Tuesday, January 03, 2006

History of the Web Content Managers Forum

In the early years of federal government websites, most of us were lonely pioneers. We were making it up as we went, and each of us felt so “out there.” Believe it or not, it was really hard to find our colleagues. Many “webmasters” were really focused on the technical side of the sites. Finding the people who worked on the content side often was next to impossible.

Tired of this isolation, we convened the first meeting of the Web Content Managers Forum back on October 31, 2000. The HUD Web Team called around to all the Cabinet level agencies to try to find out who worked on content, and we sent out an open invitation. We had 27 people at that first meeting in a HUD conference room...those Forum "pioneers" included Doug Green, Barbara Black, Lori Davis, Mark Asfaw, Phil Cogan, Tina Kelley, Jean O'Donoghue, Gina Pearson, Phyllis Preston, Judi Maguire, Jacques Kapuscinski, Michael Compher, Eileen Gibson, Angela Washington, Diane Bernier, Ken Thomas, Mary Jo Lazun, Deborah Burris, Sam Gallagher, Cindy O'Connor, Letha Strothers, Bill Bacon, Ted Albers, Cindy Newberry, Lynda Folwick, Eleanor Sullivan, and me (Candi Harrison). We were just so darned glad to find one another - we had so much to talk about...so much information to exchange. We decided to meet monthly and set up a listserv to keep in touch in between.

At that first meeting, we identified a number of topics that we wanted to discuss:

  1. How will the upcoming transition impact our web operations, and what do we need to do to prepare for it?
  2. Where do we think the federal government web presence is headed? Will we always have individual agency sites? Will there one day be a large database of federal info, accessed through a grandchild of Firstgov.gov? Is there anything we can/should do to shape this direction?
  3. How are agencies dealing with implementing metatags?
  4. Are agencies using content management software and, if so, what works?
  5. How are agencies using stats management software to manage/improve their websites?
  6. How are agencies dealing with requirements for providing information in Spanish?
  7. How can we create customizable web sites (which is good for the audience) while satisfying privacy concerns?
  8. How do you organize content so it's useful to customers (audience-focused), while keeping your organizations happy?
  9. Who has a budget? How should content management be funded?
  10. How do you deal with e-mail coming into the web site?
  11. How do you manage FOIA pages?
  12. How do you market a web site?
  13. How can we use webcasting to enhance our web sites and improve delivery of information to our audiences?
  14. How can we work together better to make sure we're helping citizens get to information at other agencies that relates to our own?

Our monthly meetings remained fairly small for the first couple of years - normally 15-20 people. The listserv hovered around 150. Leadership was informal. Whoever volunteered to host a meeting chaired that meeting. After the first year, I stepped aside; and Gina Pearson and Bev Godwin kept things going. That changed at the end of 2003, when OMB announced it was going to set up the ICGI to recommend policies for federal public websites.

As the Web Content Management Working Group (now the "Advisory Council") got cranked up, we started using the Forum to vet ideas and recommendations. More and more web managers joined the listserv to be part of the process. Then we started doing the monthly Forum meetings via conference call - so we could include web managers all over the country. And we began engaging state and local government web managers, as well federal web managers. At the end of 2005, there were more than 1000 federal, state, and local government web content managers on the listserv and -routinely – 75-100 people on the monthly conference calls.

The web content management community has come a very long way. Though it still lacks a strong political advocate at the highest levels, the community has recognized the power of banding together. The coordinated hurricane Katrina response was testimony to the importance of this network. Web managers simply stepped up, reached out for colleagues through the Forum, and got the job done. It was grass roots action at its best.

The Web Content Managers Forum links government web content managers. And as we’ve discovered - web managers serve best when they serve together.

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