New MetService site caters to weather enthusiasts

Result of three years' work based on user feedback

MetService has developed a new version of its website, now in beta trials.

It can be seen here, and is available for instant comparison with the old site at metservice.com.

Discussion on Twitter shows a mixed reaction and some confused subjective impressions. The new home-page map of New Zealand is “teeny”, says one user. It’s actually fractionally bigger than the current one, but looked smaller to this reporter at first sight too, probably because the background sea-blue is much darker on the beta site.

One missing feature is the basic weather and temperature information available on the current site just by mousing over a town on the map. To get this in future will require a click through to another page. “People found the hover state a little annoying when trying to get to their city,” says a MetService spokesman, replying through Twitter.

“What we’ve done is designed a website for weather enthusiasts,” says publicist Jacqui Bridges on behalf of MetService. MetService expects the new site to encourage members of its “community” to discuss the weather and the forecast through its Facebook page and Twitter feed.

The graphs and bar charts of weather through the day have been redesigned because some users found them difficult to understand; they have been replaced by figures in the case of temperature and wind-speed and drop-shaped icons of different sizes for rainfall.

MetService interactive manager Craig Delany says the upgrade is the result of three years of intensive user feedback and analysis. “Our users are enthusiastic and highly engaged, and their input has transformed the way metservice.com looks and operates,” he says.

The site new incorporates more multimedia content, including a video weather report.

Robyn Hunt, a specialist in access to information by disabled people says the beta site appears much busier than the older model, with pull-down menus that can be triggered inadvertently. She tried the page magnified – as partially-sighted users would - and accidentally triggered a popup that completely obscured the information she was looking for.

Web usability and accessibility specialist Mike Osborne says the browser compatibility page is confusing but implies incompatibility with IE6 and IE7, whose users are still about 10 percent of the web-using population.

Local weather reports used to appear in a three-day window; now there is only one day visible, he says. “[That’s] bad; huge loss of information and usability.” The window can be scrolled through only five days, while the older site accommodates 10.

Osborne regrets the loss of the graphs and charts, though the new wind icons may actually be more informative than the old, he suggests.

For users with keyboard-only access, there are “no obvious visual cues where you are if are just using the tab key to navigate round the page.” There is no page with explicit information on accessibility and for blind or partially-sighted users using translation to voice, no means of skipping the repetitive reading-out of links at the top of the page.

Hunt and Osborne both think the higher contrast on the new site is an improvement. Osborne points out that the word “search” in the search slot does not disappear immediately the slot is clicked in, as it should.

The site was designed by Wellington company Pikselin. Its design director Brian Smith said he hopes users will go “a couple of clicks deeper” each time they visit, eventually developing a pattern so they know what high-value content they want and how to get it.

“The new site really is set up for that interactive, exploratory experience,” Smith says. “Intergen’s 2012 Engaged Web report singled out MetService’s website for making great use of multimedia, and we think we’ve taken that even further with these updates.”

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