Knives come out for Brisbane Council portal

Ourbrisbane.com, an ambitious new Web site by Australia's largest local government, has drawn more kicks than kudos from professional developers.

They suggested that Brisbane City Council's portal suffers from branding problems, comes across as a billboard for Telstra and treads on the toes of non-taxpayer-funded sites.

An unrepentant Lord Mayor Jim Soorley counter-attacked by labelling critics short-sighted and negative, and said the new site's shortcomings were being systematically resolved.

The council has been seeking public feedback on its new multimillion-dollar Web portal.

Computerworld asked three of the State's leading Web developers, f5, DCG and Speedwell Media, for their views. Their report cards gave ourbrisbane.com good marks for local content, especially council-related content, but they wondered whether the BCC fully understood the financial burden of ongoing marketing that is necessitated by a portal.

Considering the funds reportedly dedicated to the site, "it is an unspectacular result", said Speedwell Media director Michael Wernicke. "I suspect they will be adding further features over the next few months to improve things, but it will be virtually worthless if they don't have a sufficient budget for marketing."

According to DCG chief executive Ben Shapiro, the site's branding needs an overhaul. "It carries mixed messages and images of unrelated places, which are quite paradoxical to the concept of a localised community information portal."

Warren Wood, f5's managing director, liked the Web site's "clean, simple, fast-loading design" but was disappointed by its lack of streaming media and rich functionality,That could be anything from an audio and/or video welcome from the Lord Mayor to a "StoryBridgecam" or a traffic cam, he suggested.

Ourbrisbane's chat and e-mail elements, plus shopping directories, business listings, news and movie reviews, were "misplaced" offerings that other commercial sites were already doing better.

"The site should be focused on what commercial sites don't do, like introducing people to Brisbane, paying council bills, and bus timetables," Wood said.

He labelled the sale of Telstra services on the site as "a bit transparent" and said it raised the danger of creating the impression that the site was a promotional billboard for Telstra, not Brisbane.

Wood also suggested the BCC should integrate the Web site with its award-winning call centre.

Lord Mayor Soorley admitted that the site's content was thin at the moment "but we are working on building depth". Over the next three months, 49 commercial council-related transactions such as parking fine payments and dog licences would appear.

Soorley rejected criticism from "vested interests" that ourbrisbane.com was treading on the turf of the private-sector online services industry. Brisbane was a "city of villages" and ourbrisbane.com represented the best chance for businesses located in those villages to be found by online customers, he said.

"We are trying to make this the first city in the world to gives its small-to-medium businesses the capacity to trade online and be found."

In the longer term, ourbrisbane.com will create extra customers for the online industry as new arrivals at the site look to spruce up their online appearance, Soorley argued. "I would have thought these guys [critics] would be turning off the negativity and singing our praises."

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