A site for fresh eyes for Anoka County residents

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2014 - 3:46 PM

Anoka County has gotten the message from residents — and responded with a new website.

Anoka County’s new website is a total departure from its previous one. Yet, Web users entering the site for the first time are likely to feel like they’ve been here before.

The first things you notice are the ever-changing photographs of the county: the sun bursting through clouds and illuminating the prairie; bark peeling from a birch tree; the frozen edges of a river; wildflowers; geese.

You’ve seen these images before. You may even have taken one of these pictures.

“Our government website is going where all government websites need to go,” said Paul Burtness, the county’s webmaster. “We’re engaging the public.”

The county is looking not only for the public’s feedback on the site (www.co.anoka.mn.us), but also its contributions. Sure, the majority of the photos you see on the main page were taken by staff. But some were from residents. In fact, 120 had been submitted as of last week.

What the county has not received are many inquiries as to why the change was made.

The county acted because more than ever, residents are likely to access the website using mobile devices.

“We wanted to design something that would look good and be easy to use on a phone or tablet,” said Martha Weaver, the county’s public information manager.

Weaver noted data from Pew Research. As of January, 90 percent of American adults have a cellphone and more than half — 58 percent — have a smartphone. Nearly half own tablets and one-third own an e-reader.

“With that in mind, we want to be more mobile friendly,” Weaver explained to readers on the new Web page.

After browsing the photos on the main page, the next thing you notice is the search box, front and center.

“It’s pretty bold,” Weaver said. “ ‘Google’ is a verb now. We tend to Google everything before we navigate.”

The search box will soon be equipped with what’s called “predictive” search, Weaver said. As more queries are directed at the website, the search engine will learn what people most often seek. Instructions would be inserted as the user types.

Burtness, the county’s webmaster for 13 years, is ecstatic about the overhaul to the page.

“This is the direction I’ve always wanted to be headed toward,” he said. “With the newest technology and the best response to what the public is looking for, it really unleashes the ability of our county staff to respond directly.”

The change has been more than a year in progress. The county did a national search — online, of course — for a partner to help create an “out-of-the-box design,” Weaver said. Anoka County chose Civic Plus, a vendor from Manhattan, Kan.

The website remains a work in progress — by design. Civic Plus’s contract calls for another overhaul within four years.

“This is just the beginning as we grow our new digital campus,” Weaver writes on the Web page.

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