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Elegant Economy

As it approaches its third birthday, TheyWorkForYou.com goes from strength to strength, reaching hundreds of thousands of users every month with traffic well-nigh doubling year on year. The site is now firmly established, and thrives thanks to continued diligence and early-morning parser-tweaking by Matthew, Francis and other MySociety volunteers. Those running any site reliant upon web-scraping can never sleep easy - you're always once template change away from disaster.

That said, to my harsh eye, the site is looking a bit tired design-wise. It has understandably accreted its fair share of additional features over the years, pushing the original site architecture close to its limits. Plus, I'm a bit bored of the green and red thing.

So, where to start with a TWFY redesign?

Well, my favourite sites do one useful thing, brilliantly. NeighbourhoodFixIt.com is the latest MySociety site to slip quietly into beta. It is a work of irrefutable reductionist genius. I adore it,

Take one postcode search, add an ultra-local map from the Ordinance Survey and a couple of clicks later your local council will know about a problem you'd like them to fix - be that a pothole, a broken streetlamp or an abandoned car.

I used it in anger when some graffiti appeared on the fence opposite our front door. It only works.

Another site I am liking ver' much is PlanningAlerts.com, another not-for-profit endeavour from the margins of MySociety. Type your email and your postcode, add in your radius of interest and you'll get an email every time within that radius submits a request for planning permission to the local council. Again, I've used it. Again, it only works.

I particularly like the visual design of both the above sites. They possess an elegance and an economy which is all too rare. MySociety's other sites notwithstanding, SendUIt.com is about the only other 'elegant & economic' site which springs readily to mind.

The problem with any TheyWorkForYou.com redesign is that two different facets of the site have been equally successful. One of which we expected, the other we didn't. We pretty much knew that making parliamentary debates and written answers accessible, addressable and commentable was going to work well. Much of the original thinking and design of the site hinged on this user need.

The success of individual MP pages took us more by surprise. These are now the most popular pages on the site, with most traffic coming direct from Google, where the pages rank highly for MP and constituency names.

Any redesign will need to keep routes to these successful facets utterly unencumbered, while still making space for other Houses (Lords: tick), Parliaments (New Zealand: tick) and Assemblies (Northern Ireland: tick), as well as those Westminster proceedings we've not yet managed to gather into the fold, such as committees. And then there's moving pictures...

Keeping all that lot 'elegant and economic' is a proper meaty challenge. Just enough is more.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 7, 2007 11:14 PM.

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