Sunday, February 19, 2006

Why Have All These Government Websites When We’ve Got Google?

A couple of months ago, I heard someone ask a question that should chill the blood of every government web manager: why bother having all those government websites when we have Google? Initially, I thought, “absurd.” But later, I started to wonder what he meant.
  • Did he mean that government “home pages” are a waste of time because citizens can’t find what they want on home pages? With Google, they get right into the website – bypassing all that “overhead.”
  • Did he mean that all our testing and anguish over information architecture is a waste of time because citizens still have to figure out how to navigate the more than 24,000 government websites, each with its own look and its own layout?
  • Did he mean that the public doesn’t know or understand the government organizational structure so they don’t know where to go in the government to find what they want? It’s easier to go to one place – Google – and not worry about which agency it comes from.
  • Did he mean that there’s so much program and content duplication and overlap among agencies that the public gets frustrated having to go from one agency website to another to get the full picture? That they’d rather have it pulled together in one place?
  • Did he mean that he isn’t aware of FirstGov as the front door for government information?
  • Did he mean that he’d rather see us just dump all of our content into one gigantic online “file cabinet” and let citizens find it using a tool that’s already proven itself to be reliable, fast, and easy to use - Google?

What do you suppose he meant? You’d better figure it out because, one day, the Washington Post or a member of Congress may ask the same question.

What value do you add by having a separate website? Do you add value by organizing content in a coherent way, leading citizens through the steps or a progression? Do you add value by saying, “start here?” Do you add value by saying, “this link is going to help you more than that link,” or – better yet – just eliminating that link that really isn’t so helpful? Do you add value by explaining what a complicated piece of content means, in simple terms?

What do you do that Google doesn’t or can’t do? Figure it out, folks. Be ready to explain it. If having all these separate government websites has no value, then – indeed – why have them?

Related post: Connect the Dots

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