After four years, MERL's web presence has gotten an overhaul. Whereas the old website was organized by an aging content management system, the new one is based on the same Drupal 7 platform used by all of the other websites maintained by the Center for Technology & Training (such as those for Roadsoft and Michigan LTAP). "We wanted to bring it up to standard with our other websites and make it just as easy to use," said Shaughn Kern, a Technical Writer at CTT who handles much of the web development. While Kern said that the new design is comparable to the previous site in that it's, "simple, straightforward, and powerful" he was clear in also saying that it will be much better for both users and MERL staff.
The number one goal of the new website is "getting the most useful information to users, right up front," explained software engineer Nick Koszykowski. "For example, new (software) updates should be, and are, on the front page." The same goes for the latest news and training announcements which are automatically posted on the front page when they are published to the site.
One of the other features that's new to the MERL website is a forum, much like what already exists on the Roadsoft website. Users will be able to ask each other questions and discuss problems, as well as report bugs and send feature requests to MERL staff. "If people are using them," Kern said, "(the forums) have the potential for the biggest impact." If the Roadsoft forums are any indicator, they will take off without a problem.
To coincide with the launch, CTT staff worked hard to get a completely new MERL manual into a convenient, easily searchable format. The new manual contains written instructions for many of the tasks previously covered by the videos, but allows users to work step by step at their own pace, and make finding instructions much easier than before. The manual can be accessed right from the front page of the site.