“Coming Attractions:” New OCA web site to make its debut in June

The announcement of a completely redesigned web site for the Orthodox Church in America, first made at the 15th All-American Council in late 2008, will reach its fulfillment in the coming weeks as the OCA’s web team puts the “finishing touches” on this major project.

Recently, Ginny Nieuwsma and Ryan Platte, who are spearheading the redesign, shared their enthusiasm for the new site and anticipation for its launch in a few weeks.

OCA.org: We’ve been hearing about a new OCA website for quite some time. How long has the team been working on this?

Ginny: People have been working on the new site to some degree for nearly a year! The OCA had been promised a new website, and in the summer of 2010 steps were taken to make it a reality. I had just finished leading the team that launched the Saint Vladimir’s Seminary web site, and Father Eric Tosi, OCA Secretary, contacted me to see if I could help plan OCA.org’s remodel. We conducted a survey and Fr. Eric presented the results to last September’s Synod and Metropolitan Council meetings. Their united decision was to hire a managing editor and a technical manager to start work in 2011. As our first task, we were asked to build a new site!

Ryan: We’re thrilled to be helping the OCA focus on the web. OCA.org is a very important face of the Church. It’s one of the very top most-trafficked English-language Orthodox websites in the world. There are 141 distinct features in the new site map and many thousands of pages on the site. We’ve really swung for the fences, attempting to fit a site reorganization, complete design overhaul, rethinking of content strategy, security improvements, and hosting service changes—not to mention a complete rewrite of all of the site’s programming—all into a fixed budget. I think to a large extent we are succeeding.

OCA.org: This sounds like it’s been a big undertaking. Who has been working on this with you?

Ginny: The two of us and Father John Schroedel, our developer, are the core team, and the folks at Simple Focus in Memphis are providing design and HTML. But we’re only the legs—we’ve needed and received lots of information and help from throughout the OCA. It helped that we were given a good foundation through the work of Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov, the site’s former webmaster. The team we’ve put together is superb: Father Tosi is leading our efforts, Senior Editor Father John Matusiak is running the news and Q & A sections, and invaluable assistance is offered by Jessica Linke and Greg Sulich at the Chancery. Metropolitan Jonah, OCA Treasurer Melanie Ringa, and Protodeacon Joseph Matusiak have all given us valuable help and guidance. Everyone we’ve dealt with has been very supportive—department heads, clergy, and laity.

OCA.org: How will the new site differ from the existing one?

Ginny: One of my main tasks has been to create the new site map, which involved completely restructuring the site’s architecture. The existing home page gives visitors too many choices, making it very hard to find anything at all! As we explored this, we realized the site could be divided into four distinct areas—“subsites” if you will. All the content of OCA.org falls into one of these categories: About the OCA, The Orthodox Faith, Dioceses & Parishes, and The Work of the Church. Each of those areas have gold mines of great content we can feature. In the months following the site’s launch, I’ll be focusing on editing pages in the new structure in order to bring forward the many resources of the OCA.

It’ll be a work in progress as we continue to update all department and diocese pages and Father Joseph Frawley completes our highly popular Feasts & Saints section. We also plan to supplement our Feasts & Saints section with Spanish translations provided by Father Antonio Perdomo.

Ryan: Fr. Schroedel is building the site with the ExpressionEngine content management system, which is a great fit for our needs. It is much, much easier to use for those who are editing the site. It also allows us to make the resources of the OCA much more accessible to our readers. We’ll have better URLs, and several other aspects of the site will help us be found more easily in search engines. In some ways it will be very much the same site, but in many ways the new site will be a dramatic improvement.

OCA.org: What will be different about the new design?

Ryan: The new design will have a very different approach. The site had been updated with new features and some design changes, but hasn’t been really refreshed since its inception in 1996. J.D. Graffam and John Mears at Simple Focus have done some remarkable work for us. They are brilliant designers who led us through the hundreds of big and small decisions to find a design that has wonderful utility and looks and feels beautiful.

One among many extras I’m excited about is that they have applied a new technique called “responsive design.” To put it in very simple terms, our new site is optimized for not one or two but nearly all screen sizes. Users of iPhones, iPads, other mobile devices, and of course desktop computers will all see a presentation that is tuned for their device, all from a single design. My jaw dropped when I saw how well it works. This is the best such design I’ve encountered, and I’m tickled to be working with designers with such skill.

Ginny: Simple Focus managed to create a clean, functional design that is up-to-date while simultaneously capturing the Orthodox “essence/flavor.” The homepage banner allows for a seasonal hero image of Christ, a saint, or an interior shot of an OCA temple, and the liturgical resources are front and center for easy access. While the news is prominently displayed, thumbnail images and text lead to “soft” news stories as well. A new media landing page gives our users a one-click way to find our photo galleries, books by OCA authors, newly released videos, and all OCA-related media.

Ryan: Another bit of design that we’ve received with this project is a subtle but beautiful facelift to the OCA logo. John Burns, a parishioner of the OCA’s Saint Juvenaly Mission, is a brand identity designer and calligrapher who has worked on several very well-known brands. He totally redrew both the domes and lettering for us and provided important guidance on how to use our logo.

OCA.org: When will we get our first look at the new website?

Ginny: We plan to unveil the first version of the new site on Pentecost weekend. We look forward to all the great things we can add afterward.