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The pilot site, pilot.mass.gov.
The pilot site, pilot.mass.gov.Mass.gov

“It’s a beast.” That’s how Baker administration officials describe the state’s official website,mass.gov.

Officials acknowledge that navigating the site can be confusing, particularly for first-time users, with its 49,000 pages, 170,000 downloadable documents, 4,500 press releases, and 560 pages of licensing information spread across 39 subsites.

So the administration decided to give the site a major overhaul.

The state has paid nearly $750,000 to Velir Studios, a Somerville consulting firm, to help build the new and improved website. The goal is to make it more accessible to visitors of varying ages, experience levels, languages, and visual abilities who access the site on a wide range of communication devices, including cellphones, which account for 45 percent of users.

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“The Baker-Polito Administration is working diligently across state government to redesign and thoroughly test the state’s mass.gov website so that it is best equipped to meet the needs of thousands of constituents visiting it on a daily basis,” Brendan Moss, spokesman for the state’s Office of Information Technology, said in a statement.

Work on a pilot test version,pilot.mass.gov, began in 2016. The final version will probably be up and running sometime this year, and is being designed to read at a sixth-grade level.

Data reveal that three out of four constituents engage with state government through its website, but as little as 10 percent of the Web pages attract nearly 90 percent of the traffic.

Mass.gov serves a range of constituencies, including residents and potential residents, tourists, businesses, the media, civic organizations, state employees, municipal officers, and other government entities, all with varying degrees of Web savviness.

The results of user surveys led to the recognition that the website needed revamping.

“People have expressed difficulty finding what they’re looking for,” officials say in documents provided to the Globe. “They should be able to find information and online services without needing to understand the structure of government.’’

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The pilot site has had more than 36,000 visitors to date, of which 26,000 were unique — the number of distinct individuals viewing pages on a website during a given period, regardless of how often they visit.

The test site reflects the goal of helping users find what they need more quickly and easily rather than focusing on agency organization.

For example, the homepage of the pilot site has four drop-down menus running across the top: Living, Working, Learning, and Visiting and Exploring. Below that is a big search box where users are asked: “What would you like to do?” Six popular predefined topics of interest follow, including “Renew your driver’s license” and “File your personal income tax.”

The pilot website employs more color than the current site, and the fonts are larger and easier to read. Right now, though, the user feedback mechanism on the pilot site is bare-bones and lacks a way for users to provide input from the homepage, despite the state explicitly soliciting comments on that page.

The sole way for users to provide feedback at the test site is to respond to a single question found at the bottom of other pages: “Did you find the information you were looking for on this page?

If users answer “no,” they are asked to explain what they are looking for in a mere 100 characters. which is almost 30 percent shorter than a tweet. In addition, there is no notice on the homepage of the current website inviting users to test drive the pilot site.

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Officials said there were more opportunities for input in the first few months of testing and that additional public appeals might be forthcoming.

For now, MassIT officials are taking the long view.

“Someday, we hope to make your interactions with state government wicked awesome,” they proclaim on their website.


Reach Colman M. Herman atcolman@verizon.net.