DPHHH is a personal project that I’ve worked on since 2003. It was a way to give back to the community by helping both deaf and hearing professionals to connect and share experiences. Through the years, technology has changed the way we communicate. This site is a way for me to share my insights on how websites and community evolved.
For those of you who don’t know: DPHH stands for Deaf Professional Happy Hour. It provides a way for the deaf professional community to socialize/network at a variety of places once a month. DPHH was founded in 1995 by a group of RIT/NTID alumni who lived in DC. A group of us followed their footsteps, forming satellite groups. In late 2003, we formed our very own DPHH in Houston. Since then, DPHHH grew at a steady rate, attributable to simple marketing (word of mouth and a dedicated website). A website was originally built to mass communicate where and when to meet. I was point person for this website and I created 2 designs on DPHHH.
Having met all kinds of people with different backgrounds, there were stories of happiness, struggles, frustrations, and other life experiences. Hearing these stories made me realize how interconnected we all are.
Initially, the simple information on DPHHH website was sufficient, but the dynamics of daily interaction created a need for change. Typically, most information related to deaf issues aren’t easily found. Information is scattered all over the place, which doesn’t help the local community pin-point the real issues. With such a diverse group of people, a central repository of resources, supports and activities was sorely needed. That’s where I intervened. I realized that DPHHH had the potential to fill the void. With this in mind, I brainstormed and experimented different ideas. This much was apparent: before I moved forward, I had to address some of the common problems that I encountered on DPHHH’s site. These include:
- Limited focus – DPHHH focused only on interaction, network, awareness, exploration and socializing. Our target audience was geared toward adults (age 21 and up) who were or had an interest in deaf society. It was a great start, but wasn’t enough to make a difference.
- Poor communication -There wasn’t any place where anyone could have discussions or at least give feedback on the website. Social events were the only place where I could get such information.
- Awareness – Educating is a good way to promote awareness. We all need to learn how to communicate with different groups of people. However, a number of disconnected issues appeared among us, particularly on cultural differences and/or the way we do things that others may not understand. I felt the need to be proactive and socialize common issues – not just for hearing, but deaf as well.
- Social integration – We are in the midst of an internet communication explosion- Facebook, Twitter, youtube, etc. None of them were implemented on the old site. We need to keep up with technology to be effective.
- Poor search results and stats – This was something that I didn’t keep track of, but I do remember the results at the time. The details may not be accurate, but the number of unique visitors per month was about 500-700 people. DPHHH’s site ranked somewhere on 10th page using the keyword “deaf houston”. It was adequate to begin with, especially when the target audience is mainly deaf adults in Houston.
- Scalability – Focus was limited and it didn’t make sense to scale under DPHHH. Any other topics apart from jobs or networking wouldn’t fit DPHHH’s objectives. Plus, I needed to expand the audience.
- Maintenance – Dphhh’s first website was originally built using the old html tables. Files had to be manually using FTP each month. Back-ups were pretty non existence. The 2nd redesign was done using HTML/CSS with WordPress. It was an improvement, but wasn’t enough to maintain the site easily.
Conception of Houston Deaf Network (HDN)
It became clear that it was necessary to address these issues. The objectives and reasons behind it justified the decision to change the organization name. In fact, it was a friend (Billy Koch) who suggested the name change in order to expand into other areas. That was when Houston Deaf Network came to life.
I won’t go into details on how the process was carried out. But the following is what it took to develop from beginning to the end:
- Brainstorm, learn and gather information
- Planning stage, wireframe, and prototype
- High fidelity design
- Revision, reflection, and finalize
- Code – HTML/CSS/Jquery/PHP-Wordpress
- Quality Assurance Testing
Once I figured out the plan, I put my thinking cap on and navigated my way around. I knew ahead of time that WordPress would be my choice of CMS. It was easy to develop and have it done within a few weeks. In fact, the planning stage took longer than the actual development.
When I deployed the new site, I received overwhelming positive responses. There was new information coming in from all directions. More importantly, all the pressing matters have been properly highlighted so that anyone could find them. The site became much more accessible to everyone: all ages, all races, people with disabilities and those without.
You may ask: “So what’s new in HDN that DPHHH didn’t have?” Here are the new features that were added:
- Dedicated News section
- Social Activities
- Resource center
- Directory list
- Article submission
- Social networking integration
Houston Deaf Network
The results of unique visitors and page views had generated more than a 300% increase since mid 2009. Below are the statistics from March – April 2011.
At this time, we now have about 800 Facebook fans and over 200 Twitter followers. We’re ranked in the top 10 in all search engines using the keyword “deaf Houston” or “deaf network”.
The community continues to grow since HDN was first launched. The awareness of deafness is much more pronounced, and resources/networking are readily available to those who lives in or those who visit Houston. Needless to say with all the improvements that were made, new challenges were introduced. Scalability was something that I thought was already addressed, but there were certain areas that weren’t fully vetted. Another area that was not addressed was the lack of special occasions (i.e. Deaf Awareness Week). The way it is represented, it is not easily identifiable since these occasions are embedded in other areas and not its own.
There were other things beyond my control such as every article contributed by the community aren’t consistently formatted. It took a lot of my time to go in each article and do clean up. Soon, gave up maintaining it. One other key issue is the amount of information crammed into the homepage. I needed to balance the information flow somehow.
In terms of design, I kept the night life aspect when I made the transition from DPHHH. It may not be the best way to go about, but I thought it was fitting at the time. I can tell you now that it got old quickly. Any design needs to be timeless, meaning it needs to have a long lasting appeal. Apart from design choice, the changes from DPHHH to HDN were, without a doubt, a huge stepping stone.
With the lessons that I’ve learned, I’ve already put in motion what I could improve. In addition, Oswaldo Rodriguez (a software engineering and a co-founder at BE7A LLC) will be working with me to develop the next generation of HDN. The following improvements will be included:
- Cross device compatible
- HDN Brand Redesign
- Minimalistic design
- Tighter information structure
- Facebook/Disqus comments
- Calendars/Events integration
- Robust article submission
- Employment feed
- robust video/Social image gallery
- Possibly add forum/classified ads
- Shopping – HDN brand
Excited? I know I am, but Oz and I are still at the planning stage, so we have a long way to go. If you have any suggestions, feel free to use the area below to let us know your thoughts and/or suggestions. Hopefully, the Houston Deaf Network will continue to change and improve the way we live.