Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 24  |  Friday, February 16, 2001  |  Number 3
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Make Over of www.fnal.gov

by Judy Jackson


So many things began with high-energy physics. The universe. Everything IN the universe. The World Wide Web.

Fermilab wasn't around for the Big Bang, but the laboratory was definitely in on the early phases of that other transformational explosion, the birth and phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web. In 1992, Web creator and CERN computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee made the first one-click link between Fermilab's central computers and the CERN webserver.

Graduate Student Glenn Blanford Things haven't been the same since.

In those quaint and bygone days of yore, the people who used the Web were physicists sharing experimental data. In 1994, Fermilab made its first foray into the use of the new medium for a broader audience. The occasion was the announcement of evidence for the top quark at CDF. The first Fermilab "public" website was all about the top quark, and some 12,000 people checked in to meet the top when it made its debut in an April press conference. It seemed like a lot of hits at the time.

In 1996, Fermilab graduate student and part-time webworker Glenn Blanford gave the Fermilab site its current look and architecture. Subsites of increasing sophistication and a wide range of styles proliferated throughout the laboratory. The site became a treasure trove of "content," in Web parlance, with information on subjects as diverse as the speed of light, the accelerator schedule and the size of the Fermilab buffalo herd; but it could be tricky to find what you were looking for. By the end of the decade, with daily hits on the Fermilab site averaging 40,000 (they reached 270,000 for the 2000 sighting of the tau neutrino) from everyone from schoolchildren to U.S. senators, it was time for a change.

View Before

View After

The all new 2001 Fermilab website, designed for the times, has been in the works for more than a year. On March 1, people who click www.fnal.gov will see the results.

In February 2000, the Fermilab Office of Public Affairs began work on a new site that would keep the extraordinary content of the old one but make it more accessible and easier to navigate. Rather than simply applying a cosmetic fix to the laboratory's current site, the staff worked with Chicago Web design firm Xeno Media on a complete makeover that would achieve not just a new look but a new architecture and navigation scheme as well.

The primary goal for the new site was to make it possible for anyone who comes to the Fermilab website in search of information to find it quickly and easily. Need tickets for an Arts Series concert? Driving directions from O'Hare to the lab? A phone number? A high-resolution photo for a news story on neutrinos? A bird list? An explanation of particle acceleration? The new site design should make it easy to find. The site should have a good look and feel. Further, it should be clear to visitors that the site is "alive" and up to date, that there is always "somebody home" at Fermilab.

The makeover began with an analysis of who comes to the Fermilab website in search of what kinds of information. A survey of other science sites followed, to get an idea of what worked and didn't work for organizations like ours. Then, with help from Computing Division Web experts, Fermilab media specialists, physicists, prairie experts and many others in the lab community, work began on constructing the new site.

Xeno Media consultants designed the new home page to present a lot of information and still have a clean, uncluttered look. "Rollovers," available on nearly all browsers, will immediately bring up the information on each of ten "hubs." From the rollovers, or from the hubs themselves, users can navigate directly to lower-level pages.

For a color the choice was "NAL blue," a paint color created for Fermilab by the Rustoleum∆ paint company in the 1970s, when Fermilab was still the National Accelerator Laboratory.

Headlines in a home-page news box will display each day's hot topics from Fermilab. They'll link directly to featured news, press releases, articles, photos and other real-time information. Members of the Fermilab community with news tips can click the "Got news?" button to transmit their information. May the world one day learn of the discovery of the Higgs boson from the Fermilab home page news box.

Quick links will lead to press resources (Press Pass button) and FermiNews.

The new site has a page devoted to "Fermilab and the Community," designed to strengthen communication between the laboratory and the neighbors. The community page will not only provide information of particular interest to local residents but will also provide a direct e-mail link to the Office of Public Affairs, where neighbors can send questions and concerns for immediate response.

Part of the package for the new site includes templates and instructions so that anyone at Fermilab can construct a page, or redesign existing pages, to match the overall design scheme of the laboratory's website. Fermilab's Public Affairs Office and Xeno Media will provide technical and moral support for such efforts. Fermilab's Technical Division and Particle Physics Division, as well as CDF, DZero and MiniBooNE, have already begun the transition to the new style.

Public Affairs staff expect roll-out week to bring a few glitches. Most links to the Fermilab site will still work, but not all. The Web overhaul team will stand by to help with needed fixes.

As with most makeovers, the test will come in living with the new look. All makeovers are dazzling when they leave the salon, but even the best require an occasional touch-up. Fermilab's new face on the World Wide Web is likely to prove no exception.

last modified 2/16/2001   email Fermilab