Websites… the Wikipedia model for ease of use

Late on a Thursday in Marshall, there’s time to pull together some thoughts that have been filtering through the brain in the last few days, particularly while preparing for the early June national conference of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education.

How different will the college and university website of tomorrow look from what we see most often today? Only a fool would make a really firm prediction, but there sure do seem to be winds blowing out and about the country side.

Let’s consider these that keep coming back to me:

  • Wikipedia is a model for a highly popular website that presents great quantities of information without appearing to spend a great deal on traditional design elements. I ignored Wikipedia sites for a long time but now when I want basic information about a particular college or university I check Wikipedia first, rather than the college’s own website. In recent presentations I’ve featured the University of Texas at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Texas and University of Waterloo at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Waterloo
  • Are blogs about to break into new prominence compared to traditional web content? I’m especially impressed by the move at MIT to make blogs the cental content on the first page for admissions at http://www.mitadmissions.org
  • Blogs are also being used to deliver regular news updates and that strikes me as about the  best possible investment in a CMS system for “real people” to easily make regular content updates. See how the Santa Clara University law school does it with 18 blogs on a single page at http://www.scu.edu/law/blog/index.html

What are these examples telling us? Each one features easy to post user content, so simple that just almost everyone can figure out how to to it. And there just isn’t a great deal of traditional design time to spend on blogs and Wikipedia websites. And that suggests that websites are getting simpler and easier to use. And that the High Priests (and high costs) of web design are in danger of losing position.

Depending on exactly when you count, Wikipedia is the 8th most popular website in the United States. And new beta sites are in development for countries just about everywhere.

The prediction: websites just might really be getting easy to use. Imagine that.

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