The APS internet homepage has received a three-star ranking from the world-known independent Magellan rating service. Magellan raters assign world-wide web sites up to 10 points on each of three criteria: depth, ease of exploration, and “net appeal.”
Magellan top-rated web sites receive between three and four stars, based on total points earned for the three criteria. Web sites are evaluated by a team of editors and writers operating under the guidance of an International Editorial Advisory Board, a group of professionals and academics chaired by Interop founder Dan Lunch.
Magellan rates sites on an ongoing basis and considers a site’s “depth” as a gauge of its comprehensiveness and currency. The criterion “ease of exploration” is a measure of how well organized the site is and how easy it is to navigate, and “net appeal” is an assessment of, among other things, aesthetics and the level of innovation.
“The incredibly high usage of the APS homepage- 5,000 hits or more per day- also tells a story about the utility of the APS web service,” said APS Director of Communications Lee Herring, “and readers can easily access these usage statistics directly on the homepage.” Web site usage is measured typically in terms of number of “hits” (accesses of the homepage and its files) and can be presented automatically by the web server machine by special statistical and database software.
A few caveats are in order when interpreting the results of current-day software of this sort, explained APS “webmeister” John Krantz. For example, every access to a graphic or an informational file counts as a “hit.” “But since the APS site is not loaded with lots of graphical or other such downloadable elements that would tend to inflate usage statistics, said Krantz, “the numbers are astounding.” The APS site is, on the contrary, informationally intense, explained Krantz, “so even if you discount a certain percentage of the hits-for even the minimal APS graphics-to accommodate a more informed interpretation of the data, it’s still a rather impressive hit rate.” Another factor that can artificially influence the number of “hits” is the size of the web reader’s computer cache. Thus, the larger your machine’s local cache, the fewer times it “hits” on the web site to resend graphics, pages, and other elements, when you return to a web page you have viewed already.
Similarly, the presence of computer “firewalls” (often having their own cache) within a network can affect access statistics on web pages. Some of these factors likely will never allow a precise calculation of usage at any web site unless somehow users’ machines could be “queried” by the web site for information on configuration and network characteristics.
Redesigned With User Input
High ratings and impressive popularity notwithstanding, Herring said that “improvements in the APS homepage are underway, and many will be in place by the time readers are reading this.” With an eye toward enhancing the logical layout and navigability of the site as well as aesthetic elements, Herring said “always al the top of our priority list in redesigning the homepage is the issue of maintaining web server performance. We don’t want to create a homepage whose speed of access to pages is sacrificed for unjustifiable visual aesthetics that slow access to content and hyperlinks.”
Relying also on APS homepage survey data acquired from users (see January 1996 Observer) and analyzed by Krantz, enhancements to the organizat.ion of the informational content and hyperlinks were also incorporated into this latest series of improvements to the APS homepage. “The overhaul of the APS homepage is intended to facilitate its use and to improve the homepage’s appearance,” said Krantz.
Responders who submitted comments about the homepage’s logical layout voted overwhelmingly in favor of an informationally intense format that improved readability while also increasing the amount of information visible on the reader’s computer screen.
With web pages being so ubiquitous, several “industry standards” are beginning to emerge in terms of page design, and some changes incorporate some of those standards. To accommodate users who have older web browsers (e.g., Netscape versions prior to 1.22 and prior to Mosaic 2.0), APS maintains a homepage at psych.hanover.edu/APS/index.list.html.