New web look for one of FAO's biggest departments

One of the FAO's biggest departments, Agriculture, has given its web pages a facelift, creating a new "magazine" section as the front door and giving surfers a set of guides to help them find their way around a gigabyte of documents and databases.

The new pages are called Agriculture 21 - reflecting the department's mission to promote food security and sustainable development into the next millennium.

"Agriculture's webpages were originally built from the bottom up," said Boyd Haight, Chief of the Management Support Unit, "and created by the five divisions that make up the department. The department itself had no image on the Internet. We wanted to add some value at the departmental level and highlight our activities in an accessible way."

"We've moved away from the old institutional idea of a website being like a building." said Graeme Thomas, who designed and edits Agriculture 21. "The idea is to help people find their way around as easily and as quickly as possible. Our new navigation bar is designed so the user is never more than one click away from another section of the pages."

Agriculture 21's Magazine is updated every month, with news stories, features and interviews. The latest issue has stories on women and farm tools in Africa, strategies for "seed security" and resolving land use conflicts, and a new process that could put coconut water in the booming market for sports drinks.

The Guides - to the site, to subjects and to resources - are regularly updated to help people find their way around new and modified pages deep in the departmental site. The resources guide covers databases, software, publications and networks, as well as email bulletins and conferences.

"The Guides give different views on the information that exists," said Haight," and we are thinking of creating other views in the future - farmers' views, perhaps, educators' views, schools' views."

Thomas believes that FAO, like most big institutions, was caught unaware by the Internet boom and initially thought Web publishing was a job for computer experts. "Now there's more awareness of the importance of editing and presentation skills from traditional magazine and newspaper publishing," Thomas said. "On the Web, both editors and technologists have important - but different - contributions to make."

Within a month of its launch, Agriculture 21 was cited by the University of Wisconsin's Internet Scout Project and praised for its "impressive and clearly arranged interface". (From the Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-1998.

The Organization's second-generation web pages aim to put the user first, with quick-loading graphics and a step sideways from institutional structures that gridlock information and bewilder outsiders. Early trendsetters among FAO departmental sites were the Sustainable Development Department's SD-Dimensions, which has been rated among the world's best sites on the subject, and the Fisheries Department.

20 October 1998

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