I have recently written, for publication elsewhere, an article comparing Waterways Ireland’s online presence unfavourably with that of the Canal & River Trust, which manages many waterways in England and Wales. WI clearly listened, because it has completely revamped its website.
Actually, that’s my little joke, because WI has clearly had folk working hard on this for some time. Its home page address remains as it was with (as I write) a clock ticking down to the official launch on 18 April 2013, but you can bypass that. Clearly not all the pages have yet been populated, but the overall design can be seen and it is several leagues ahead of the previous version.
It promotes a wider range of activities: walking, cycling, angling, boating, rowing, canoeing, sailing and power sports (but not, alas, campervanning). It has an events section, with events listed in chronological order by starting date; you can shorten the list by selecting a waterway, an activity or a date. This online listing is far more user-friendly than WI’s print equivalent. Sensibly, information on planning events is in the same section as the events listing.
The Clones Sheugh is listed amongst the waterways under Events, but no activities are planned there. However, the sheugh is not amongst the seven waterways listed under Our Waterways.
There’s a useful Do it Online section, with subsections called Register it, Pay for it, Apply for it and Report it. The last of those is rather disappointing, suggesting off-line communication; it would be more useful to have this sort of discussion between WI and its customers conducted in public. The promised form for online compliments and complaints isn’t there, but presumably will be added soon. Apply for it includes a procedure for applying for permission to film on WI property; this is something that BW (C&RT’s predecessor) had years ago.
The Learning section includes online games, the teachers’ resource pack and, encouragingly, information on arranging group tours of WI facilities and on accessing the archives; we are promised that some archive material will appear online.
The Corporate section includes About Us, FAQs, Public Consultation, Research, Careers, Partner Information, Policies and Plans & Reports. There is little that was not on the previous version of the site. There are sections for the Media and on Commercial Activity; Visitors Centre leads to the existing pages on the Box in the Docks; there is a much better Contact Us page, with a classified list so that you can find the office you need.
The down-wid-da-kidz bit is that there are links to WI Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. There is nothing on the YouTube page yet; perhaps the first video will show Jimmy Deenihan cutting the ribbon on the new website tomorrow. The Twitter page — joy! — includes the marine notices, which makes this the first good reason I’ve come across for taking an interest in Twitter. The Facebook page seems to be no better or worse than other FB pages I’ve seen.
The new website does not seem to have anything about Nuttall’s Pondweed, which was the only thing on the old site that might attract nature-lovers. I see nothing on the new site to interest such folk; apart from the archives bit, WI’s wealth of industrial heritage is not represented. So, despite the much improved appearance and organisation, there are constituencies, or potential constituencies, that are not being addressed.
However, on the whole the new site does seem to fit in with and promote WI’s Marketing Strategy 2012–2017:
4.1 Marketing Mission
Essentially the marketing mission of Waterways Ireland is unchanged and is defined as increase awareness and promote greater use of Ireland’s
4.2 Strategic Marketing Objectives
Within the period 2012–2017, Waterways Ireland wishes to build on the success and achievements of the previous Strategy taking a more proactive approach in achieving the following strategic marketing objectives:
– promoting increased use of the Waterways including promoting the range of uses;
– creating awareness of the waterways including the commercial potential of thewaterways; and
– creating working relationships with other state and semi state, tourism, trade, recreational organisations and users.
What is not entirely clear to me, though, is whether this new and much-improved website is to continue the one-way communication process or whether WI will use the new media to their full potential, encouraging two-way communication (even if it includes criticism) and building a real waterways community. It will be interesting to see.
For far too long, the IWAI website was streets ahead of WI’s. The shoe is now on the other foot. Congratulations and best wishes to all involved in this major improvement to WI’s online presence.