Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

10 Jul
Visit Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.
Visit and compare the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand online.

With the developments in technology that have happened with computers and the internet and ebooks (and yaddayadda), there are some books that it really makes no sense to keep as ‘books’ anymore. Encyclopedias are a good example: why would anyone own five tomes that are stuck on their bookshelf when you could carry all that information around with you all the time on your computer? And, indeed, as is the case with Te Ara, you don’t even need to ‘carry’ it in your computer: all you need is the internet and you can access it.

I think Te Ara is an excellent example of how the internet and computers can make books even more accesible than what they were, but being in a different format to what they traditionally are, there are a whole lot of different design issues that arise. Luckily, we had Jock Phillips from Te Ara come and speak to our class, so I don’t have to try and be smart and come up with them on my own. According to Jock, the benefits of having a publication like Te Ara as a website are:

  • you can include multimedia resources that relate to and reinforce the text. Te Ara aims to have 1 resource for every 1000 words of text.
  • nationwide links! You don’t even have to provide all the information, you can simply link to other places you know provide it. Again, these links relate to and reinforce the text.
  • searching a website is much easier: you can find specific information instantly.
  • websites are easy to update as information changes (Jock also mentioned that this allows the audience to engage with what they’re reading, I guess by making suggestions).
  • there are many audiences: the website format can appeal to and be used by anyone from an ESL learner to an international scholar.

So, do I think it works and does the design reflect these intentions? Totally. I think it’s really easy to use, it’s made obvious where to find everything. Having the ‘What’s Inside’ menu directly below the introductory image is good, because it’s the first place you scroll to look for more information. And having the images helps to indicate that these are ‘main’ sections of the site.

Overall, I really like the ‘horizontal’ feel of the site. It’s great to land on a slideshow on each new page and I think the landscape format works really well with the format of a computer screen. There’s not too much text (which I find really overwhelming when I’m first trying to find information) and the text that’s important (like links to new pages) are made really obvious and not clouded by too much surrounding text.

It’s good to compare the layout and design of Te Ara with the 1966 Encyclopedia. The 1966 Encyclopedia is still set out in very much the same way as a traditional book encyclopedia would be which works but is not anywhere near as user-friendly or as accessible on a computer as Te Ara. Te Ara is a good example of how you can take an existing text and re-adapt it and enhance it in a different format.

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