Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Where Are We Going?

A message I sent to the Web Content Managers Forum on 8/18/05

What if we had a new construct for government websites? Maybe we need two kinds of government websites: one is a government library, where we put everything, date it as we post it, create some good metadata so we can manage it, and tell folks we'll update as we can but make no promises. It serves double duty as our "web records." It plays to our philosophy that if it can be public, post it. It will help librarians and researchers. It will be vast. It will have every esoteric piece of government information we can find.

Then we have a single much, much smaller government services website - maybe it's a future version or extension of Firstgov. I think what people want is a guide - here are the 10 most used services related to housing or food or education...here's how you get them...here are the questions to ask...here's who you can talk to. Part of the problem in the past is that we've tried to throw everything at them. Or we link all over the place, with no context. Want to know more? Here - visit these 10 links and figure it out for yourself.

We pull the 1% of content that 99% of our visitors to our various websites use (thank you, Gerry McGovern!) and weave that together with some short segues, some real-time support, etc. We focus on citizen services (tasks they can accomplish), organized by topic. We vow to keep that current. We get the plain language folks involved - tell them to be aggressive in editing whatever goes on this site so it's good content. We use XML or some other technology so that the responsible agencies can keep the narrative current, but it appears on a page as text - not links. Heck - maybe we go out to the Industry Council and tell them what we want to do and challenge them to come up with new technology to help us. And we start moving away from 24,000+ separate websites.

Maybe we even marry up with USA Services and all the call-center efforts - put those folks online, as well as on the phone. Wouldn't it be great if a citizen could come to Firstgov at midnight and "talk" to a real person about the health service question or the transportation question that's been bothering him/her? If we could pick out 10 or fewer topics that are important to all Americans - housing, health, food, work, family, safety, transportation - and provide a good, simple, easy to use guide - wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be the right thing to do?

Maybe we could start by picking off one topic, figure out how to do things differently - so we really HELP Americans find the most used services from the govt...and then use that as a model - or at least as a lesson learned.

I know, I know...there are those who are shaking their heads and saying, "yeah, this sounds good...but just how will we do it?" So I will end with a great quote from one of my favorite bosses: If you don't know where you're going, it doesn't matter how you get there.

Where are we going?

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