Web of hope
Thomas R. Temin
After a tough but fair and impartial evaluation, government Web sites were found wanting by a team from Jupiter Media Metrix of New York [GCN, Oct. 23, Page 1
The evaluators picked up what people close to federal Web efforts have known for a long time. Agency webmasters struggle just to get internal offices and factions integrated via the Web, often forcing customer orientation to take a back seat.
That's just another way of expressing the larger problem in agency and information management. To morph from a collection of walled-off fiefdoms into a citizen-as-customer-oriented machine takes a lot of internal revamping. That's hard.
Jupiter's evaluators gave their highest marks to the sites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of California. The CDC site does indeed present a superbly integrated portal to the mass of information on diseases, public health and mortality that the centers collect and maintain.
It loads quickly and is easy to navigate. Within a couple of minutes, I found out about things ranging from health hoaxes'CDC, for instance, has received no reports of flesh-eating infections from Costa Rican bananas'to the weekly infant mortality rate in New York.
But the CDC site isn't as ambitious as some government Web sites that attempt to conduct electronic commerce with the public, whether the users are grantees or benefits recipients. For such programs, users must download and print forms.
My hunch is that government Web sites probably fall on about the same bell curve as commercial sites. They range from just plain awful to spectacular, about what you'd expect for such a new medium. So success is a function of the enthusiasm and support for a great site.
Recently, in a focus group with GCN readers, I heard the manager of one hugely successful and widely lauded federal Web site state her most urgent requirement: to at least keep up with industry best practices, both in services offered and the technology to deliver those services.
Given the regulatory, cultural and funding hurdles that agency webmasters face, keeping up is a tall order. Enough federal sites stand out to show that it's possible.Thomas R. Temin