Monday, April 18, 2011

Wordies Need What Nerdies Have

In the beginning, federal government websites were published by IT staff or rogue tech-savvy employees who were fascinated by this new information disseminator, the internet. They taught themselves HTML, and they embraced new design tricks and emerging technologies with gusto. It was a new frontier to explore, and these Nerdies were scouting the wilderness!

But soon, we realized our growing web audiences wanted more than just a place to visit. They wanted to be able to do something. Nerdies could build the storefront. But we needed someone to create the product…someone with the ability to turn the agency’s mission into clear concise services that our audiences want and can use. And web Wordies were born.

I remember going to the first meeting of Rich Kellett's Federal Webmasters Forum, back in August 1996. From the very first meeting, it was clear that the people in the room had two distinct interests. The Nerdies wanted to talk about coding and software packages, while the Wordies wanted to talk about audiences and how to gather and organize content. Eventually, the Wordies broke off and formed the Government Web Content Managers Forum.

We got it that there are two critical tracks. We got it that our websites were growing so large and demands so strong that we need skilled specialists in both areas. And we got it that we are symbiotic – Nerdies and Wordies have to work together to succeed.

So what’s my point? Wordies need what Nerdies have.  
  1. Being a Wordie, like being a Nerdie, is a job requiring unique skills. Nerdies have a job series. Wordies need one, too.
  2. Nerdies have a high-level advocate and leader at OMB. Wordies need one, too.
For the most part, federal government Wordies have written our own rules, defined our own jobs, identified our own best practices, and organized our own community. It's a real grass roots success story. And we’ve liked doing it that way – it mirrors the way the internet has grown.

But let’s face it:  we've hit a wall.  We need more authority to cause the cross-agency coordination and consistency that we know will improve government service.  So we need more traditional legitimacy for Wordies. 

We need a bonafide job series, with clearly defined knowledge and skills requirements, authorized by the Office of Personnel Management and consistent across government.  We need a functional advocate and leader at OMB to help us create content strategies and preserve uniform standards and performance objectives across agencies and across administrations. 

Wordies need what Nerdies have.  They're both essential for great government customer service.

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