The Adirondack Recreation Web Portal was released at the end of January with much back-slapping and horn-tooting from Governor Cuomo and other involved parties. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that this web ‘portal’ falls far short of expectations.
In an Almanack post last October I described the project and outlined some of the expected functionality of the new site, including what I described as “a strong mapping component, rather than the menu/catalog driven approach used by most Adirondack recreation sites.” The opportunities afforded by modern online search and mapping technologies presented an incredible chance to build a truly useful, fun-to-use, map-based virtual gateway to the Adirondacks.
Unfortunately, I Love New York’s Adirondack Regional Tourism Council (ARTC) and its partner Adworkshop have squandered this opportunity, along with more than $100,000 of taxpayer money. After obtaining the contract though a series of backroom deals, Adworkshop has produced a ‘portal’ buried on the ARTC’s Visit Adirondacks website (how about ‘visitadirondacks.com/recreation#search_form’ for a catchy name?). Essentially a reshuffling of functionality that already existed on that site, the ‘portal’ is yet another endless labyrinth of drop-down menus, lists, and tabs. The mapping functionality is buried and hilariously lame, as is the search bar, which returns bizarre results. A search on the phrase ‘hiking’ within 20 miles of Long Lake returned 3 results: a cross-country ski trail in Tupper Lake, the Santanoni Trail Register in Newcomb, and the Cedar River Campsites in Moose River Plains, more than an hour’s drive from Long Lake. Try it for yourself and see what comes up for your favorite Adirondack town.
Sites like this actually do more harm than good– they massively undersell the Adirondacks by claiming to be an exhaustive resource and then failing to show potential visitors what’s really available. Why should it be so hard for someone considering a visit to Long Lake to learn about Castle Rock, the Owl’s Head or Goodnow Mountian fire towers, or Coney Mountain? Unfortunately, there is little chance that the information in the ARTC database will improve– municipalities and people with local knowledge still have to use the same onerous process to update data that was in place before the ‘portal’. After leaving the web ‘portal’ the user is left with the unpleasant feeling of having searched aimlessly through a poorly labelled filing cabinet– hardly the impression I’d want to give for a place as full of exciting possibilities as the Adirondack Park.
I wish my company had been allowed to submit a proposal for the project. I spoke with three members of the committee in charge of the project about why the project was not put out to bid. Brian Towers (AATV), Ron Ofner (ARTC) and project coordinator
Kim Finnegan all said in separate conversations that they simply decided that AdWorkshop was the only organization that could accomplish the task on their schedule. I don’t understand how they could possibly know that without soliciting proposals. It is disheartening for an entrepreneur like myself to realize that the game is rigged in favor of entrenched entities like AdWorkshop that (apparently) don’t have to keep up on new technology because they know state funds will keep filling their trough no matter how hard they try.
I believe the Adirondacks deserves better. After realizing that the recreation web portal was not going to come close to what I’d envisioned, I decided to produce an alternative. Over the last few weeks I’ve developed a website that represents my vision of what a web portal should look like: adkwebmap.com.
The site isn’t perfect, but I think it is fun and easy to use. It is mobile-friendly and has type-ahead search bars that allow users to quickly zoom to trails, towns, summits, museums and more. There are multiple maps with all kinds of layers. On some maps, users can contribute to the maps using a ‘comment’ tool. Best of all, the maps will always be changing and improving. I am currently working with several towns to help them manage their own map data which will feed directly into adkwebmap.com, as well as maps embedded on their own web sites.
I would like this to be a grass-roots project that enriches the Adirondack experience for users and empowers the smaller towns and businesses to harness the power of interactive maps in their marketing. I encourage you to try it out– feedback appreciated, as always.