Saturday, 21 August 2010

Mockingbird to the rescue

Thanks to John for the Mockingbird reminder.  I have used it to shove together a very basic first draft of a typical force website layout based on the initial research from my previous blog entries from last week.

It shows an overall top bar like the BBC intended to remain throughout all police force sites as an anchor.  It contains a national police graphic ident of some description - typical things would include the checker squares but we can think of something more imaginative than that. The basic navigation which appear to be common to all police sites - this just clears space for more content below. The search is also a universal feature of most sites so this can serve as a search engine and a way to set locality either by postcode or placename - we should be able to use the same search box for both functions and save more space.

The orange section is where the local force identity is established. Common elements like the force crest, force name and motto can all go in here.  I have put in some social media icons but there is space for customisation for text, photos, links and content specific to each force. The general principle is to keep the logo to the left and the height of the orange box constant to aid cross-border navigation.

Next comes an area taken from the BBC homepage layout - a large area containing an impactive photo or image with flexibility for text links below or to the side plus three smaller boxes to the right. At a national level the content of these boxes can be flexible and set to some key national or generic police news stories nominated by any force and democratically elected to the 'top spot'.  It could be general content or features, also nominated and planned by all forces together or maybe under the control of a smaller group of elected reps. At a local force level, the content in these boxes becomes controlled by the force web manager.

The area below is also copied from the BBC homepage and uses a three column layout. This area is populated by widgets which can be 1, 2 or 3 columns wide and of variable depth as dictated by the content. The widgets are or uniform fixed width so the user can add, modify or delete according to their preference.

News widget
This can work at multiple levels depending on site depth.

1. Nationally - it can show news from any police source and possibly mash external sources like the BBC. Refinements can be made to topics of interest by keyword searches which can be saved. In this way a sophisticated set of interests can be built up to refine the news at this level. In this sense it could work a bit like Twitter - by following more sources and topics you refine the news mix you receive. By extending the mix outside of traditional police topics, we can work towards our national page being more attractive to be used as a 'home page' as our news service can be adapted to suit interests beyond traditional policing topics.

2. Force level - Exactly the same concept except that the focus starts by default on force level news.  The user can still refine the mix by bringing in news from another force area to suit where they work or perhaps where relatives live elsewhere in the UK. The key thing is that as soon as they designate a local area by placename or postcode, the site immediately converts to the local force site from that point.

3. Neighbourhood level - News articles should be pinpointed to a local level wherever possible.  This should be done either by Geocode, postcode or tags to a standard area shape - ward, neighbourhood, district etc. As long as the lowest level locator is known, higher level areas can be calculated automatically. The news mix can be refined as people navigate to neighbourhood areas of the site as well as by topic.  An article about domestic violence should bring back recent news articles and display them as possible links for further reading.  Some kind of weighting system could be put into place so that news from outside the force or even from an external source could be offered if it is calculated by the weighing engine to be of relevant value to the keywords in the feature article being viewed.

Other widgets
We should aim to develop widgets that start at a national level but which can be adapted and refined at force and neighbourhood levels also. Ultimately, we need to always consider what is of benefit to the user of the site rather than what is politically convenient for the organisation. People live increasingly transient lives and want to mix and match their content to suit their unique circumstances and not be confined by our self-imposed geographical or topical boundaries.

(originally posted on July 31, 2010)

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