County’s overhauled website set to go live

EVERETT — Snohomish County is undergoing something of a digital face-lift, which it plans to show the world Wednesday.*

The county’s website is a technological antique, dating from 2003. Since last summer, it’s been undergoing a complete rebuild at the hands of a consultant.

The finished product promises to be smoother and faster. More importantly, it should give people better access to county services.

“The website we have right now is very current for 2004 — we need a website that’s current for 2014,” said Dave Stroble, the project manager for the county’s tech department.

The overhauled site is set to go live at roughly 2 p.m. Wednesday. That could take up to 24 hours longer for folks living in distant parts of the globe, say, in Sri Lanka, where 39 site visits were logged last year.

The site, www.snoco.org, is an online window into the county’s mind-boggling array of services: pet licenses and property taxes, building permits and new laws.

There are 28 departments in all, each with a host of pages, images and services.

The site recorded more than 3.1 million views last year, more than half by unique visitors. They came not only from the U.S., but from Canada, Japan, Germany, Great Britain and India. There were even 10 from Sudan, and a smattering from island nations in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

The county launched its original webpage in 1997. When updated six years later, the site received accolades. Since then, it’s stagnated.

“It’s glitchy. Stuff breaks,” said Bronlea Mishler, a county spokeswoman. “It’s very text-heavy. It’s hard to find things.”

The search function, not the most user-friendly to begin with, broke about a month ago.

“To actually have something that looks 21st century is huge for us,” Mishler said.

The revamp is more than aesthetic; Microsoft in April is scheduled to discontinue its support for the technology used to run the old site, according to the county.

Internally, county staff a year and a half ago started looking into how to provide the most useful online services.

In July, the county approved a contract with CivicPlus to start up a brand-new site. The agreement will pay the Manhattan, Kan., company $260,000 for the first year and an annual $189,000 for five years after that to keep things running.

“I’ve seen much worse, to be fair,” said Brad Johnson, a consultant with CivicPlus who was training county staff last month.

CivicPlus has built about 1,600 municipal websites throughout North America. Local examples include Pierce County, Marysville and Issaquah.

The new site features a section called “How do I?” that’s designed to route people to services. It’s supposed to make it easier to track down building permits, court calendars and road projects, among other features.

The new technology is faster, too.

“The time it takes to upload the website is down to almost null,” Johnson promised.

People will be able to share pages through 10 of most popular social media platforms.

A foreign-language function will translate the site from English into Spanish, Korean, Russian or Vietnamese.

More changes are likely once the site goes live and the county receives feedback.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Correction, Feb. 18, 2014: The date of the website launch was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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