19 Jan Wisconsin Historical Society Embraces New Web Site Technology
Madison, Wis. – The Wisconsin Historical Society’s old Web site is history. The society recently redesigned their site to include three RSS feeds: news, features and “Odd Wisconsin”, the latter of which exhibits quirky Wisconsin facts — like how enlisted men in Prairie du Chien snuck in their whiskey during Prohibition (hint: it involves a cat). WHS is the first government agency in Wisconsin to use this technology.
The XML-based RSS feeds allow specific content to be syndicated to other sites and personal Weblogs by having sites categorized as particular items and allowing news aggregators, like Radio UserLand, to distribute the information. This information can then be picked up by a variety of sources such as Internet search engines or newspaper Web sites.
According to James Ellis, WHS’s Web site producer, the feeds are a way to notify people of “new stuff and stuff that might have been forgotten.” Since only 1 percent of WHS’s collection is available online, the Odd Wisconsin feed is instrumental in showcasing what WHS has to offer offline. Ellis feels the new features, Odd Wisconsin in particular, will increase Web hits and attract a “missing market.”
“We’re handpicking neat things that attract ravage fans and create a small clientele. We want to get the word out and help them find [what they’re looking for],” Ellis said.
The first WHS site was created in 1997 and was designed to be an online brochure, consisting of approximately 10 pages. Over the years, more than 3,000 static pages were added along with 12 applications and this, according to Ellis, lent itself to “wonky navigation.” In addition to the new RSS feeds, the Web site redesign reorganized information, increased WHS’s homepage content and updated the site’s technology.
“We use Moveable Type, a blogging software, and it came with automatic RSS feeds, an automatic archive and automatic template,” Ellis said. The Web-based interface also makes it easier for individuals at other governmental institutions to add content to the site.
The site’s alterations were intended to make online research of the society’s many resources, from archaeology and government records to museum collections and film, easier.
“I hope other state agencies will do this,” Ellis said. “Maybe someday wisconsin.gov will have one big Wisconsin news page—one stop for what’s going on in the state.”
Kristin V. Johnson is a Madison-based writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.