Caldera chronicles: YVO website updated for mobile devices

Caldera chronicles: YVO website updated for mobile devices

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Old home

This screen capture shows the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory website home page in 2001.

Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week's contribution is from Wendy K. Stovall, science communicator and deputy scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

Someday in the future, we will gather together again with friends and family in (relatively) close quarters. Imagine that moment … you are sitting having a casual chat with your favorite family member when you overhear someone fraught with worry that Yellowstone might erupt and send the world into a nuclear winter. Fortunately, you know the source to go to for accurate and updated information — the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory website. So, you whip out your smartphone to get the right information to set the record straight.

Fortunately for you the YVO website has recently been updated for optimized performance on mobile devices, so you can quickly find all the information you want to put the concerns of your uncle, sister, parent or friend at bay. That’s right. When you visit the YVO website today, you’ll see the same information, just in a new mobile-friendly format.

We know that change is sometimes hard, and you’ve come to know how to navigate from here to there in the YVO website. But in this case change is also good. Let’s take a little journey through the annals of the internet to explain.

When the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory was born in 2001 the internet was a very different place than it is today. Only 50% of the North American population was active online, and websites were primarily coded in basic html script. There was no interactive map to view volcano monitoring data and the webpages were a text heavy list of links that needed to be updated line by line when information changed. As time wore on it was difficult to keep information updated, so webpages became stale and links led to nonexistent content.

For 10 years the YVO website experienced several cosmetic lifts to adapt to changing trends in internet look and feel. Adaptations included a shift to fewer pages with long lists of links and better formatting. However, with code dominantly html with some added styling scripts, updates were still made line-by-line.

In 2012, YVO embarked upon its first major website overhaul. By then the number of active internet users in North America had grown to 75%. A database was built to house not only user-friendly output of near real-time volcano monitoring data, but also all the text that appears on websites. We were finally able to build webpages in a more dynamic way and provide a user-friendly means of accessing volcano monitoring information via a map interface. For several years, this worked well for those who visited our webpages from desktop and laptop computers. However, with its fixed width and non-scalable components, the website functionality was not ideal for people on mobile devices.

North Americans' internet usage via mobile and tablet surpassed desktop access in 2017, and this split has hovered around 50% ever since (last month, mobile and tablet usage rose to 55%). Once this shift happened, search engines began to preferentially display mobile-friendly websites to people who perform searches on mobile devices. So, if you searched for information about a possible “Yellowstone eruption” via your phone or tablet, the scientifically vetted USGS and YVO websites wouldn’t be at the top of the returned results, until recently.

In order to maintain our federally mandated directive of ensuring accessible data, we began an extensive effort to make our websites more easily viewable on mobile devices. The first place we implemented the change was with a screen-adaptive version of our volcano monitoring data map in 2018.

By 2019 when this website overhaul project was stepped up in earnest, 83% of the North American population (and a whopping 90% in the U.S.) were active internet users. For the past couple of years, 40% of visitors to our volcanoes.usgs.gov websites have come via mobile device. We’ve been working to ensure this conversion was completed with the integrity of our monitoring data and informational content intact. With a USGS-wide push to make all bureau-hosted websites mobile friendly, YVO has received a huge deal of support in making this latest change take place.

The content for YVO, Yellowstone, and other YVO volcanoes has been converted into a new USGS-wide website database, which provides the added benefit of greater discoverability and visibility amongst other USGS websites. Our monitoring data remain dynamically driven, and we’ll be making more enhancements to these mapped displays in the coming years. You may have noticed that California Volcano Observatory has also adapted to this new look and feel. And if you’re wondering, the Cascades and Hawaiian Volcano Observatories are next.

So now you can take the mobile challenge. Visit usgs.gov/yvo via your phone, tablet, or smart TV. You will find all the same information that was included in our old website, but there may be a slightly different path to access it. The hamburger button and “Quick Links” should help. And you can always email us if you get stuck.

For all you YVO web surfers out there, surf’s up!

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