Managing change to a popular website

How does one approach the introduction of major change in a much loved web institution? For over 12 years now I’ve run a children’s writing website, Kids on the Net, and for a variety of reasons I’m contemplating some changes – to bring it right up to date and keep it useful and open to users, because it’s 99.9% user-generated (and moderated) content. (And always has been since long before the term Web 2.0 was invented!)

Changing a website, especially one that has been around as long as Kids on the Net has, always has consequences. As Jakob Nielsen pointed out in his latest Usability newsletter AlertBox users don’t like change, they prefer the familiar.

So do you bring in changes gradually or just go for a big new look? There are of course advantages and disadvantages to each approach. With Kids on the Net the design hasn’t been changed for some time. It’s functional though, and it’s worked for all of that time. But we’re heading for the second decade of the 21st century and there are new ideas and new needs in education, in society and on the web. For a start when Kids on the Net began we were one of very few UK education websites and our users wanted us to be all things to all teachers. Now there are websites, blogs, communities galore, and Kids on the Net can return to its core purpose – encouraging and facilitating writing by kids for kids, especially that using technology.

There are obvious issues that need to be borne in mind when the site is moderated. All content is moderated to preserve the young writers’ safety and privacy and published in a way that ensures they cannot be identified. New legislation means that any moderator, paid or volunteer, should be vetted, at least minimally. This may mean turning down volunteers from countries around the world – who are really needed as Kids on the Net is truly international.

I’m also toying with introducing a whole new content management system. If I do that then I may as well take the opportunity to re-design the navigation: the site has, over 12 years and hundreds of thousands of contributions from children of all ages worldwide, become somewhat labyrinthine. But that’s also part of its charm.

Before I make my decisions therefore, I need to ask the users. If you have an opinion on how much I should change Kids on the Net, please let me know by commenting.

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