Online calendar setup available for replication
Originally published in Current, Sept. 22, 2003
By Steve Behrens
PortalWisconsin, a statewide cultural calendar website operated by Wisconsin Public TV and Radio, was built with hopes that it could be rebuilt readily at stations across the country, but the economy has chilled the hoped-for replications.
One prospect is the Anchorage, Alaska, duo, KSKA-FM and KAKM-TV, which is considering adapting the Wisconsin website if it can get enough underwriting, says Howard Marsh, director of info technology.
The set-up of PortalWisconsin, is very user-friendly, according to Marsh. “It seems to do anything you want,” he says. “They’ve done a really good job.”
Nebraska ETV also is interested in picking up the readymade web code but hasn’t been able to find the money, says Terry Dugas, Nebraska’s manager of educational and interactive media services.
CPB invested $600,000 in the Wisconsin project, partly in expectation that it could form the basis of similar websites in other regions, and the National Endowment for the Arts contributed $150,000.
The lack of pickup disappoints Ann Engleman, who put the site online in January 2002 and has been hoping for offspring. Takers would get database and website code that took its programmer 550 hours to write.
PortalWisconsin, meanwhile, continues to gain users. Last month, more than 800 web users a day visited the site, up 36 percent over August 2002 usage. More than 53,000 individuals used the site in 2002—most briefly but some staying 10 or 20 minutes or longer, according to web stats.
At any given time, the site lists 750 to 1,000 concerts, plays, gallery exhibits and other events, says Jennifer Smith, Engleman’s successor as project chief. The database also includes selected public TV and radio programs.
The portal was designed to save labor. Cultural groups enter information into its database themselves, with limited editing by the portal staff. More than 500 Wisconsin groups have log-in rights. After launch, the site can be run by a single midlevel manager, says Engleman, though startup requires the attention of a top-level manager.
The fiscal pinch threatens PortalWisconsin as well as delaying replications. When grant funds run out, it will rely on donations by the seven co-sponsoring organizations in the Cultural Coalition of Wisconsin, including the state arts board, humanities council, historical society, pubTV and pubradio.
To launch the site, Wisconsin pubcasters hired Engleman, former program chief at Maryland PTV, in fall 2000. Nathan Trick, a technician with another partner group, the University of Wisconsin Extension, developed the databased-driven website. Though he prepared it to tap an Oracle database, Trick says he’ll generate code that will work with other databases as simple as Microsoft Access.
Engleman bought the Portal’s online address, www.portalwisconsin.org, but neglected to nail down variants such as portalwisconsin.com, where a web speculator established an inferior website. That was “a bummer,” Engleman acknowledges.
She negotiated plans with the partners in the Cultural Coalition. “I
took this very slowly and deliberately. If you brush over what someone wants,
it will come back and haunt you,” she warns. Some partners were worried,
for instance, about who would take responsibility for legitimacy of information.
So Engleman let them okay groups that can enter information in the database.
The core of the service is a cultural calendar for the state, searchable by type of event, region of the state, keywords and date.
In addition, the site contains an NEA-funded gallery of Wisconsin visual artists. The juried gallery includes images from about 95 artists. And the site offers 360-degree “virtual tours” of historic sites.
Other web technologies largely fell by the wayside because of expense and other reasons—live chats, audio and video streaming and Microsoft Web TV interactivity (the team figures that Web TV won’t be around for long, Engleman says).
Web visitors who want even more info on an event can click through to the sponsoring organization’s website. “Our goal is not to keep people on our site,” Engleman says. “Our goal is to send them for the information they’re looking for.”
The portal is a wonderful gateway for people seeking cultural information, says Joan Fischer, director of programs at the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, a partner in the project. “People can and do go to individual sites as needed.”
“Ann and her team did the heavy lifting,” Fischer says. “We simply were not equipped. It’s an example of how pooling resources made sense.”
Built for replication: Wisconsin arts website
PortalWisconsin is a smorgasbord of information about cultural events and history in Wisconsin. The site, launched last month, is produced by Wisconsin PTV with its partners in the Wisconsin Cultural Coalition. The site aims to promote cultural events throughout the state, but it's also a demonstration project for online content development.
Visitors to portalwisconsin.org can view art in an online gallery, take QuickTime tours of a historical estate or the Circus World Museum, or plan a summer itinerary of Wisconsin craft fairs, among innumerable other options. Topics are grouped in 10 interest areas such as music or theater, with lists of upcoming events and links to related websites. A search engine allows users to define their interests more narrowly, by sub-category, geography or time frame--blues performances in Madison this month, for example.
"This is the one place on the Web for cultural information on Wisconsin, and it's based on content from seven vetted partners," said Ann Engelman, project director for Wisconsin PTV. "We all have the same goal of getting information out about cultural events in Wisconsin."
In addition to the state's public radio and TV networks, the coalition includes major statewide arts and humanities groups such as the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.
CPB's Future Fund backed the project as a model for pubcasting online partnerships, so the codes and architectural design of PortalWisconsin are freely available to other stations. At the end of this year, when the grant runs out, Engelman and her staff will report on the upsides and downsides of the project, how the partnerships work and which media and navigational tools are most successful.
Next week, Engelman leads a presentation at the PBS Interactive Summit in Baltimore, where she'll be exchanging business cards with webmasters interested in replicating the PortalWisconsin model.
Posted Oct. 6, 2003
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio in the United States
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