Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> School Baseball Web Sites, Part II About the author, Boyd Nation

School Baseball Web Sites, Part II

Publication Date: December 12, 2000

A Short Look at Current Efforts

Last week, I began a look at current school baseball Web sites by looking at some philosophical changes in viewing the Web that may need to be made by Sports Information Departments around the nation. This week, I'd like to finish that look by considering the current state of affairs, recognizing a couple of efforts that look pretty good to me from a content point of view, and offering a few guidelines for baseball site development.

Currently, a large majority (I haven't actually done a census, but I believe that I'm correct in this) of major college athletic Web sites are actually contracted out as a joint effort between the SID's office or the local equivalent and one of three Web site management companies -- Fans Only, Total Sports, and These companies have much in common, as far as I can tell, the most notable being that no one at any of them has ever heard of Jakob Nielsen. There's enough bad user interface design -- including gratuitous use of frames, excessive use of flashy, content-free graphics, hard-to-find content, and content arranged for the use of the authors rather than for the convenience of the users -- to make you throw up your hands and hope that maybe the newspaper will publish what you want some time. In other words, it's pretty much like most of the rest of the Web.

The good news is that, because so much of the design is done in those three centralized companies, a change in philosophy at one or two of them in favor of a more user-oriented design would fix a good chunk of what's wrong out there.

Who's Doing Well Now

Having vented my weekly ration of spleen there, I will ignore the actual Web design aspects of the pages for the rest of the column and focus on the content, however well hidden it may be. First, I'd like to take a look at a couple of schools who are doing well already. I have not yet done a comprehensive survey of all of the school sites, although I've probably seen them all a few times each over the last year or so, so these are just a couple that strike me as being a bit ahead of the game.

Besides having the highest cumulative ISR over the last three years, Stanford has the best content on their Web site that I can remember seeing. There's something for every type of fan here -- recruiting news, off-site links to the pages for summer leagues that Stanford players are playing in, news on what past players are doing in professional baseball now, and quite a bit of other stuff. They've done an excellent job of keeping old content around (something I'll touch on more later) without letting it clutter up the design. One nice touch that I particularly liked because it seemed to be a good use of the potential of the Web was the apparently-frequently-updated pictures from their current stadium expansion.

The design is a bit of a muddle, but Georgia Tech has done a nice job of getting some useful information out there. I, of course, am somewhat partial to the all-time score records, but for the touchier-feelier in the crowd, there's a player journal from last year's CWS by right fielder Brad Stockton, for example. One thing that I thought was particularly nice was the page on parking information, something that shows that they've thought of the needs of visiting fans.

Some Simple Guidelines

Finally, I'd like to humbly suggest a few simple guidelines for the content of a school baseball Web site. I won't really touch on design issues here, since there are resources all over the place for that sort of thing, but I'd like to try to touch on a few of the more topic-specific issues.

1. Standardize the user interface as much as possible. This is a hard one for most Web designers, and the number of ways that have been found to hide the current year's schedule in odd places on the front page shows that most folks in my target audience for this column aren't immune from the siren calls of creativity in design. It's great that you can find new ways to express yourself, but that needs to come out in the content, not in the way it's organized and presented, or the end result is just frustrated users.

This is one area that CoSIDA could really help out with. They already publish templates for things like statistical data; it would be a big benefit to the community in general if they could present some templates or guidelines for standardization of Web formats. I've noticed that there appears to be some de facto movement in that direction already, as quite a few schools are simply placing a PDF version of their CoSIDA pre-season fact sheet on their Web site.

2. Never throw anything away. This is one that boggles me, just because it represents such a different mindset than mine. Even if you can't conceive of any reason that anyone would want to see the complete 1998 schedule, for example, that doesn't mean that there won't be someone who does. If you've already got it online, then it's no more work to just move the pointer to it to an archive section than it is to remove it. School-specific baseball sites are relatively small in the amount of data present or the amount of bandwidth required, I would imagine, so it's not a resource issue. And you'll save yourself the need for direct contact from someone who was looking for that data, thereby freeing you up to do other things.

3. Leverage information that you already have. A lot of times, I think that SID's get bogged down in the details of creating new content for the Web site when they don't even have all of the contents of the media guide online. A good example of the sort of thing that I'm talking about here is Auburn's "The Last Time" page. Most SID's have done one of these for their radio broadcasts, and they make interesting reference points, so why not throw it out there.

This kind of quick-and-dirty transferral of information can make for a good starting point to clarify where you need to produce more documentation. It can also, if you keep an eye on your logs, give some good clues as to how much more effort you should put in on history, for example.

4. Have a search engine, and watch what people look for. This one wanders a little closer to the general than to the baseball-specific, but it's useful to remember in this context. Looking at what people search for that you don't have is the best clue that you will ever have to what your audience wants. The astute reader will notice that I have not yet followed my own advice on this matter.

5. Remember that you are servicing a community. Look for things which are going to be of interest to that community, even if they don't strictly fall within what you perceive as your mandate. Things like updates on what former players are doing now, whether in or out of the game, do a good job of providing that sort of continuity.

This has run more than a bit long; I appreciate your patience if you're still here. None of these are intended as law, of course, but I hope that they'll provide some food for thought.

Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> School Baseball Web Sites, Part II About the author, Boyd Nation