HUD remodels, simplifies home page

The most requested information on the Department of Housing and Urban Development's World Wide Web site is simple: how to buy a home.

It has not been simple, however, to get to that information through the many layers of the agency's Web site. But that changed last week when HUD unveiled a new look for its Web site (www.hud.gov). One click on the home page's Own a Home link takes users to the new online Buyer's Kit page.

"By far the single piece of information people want the most is homes for sale," said Candis Harrison, Web manager for HUD. "So we have made that information more accessible."

The Buyer's Kit spells out the home-buying process and provides a link to HUD homes for sale, with maps, directions and information on schools.

Most people looking for information on the HUD site are not government- or technology-savvy, Harrison said. They want to know the names and numbers of federal regulations, or they want to know how HUD can help them get a loan or deal with an incompetent landlord.

Sorting through the many layers of the old HUD Web site could be frustrating to the point of rendering the site almost useless, Harrison said. The new structure is intended to make this basic information as accessible as possible.

"We haven't changed a whole lot of the organization of the information. What we've done is try to pull up some of the most important information and flatten [the Web site] out," Harrison said.

The 14 main topics on the HUD home page include links to information on filing a complaint, rental help and projects occurring in communities across the country. These sections are now one click from the front page, making it much easier to get around the site.

For further ease of navigation, the top of each inside page provides links to Home, Q&A, Shortcuts, Search/Index and

E-mail. The Q&A includes answers to the most common questions asked of HUD offices. The 14 main topics also are listed along the left side of the inside pages, making it easy to move from section to section within the site.

The links to local offices' pages also are easier to access. These pages are maintained by the area office, but they are designed according to a template from Harrison's office, maintaining the appearance of continuity.

HUD's Web site is run using a variety of systems, managed mainly by contractors from Advanced Technology Systems Inc. The pages are developed on desktops running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 and then are sent by File Transfer Protocol to Unix servers running Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris 2.6 and a Netscape Communications Corp. Enterprise Web server, according to ATS task leader Dale Tuttle.

However, the amount of information on the HUD Web site is making this system difficult to maintain. "HUD's [site] is so huge now that it is very labor-intensive," Harrison said.

The HUD Web team spoke with other agencies and private-sector organizations to determine a better way to manage the site than manual development.

They are now considering moving to a dynamic database system, "but we need to investigate how it will impact the site," Tuttle said.

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