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January '03


Streamlining the Auroville website

- from an interview by Alan



Changes are taking place at Auroville's information interface with the world

Doris and Manoj

Last year, Mauna wrote an article [The Web and the Wooing, AVT149-50] describing how the third generation of the Auroville website came into being. Mauna, who together with Manoj was mainly responsible for the content of the site, is now focusing her energy in other directions and is transferring the website job to newcomer Doris. We asked Doris and Manoj about other new developments.

Manoj: One change is that the AV Web and the AVNet teams have now merged. However, while we share ideas and I have a foot in each activity, Doris focuses upon AVWeb while Sukhamuni and Kovalan continue to manage AVNet. In fact, AVWeb and AVNet are two distinct organisms which have totally independent lives. AVNet is very much the place where Aurovilians try to solve the issues of their daily lives, whereas AVWeb presents Auroville to the outside (see box).


Auroville Today: The Auroville Website is also undergoing changes. What does this involve?


Manoj: We're not redesigning the site but streamlining it, making it easier for users to find information which is most often requested. For example, we receive repeated requests for information about the Aurovilians themselves: who are they and what brought them here? This information already existed, but the profiles were scattered in various sections and hidden in deeper layers of the AVWeb. So now we have brought them all together in one section and present them more prominently.

Doris: As a Newcomer to Auroville I look at the Website with different eyes from the rest of the team. I remember what it was like to sit in Germany and try to get the information I needed from the site. This was sometimes frustrating. For example, as someone planning to stay in Auroville I wanted to know about guest houses and the location of different places. However, the Auroville map took ages to download and it was impossible to toggle backwards and forwards between the map and guest house information. So now we have snipped the map into small pieces which means the map begins downloading much faster: the user no longer has to sit for hours in front of a blank screen.

Manoj: Last year, when we floated this new version of AVWeb we had over 400 pages. Today there are more than 950! In other words, while we are trying to improve the site technically we have to manage the new information which is pouring in. Even so a lot of information is still missing, like profiles of communities and work groups, for example.

Doris: There's also a need to rebalance some of the information presented. Village Action features very prominently on the AVWeb. It's doing good work, but there's nothing at present about the ordinary lives of the villagers or about the challenges faced by Tamil Aurovilians caught between two very different cultures.


How do you present the material? Do you feel you have a public relations function?


Manoj: We don't write the material. It's written by the people actually doing the work and then it's edited and stylistically 'smoothed' by Mauna. We're not interested in propaganda: we want to provide a neutral medium through which Auroville presents itself to the world.


Warts and all?


Manoj: We want to give a clear, honest picture of what is happening here. However, while the main AVNews is available on the AVWeb, the messages pages of the News are not of a quality which can be presented to the outside.

Doris: Nor would they be understood by outsiders.


How do you present the spiritual dimension?


Doris: When the website was redesigned last year there was an agreement that the spiritual dimension should be presented in a 'cool' but not uninspiring way. I wouldn't change anything here. The presentation is very clean, clear, with no atmosphere of a sect or religiosity.

Manoj: In Auroville you don't hear discussion of spiritual issues. It's not that it's not important to us, but it's in our daily life that we work out our problems. So while there are many profiles on the AVWeb through which Aurovilians can freely present themselves and their concerns, the emphasis tends to be on down-to-earth living rather than spiritual experiences.


How interactive is the AVWeb?


Manoj: At one point we created an interactive forum where outside users could post comments and start discussions on Auroville. We had to remove it after one month because the people who participated got locked very quickly into a spiral of negativity and the whole thing became unhealthy.

However, as webmaster I receive many requests for further information about Auroville. There is a lot of interest in technological areas like renewable energy and architecture, as well as in organic agriculture. Many of the enquiries come from people considering taking up long- or short-term internships in Auroville which is another growing trend.

Other areas of our work don't elicit such interest. For example, we get few enquiries about education in Auroville.


Why?


Manoj: It could just be a reflection of the fact that the information is not well presented. But my view is that there is only life where there is mutuality: in other words, both a demand and a response. In the field of education there are few requests from the outside for more information, and little response from Auroville. So the situation is static. In other fields, however, there is much greater dynamism. Our task, as AVWeb managers, is to facilitate that flow, not try to direct it.


Are there any major new initiatives on the horizon?


Doris: Within one month we want to launch auroville.com. The auroville.org address is not for business activities, so auroville.com will provide a site where all the commercial activities of Auroville, including not only our businesses but also guest houses etc., can present themselves to the world.


Don't many Auroville businesses already have their own independent sites?


Manoj: Yes, but soon we can refer the many people who visit auroville.org to one Auroville commerce site rather than them having to search through the whole web for Auroville businesses. Also, although we won't design the pages for commercial units, we will look after all the on-site technical aspects for them, so freeing them from a lot of the hassles involved with having to maintain your own website.

A continuing problem with AVWeb has been finding the resources to run it. On principle we feel that basic information about Auroville should be provided free of cost. Since the commercial units will pay us for renting space in the auroville.com domain, we can use some of these funds to finance AVWeb and move us one step closer to financial independence.


The AVWeb (http://www.auroville.org) contains the 'international' pages accessible by the whole world, whereas AVNet (http://www.auroville.org.in) is Auroville's local Intranet, accessible only by Aurovilians and very close friends of Auroville. Many pages of the Auroville website have been translated into Dutch, French, German, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish (Chinese is on the way). Links from the respective pages on our site link to these translations that are placed on the AVI site www.auroville-international.org)

 

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