"CERN's image and identity needs to be portrayed better via its websites." Member of the Extended Directorate
CERN is the birthplace of the web but has a poor web presence.
With well over 10 000 websites, no architecture, few restrictions and nobody in charge, CERN’s web is often highly and justifiably criticised. The stakeholder survey underlined this: content is difficult to find, unstructured, unmanaged, often out of date or erroneous. The URL scheme is difficult to understand. Search tools are not effective. In addition there is no archival process, no approval process for site creation and there are no branding rules. Copyright and content ownership is poorly defined. Key information is being lost.
Information loss at CERN was what Tim Berners-Lee set out to fix with his proposal to build the web: http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html. More than 20 years later, CERN is facing an information crisis.
This communications strategy proposes a fresh drive to solve this problem, which is key to managing effective communications.
Resourcing a better web
The Communications Group has maintained various web channels (including the public website, users' website, press office website) with only a single FTE. Similarly, there are hundreds of units, individuals, departments and experiments across the organization with minimal resources creating ad hoc, piecemeal websites and applications that collectively make CERN's broken, patchwork web.
The approach to web publishing has been unplanned and reactive, and reactive engagement with social media limited. If online communications at CERN are to move forwards, this is not enough.
The effects of the poor web experience at CERN go well beyond damage to the Organization's image: this poor experience is detrimental to the core intellectual assets of the Organization, affecting the ability of people to find the information they need in order to do their work effectively.
The web experience and the information crisis cannot simply be fixed by building a new website, or improving certain applications – these problems require a wholesale rethink of CERN's information architecture. Specifically they require an information policy, and coordination of the organization's information assets.
Coordination of CERN's information assets requires a high-level position with the authority and resources to implement an information policy across the organization: a Chief Information Officer (CIO).
What could CERN's web be?
CERN currently has a web of documents. It needs a web of information: direct, dynamic access to data. For example:
- Jane wants to browse all of Steve's presentation slides.
- Michel wants to produce an application to visualize integrated luminosity delivered to his experiment in real time.
- Andrea wants to analyse helpdesk incident tickets in order to gather user data to inform the design of her next piece of software.
- Hans wants to understand exactly how his Member State contributes to CERN, and what it gets in return.
This begins with data, followed by the process: describe it and expose it.
A personal experience
Everyone has a unique information requirement profile: so CERN’s web should enable people to create their own information streams. Michel is a physicist. Andrea is a software developer. Hans is a member of the public. Jane is an administrator.
A managed web
The web should be managed, not controlled, using a few ground rules, a framework, some core tools, and coordination of resources. It should provide a single, great web experience across websites and applications. It should be managed by a CIO.
A strong brand on the web
CERN needs to position official communications clearly via the web. As a global brand, CERN needs a world-class public web presence. To this end, CERN should apply for the .cern top-level domain and establish a clear architecture in this new space.