Last month, Suzanne Smith Sundburg was preparing to make public comments at an upcoming Arlington County Planning Commission meeting. As someone who is a passionate about weighing in on local issues, she uses the county website often for research and updates on county happenings.
But, starting in mid-October when the new website launched, Sundburg started having issues accessing information through the county website. She’d click a link and it would take her to a dreaded “Page or Site Not Found” error message.
“I searched for something on Google and tried to click on several of the county links that popped up. All were broken,” Sundburg writes to ARLnow in an email about her troubles. “So I then went to the site to see if I could use a more direct method to find what I needed. No dice.”
The changeover to the new site caused links from both search engines and websites like ARLnow to break. As of last week, one link-checking website listed nearly 900,000 broken links to arlingtonva.us pages.
Arlington County launched its brand new website, complete with the county’s new logo, on Oct. 18. The intention was to improve the website’s security, performance, look and navigation.
“The County website is the first and sometimes only stop for important information about Arlington for many of our residents,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a press release. “This upgrade will help ensure that the website is an easily accessible, safe, and reliable resource for our residents and businesses to engage with their government.”
For website users encountering broken links, however, that’s not yet the case.
Sundburg isn’t the only one who has noticed a number of dead-end links. ARLnow has received a tips in recent weeks from other users who have encountered broken links preventing them from accessing county webpages, documents and information, such as information on how to pay a parking ticket or the county’s Community Energy Plan.
“The Arlington County revised website is horribly broken, with links that don’t work,” said one anonymous tipster. “It’s a travesty.”
The Lyon Village Civic Association says it is still working with the county to update all the county links on its own website.
“We have asked the County webmaster to get these reestablished, some have, but not all,” it said in a recent post.
Last week, Sundburg wrote an open letter to county officials expressing her displeasure about this missing information.
“This revamp of the county website has been akin to the burning down of a library with half of the books still inside,” she wrote. “In this case, the ‘books’ still exist — the community simply has no access to them.”
County officials acknowledge the issues and say they’re working on it, noting the broken links are a result of issues migrating from the old site to the new site.
“The County is aware and actively working to resolve the issue of broken links on our new website, which launched last month,” county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said. “Website migrations are highly iterative processes and we want to thank our residents and other website users for their patience during this time.”
Searching through Google for county webpages does result in a “higher prevalence” of broken links due to a “glitch,” she said.
“Our website provider, OpenCities, worked on resolving this glitch and we are beginning to see improved external search results to County webpages,” Baxter said.
Various county departments are prioritizing fixing broken links connected to current projects, plans, programs and services, since these are accessed most frequently, Baxter said.
“Our goal is to resolve as many of these broken links as possible by Thanksgiving,” she said. “An overall website clean-up is targeted to begin by the end of the year.”
Sundburg notes that, overall, county staff has tried to help and is “relieved” the link problems are being worked on, but she remains disappointed in so much older information remaining inaccessible.
“I understand prioritizing current items, that leaves out a significant portion of the site’s repository of documents,” she writes. “For those of us long in the tooth who have been around for decades, we have a greater knowledge base. But it’s not encyclopedic, and referring back to historical materials is frequently useful.”
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