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MIT Unveils New and Improved World Wide Web Site


Saul Blumenthal--The Tech

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

In order to increase accessibility, MIT's official World Wide Web site underwent a major redesign during the last four months. The new version at http://web.mit.edu was unveiled on Dec. 31.

Campus-Wide Information System Facilitator Suzana B. Lisanti, Julie A. Yang G, Matthew B. Wall '89, and Director of the Publishing Service Bureau Bruce M. Bernstein were the main team responsible for the redesign.

"The previous page had been in place for two-and-a-half years," Lisanti said. There was good feedback about the old Web page, but it was "time for a facelift."

The new homepage has links to nine separate categories: about MIT, academics, research, administration, resources, groups, news, a campus map, and a find section.

The categories were chosen so information could be accessed as intuitively as possible since the MIT page serves as a gateway to many other Web pages, Yang said.

Some of the categories on the old Web page contained too much information, Lisanti said. Academics and research were grouped together originally.

Links that were once somewhat hidden can now be found more easily. On the old MIT Web page, links to Web pages outside of MIT like those forecasting the weather or describing Boston had been obscurely hidden under the category "Activities On and Off Campus," said Wall, an applications development programmer. The links are now listed under the "resources" category.

Even though some links to external sites were added in the new site, most links, by far, are internal, Wall said.

The new Web site also has less text, Lisanti said. The group found that since there is so much information on the Web today, users want to read less.

Graphic to reflect MIT creativity

The changes to the Web page are also evident on a visual level.

The familiar graphic of Killian Court is gone, as are the gray backgrounds. They are replaced with a banner graphic that will be changed periodically and off-white backgrounds.

The banner at the top of the main page will change to reflect MIT's tradition of hacks, Yang said. However, all the graphics will have the letters "MIT" because of MIT's strong name recognition.

Like hacks, these graphics will add "the element of surprise and community humor," Lisanti said. If a hack appears on campus, it may also appear on the Web page. The graphic helps to promote the "enjoyment of poking fun at MIT that we all share."

There have been two such banners so far. The first had the letters MIT inside an animated snow globe. The second had the words "Massachusetts Institute of Technology" superimposed on the letters "MIT".

There will be a couple more banners in January, with new ones coming in full force in February, Wall said. All the banners so far have been designed by Wall, Yang, and Lisanti, but anyone is welcome to submit suggestions or comments.

The new Web site contains features like tables and background colors but not frames.

"Because it is MIT, our audience is very wide," Yang said. The Web browsers out there are very diverse in capabilities. The group decided to stay with a minimum set of HTML specifications while keeping an aesthetic side. This meant keeping tables but avoiding frames and Java.

The group also wanted to keep the MIT page viewable by text browsers, so the Web site does not rely heavily on graphics, Yang said.

The MIT Web page receives approximately 50,000 requests per day.

SIPB redesign under discussion

Another Web page used by MIT students is the Student Information Processing Board homepage at http://www.mit.edu.

There has been discussion about a redesign during the past few months, said Matthew K. Gray '97, a SIPB webmaster. The current format of the SIPB homepage is almost three years old. Because SIPB is a volunteer organization, a redesign would depend on whether someone has the time and motivation to change the Web site.

The SIPB page receives about 300,000 requests on a typical weekday, Gray said.