Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Super-sites: Let's Not Forget the Basics

Like many Americans who are interested in government transparency, I looked forward to seeing, one of the new "super-sites" being developed to carry out and monitor the President's initiatives. Not much there, for now; but I know they have big plans. Kudos on that!

But wait a minute. As I looked closer, I noticed that some things were missing. For starters...who owns this site? It should be obvious, if not by branding on the page or a statement at the bottom of the page that tells you clearly that this site is an official site of the U.S. Government, at least by the information on the "about" page or the "contact" page. Not there. I finally, clicked on the FAQ link, and...skim, skim, skim...there it is! FAQ 6 tells me that GSA is managing the site on behalf of the federal CIO Council.

Intrigued, I wondered if other web content requirements and best practices were missing from So I pulled one of the convenient checklists that the Federal Web Managers Council has published on and did a spot check.

Well, I don't see a linking policy. Maybe they aren't using any links yet. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh...but there's no "search" tool for the site. Yes, you can search the databases. But you also should be able to search the site. Or at least there should be a sitemap. And plain language. Hmm...not so sure about that.

OK - enough on What about some of the other new government super-sites that have debuted recently? Are they following the content requirements and best practices? I took a look at Better - but not perfect. Similar problems on the branding. I was able to learn that the site is owned by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, under both the "about" and "content" tabs. But then I read the FAQs and learned that the Board isn't functioning yet and that an interim cross-agency council is doing the reporting. Wish I could have found that information in the "about" or "contact" sections. And I'm betting that someone (Treasury? GSA?) is actually managing the site on behalf of the council. But no mention of that. Also, no linking policy that I could find. Might be other issues - I stopped there.

Look folks. This isn't about nit-picking. This is about making every single federal government website - including super-sites - as useful, usable, and visitor-friendly as possible. The content requirements and best practices for government websites are readily available on I can tell you - because I was part of the group that put them together - that those requirements and best practices aren't just some arbitrary bureaucratic nonsense. They come from laws, regulations, OMB policies, and other official documents aimed at aiding and protecting the public. They come from thorough research; extensive discussion and vetting among many, many government and non-government web content professionals; and current usability research. The purpose was - and is- to "make U.S. government websites the most citizen-focused and visitor-friendly in the world."

As my sainted grandmother told me repeatedly, "a job worth doing is worth doing right." I know there's great pressure to get these super-sites up quickly. But it just doesn't take that much extra time to get it right. the owners of these super-sites (both those that are out there now and those that are being developed): please, consult with the Federal Web Managers Council and use to make sure the content of your sites is as useful and uasble as it can be and that it complies with all the same requirements that agency websites must meet. In your sincere desire to move ahead, please don't forget the basics that make U.S. government websites the most citizen-focused and visitor-friendly in the world.

1 comment:

Gwynne said...

Thanks, Candi! Good review and important critique. Sometimes in the excitement to get something done, the basics get lost. Your reminder (and Dave Almacy's discussion of the new WH site) will help to keep web content on track.