By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Dec. 04, 2009) -- Beginning Friday, visitors to Army.mil will experience a new level of Web customization and personalization never seen before on a military Web site.
The team behind the Army's Web presence has redesigned the service's premier Web site, www.Army.mil, with the end-user in mind. Visitors to the site will be able to choose what kind of information they want to see on the front page and have the latest information that meets their criteria presented to them first, every time they visit.
The redesign of the site began more than a year ago, when the Army's Web team began brainstorming on how to meet a directive from then-Secretary of the Army Pete Geren to create a Web site to showcase a "world-class Army."
"The Web team came together to come up with ideas for how they would create a world-class site, and they came up with the idea of a customizable Web site -- which is the first in the services to provide that," said Patricia Downs, deputy director of the Army's Online and Social Media Division.
Downs said the level of customization now possible on the Army.mil site is new inside the Department of Defense. No other site has offered all users, both military and the general public, the ability to log into a site and customize information delivery and appearance options and then save those customizations for reuse on subsequent visits.
It took nearly 16 months for the team of Web developers, designers and content editors to create that capability, Downs said. "I'm very proud of them, and of what they've accomplished," she said of the team. "The next step is to get the word out about the site."
To take advantage of the features on the new site, users will first need to log in using credentials from AKO, or from select non-military Web sites such as Google, Yahoo! or AOL.
Once logged in, users can personalize their Army.mil experience by adding and configuring any number of "widgets," each of which allows them to view different kinds of information from different sources.
"The best thing about Army.mil is that it's using the content that I want ... so that it's right there when I log in, all the time," said Meghan K. McCormick, Army.mil social media strategist and content manager.
One of the widgets that allows that to happen, for example, pulls headlines from other military service's Web sites, including the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy. An additional widget allows users to display on their customized page those Army news headlines that come from their particular unit.
The RSS feed widget will allow users to display news headlines from virtually any source on their personalized Army.mil page.
"Every day, I try to read CNN -- so if I wanted, I could pull in CNN's news feed," McCormick said.
Other available widgets provide access to information posted by Army organizations on such social networking sites as Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. And another provides Army-related videos and Army newscasts.
"We are tailoring it to our audience," McCormick said. "The people coming to Army.mil -- they are looking at these social media sites, and they want to see Army social media."
Each widget users add to their page can be customized, and placed anywhere on the page, so that each user's interaction with Army.mil is personalized to their liking.
"It allows anybody to come in and create a page that is customizable," McCormick said.
Initially, there'll be a total of 20 widgets available on the new Army.mil, but the team behind the redesign is working to add more, to make the Army.mil experience even more user-friendly and more able to deliver the information Soldiers want when they want it.
"We are looking at widgets to help people be more productive -- to do their daily tasks," McCormick said.
To access the new features of Army.mil, visitors to the site should look for the login box that will be featured there beginning Dec. 4. Soldiers may log in using their existing AKO account login name and password. Those without AKO accounts, or those who would rather not use their AKO accounts, may log in to the site using a Google, Yahoo! or AIM password.