(Update 11 pm, 8-Aug-2012. We will update this page as news and tips come in.) With no advance public notice, today the City of Vancouver has launched a major revision of its website, vancouver.ca. No information, explanation or guide has been provided publicly about what has changed, how the public will have access to past records, and so on. No press release appears publicly, although Ms. Bula in State of Vancouver quotes a statement from the City, and The Province now covers the story, saying the new website cost $3 million. While it appears the City’s intention was to make the site user-friendly, many groups and individuals are already asking what has been or will be removed from public access. A substantial portion of the previous website is no longer directly available, as the new webpage displays an error when attempting to lookup bookmarked pages (Error: “Oh no, the page you are looking for does not exist!”). For example, this link brings up an error. However, a temporary undocumented workaround by prefixing the page with “former.” works as in this link here (as of this writing).
Of particular concern is the fact that the City is undergoing major discussions about urban planning, at an accelerated pace, in several neighbourhoods (Marpole, Grandview-Woodland, West End, Chinatown, Eastern Core, Downtown Eastside), also talking about a citywide community plan, and developing a detailed Regional Context Statement — during the current term of City Council. And the current Council has embarked on other major policy initiatives and new directions for the City.
CityHallWatch believes that it is important for the public today and in the future to have full and easy access online to past City records, including staff reports, all documentation and materials related to policies and decisions, and more. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell gave an idea of how things could work against the people: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” Read on for actions citizens should take.
At the moment, it appears that the main page for the former website is still available here: http://former.vancouver.ca
There is of course no technical reason why the new webpage should not try to find a bookmark to an old page. It’s unfortunate that the server instead posts an error (as illustrated here).
It’s also worthwhile to note that rather than using the industry-wide free Apache web server, the City of Vancouver instead spends taxpayer’s money to pay for the Microsoft IIS webserver. Other cities in the world are moving to Open Source software on their systems to reduce IT expenses, the notable forerunner in this area is Munich, Germany.
CityHallWatch tips: We urge people to download and save copies of important information, as the City has not made any guarantee that this will remain available. In particularly many neighbourhoods may find it useful to have copies of all data regarding their neighbourhoods. For example, you may find these useful:
Community profiles: http://former.vancouver.ca/community_profiles/CommunityList.htm
ACTION: Write firstname.lastname@example.org and strongly urge them to clearly link to the ”former” site on the new home page so that anyone looking for information will know to look in both places. As of today, the search function does not cover the former site.
To our knowledge, there was no official advance announcement of the website changeover. More commentary: The only advance word in the public domain was leaked from insiders to blogger/reporter Frances Bula, who covered the story in several posts over the past few days.
The only City mention of the new website we have found so far (afternoon of August 8) is under News, and it asks for public input. We urge you to write comments asking for the City to promise that all past data will continue to be available and searchable, and linked from the main new website page. Excerpt of City site:
Of course we welcome compliments, but what we are most interested in is how we can improve the website:
Did you find what you were looking for?
Did you search for something and you couldn’t find it?
Did you browse a section and were surprised by what was there?
Did we display the wrong picture of a neighbourhood?
CityHallWatch has phoned the project leader, Laurie Kent, and corresponded with the City. Neither Ms. Kent nor the City has answered any questions yet as of August 8. Below are some of the questions we asked on August 1, days BEFORE the new website was launched.
- What changes are being considered?
- When did the work begin and when is it expected to be implemented?
- If links and information are to be removed, will they be archived, and if so, how will the public be able to access them.
- Of particular interest are the following: all content that was available online on rezoning/development applications, meeting documents, staff presentations, applicant presentations, all video archives, and more.
- Will these all be available at the same links? Or available at all?