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College unveils first redesign of bowdoin.edu in 13 years

November 2, 2018

The new Bowdoin website, bowdoin.edu, launched on Tuesday night after undergoing its first major revamp in 13 years. The complete overhaul of the website, which has been in the works for the last three years, went extremely smoothly, said Janie Porche, the director of content for Bowdoin’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

The website went live around 9 p.m. and, much to the surprise of the communications staff, was online nearly instantaneously.

“The launch went incredibly well,” said Mary Baumgartner, the executive director of communications and public affairs. “IT did extraordinary work to make sure that technically everything went well.”

Baumgartner stated that everything was responsive on the site, but that the Office of Communications’ job isn’t over. The feedback form, which was sent in an email to all students and employees by Senior Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood and can be found on the website, will remain open. Communications has received somewhere under 100 responses to the form so far, primarily positive and ranging in length from a mere kudos on a job well done to specific constructive feedback on what could work better.

Roughly 60 percent of the feedback has concerned the directory, Porche estimated. Edits to restore features such as class year and mailbox information, which were either left out or altered during the update, are currently underway.

Most students seemed to view the new site positively. Manuela Velasquez ’21, who used the word “clean” to describe the new site, liked the abundance of photographs. She described it as an upgrade from the old site, which “had the feel of a low-quality public library.”

Hood, Porche and Baumgartner were all aware of an issue that students cited as a point of dissatisfaction with the new website: Google search results.

“It’s a pretty big pain in the ass. A lot of links are broken,” complained Theo Danzig ’22 on the day of the site’s launch.

However, Porche assured that this problem was being addressed and would continue to improve. Google’s computers must audit the new site in order to update its search results, a process that can take some time and which every new website must go through. The College has no control over that process (short of buying Google, joked Hood).

Hood recognized that though the old website was antiquated and clunky, it was familiar to students and faculty who used it frequently.

“I didn’t really see what was wrong. I felt fine with the previous website,” said Danzig. “The old one was pretty user friendly.”

Hood compared using the new site to eating in a new kitchen—you don’t know where the forks are at first, but once you’ve gone to the fork drawer two or three times, you remember.

Though the website looks more elegant than its antiquated predecessor, comically dubbed “The Black Curtain” by the IT department, it may offer more than meets the eye to the average user.

“It’s not just a new design; it’s new servers, a new CMS, new ‘all this stuff,’ which is a wildly ambitious thing to do all at once,” said Baumgartner.

Communications noted, however, that such major updates were not made on a whim, but were required in order to achieve their goals.

“We’ve built in a way that’s structurally sound enough that we shouldn’t ever again have to go to the ground,” Porche said.

The new site also makes it far easier for the drivers of content, primarily faculty and students, to direct and dictate what is presented on their page and how it is displayed.

“What you see up here is really a reflection of the work that’s happening across the campus and the way that people across the campus want to tell their stories,” said Baumgartner.

Department pages are now more easily able to be modified and personalized by faculty in order to showcase what they want to display. In a move to make the website more outward-facing—directed toward prospective students and counselors, for example—the homepage now displays a slider bar that randomly displays a new department each time the page is refreshed.

Several other changes were made in order to make the site more accessible to an audience beyond those currently affiliated with the school and unfamiliar with its idiosyncrasies. For example, a prospective student may not know to search “Francophone Studies,” so that department now appears in a drop-down tab when “French” is typed into the search bar. The new search feature isn’t limited to academics; when a user types “hungry,” “dining menus” appears.

The home page displays a set of images that will change nearly every day, according the Porche. Hood emphasized that the photos on the homepage will never be staged.

The website’s improvements span an enormous amount of turf, affecting everyone from faculty, who have more control over their content, to students, who now have easier access to accounts that use Bowdoin credentials, to prospective students, who will have an easier time navigating the departments and learning about the College.

Baumgartner said that the launch of the new site has inspired faculty to check and correct outdated information and has inspired upcoming changes on the College’s library and museum website.

“The really good news is that this has been a long time coming and people have been really enthusiastic about it,” said Hood. “So many people were involved. It’s a celebratory thing for a lot of folks.”


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  1. Ken Briggs '63 says:

    So far as I can tell, the obituary section has been dropped. That would be a step backward in my estimation. Those alumni stories are rich in biographical value and testimony to the fascinating variety that exists Bowdoin graduates. They also offer a snapshot of the changing priorities and preoccupations of America. In accounts of their lives, those who die remind us of the oneness of humanity.

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