Our BRAND NEW Website

 

— Diana Marques
    
GNSI Web Committee Chair

Early this winter, you will be surprised with all the new and improved features at your same trusted URL of many years: www.gnsi.org. We are so proud about the upcoming GNSI website that we wanted to tell you all about it!

It’s interesting to recall that our online presence began in 1998 with a one-page static website created and maintained by GNSI member and webmaster Heike Blum. Step back in time and take a look. We have archived this legacy website to preserve the institutional memory and history: wayback.archive-it.org/10600/20180822190052/https://legacy.gnsi.org/.

In 2009, GNSI member and webmaster Britt Griswold became friends and partner in crime with Ron Williams, a Drupal developer (Ron makes regular in-person and remote appearances at the Annual Auction!), and together they envisioned and implemented the current website. It was transformative, as membership registration and renewal became an online process, news and event information was more available, and the work of GNSI members was better represented. Nevertheless, time and technical limitations have kept parts of the website “in progress” for several years and technology advancements have presented alternative promising solutions. The time had come to rejuvenate GNSI’s web presence.

The GNSI Board appointed a Web Committee to find and implement these changes. Chaired by myself, and composed of Linda Feltner, Ikumi Kayama, Daisy Chung and Deb Shaw, we set out on a challenging and edifying endeavor that took us over a year to accomplish.

The Research

We started by compiling a ranked list of requirements for the new website. On the public-facing side, it was a priority to have the information structured and written in an intuitive and accessible fashion and include solid and functional features such as a member directory, event calendar and list, plus news and in-depth articles. A member-only area would have options for online reading and downloading issues of the Journal of Natural Science Illustration, and facilitating communication between individual members, GNSI Chapters/Groups, and the Board.

On the administrative side of the website, it was very important to have strong database and member management tools, event registration, and good reporting capabilities for ease of keeping track of GNSI’s finances, member count and events. Above all, it needed to be a user-friendly platform that multiple volunteers and Board members could access, at different levels of permissions, without requiring extensive training.

The Web Committee was faced with two options: the first, employing a software developer to improve the existing website built on the Drupal platform, or rebuild the website on the same or on a different platform; the second, subscribe to an existing membership management service which allowed the Committee to be trained to build the website without an external developer, and make use of a back-end platform with existing tools designed for managing associations.

The research began. We consulted with multiple developers to get recommendations and quotes. We also enlisted a few volunteers (thank you Charles Chen and Bruce Kerr!) to join us in doing a thorough investigation into seven membership management services highly ranked in the market. Luckily, most of these services offer trial versions or have representatives ready to demonstrate the product. We also consulted with Bonnie Stein, the talented web developer who has worked with Deb Shaw for many years and, for the last six or seven, has been on the team that builds GNSI’s conference websites.

The initial conclusion was that using the service of a developer to improve the existing website or rebuild it was no longer the best option for GNSI. Despite the control over look-and-feel and functionalities that come with starting from scratch, the process is considerably more expensive and time-consuming at the onset, and also more resource-intensive to maintain in the long run. Endless customization comes with a greater risk of technical and security concerns, which poses a challenge to GNSI and its volunteer-based structure.

Another conclusion was that, among the more competitive membership management services available, the one that suits GNSI requirements the best is MemberClicks (MC). The tipping points were MC’s strong member-only area tools and member directory, the community tools (member-to-member messaging, social media-like features that can be used by GNSI Chapters and Groups, forums) and the possibility to integrate with third-party services to provide image galleries and Journal distribution. Of equal relevance was their prompt and reliable customer support and useful reporting options.

At the same time these technical aspects of designing and implementing the website were under study, the Web Committee was also looking into engaging one or more professional writers to generate the text content of the main menu webpages. After two stages of recruiting and sample reviewing, science writer Emily Underwood was selected to draft the majority of the webpages, according to assignments provided by the Committee.

CONCLUSION

It has now been several months since we started developing the new website using MC’s services and platform. Their online documentation and videos are very helpful, as are the one-on-one training sessions and email consultations with our dedicated onboarding specialist. All in all, the emphasis of the new website is on its functionality, we are striving to provide accessible and high quality content to GNSI members. And to do it in a way that is easy and efficient—to both our volunteers that are creating and distributing that content, and to Board members that are managing our membership and finances.

We are especially proud of:

The professionally-written and well-structured information about science illustration. We would like the new GNSI website to be the go-to place for anyone getting acquainted with the field, considering a career, or enrolling in an education program.

The new features regarding the Journal of Natural Science Illustration. Members and nonmembers will be able to see the full index of articles and easily read those that are open access. In the member-only area, all Journal issues will be available for reading online, using a beautiful full-page viewing mode, or for download. And nonmembers can purchase digital or print copies of any Journal issue.

The very functional and complete member directory, which includes partial or full contact details according to the user’s member status.

The long list of resources including up-to-date news and in-depth articles in a blog format that can be easily searched, lists of events that can be viewed in a calendar format and filtered by categories, and many more features.

The prominence given to GNSI’s social media feeds which are carefully curated and always up to date.

We are now adding the final touches, beta-testing, and looking forward to finally launching the new website! The announcement will come with instructions for GNSI members, including the password to access the member-only area to update the directory profile. We are confident the process will be easy and self-explanatory, but there will be no lack of support for those who need it.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think of the new site, and report on any typos, missing links, or general improvements—your feedback is always welcome. Enjoy!

FIGURES

Figure 1: Screenshot of new website homepage with drop-down menus.

Figure 2: Screenshot of new website showing member access to JNSI issues.

Figure 3: Screenshot of new website showing events for GNSI members. 

Figure 4: Screenshot showing frequently asked questions.

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Image: 
Screenshot of new website homepage with drop-down menus.
Screenshot of new website showing member access to JNSI issues.
Screenshot of new website showing events for GNSI members.
Screenshot showing frequently asked questions.