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Town Pride

July 30, 2012

I am going to assume that just about anyone reading this has a certain amount pride in this town of Los Gatos. We may not always agree on how to show the pride, or even what exactly to be proud of, but I think we all feel this place IS pretty special. Lately, because of some questionable parking issues, I’ve been having to deal with the town government. While in the past, I’ve poked around the official town web site mainly out of curiosity, for the past month or so, I have had to use the site in earnest to deal with my parking issues. Prior to this time I found the site to be poorly designed and not well maintained. In my more recent and serious encounters with it, it was mainly useless and a waste of my time. I often had to resort to the old fashioned method of obtaining information, like calling a person and asking a question, once I got past a few sessions of phone tag.

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Here are just a few examples:

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****** Nearly every page has three navigation bars, one at the top of the page, one at the bottom of the page headline and then a left hand column with a list of links. There is lots of redundancy in these three collections of links and if there is any sort organization or prioritization in these navigational clusters it escapes me. None of them are even alphabetical. From the outset, the site is confusing and without focus.

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****** When you click on a Council member’s name to get an email address, the site invokes Microsoft’s Outlook email manager. As a long time internet professional, I do not and will not use the Microsoft product to manage my email and I am not going to install it just to access the Los Gatos site. I just want the email address to cut and paste how and where I want. Where is the simple email address? I had to call the town clerk to get the email addresses of the council members.

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****** In the Police Department’s section of the site I tried to get the extension of one of the Department’s members to leave him a message. On the beginning of the Police Department’s sub-site I referred to the list of links in the left hand column and found no link to a contact page. Near the bottom of the list I clicked on FAQs. When I went to FAQ Number 4: How do I get in touch with a specific officer or employee? The answer was to go to the directory in the web site or call the Police Department. However, there was no link in the answer to the directory or to the Department’s phone number, the usual sort of links that helpful sites utilize. I could find no link, nor even the word “Directory” on this web page. I put “Directory” into the Search window and it took me back to FAQ: How do I get in touch with a specific officer or employee? Programmers and philosophers call such redundancy a “logical loop,” something that gets you no where.

As I was writing this and checking my facts, I did discover a link in left hand column, a little further down in the list, labeled “Locate/Contact Us.” This DID take me to purloined directory. It’s only taken me two months to find it.

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****** If you are interested in checking out the town parking lots, you have to go to the police page and click on the Parking and Traffic link, follow a trail of links and you finally end up on a page that looks like something the Chamber of Commerce would produce, an image of a brochure listing many of the businesses in down town Los Gatos. One must scroll through six pages of this list to get pages seven and eight to finally see the map. Having built web sites for years (and having been a technical writer for years, before the Web was even thought of), I know it is not that hard to isolate the parking map and not have to display so much irrelevant material so as to confuse and lose the reader before they should even find the map they are looking for.

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****** A few years ago I was attempting to find a list of the members of several of the volunteer commissions. I’m not going to relate the details but it took several different search sessions and way too many hours to locate these lists.

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Several years ago, a friend and I were complaining about modern phone books. In these days of cell phones and the WWW, each phone service provider prints their own phone book, listing only those people and businesses who use their service. I wanted to find the number for the branch of the Wells Fargo Bank at Blossomhill and Los Gatos Boulevard. I went through several phone books we had stacked near the landline. I couldn’t find any reference to that branch. My friend and I developed an idea to set up an old time town registry that would include as many families and businesses that desired to be in it. Our plan was to build this list up and maintain it using volunteers, at no cost to the town government. We would just need a little support from the town to legitimize it. I called a person in the town government who I was told handled such efforts (I was also told this person didn’t live in our fair town). This person listened to me for a minute or two and then told me that town wouldn’t waste its money on such a project. That was the end of that.

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Too often I get the sense that town government doesn’t exist to serve the community but to serve its own ends, whatever those ends may be. The town web site certainly doesn’t provide information about the town in an efficient, professional or even reasonable manner.

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Everyone complains about the site, with explicitives, but no one seems to want to do anything about it.  It is a part of this town, a very public “gateway” part of this town that we can’t take pride in.

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