Thursday, May 05, 2011

MD General Assembly Website is Antiquated and Arduous to Navigate

Have you ever wondered why the Maryland General Assembly website is so tedious to navigate?  I am experienced at legislative research, yet I have a hard time doing in-depth research on legislation in Annapolis unless I know the bill number.  Well, it turns out that the website is 15 years old! has an excellent write-up on the treacherous navigation problems with the website of the MD legislature.
Mike Gaudiello, the director of the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Information Systems, said that the site right now is organized by bill number. If someone knows the bill number that he or she wants information on, information is readily available.

However, the site has few graphics, and is on a largely monochrome purple background. The menus aren’t clearly marked, and menu choices tend to be in small text. Bills are organized by numbers, making it easy for legislative staff and legislators to find, but more difficult to locate for those who may only be familiar with a bill’s topic or sponsors.

Videos or audio of committee hearings are organized only by date, not by topics discussed or hearing types. And the full-text search of legislation brings up all bill versions and amendments, making it difficult to for a user to know what he or she is looking at.

“If you understand it’s a bill-centric website, it is easy to find things,” Gaudiello said.

According to screenshots from the Internet Archive Project, the General Assembly’s site design has changed very little since its inception in 1996. The site organization has stayed the same: links on the top of a dappled purple background, which either take users to different spots in the page, or to navigational portals.

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