to judge from existing web sites, is prospective businesses. These sites post demographic information, business opportunities, and community profiles.

Consider the Town of Hanna: "The Town of Hanna welcomes your interest in our community. Whether it be industrial, retail, tourism or retirement related, opportunity is abundant in Hanna. We take pride in offering urban amenities with a country flair."

Business development is important but potential investors represent only a fraction of your readership. Provide information for them, but don't feature it on the front page.

SoÂ… who does read your community web site?

I ran the City of Brandon web site between the years 1995 and 1999, closing the site only when I Moved from the community to take up my current position with MuniMall. It was a volunteer position and an unofficial site, but for four years, Brandon's primary presence on the internet (the city is now served by a commercial venture, learned as I learned before them that the primary audience of a community web site Consists of members of that particular community. Examining my access logs, I found that almost all of my page views were coming from local service providers. And most of my email was sent from within City limits.

You should examine your own access logs, but the result will be similar in most cases. And knowing that most of the people using your community web site will be residents should shape what you post on the home page.

Local residents do not want tourist or business development information. They want news, events and happenings. This is especially the case in larger communities where information doesn't travel as fast as the wind, but even smaller communities need to keep their citizens up to date.

A significant minority of Alberta community web sites have seen the light and have started posting the latest and greatest right on their home page.

Looking at the Town of Lacombe ( for example, I can see right away information posted today about the Children's Christmas Party, information posted last week about a bylaw amendment, and a variety of news items through the remainder of November and October.

Were I a resident of Lacombe, I would find this useful information, and more importantly, I would not have had to go hunt for it. And were I a tourist

The City of Camrose - cited before in these pages for progressive web design - also posts community information front and centre. See and read about this year's Viking hockey tournament and news from the City engineering department.

It is not hard to add news and event listings to your front page, and it takes only a few minutes a week to maintain the links.

But what it shows about your community far exceeds the effort required. It shows that you care about community information, that you understand what's happening in your community, and that your citizens are active and involved.

So - put the news and events right up front.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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