Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What’s So Important About a URL?

HUD is championing a new URL: fha.gov. It’s not a new website. It’s really a shortcut into a particular section of the existing HUD website. So the question is: why did HUD executives decide to create this URL? Does this unique URL help the public get to what they want? Or is it just one more name to remember in the jungle of government websites?

If web managers want to control proliferation of websites and URLs, then we’ve got to understand the causes. So why do executives like to promote these “designer” URLs?

  • Is it a marketing strategy? Do they think it’s easier for the public to have a separate URL for each product they want to promote?
  • Did one part of the agency want to distinguish its own work from the work of other parts of the agency?
  • Did it happen because the existing website has grown so large that important content is getting lost? Have executives lost confidence in the ability of the Departmentwide website to communicate what they think is important?
  • Did it happen because executives or staff don’t know, understand, or (most important) value the Department’s web policies?
  • Was it an off-the-cuff idea that gained momentum without consideration of its ramifications on the rest of the agency, the government as a whole, or the public?

In truth, it probably was a little bit of each of these factors…and maybe others.

HUD has a long-standing policy that there is one single website for the agency and that everyone will promote that URL. Yet key executives decided to do something different. They surely had compelling reasons to take this action. What were they?

URL "creep" isn’t just HUD’s problem – in fact, HUD has been better than most agencies in controlling website proliferation. This is a problem that needs to be addressed across government. And to do that, we need to understand the causes. Ultimately – another URL is not good for citizens.

What is so important about having a new URL? Answer that question, and you’ll be on the road to solving the problem.

Related Posts: Stop the Proliferation of Federal Websites

Is It Time to Enlist the CIO’s?

With the number and volume of government websites running amok, it's time to establish governmentwide management controls over websites. Maybe, Content Managers, it’s time to enlist the support of CIOs. Government web managers have struggled to distinguish “content management” from “technical management.” But it’s time to form alliances to bring about governmentwide consistency and better overall management.

The Web Managers Advisory Council might do a thoughtful briefing for the CIO Council, for starters. Let them know what you’re doing, the problems you face, and what you’ve learned from and about citizens; and suggest ways the CIO Council could work with you to address some of these ongoing problems.

The CIO Council has recognition, money, and access to the top management at OMB. If you can explain the issues in ways that make sense to them, you could create some powerful allies.

Think about it.

Related Posts:
Stop the Proliferation of Federal Websites
Where Are We Going?

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

Web Managers – Check Your Image

To be effective in your job, you have to be part of the management process. You can’t just sit back and wait to be asked for your opinion. You have to make your place at the table. You have to be viewed as a management asset – an idea person who adds real value in planning sessions...someone who comprehends management problems and offers possibile solutions…someone who is ready and able to jump in and explain your ideas in terms that executives understand.

If you are going to lead your agency to use the web in new and better ways, you have to cause executives to make you part of their management team. Your image – how you are perceived by executives – is critical to your success. So, Web Manager – take a look at yourself.

  • Do you look like someone who could walk into the office of the agency head and make a presentation? Do you look like someone who your agency head would want to take with him/her to a public meeting to talk about your website?
  • Can you talk to executives in their language? Do you know what your executives want to achieve? Can you demonstrate that you understand the issues and challenges they face? Are you credible?
  • Can you articulate what you do - or can do - to help them, in ways that mean something to executives? Most executives don't know what Web Managers do, other than post content that other people give you. They don’t know you are a consultant and analyst and designer and teacher and editor and marketer and innovator. They don’t know that you have important information about their customers that could help them. Do you sell yourself and your capabilities?
  • Do you find ways to get in the door? Do you ask to meet with executives regularly to brief them on where the web is now and where it’s going? Do you ask them what they’re working on and offer web-related ways to accomplish it? Do you share “good news” – tidbits about increases in web use, positive feedback from customers, or facts to show how much more work is getting done because of the web? Do you walk up and introduce yourself to executives and take advantage of opportunities to slip in your ideas? Do you show them that you’re a go-getter and a team player?

Perception is everything. If you want agency executives to think of you as someone who is smart, savvy, dedicated, effective, and capable – someone they want to have on their teams - you’ve got to walk the walk and talk the talk. Are you this person? If not, you’d better get busy and fix your image.