James Murdock: Building the New Carnegie.org, Part 2 — Our Process

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Our goal in relaunching Carnegie Corporation of New York’s website, as I described in a blog last week, is to showcase the work of our grantees and, in so doing, illustrate our grantmaking strategy. The Corporation’s Communications team didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.

Throughout the redesign, we sought input from program officers and other key stakeholders in one-on-one conversations as well as during regularly scheduled meetings of a website advisory group. We also surveyed grantees directly. These conversations were just the beginning of an ongoing discussion that only deepened after we identified the two web development teams who partnered with us on the journey.

The Team

Blenderbox, based in Brooklyn, designed and coded our overall website, www.carnegie.org, which contains top-level information about the Corporation’s programs, history, grants listings, and news articles.

Phase2 Technology, based in Alexandria, Va., built a tool called Fable that allows us to publish multimedia-enhanced narratives directly into our website, going deep on a single subject such as the Opportunity Equation (the Corporation’s work in advancing math and science education).

Phase2 also built FieldNotes, a tool our program officers can use to publish brief reports, photos, and videos into our website from their smartphones while meeting with grantees in the field.

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Building a website as complex as this from scratch involves making myriad decisions — more than I can list in this blog — partly because, more than a quarter century into the history of the World Wide Web, there are myriad ways to build a site. But there are several choices that any organization, regardless of its digital strategy, should consider.

Internal v. Outsourced Production?

The Corporation’s Communications team is fortunate to have several staffers with deep experience in both content production and web development. We also have an internal IT team. But after our previous experiences with maintaining, internally, the hosting of and upkeep on our old website and several special-purpose microsites, we decided to outsource these tasks for the new website, Fable, and FieldNotes — freeing internal capacity and allowing for greater scalability.

Questions you might ask in approaching a web design include:

  • How deep is your talent bench, internally, when it comes to web development and production?
  • Is your team comfortable with routine content entry; can they also do some light coding; are they able to manage server-related updates and maintenance?
  • Should you outsource some, or all, of these tasks?

Agile v. Waterfall?

Does your organization have the appetite for an agile web development strategy, whereby a site launches with a core set of features and then gains new functionality and polish during successive updates? Or, would the more traditional waterfall approach — launching a fully formed website, all at once — be more appropriate?

How you answer this question depends largely on how many features you plan to include in a site. Given our needs, the Corporation pursued both approaches. Blenderbox launched the bulk of our website in waterfall fashion exactly one month ago, on July 27th. But large chunks — such as a new, online take on the “Carnegie Forum” — will roll out later this year. Phase2, meanwhile, pursued an agile strategy in releasing both Fable and FieldNotes: launching each as a minimum viable product in late 2014, then adding new features, fixing bugs, and making general improvements during regularly scheduled releases since then.

CMS v. Web Framework?

Does your organization publish simple, highly structured content on a regular basis? If so, you might consider building your site using a templated, easy-to-populate content management system. But if, instead, you’re seeking maximum flexibility in presenting content, and you don’t have a lot of it, you might benefit from using a web framework — although be aware that it can require more of a manual workflow.

The Corporation’s new website marries the best of both worlds. Our grants and publications records live in a content management system along with the metadata — headlines, dates, bylines — for our more than 1,000 news articles and press releases. We build our news pages one at a time, though, in a web framework because this approach allows us to add callouts and other unique enhancements tied to specific parts of a webpage. Our Fable platform, meanwhile, is a web framework that affords even more flexibility to customize interactive narratives containing multimedia, maps, timelines, annotated graphics, and more, all built on-page.

Your Thoughts, Please

The conversation about the Corporation’s website is ongoing and, indeed, we welcome your comments and suggestions about what we might improve. Contact us by email at externalaffairs@carnegie.org, or simply fill out our online comments form.

James Murdock, Director of Digital Strategies
James Murdock is the Corporation’s Director of Digital Strategies