Sunday, September 23, 2007

Playing Links Ping Pong

Let me start by saying that I’ve never liked to play ping pong. It makes me dizzy and – because I’ve never been especially adept – it makes me frustrated. So when I got dumped into a game of “Links Ping Pong” the other day, I felt the same way.

I was helping a friend find some information from the government. We started at the agency that made most sense…did a search…didn’t find exactly what we wanted. So we started through the topics, each of which led to pages of links. Within 2 clicks, we were playing “Links Ping Pong.” We’d click on an item in one list of links, only to be linked to another list of links. We chose an item from that list of links and – yep – got linked to another set of links (this time, on another agency’s website – in another window!). OK. So we picked one of those links and – you won’t believe this (or maybe you will) – we went right back to the first agency’s website…to – you guessed it – another list of links.

At that point, we gave up.

The lesson is this: yes, the web is all about linking. But the value that the web manager brings to a website is making sense of all those links. I can go to Google and get a list of links. The reason I’d go to an agency website – instead of Google – is to get real content or to be guided through links in some sort of logical way (“first, you do this” or “go to this site and look for this”). I don’t go to government websites to play links ping pong.

If you do use a link, I’d appreciate it if that link took me to real content – not just to another menu of links. If you do take me to a set of links, please describe what I’m going to find – or I should look for – on that set of links. Don’t abandon me! And please, oh please, don’t use acronyms or program names that don’t make any sense to me, as your linking text. At least provide an explanation for those of us who don’t speak your language.

The saddest part of this whole adventure is that my friend turned to me and said, “See, this is why I never use government websites.” We all are judged by the performance of each. So dig in and do the work, web managers. Make your links count. Do it for your own agency. Do it for all government agencies.

1 comment:

Mr. E said...

Well done! That's one of my pet peeves, too.

It seems lots of domain selling agencies are able to instantly fill pages with whatever you type in that you're looking for and voila no worthwhile content appears. Link directories, also created by get-rich-at-the-expense-of-others schemers and clever software.