With over 25,000 unique visitors a day, G.S.O.’s A.A. website provides a well-traveled path for A.A.s and others who are interested in information on alcoholism and recovery. To accommodate all that traffic, and to keep pace with today’s ever-changing digital environment, the website recently put on a new face, debuting a redesign launched in early June. Far more than just a change in graphics and appearance, this redesign introduced a total reorganization of existing material — and the addition of a number of new features — with upgraded functionality and a wealth of new attributes, providing visitors a user-friendly and more contemporary online experience.
Available in three languages — English, Spanish and French — with simplified navigation among all three, the new website architecture has been created from the ground up, with state-of-the-art web development language and coding to increase speed and performance, and tailored specifically to the new features now populating the site.
Says Daniel Brown, G.S.O.’s nonalcoholic Digital Media Man -ager, and the person responsible for implementing the site’s reorganization and redesign, “The driving force behind our digital strategy is, and always will be, to make sure we provide the A.A. Fellow ship and others interested in A.A. a helping hand as they carry the message, with information that is easy to find and well-adapted to a digital environment that is changing every day.”
Nearly two years in the making, this latest evolution of the website builds on previous enhancements and expands the site’s usefulness as a powerful adjunct to the Twelfth Step work done by A.A. members throughout the U.S., Canada and, indeed, the world.
The product of much scrutiny and input from all corners of the Fellowship, the updated website has made a transition from the more centralized functions of previous versions to the more fluid, interconnected and “intuitive” structure now in place. Using the analytics available through the website — information concerning how people utilize the site, what pages they go to most frequently, what information they’re after — and direct input from users throughout the Fellowship, an assessment was made that formulated the guiding principles of the redesign. “Essentially, “ says Daniel, “visitors were looking for three basics things from the website:
- to get help with a drinking problem;
- to find A.A. meetings and resources nearby; and
- for members, friends and professionals to get general information about A.A.”
Using these three topic areas as a template for the redesign, G.S.O. staff, the A.A.W.S. Board, the Group Services desk and the Publishing department began a collaboration that led to the reconfiguration of existing materials and the development of additional materials to help supplement the core of shared experience, strength and hope.
Describing the thought process behind the reorganization, G.S.O. staff member Tracey O. notes, “The original plan, basically, was to modernize the website and make it more usable in terms of design, organization and interactivity. The look and feel of the old site was outdated and not ‘intuitive,’ and we had been addressing it on a piecemeal basis as concerns cropped up.” Top-heavy with information, Tracey explains, the previous design was set up with multiple layers of information for each service assignment, making it difficult for users to navigate.
“This was one of our primary concerns,” says Tracey, “and we wanted to keep things as simple as possible, without sacrificing the site’s functionality.”
Starting with the work of G.S.O.’s Website Redesign Committee and the Services Committee of A.A.W.S., (now called the Technical/Communication/Service Committee) which has essential oversight of the website as a whole, “Our overall objectives were to update the site design and expand the capabilities,” says Tracey, “. . . to make the site more user-friendly for a variety of audiences and improve the visual appeal and accessibility of the site.
“Our main focus, then, for the home page was to make it absolutely clear for our three main audiences to see their concerns addressed right away. Much of the information actually presented on the home page was already available on the previous version, but took a little digging to find.”
In terms of new and enhanced features visitors can expect, one large area of improvement, according to G.S.O. staff member Mary C., the current Conference coordinator, is the new information about getting involved in service in the “Information About A.A.” section on the home page, under the heading “For A.A. Members.”
“The reorganization and redesign have provided an easier way for members to get hold of information about service, and getting involved. We’re very excited about the new layout and feel that it will make the wide range of service materials that we have more readily available.
“There’s a page specifically for getting involved in service — with linked pages for G.S.R.s and D.C.M.s — and there’s the A.A. Group Life page that contains resources and A.A. shared experience that many groups will find helpful.
“One of the new features is the section for new trusted servants that specifically guides members new to general service in how to get listed at G.S.O., and what materials from G.S.O. might help them in their new positions. Basically an overview of getting involved for people who are new to service.”
Another exciting function, Mary points out, is the list of materials that appear for each service committee — Public Information, Cooperation With the Professional Community, etc. — with a “featured resource” function that highlights, in most cases, the A.A. workbook associated with each committee, providing a wealth of information for individuals, groups and committees that is just a click away.
This website does not provide A.A. meeting information directly. What it does provide is contact information and links to local A.A. offices and to websites where you can find A.A. meetings or talk to an A.A. member.
Other overall highlights include photographs of G.S.O.’s Archives department, along with an audio library featuring talks by Bill W. and Dr. Bob; a revamped section featuring the Daily Reflections book, where people can search individual entries, navigate to any date, and share entries with a friend via email; additionally, the full library of video and audio public service announcements has been reformatted to enhance compatibility across digital platforms, allowing for easy access.
For people curious about whether or not they may have a problem with drinking, in the “Need Help with a Drinking Problem?” section there is a confidential electronic version of “Is A.A. For You? Twelve questions only you can answer” that visitors can fill out online. For journalists and others in the media interested in A.A., a dedicated “For the Media” portal has been reconfigured, presenting basic facts about A.A. and providing critical information about anonymity. As noted by Mary C., whose most recent past staff assignment was on the Public Information desk, the redesign has already had an impact on the Public Information services provided by G.S.O. “In the short time the new site has been up,” she says, “we’ve seen an increase in requests from TV and radio stations for public service announcements.” And, finally, for people looking to purchase A.A. literature in the online store, make a Seventh Tradition contribution online, or subscribe electronically to any of G.S.O.’s three newsletters (Box 4-5-9, G.S.O.’s quarterly news bulletin; About A.A., the newsletter for professionals; and Markings, the Archives eNewsletter), the functionality and graphics of these features have been streamlined and strengthened.
In terms of updated technology, the new site has further developed its search function, allowing visitors to locate specific resources related to their particular interests, and has given special attention to cross-browser rendering to allow for greater compatibility across platforms. This has allowed people with disabilities who are using assistive technology to more easily access and enjoy the site.
One other important advance is the mobile version of the site that is now available — a change determined during the evaluation of the site’s analytics. When it was discovered that nearly half of the visitors to aa.org use mobile platforms to connect to the site it was clear that a more concentrated and accessible version of the site needed to be established, and while the “regular version” of the site is still available when connecting through any mobile device, users will automatically be directed to the version that is designed specifically for use on these hand-held devices.
All in all, feedback has generally been positive, notes Tracey O., who as G.S.O.’s Group Services coordinator is responsible for collecting feedback and monitoring any problems that might come up on the site. Writes one happy visitor on the Website Feedback Form provided on the new site, “Wow. Nice job. . . What a nice, refreshing, upbeat website. Good group conscience. It works!”
Like sobriety and spiritual growth itself, the website is an ongoing project, one that needs to be constantly nurtured, inventoried and enhanced. Yet, important as it is in this digital age, all involved in this most recent redesign recognize that the website can never take the place of the traditional face-to-face communication that happens between one alcoholic and another — the special bond so clearly established when Bill W. reached out to Dr. Bob.
But it sure is nice to have a helping hand.