Closets Within Closets: A Virtual Tsunami of Stuff

Comparing a website to a house is barely an abstraction. When building websites we use words like blueprint, architecture, structure, and making paths to describe the process of creation and use. Similar to our homes, websites create spaces and places where we hang out with people we know, play with new friends, study with classmates, and store the things that make life so interesting.

During the discovery phase of the web redesign project, we took a tour through the big house, www.dartmouth.edu, and you can’t imagine what we found! It is comprised of over 2,200 rooms (websites) and inside those rooms are more rooms, and those have closets within closets brimming with stuff.
This summer, Digital Pulp worked with us to drag all that stuff out onto the front lawn to take a closer look and decide what to keep and what to discard. Taking stock of a content inventory that large can overwhelm even the most seasoned information architects, but in the end everything will find a purpose, be properly organized, or be archived.
Here’s a general breakdown of the multitude of websites Dartmouth hosts:
  • 19 library sites
  • 24 athletics sites
  • 49 graduate school or related sites
  • 68 academic department or academic-related sites
  • 128 center, program, or project sites
  • 160 student organizations and activities sites
  • 165 administrative, service, and utility sites
  • 195 courses and labs sites – some dating back to the late 1990s
  • 100s of faculty, student and staff personal sites
  • … and a bounty of miscellaneous

Even in a virtual home, the accumulation of too much stuff has costs and consequences. A good example is the frustration of conducting a simple search only to bring up documents from a course offered in 1999 or information on an internship opportunity—that expired three years ago.

The tens of thousands of html pages, PDFs, and other documents on our public sites are continually crawled, indexed, and listed by the search engine. When a project, event, or course is complete, the associated website often persists, either due to neglect or a conscious decision to maintain a living site archive.

During the next year, Web Services will be working with our 200 website clients in a massive community house-cleaning project to remove old content, prioritize, and re-organize before migrating into the new design and content management system.

We hope you’ll join in and look through your closets as well. If you have an old site that no longer serves a purpose, send a note to the webmaster and request its removal. (Don’t worry, you’ll get a copy of all the materials to store offline.) We’ll all feel lighter.

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