An email arrives from web guru and Lib Dem county councillor Tim Prater, who is the public-facing half of Prater Raines, the hugely successful company that now supply local websites to a large proportion of the nation’s Liberal Democrat local parties, council groups and MPs. (The full, awesome list, from Aberconwy to Yorkshire and the Humber is here). It’s no small boast that they probably run more political websites than anyone else in the country.
They have a good track record of innovating and keeping content going online. But things have changed in the seven years since they first started to provide their content management system to the party, and they are now proposing a major upgrade to the service they offer.
On the cards is new, better control over layout and appearance, a greater ability to change the front page, and more contemporary “reveal” and top-down menus. Web 2.0 aspects and integration with a vast array of social networks will work better; on the management side, the user interface will also improve so that managing these websites gets better, easier and faster.
Crucially, they’ve promised to make sure that any changes they make don’t clash with the general election, as and when it comes. The initial plan is to launch “Foci2″ around Christmas.
But before they do that, in true Liberal Democrat style, they are launching a consultation to ask users what it is they would want from a new, improved system:
We want your ideas. What would you do to improve your site? And would you be prepared to do some “beta testing” of the new site as we develop it before release so that you can tell us what you like, and what needs improving?
To send us your views and ideas, please email us at <!–
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//–>foci2 – foci2.hat.praterraines.co.uk.spam.com (this is spam bot hidden email address, replace .hat. with @ and remove .spam.com for the real one) – we’ll take them all on board, but will prioritise. Some will be ideas to include for a site relaunch, some to be added later, and some we may want to talk about – and we’ll do so. If you have views on what currently works well for you, what doesn’t, and what you wish it could do, please tell us!
And if you could help with user testing – either from home or by meeting us in person and working through the beta site – then we’d also like to hear from you. We’ll be at Federal Conference and hope to see you then, but will also set up meetings across the country in the next few months to fully test the new site with real people before we go live.
Do remember some of the problems with some Prater Raines sites are “horse-to-water” problems. One of the key strengths – and weaknesses – of the system they sell is that beyond providing a platform, it’s up to the client local party what they put on their website. So if your criticisms relate to updating, or to content, of a specific site, then those things are probably not something that Prater Raines can help with.