ANB park website redone

25 August 2006

I see that the home office has deployed a new standard web design for National Park sites. The Antietam National Battlefield (ANB) Park is among those with the new look. I’ve not found a formal announcement of the change by either the National Park Service (NPS) or the Park. Don’t know why not – the sites look good. This change seems to have been made between 27 July and 2 August this year. Thanks to Tom Shay for the alert on TalkAntietam.

screenshot of new ANBP homepage
ANBP homepage

I live in a glass house on the web, so it’s hardly wise to throw stones, but let me introduce you to the new site and how well I think it works. I’ll find an interested party at the Park to send this to, also. FWIW.

I’ve been hearing for at least three years now about a massive overhaul of the Battlefield website and contents. The current offering is no such animal. It’s more structural than content change.

More than just a pretty face, though, this new design does a very nice job of incorporating and standardizing (normalizing?) the scattered content that the ANB has been adding, piecemeal, over the last 10 years or so. I find this a marked improvement.

New text size and printer friendly controls at the top of the page are welcome additions, and the image rotator with it’s picture-postcard views of the battlefield survives in the masthead.

It’s easier to get right to the main features of the new site, where before you had to jump off to other site ‘portals’ to get to the good stuff.

Material about the battle itself is found under a couple of menu choices on the left of the home page; most of it in people, places, stories, and collections under History & Culture. There are also picture galleries behind Photos & Multimedia–with the Hope paintings, Gardner photographs, a new collection of old battlefield postcards, and more–and a set of guided educational activities in For Teachers.

The ANB website has never been either deep or wide with historical information, but then it’s purpose is to introduce the battlefield, not cover the subject exhaustively. I’m pinin’ for the day they get Ranger Talks and the trove of unique information from the battlefield library online [note to self: think about volunteering ...], but otherwise feel they do a good job of giving most people what they probably seek.

Other site links provide information about the park’s Nature & Science, along with how to Plan Your Visit and Support the Park with the Partners/WMIA.

A nice feature at the bottom of every page is a factoid with related illustration. These seem to populate at random from a group of maybe two dozen snippets. Typical is this gem:

ANB web factoid

As much as I like the new look and navigation, I do have some quibbles.

Images in a couple of the galleries–portraits, in particular–can’t be copied or downloaded. Text states “this photo is copy protected and cannot be downloaded”. This is just wrong. These are public domain images hosted on US Government servers and put there at taxpayer expense. I hope the Park staff will see the problem there.

Also, and this is a leftover from the old site, I believe there were 21 Medals of Honor issued for service at Antietam. The ANB online chart misses Private John Johnson, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. I noticed this one years back, but never got around to asking Park folk about it – maybe this’ll remind me …

And a small embarrassment: the Accessibility, FOIA, and Notices links at the very bottom of each page are broken. They act the same way on the Park Service HQ site, so that’s where the problem is.

Like I said, quibbles. Overall this is a real step up for the Park, and I like the way it looks.
_____________________

Techno-rant

  • There is evidence here that the Park Service HQ hasn’t yet heard of, or doesn’t believe in, the semantic web or understand why standard XHTML might be a good idea. The site structure shows an abysmal mix of obsolete html tables for page layout, rampant javascript, mixed stylesheet and inline styling, and flash-delivered gadgetry. Can you say “quirks mode“? Think ahead people!
  • The site is labeled XHTML 1.0 -Transitional. It isn’t. And why was that a good choice, anyway? I say either use good old HTML4 or full XHTML1.0. Transitional? That suggests–and I’ve taken this way out myself on occasion–that some things were “too hard” for the programmers to make fully compliant with XHTML.
  • The NPS apparently uses a commercial content management system (CMS) by PaperThin, which is delivering this kludgy HTML to our browsers. Looking at the architecture of this CMS, the result may be a matter of how the Park Service implemented the package (adding javascript, table layouts, inline styles to the standard templates, for example) or it might be inherent in the CMS. In either case, I’d guess this is set by Park Service HQ and the individual Parks are limited to plugging their material into the database and watching the system do the rest.

2 Responses to “ANB park website redone”

  1. scott s. says:

    IMHO they missed the boat on their map resources. The monuments are provided only in a pdf. Otherwise all I could find were jpg images of maps.

    Would be nice to have a shapefile with the monuments. I assume they have, or could easily get, accurate GPS coordinates for all of them. NPS could work something out with USGS I would hope.

  2. Brian Downey says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for stopping in.

    You’re just touching the tip of the iceberg here, and make an excellent point–specific to mapping and GIS, but also more generally. There is vast potential for presenting information about the battle and the Park online. The tools are there.

    I don’t know that the Park has the staff resources, however. Or the mission, particularly.

    For the moment, I’m guessing this kind of project will be up to AotW, Virtual Antietam, Photographic Tour, and/or other ambitious individuals, consortia, or teams (to be named later).

    In the current case, it does not appear that the Park Service meant this new web look to be a clean-slate redesign. There are some new items, but this is largely old wine in a new, easier opening bottle.

    How about you? It sounds like you know something about the subject – how about getting busy? :)

    BD

Please Leave a Reply