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2007 01 07
Bob Brent’s History Of The TTC Website
We received the following, "History of the TTC website," email yesterday from Bob Brent and wanted to share it with everyone who has followed our TTC web design challenge. Bob provides some insights into the story.

By Bob Brent

imageThe TTC website was my baby: I recommended it, created it and built it up to 2001 when my TTC tenure ended (as a marketer—not an IT tech or webdesigner.)

I wanted to tell you how delighted I am with your championing a long overdue redesign of the TTC website and your successful challenge to now TTC Chair Adam Giambrone and his enthusiastic response to accept public (blogger/transit "geek") input into the redesign of the TTC website—and the outpouring of passionate responses on Spacing, Torontoist... readers

As TTC CMO, I recommended the creation of the website to TTC CGM David Gunn in June 1997 during the Marketing & Public Affairs budget presentation. He approved it—without any funds to host the server. TTC IT declined to offer a server, feeling they had neither the web expertise nor budget to host the website, so I had to scramble to find a host.

Three organizations ultimately bid on hosting the website: Toronto.com (then the most popular Toronto website), YellowPages.ca (TTC info in Toronto books) and Metro (soon to be City of Toronto). After much discussion and thought an agreement with Metro was signed in late November, 1997 and the TTC website was up and running a little over a month late on January 1st, 1998. I was a mighty proud papa!

The TTC website grew from that humble January 1998 start to 1,000,000 hits/month Deember 1999; tripling to 3,000,000 hits/month nine months later (September 2000); before growing to the unimaginged 9,000,000 hits/month by the end of 2001 (in the days before pages views).

The TTC website was a huge success, despite limited financial resources and the skepticism of my boss, who as a career Tory politician/PR guy didn't really understand marketing nor see the website as a critical part of the marketing strategy "to offer TTC information anywhere, anyway, anytime" as a catalyst for the rider to take TTC trips.

Once the initial rush of starting the website was over, it was clear by late 1999 that the website needed better design, both to reinforce the TTC's "Ride the Rocket... The Better Way" branding but also speed rider access to attractively designed and systematically, intutively organized information they needed to help make TTC trips "cheaper, faster and more convenient" than the competitor—the car.

There were several organizational roadblocks to implementing a redesign. First, my boss wasn't sold on the internet, and wouldn't approve funds to have our ad agency prepare a redesign . . . Secondly, the TTC's "webmaster" was not a graphic designer . . . And thirdly, when I took my inexpensive idea of having Design/IT students prepare a spec redesign of the website as a class project to (Metro now City of) Toronto, they vetoed the idea saying they couldn't vary the TTC content pages from the underlying Toronto website (blue frames—which is why the TTC home page is still an orphan to the TTC content pages underneath.)

My tenure as TTC CMO ended in 2001, and so it seems did the internal spark for on-going evolution of the design of the TTC website (monitoring the hits/page views as a guide to content and design). Imagine where the TTC website would be today if I'd been successful earlier in 2000 or if you'd issued your design challenge sooner? It’s probably true that "when the student is ready, the teacher will come!"

I think it was in November 2005's Commission meeting that then Commissioner Adam Giambrone first publicly critiqued the dated design and poor functionality of the TTC website: expressing a desire for it to be radically redesigned. I was delighted and in February 2006 e-mailed Adam Giambrone some Google search links for "Good Website Design"/"Top Transit Websites." They are very applicable to the current challenge:

1. http://www.nngroup.com/services/redesign.html
Direction for Redesign: Principles to follow in redesigning a website from BBC's Web guru' company

2. http://www.webreference.com/greatsite.html
What makes a great website

3. http://www.worldbestwebsites.com/
World's Greatest Websites... unfortunately, I can't find any transit examples...

4. http://www.fta.dot.gov/14801_ENG_HTML.htm
FTA's Top Transit Website Awards... check out Seattle (King's County for exemplary simplicity)... nb. Tri-Met for 6-language translations... Russian Spanish... 4 Asian languages—Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese & Korean! (http://www.trimet.org/).

For those who have commented about the TTC's Commission website, I'd also encourage them to visit my (hometown) Translink's website which has all Board Agendas, Minutes and Reports in full as formatted .pdf's unlike the TTC's barren text partial reports (http://www.translink.bc.ca/WhatsNewandBoardMeetings/Board_Reports/archives.asp).

I look forward to reading the community's input to the TTC website redesign. To be successful I think Chair Giambrone has to grapple with who is best suited to manage the website on-going, and whether a Toronto-tied server will allow the TTC website the creative flexibility to evolve to a higher standard of (integrated) graphic design that is also more intuitive and functional for riders to access the information they seek.

Thanks again for your brainwave... I hope it is very successful!

Still a proud papa!
[email this story] Posted by Editor on 01/07 at 10:06 AM

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