Case study: BaBar web improvement project

Overhead photo of SLAC Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)

At SLAC in Stanford University, California, electrons and positrons are accelerated in a linear accelerator, circulated in opposite directions, then collided in the BaBar detector, creating B and anti-B mesons. Measured differences in these particle's rates of decay help to explain why there is more matter than antimatter in the Universe.

The problem:

600 collaborators from 85 institutions in 11 countries can all add pages freely to the BaBar website, which came online in 1994. By July 1998 it contained over 200,000 informative documents, but its disordered, inconsistent design frustrated users and wasted their time.

Photo of Mark Williams in BaBar control room Mark Williams serving as Shift Leader in the BaBar control room

The solution:

Stanford University hired Mark Williams to redesign the BaBar website. He recruited Dan Azzopardi and Paul Dixon to help him analyse the existing site and to implement a new, improved website architecture.
Studies of how users pictured the BaBar website and actually moved around it - combined with an analysis of similar sites - led us to create a more hierarchical and intuitive design. On finding that commercially available software packages could not restructure such a large site without breaking any links, we developed our own tools to do the job.

After successfully installing the new website in February 1999 - see the archived BaBar home page - Mark gave a keynote speech on "Mastering the BaBar website" at InterLab99, and carried on as BaBar WebMaster until October 2000 when his RSE/PPARC Enterprise Fellowship began.

The BaBar web improvement project involved...

Research & Development:

  • Website usability surveys
  • Studies of similar sites
  • Web server log analyses
  • Architectural web design
  • File system restructuring
  • Prototyping & user testing

Rolling out a new website:

  • Repairing links & bad HTML
  • Search engine optimisation
  • Authoring tools & guidelines
  • Sitemap & navigation bars
  • Automatically updating users' favorites/bookmarks files
  • Mirroring website UK<->USA

"Documentation and information exchange on the BaBar web, which was the focus of a major improvement effort, facilitated BaBar's complex task."

Dr. Charles Young, Head of Computing, BaBar Collaboration.

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