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Managing the 1704 Website Project
Design and Production
Managing the 1704 Website Project
Introduction | Planning and Defining the Website | Building the Website | Publicizing the Website | Evaluating the Website
Project management is the glue that makes everything
work together. It's the imposition of order on an otherwise chaotic
mishmash of tasks that must be accomplished. It answers these
questions: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? How are we
going to do it? Who is going to do it? When are we doing it? How
will we know when we've done it? How will we know if it's any
good? On any project, one mind needs to be able to hold everything
and see the big picture. How is that accomplished?
The project manager should have experience managing
large, multi-faceted projects—preferably online projects (websites,
computer-based training, distance learning, etc.). She should
have experience talking in the language of online design and development
so she speaks the same language as the designer and programmer.
She should be familiar with the issues that arise in the area
of website content: finding good writers, choosing between a good
writer and a subject matter expert, the writing and revision process,
the implementation process—getting writing online, reviewed, and
revised. She should understand enough of the technology behind
the website to be able to grasp the development process, especially
when estimating resources—people, time, money. She should be a
good communicator, a consensus-builder, and a cheerleader.
We managed the 1704 website project by dividing it into five phases, developing processes for each phase, and then checking to make sure that those processes were followed.
- Planning and Defining the Website
- Designing the Website
- Building the Website
- Publicizing the Website
- Evaluating the Website
Planning and Defining the Website
If you have written a proposal (see
IMLS Proposal, 154K pdf file) and received grant money for
your project, you have most likely completed some of your project's
planning tasks, at least at a high level. Hopefully, at the very
least, you have determined the goals of the project and some ideas
of how you are going to accomplish those goals in terms of resources,
general timeline, and budget. A key additional task during the
planning stage involves preparation for the design and development,
or building, phase.
This preparation include the following tasks:
- Clarification of audience
- Formulation of detailed objectives and outcomes
- Determination of policies
- Detailed outline of development tasks (including a timeline
and schedule with milestones)
- Outline of content and formulation of a writing and review
- Definition of responsibilities based on a compilation of resources
- Development of processes (for example, design and development,
writing, reviewing, revision, getting content online, etc.,
and standardization of those processes in the form of a Standards
Manual or Writing Guidelines (see
Writing Guidelines, 33K html file)
- Formulation of an evaluation process
- Determination of the technology necessary to accomplish the
goals of the project
- A process for keeping track of everything
Often, this phase results in a Project Plan which describes the design, development, and evaluation
activities. Or, if your proposal was detailed enough, you may spend
a planning stage fine-tuning what was in your proposal.
We were fortunate to be granted an NEH Planning Grant which allowed us a six-month planning process. During these six months, we were able to bring many of the players from the different cultures to the museum to meet face-to-face and hammer out key content and design issues. It was during one of these meetings that we realized we needed a tab approach to the multiple perspectives of the site, thus allowing each culture to tell its own story.
Building the Website
In the development phase, the team moves into the actual building of the website. It is helpful if the planning phase includes time to develop a number of processes that occur concurrently during the development phase. These processes include communication among members of the project team; the research, writing, review and revision process for content (both text and illustration) creation; implementation—or, getting the content into the website; and formative evaluation—a process for reviewing the online content and making sure it is correct and "works"—both in terms of its accuracy and its functionality.
Communication was a challenge: at various points in the four-year-long
project, over 60 people worked part-time on the website, at one
point or another, and most of them were scattered geographically.
Only the project manager and one part-time historian were resident
at the museum. As a result, we held very few in-person meetings.
Most of our communication occurred via phone and email and postings
to a team website (see screen shot of Team website below). The
project manager compiled task lists (see
Scene Schedule, 59K pdf file), (at a later point in time these
task lists were replaced by Trackers—see screen shot of Scene
Tracker below, and described in greater detail in the Technology
section); monitored progress and issued regular status reports;
and compiled a Standards Manual that recorded decisions made by
the team. Only a few meetings were held at the museum.
Content development began in the design phase with a basic categorization
of the major kinds of content that we would include. In our case,
the kinds of content we created were historical scenes written
in a tabbed format, character narratives, labels for artifacts,
a voices & songs section, a glossary, brief descriptions of maps,
essays, timeline content, and a Teachers' Guide. We listed the
content for each category and then developed an outline for the
longer pieces. The tasks of identifying, outlining, and writing
the content occurred simultaneously. For example, while we were
outlining one historical scene, we were busy writing and reviewing
and revising another, and putting yet another online. At the same
time, we were outlining one character narrative, writing and reviewing
and revising another, and putting another online. In some instances,
we had more than one writer working on one category of content
at a time. We used Trackers to keep track of each of the content
We hired a variety of writers. Our two historians took on a small part of the writing, but their time was mostly allocated to outlining the content and reviewing other writers' work. Several scholars wrote essays for the website. We hired a writer to write many of the character narratives; we also hired three native scholars for to write narratives of Native people's lives. We hired a material culture expert to track down and write labels for artifacts. The project manager wrote some text and served as an overall editor for most of the content. All text content was reviewed extensively for accuracy and writing style.
Review and Revision
We developed a rigorous content review process that spelled out
in great detail the steps writers and reviewers had to follow
to produce a piece of writing, ready to be put online. For example,
for tabbed content, one of our historians filled in a template
for each scene's content, (see
Content Outline Template, 166K pdf file) the content of which
was reviewed by each culture's reviewers. Reviewers were contacted
during the planning phase and sent letters (see
Advisors' Letter, 47K pdf file) explaining how they should
review and give feedback, and how they would be paid. Reviewers
from each culture were told that they had to agree among themselves
on the changes requested, so that the museum was not in the position
of having to mediate among the various voices within each culture.
The historian revised the outline based on the feedback and submitted
the outline to the writer.
The writer did research (if necessary) based
on the outline, then submitted a draft of the various tabbed perspectives
for the historical scene she was writing; at most, there were
six tabs—the introduction tab and a tab for each of the five cultures.
Advisors for each culture, plus a group of scholars, reviewed
the content and submitted revisions. The writer and historian
reviewed the feedback, and the writer—in consultation with the
historian—made the necessary changes. The advisors and scholars
reviewed the revised text. All of this review (including directions
for how to review and give feedback (see
Reviewer Directions, 4K html file) took place on the team
website, with feedback sent to the project manager who distributed
it to the writer and historian. When the content was deemed ready
for implementation, the project manager sent it to the implementor—a
college student who worked at a fairly low rate, compared to the
programmers of the website. Other pieces of content, including
illustrations, were treated in a similar manner. We followed this
iterative process for approximately two years.
Once a piece of content was ready to be put online, our historian readied the file to be sent to the implementor by doing the following:
- Checking proper format, including heads and subhead, footnotes, and further reading in the case of essays and character narratives
- Adding glossary term definitions if the writer had not previously done so
- In the case of essays, character narratives and some historic scenes, determining the illustrations that would accompany the piece, their location, their captions, and a link from the caption to an artifact label if the illustration illustrated a website artifact
Once the implementor added the content to the
development site (See the Technology
section of "How To" to learn how we did this.), the historian
and writer reviewed the content and made any necessary changes
before the project manager sent an email to the reviewers to review
the content online. We instructed reviewers to send feedback to
the project manager who, in turn, passed it on to the historian
and writer for revisions if necessary. Final changes to the online
material were made by the historian, the writer, or the implementor.
A Standards Manual is a written expression of standards that are agreed upon conventions, subject to review, that guide you in developing a website. It should be flexible and serve as a model, or guide, that writers, designers, developers, and programmers can follow in spirit, if not in fact. The content of a Standards Manual should be subject to review and not cast in stone, changing to accommodate new understandings and different project needs. It should be added to, reviewed, evaluated, and changed if necessary, in an ongoing effort to make it current and helpful. The Standards Manual should be a working model and evolving document.
Why is it helpful to have a Standards Manual? Developing and writing down standards does the following:
- Saves us from having to reinvent the wheel each time we add content to the website
- Saves us from having to decide what style and conventions to use, remember them, and undo costly errors that result from misunderstanding, or inaccurately remembering them
- Makes everyone feel a part of the process
- Allows us all to benefit from the combined wisdom of everyone’s experience
- Helps website visitors learn by providing clarity and consistency,
enhancing aesthetics, increasing interactivity and learner control,
making content educationally sound and internally consistent
- Makes the content of a website look like it was written by one person
Our Standards Manual (see
Writing Guidelines, 33K html file) includes the following
- "How to write" topics for the various types of writing that
appear on the website (for example, tabs, character narratives,
artifact descriptions, rollovers, etc.)
- Using templates
- Writing style: capitalization, spelling, terminology
- MS Word document guide
- XML document guide
Publicizing the Website
Publicity was an important part of our project
plan both because we wanted to make sure that people visited our
website and because one of our grants was a National Leadership
Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. We were
charged with the task of disseminating our website as a model
for other institutions. Our detailed publicity plan developed
over time; it began in the planning phase and in the proposals
we wrote, and continued into the design and development phase
in the form of a series of meetings with the marketing committee.
These are the primary activities we set in motion to publicize
the 1704 website. Each activity involved planning, task lists,
the allocation of staff time, possible budget considerations (especially
in terms of the design), development and distribution of postcards
and bookmarks, and an informal assessment of its effectiveness:
- Pre-site: Before the site was launched, we added a "pre-site"
that provided a preview and description of what the site would
be. We linked to this "pre-site" from the museum's existing website.
- Video preview and press release: We developed and disseminated
a four-minute video tape and press release about the website
to key media outlets.
- Promotion at museum events: We advertised the website to over
60,000 people at six different Old Deerfield Craft Fairs, (see Craft Fair website)
sponsored by PVMA.
- Radio and TV: We disseminated promotional materials to radio
and television stations in the weeks leading up the launch.
- Related events in other media: WFCR (PBS affiliate) aired
a raid series "Captive Lands, Captive Hearts," (see
Captive Lands, Captive Hearts) in the week leading up to
the launch; this series has now been incorporated into the website.
Additionally, we sponsored eight performances of the opera,
the Captivation of Eunice, presented during a second commemoration
weekend in Deerfield in July of 2004.
- Bookmarks: We sent out 50,000 bookmark to libraries and school
- Website announcement postcards: We mailed 14,598 postcards
announcing the website to regional subscribers to Smithsonian
Magazine, and 5,000 post cards to PVMA members and museum mailing
lists. We distributed thousands of postcards at conferences.
- Website "How To" postcards: Because we received a National
Leadership grant, we announced that the technology behind the
website would be free to non-profits by mailing 11,000 postcards
to mailing lists from the New England Museum Association (NEMA),
the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH),
and the American Museum Association (AAM).
- Related exhibit: We attended planning meetings for a joint exhibit
with Historic Deerfield, Inc.
- Town meetings: We attended several town meetings with Historic
Deerfield, Inc. to plan for the 300th anniversary commemorative
- Official launch ceremony: We launched the website to a standing-room-only
crowd during February, 2004, and again in July of 2004. An estimated
3,000 people visited Deerfield at launch.
- Conferences: Staff delivered presentations at conferences.
- Awards: The website won Honorable Mention in the Best Online
Exhibition category at the Museums & the Web Conference in Vancouver,
Canada, in April 2005 (see
Museum & The Web Awards page); it won a National Award
of Merit from AASLH in July of 2005.
- Published articles: The project manager and designer authored
five online articles about the website: for example, Telling
an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield in eLearn
article) and Digital Deerfield 1704: A New Perspective
on the French and Indian War, (see
article) in First Monday, an internet peer-reviewed journal.
- Consultations: The project manager and designer consulted with
other museums/libraries interested in learning more about our
process and website development.
- Presentations at local educational groups: The project manager
and museum staff delivered many workshops about the website
to teachers and students.
Evaluating the Website
As indicated in the evaluation section (see
Evaluation Plan, 46K pdf file) of our proposal, we divided
our evaluation activities into two phases: formative evaluation,
which tells us how we can make the website better based on user
feedback, and summative evaluation, which tells us if the goals
of the website are being met.
How Can We Make the Website
The formative evaluation answered the question "How can
we make the website look and work better?" and took place at two
key points (pre-public premier: September–February 03; post public
premiere: April 03–March 05). It was primarily qualitative in
nature. We gathered information from observation, interviews,
formal focus groups, and questionnaires (see
Questionnaire, 45K pdf file). This data allowed us to perform
an interface design analysis and, in turn, inform the design and
development of the website so that it was constantly refined and
fine-tuned to better accomplish its objectives. During this phase
we gathered data to answer questions in the following areas: 1)
Use - Who is using the site and why?; 2) Usability - Is the user
interface easy to navigate? Does the user get lost?; 3) Content
and Clarity - Are story lines and terminology clear?; 4) Content
Accuracy - Is the content accurate - determined through advisor
reviews); 5) Effectiveness of Content and Presentation - What
did you learn that you did not already know? How would you improve
In all cases, we tried to select a cross-section of users who represented differences in sex, age, geographical location, race, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic background. For example, college classrooms offer racial, geographic, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity among men and women students. Local libraries and craft fairs provide participants with ethnic, cultural, religious, socio-economic and age differences among men and women.
In April of 2005, we volunteered our website for a "Crit Session" at the Museums & the Web Conference in Vancouver, Canada. Volunteer judges from other museums evaluated the website primarily in terms of ease of use. This feedback from colleagues proved extremely helpful, since these professionals are both exposed to many similar site issues and have given a lot of thought to the same kinds of challenges that we encountered.
Is the Website Meeting
The project manager began summative evaluation in early spring
of this 2005, with plans to complete it by the end of September,
2005. The evaluation employed both quantitative and qualitative
measures to assess the degree to which the website project achieved
- Has the website reached a large and diverse audience?
- Does the website increase users' knowledge of the event?
- Does the website contribute to a greater awareness of, understanding
of, and/or appreciation for, the various perspectives that define
the historical event?
- Is the website successful in helping other institutions develop
their own multi-perspective website?
Quantitative Methodology: We gathered
web server statistics to measure how the site was being used—for
example, the number of "hits" to the website, most frequently
"hit" pages, number of searches and search targets, pages bookmarked,
and length of time on the website. Our programmer developed a
way to track clicks within a Flash presentation in order to evaluate
the extent to which users actually explore multiple perspectives.
We also developed an online survey and an online game (developed
using Flash) that can yield additional information about respondents'
understanding of the multiple perspectives in the website.
We gathered website statistics (see
Website Stats, 61K pdf file) using the software program
Webtrends. And although you can gain a great deal of detail about
traffic on a site using this tool, so far, we have graphed only
the following information: number of hits, pages views, visitor
sessions, and unique visitors. Hits have relatively little meaning
since a hit is tallied for each file of graphics on each page.
But number of pages viewed has meaning since it is just that—whole
pages being viewed. The pages viewed number is much greater than
visitor session since most visitors view more than one page in
a session. Likewise, there are more visitor sessions than unique
visitors since a given visitor may come to the site a number of
We can see that when the website launched, we
had a great number of page views and visitor sessions; then the
numbers dropped off, decreasing from 56,603 and 15,253 respectively,
to 18,010 and 6,772. The numbers gradually grew from there, tapering
off during the summer when teachers and students are not using
the website. Again, in the fall of '04, the numbers rose sharply,
coinciding with the opening of school, and then fell off again
during the holidays. In 2005, we can see that the numbers took
a huge jump in February and March, most likely due to the increase
in conference activity, continued publicity around the 1704 commemoration
weekend, online articles about the website, and strong continued
use by the educational community.
Preliminary online perspectives tally:
Periodically, we look at the visits to each of the historic scenes
and determine which cultural tabs are visited for each scene.
For example, these are the visitation numbers for the Attack scene
tabs during a four month time period in the spring of 2005: Intro-1,126;
English-290; French-257; Kanienkehaka-251; Wendat-222; Wobanakiak-206.
We are able to say that 166 visitors viewed all five cultural
perspectives. This is somewhat disappointing until one realizes
that these hits include visitors who came to the scene and then
decided they did not want to be there. It is also true that some
people who visited the English tab did not visit the other tabs.
This general pattern of people visiting all the tabs in roughly
the same numbers generally holds true for the historical scenes
that have more than one perspective.
Online survey quantitative data:
All categories were judged on a 7-point scale, with 1 indicating
the positive extreme and 7 indicating the negative extreme; for
example, ease of finding information was judged 2.3 on a 7-point
scale with 1 indicating very easy and 7 indicating very difficult.
Here are results during a four-month timeframe in the spring of
- Encounter with technical problems - 2.16
- Clarity of writing style - 1.7
- Trust in the information presented - 1.76
- Pleasure in the look and feel of the site - 1.56
- Ease of navigation - 1.8
- Knowledge of the raid before visiting the website - 4.56
- Knowledge of the raid after visiting the website - 2.56
- Awareness of different points of view before visiting the
website - 5.17
- Awareness of different points of view after visiting the website
- Extent to which the website caused respondents to change their
mind about something - 4.78
- Fully 38 % of respondents said that they felt more strongly
about something after visiting the website.
Qualitative Methodology: Qualitative
methods of data collection include online survey questions, questionnaires
filled out by teachers and students, an online game, unsolicited
email feedback, and informal comments at conferences and workshops.
Online survey questions:
These questions indicate that most respondents came to the website
either through school assignments, a research need, or because
someone told them about it. Most problems encountered related
to slow Internet speed or links not working. When asked the single
most important thing that they will remember about the website,
the most common responses indicated the multiple perspectives
(and non-judgmental nature of the site), the informative content
(reasons for the raid, personal stories, struggles, houseplans),
and the graphics and illustrations. There was no aspect of the
website that stood out as being least liked, although respondents
did mention slow speed, links not working, and the need for current
information about Deerfield. Suggestions for making the website
better included adding character narratives, adding a "graphics-lite"
version for people who don't have fast connections, adding a search
function, adding more content, and making maps bigger.
Other questions on the survey yielded information like the following:
When asked what they learned from the website, we can see that some stereotypes were erased, as indicated by this comment:
"I did not know that there were
French people with the Indians in the raid. I had only heard the
'savage' Indians had attacked."
Two additional questions designed to elicit information about respondent's sensitivity to other perspectives yielded these four comments:
"I am more sensitive to others views."
"I feel more strongly about "injustice."
"It is foolish to look at any historical event from one perspective. Great website. We're a Museum Studies class in New Mexico."
"Because I've learned things that I did not know."
Feedback responses through the website have been many and varied.
They range from genealogists researching their family trees, to
teachers who are using the website in their classrooms, to history
scholars from museums. By and large, all comments have been positive,
even laudatory. It's a good idea to enable visitors to the website
to email someone on the website team; this avenue of informal
feedback is both popular with visitors and unstructured enough
to allow a variety of response—much of it informative and useful,
and it allows the web developers to contact the visitor providing
the feedback and engage in a dialog, if desired.