Saxa Politica: GU’s Woes on the World Wide Web

October 15, 2009

Georgetown’s Communications Department will take charge of giving the University website a badly-needed update, its first since 2002.

The project “will redo the homepage and content found just off of it,” but not the whole site, and is likely to take at least a year, according to University spokesperson Julie Greene Bataille.

Not that the update will be comprehensive—but any change would be an improvement over  the Georgetown website’s current state. In an age where the website has far outstripped the handshake as a barometer of first impressions, it is critical to Georgetown’s success as an institution that the update goes beyond altering a few key pages to an overhaul of the site.

The University website has many fundamental problems that necessitate sweeping change, and the most important, by far, is organization.

Two parallel menus bookend the top and bottom of each page’s heading. One menu divides the site by user type, while the other menu separates content by thematic region. This feature is typical of university websites, but unlike the websites of other universities, Georgetown’s site does not emphasize either way to navigate the site.

This makes the organization of the site less predictable to users, who aren’t sure which menu holds the information they seek. In general, most information is accessible through both menus, and frequently in different forms. Facts about Georgetown’s four undergraduate schools, for instance, can be found under “Learning and Teaching” in one menu, and, (after some clicking around), under “Current Students” in the other.

There is also the issue of reliability, as Alissa Lee (SFS ‘12) can attest to.

“My personal problem is that whenever I go to the SFS page, I get referred to the main page instead,”  Lee said. “One time, I got a page in Latin when I was changing websites.”

Lee also mentioned the website’s frequent “Page Not Found” error messages. Such faulty links and other errors need to be cleaned up across the board. The website’s wordy design, poor search function, and integration of My.Georgetown and MyAccess also need to be addressed.

When one considers the emphasis Georgetown places on its internationalism, its website should be in tip-top shape for the many members (and prospective members) of the Georgetown community who live in other countries. Georgetown’s prospective students visit the website for what may be their only look at the school before they arrive.

Georgetown’s domestic audience also deserves better. Compared to the sites of other American schools, Georgetown’s looks stodgy and bureaucratic. It’s an intolerable first impression to present to tech-savvy high school seniors or alumni donors looking for signs of Georgetown’s continued innovation and leadership.

Those involved with redesigning the website are still discussing what changes members of the Georgetown community would like to see. I, for one, hope they can find the money and energy for a full overhaul. In the face of the website’s current obstacles, a quick fix is woefully inadequate.

Cyber with Lily at


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