Thursday, September 27, 2007

Have You Seen "Gov Gab?"

The team rolled out it’s latest innovation: Gov Gab, the government blog that helps citizens figure out government. They’ve done a great job. The look is good. The posts are well-written and friendly and generally the right length (one of the entries had a few too many photos…but they’re just getting their feet wet). So, great blogging!

But actually, this is better than a blog. This is the kind of content I’d love to see on It does what Google can’t and lists of links don’t: it makes sense out of the top tasks. It is the right length. It talks to citizens in their language. This is what I’ve been yipping about!

If the Web Managers Advisory Council could figure out how to deliver cross-agency (both horizontal and vertical) content this way – get the agency web managers to work with the writers to “tell the story” (at least for the top tasks) - and integrate it into the website, I think it would be a huge step forward in communicating with citizens.

Really well done, Bev Godwin and company at Kudos to all!

Related links:

Make the Words Work
Why Have All These Government Websites When We've Got Google?
It's All About the Content
Connect the Dots

Common Look and Feel – Why Look Further Than

I was looking at this morning; and it struck me that the design they’ve got could work for most government agencies.

I like everything about the masthead. It’s clean and simple. The branding is perfect. It’s got tabs, which - for agencies - could be “Citizens,” “Partners,” and “Media.” I like the “top services” section. It gives prominence to the “top tasks” that the web manager community is working to identify and enhance. And the content below that section could be customized to the agency, using the directory layout (and – where appropriate – taxonomy) on as a model.

I know the team did a ton of usability work on the design, so why reinvent the wheel? Why not just use this template across government?

I think part of the fear tied up with the common look and feel discussion is the thought of coming to agreement on a design. Well, why not use what we've already got? I know I could have fit the HUD content into that format. Maybe you’d exempt the Smithsonian and a few others. But certainly the cabinet level agencies could adopt this design easily.

If I were pitching to the new administration, I’d pitch this. Shouldn’t THE government look like THE government?

Related links:

Three Wishes
Serving the Public - What Lies Ahead
Common Look and Feel - Maybe the Time Has Come

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We Need a Communications Czar

One of the issues that web content managers have faced for years is that there is no “content” advocate at OMB to help sort through the policy challenges we encounter trying to manage these huge communications vehicles (websites), effectively. The general content policies that exist have come through the technology Offices. While they are helpful, they don’t go far enough to ensure the excellence that U.S. citizens deserve. Content and technology are different beasts. They need different shepherds. We need a Director of Communications Policy at OMB.

We need someone at the top who is looking across government, at all the ways we communicate with the public (web, telephone, publications, etc..), and developing policies that ensure we’re providing consistent information and services in ways that audiences can use it. The technology folks are working hard to make sure the “how” is effective. But who is looking governmentwide to make sure the “what” is effective?

Right now, web content managers use “best practices” and critical mass to institutionalize cross-government web management procedures. Some argue that this is appropriate, within the grassroots culture of the internet. But we’re talking about the government here. We’re talking about public service. Shouldn’t our content be consistent, no matter how it is delivered and no matter which agency(ies) provide it? Shouldn’t our services be communicated effectively, so citizens can use them easily? Even the best oven won’t make a lousy cake taste good. Even the best technology won’t make lousy content serve citizens effectively. We need more than evolution and critical mass to ensure that the government (collectively) communicates well with the people we serve. We need a communications policy chief at the table.

It’s time. It’s needed.

Related links

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.