My frustrations with the biology department website have come to a boil, and the safety valve is this blog. So here comes some steam... which might be put to some good use in powering change?
What brought my hissyfit
on this time is that I was trying to advise someone who will be visiting Lund, who he might want to talk to while here. He does not know this department by heart, and, like everyone else, has a busy schedule, without oodles
of time scouring the website.
Which is what you would need to figure out who all is here and what they are doing. Our department website is, as a matter of fact organized by the politics of research groups very much like ancient Greece was divvied up in city states. To find people in our group, first you'd first have to click on 'research' from the main page of the biology department, then on a tiny little link called 'research groups', then on another tiny little link called 'phenotypic evolution'. I'm not saying that's a bad way to describe what we do, but hardly the only one. Further more, if you'd be interested in finding, say, me, you'd have to know intimately what kind of research I'm doing in the first place.
Right now, this website is reflecting political associations, and if you look very carefully, with 20 years of history of this department in mind, you can see political strife, where people do and don't want to be put in a certain box (read research group names).
That, in my humble opinion, is not what a website is used for, or should be used for. Political associations within a department are NOT interesting to anyone outside this department, and should not be known intimately in order to be able to navigate this website. Which, as Erik pointed out, may be a slightly naive way of thinking about a website. Well....
Ok, that was my rant. Here comes the constructive part. Let's break out of the tyranny
of the city states and have... democracy (yes, I have been reading up about ancient greek history, can you tell?). Let's be more fluid, let's stop playing hide and seek with visitors to the biology department website. I envision two ways of finding people/research:
1) By a person's name, which will link to their personal website.
2) By list of keywords which will link to a list of people's names who have indicated themselves that they want to be associated with those keywords. Yes, multiple. We all do diverse things. Let's celebrate diversity.... power to the people.. (ok, I get carried away..).
So if you were to surf around on the biology department website, and you'd click on 'research' you'd find 2 tabs: one labelled 'people', the other 'research subjects'. I would be listed on the people page with my straightforward name 'Machteld Verzijden', and on the research subjects page, I might be listed under a number of keywords, like 'evolution', 'behaviour','sexual selection','damselflies'... The research subjects page would show lots of keywords, maybe they'd be clickable themselves, then showing a list of names, or it could simply be a header with names of people under that word. Get creative, I think this could work well in a number of ways.
And so, the outsider visiting the department website would get an immediate overview of who is here (people site) and what kind of things we study (keyword site), and have several ways of finding people or research groups. This way, we don't have to remember who is (and who is not) associated with which small or large research group, the name of which might not make a lot of sense to outsiders. This way, no one will have to spent 1.5 hours finding where Anders Hedenström's webpage is, as was the case for Shawn, and me spending an equal amount of time where Jan-Åke Nilsson's page is located, without having to resort to mr Google. Also, if you don't know who is working in Lund, but you have a research interest, you might actually be able to find some people working in your area of interest.
There, glad that's off my chest. I'll get off my soap box now.