Three agencies zoom in on Web metrics

Three agencies zoom in on Web metrics

Defense and Energy agencies, as well as GPO, get independent help measuring site performance

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

As agencies gear up their Web sites for an electronic-government workload, they are hiring a new breed of consultant to help them measure their progress.

The Defense Technical Information Center, the Energy Information Administration and the Government Printing Office last month received Web performance reviews they commissioned from a trio of consultants.

Charles R. McClure of Florida State University, J. Timothy Sprehe of Sprehe Information Management Associates Inc. of Washington, and Kristen Eschenfelder of the University of Wisconsin at Madison evaluated legal and policy constraints, management, infrastructure and performance metrics for sites run by each of the agencies.





The DTIC site, top, does not serve the general public, but it nevertheless needs simplifying, consultants say. EIA's site pulls together a large volume of data from many diverse sources. GPO has a simple, easy-to-understand home page.



Other evaluators already release periodic lists of the Web's most-visited sites, including some federal ones. For example, Word of Net Inc. of Sherman Oaks, Calif., this month ranked NASA's site, at www.nasa.gov, as No. 25 among the top 50 Web sites and www.nih.gov'the site of the National Institutes of Health'as No. 41. The company bases its Visibility Index on search engine listings and inbound links. Researchers such as Jupiter Media Metrix of New York [GCN, Oct. 23, Page 1] also periodically evaluate government and commercial sites.

But the study commissioned by DTIC, EIA and GPO is a pioneering review of online access to federal data and services.

'Most agencies already use Web log statistics and other software-based measures,' the consultants wrote. They supplemented their statistics with comprehensive surveys and interviews.

Set your sites

The DTIC site, they said, serves internal users and registered contractors rather than the public. The consultants recommended simplifying the language and navigation and updating pages more frequently.

'The site includes a lot of information, some of which is redundant,' they said.

The EIA site 'has the unenviable assignment of posting highly diverse technical information from many sources,' the consultants said. EIA already is redesigning its home page, they said, and it 'takes a channel approach, strives for less jargon and is designed with the layperson in mind.'


The consultants, however, recommended further work to better define existing Web business processes, improve bandwidth and page loading time, and respond more promptly to customer contacts.


GPO runs a content-oriented site whose purpose is to provide public access to historical archives. The agency is using focus groups and surveys to fine-tune its online presence, the consultants noted. They recommended that GPO keep exact, categorized figures for its customer service activities to set helpfulness benchmarks.


'GPO has a well-developed management approach for its Web site and has committed significant effort and thought to evaluating it,' they said.


The consultants said some agencies might find automatic log analyses more useful than full-scale usability studies such as theirs. But any agency 'will still need to develop quick and clean assessment techniques' to know how well its site is fulfilling the agency's mission, the report concluded.

The report can be found on the Web at fedbbs.access.gpo.gov/libs/measures.htm.

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