Saturday, May 29, 2010

Developing the web site

When considering how to develop the web site, I have two questions:

  1. What do people look for when they visit the FreeDOS web site?
  2. What do we want the FreeDOS web site to be?

Note that these questions are not necessarily tied.

We don't have tracking tools to know what searches people are using on Google, Bing, etc to find information on our website. But even without data, the first question is probably straightforward: people are looking for information about FreeDOS.

  • For the new user: what is this "FreeDOS" thing, what does it do / can I run Windows programs with FreeDOS, can I install FreeDOS on my computer, how can I install FreeDOS on my computer, ... how do I fix this problem I found after installing FreeDOS, etc.
  • For the experienced user: when is the next distro coming out, what updates have happened since I last looked, etc.
  • For the interested developer: how can I contribute to the next version of FreeDOS, what else can I do, etc.

The second question is much harder to answer, and really gets at the heart of a web "strategy" for FreeDOS. Our current web site has a lot of varied content on it. There's no single vision behind it.

I believe we need to focus the web site to be a kind of "one stop" site for everyone interested in FreeDOS. Extraneous content should be archived, important content should be highlighted. That will mean some serious pruning.

At my work (University of Minnesota) we have a "OneStop" web site that all students use as a "front door" to check email, register for classes, plan their degree program, etc. The web site is (when you get down to it) just a portal to other web applications at the U of M, even those not hosted at the "OneStop" site. Even though students can easily bookmark the places they need to go (and many do) I hear from students that it's often easier just to bookmark the "OneStop" web site, and get to where you're going from there.

There are also content areas for staff and faculty. Often, links are replicated in each focus area.

That could apply to the FreeDOS web site, if that's where we wanted to take the web site. We already have a "New Users" and "Developers" list of links down the left-hand side of the front page. But to turn the FreeDOS web site into a "one stop" site we could change our tabs at the top of the page to "new users", "experienced users", and "developers" - or whatever labels work best. Those tab links would point you to different "focus" areas on the web site. Maybe the front page is for "new users", and we have tab links for "experienced users" and "developers".

The focus areas would have links to download the latest release, to our Wiki at SF, our source code at SF, stuff at CafePress, our bug tracker at SF, our mailing lists, chat sites, SF project info, RSS feed, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Note that things may point off the www.freedos.org site, which is okay. Some links might be replicated in the different focus areas, but that would help users from having to dig around the web site to find whatever they are looking for. Each page should still have a "Search" box on it.

We'd still keep some pages as-is on the site, like the software list, web images, etc. And we'd link to these from each of the focus areas. The locations (for some) might need to change so everything makes sense and is easily locatable.

For example, we use "/freedos" as the prefix for most pages only because we used to have a "web site mirror" affiliate program, to distribute the load when FreeDOS was very popular. Mirror sites has their own copy of "/freedos". But we don't support web mirrors anymore, so "/freedos" no longer makes sense. That's why the software list moved from "/freedos/software" to "/software".

I'm not suggesting changing the web design again - just re-arranging the content so things are easier to find, using the current web design.

What are your thoughts?

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