Survey finds errors aplenty on .gov sites

In a recent survey of 41 federal Web sites, 28 of them coughed up some sort of bug within the first 15 minutes of a typical visit.

Most glitches were application server and Web server errors such as blank pages, embedded content errors and the 500 server error, according to the survey by the Business Internet Group of San Francisco.

Diane Smith, the group's research director, said she selected the sites because they are part of the Keynote Government Internet Performance Index compiled by Keynote Systems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif. The index measures page-downloading times for sites of 10 Cabinet departments, the White House, both houses of Congress and the FirstGov search engine.

Smith said she visited each site for up to 15 minutes and explored as if she were unfamiliar with the agency. She stopped exploring at the first error, even if the 15 minutes were not yet up.

The average length of her visits was 9 minutes, 41 seconds, but only 4 minutes, 49 seconds on the 28 sites that had errors, Smith said. Twenty-five of the buggy sites had blank pages and internal server errors. Smith said she found three other sites with data errors, such as a wrong page link or bad data returned by a database query.

None of the bugs related to overall site performance or availability, and they would not show up on monitoring applications designed to measure uptime, she said. To record her keystrokes and clicks, Smith used a client application called IntegriTea Capture from TeaLeaf Technology Inc. of San Francisco, which sponsored the study.

TeaLeaf's products measure the ability of Web applications to complete transactions, rather than server uptime or page-loading time, said Geoff Galat, the company's vice president of marketing and product management.

Transactions on government sites do not necessarily involve money, but instead document retrieval or online registration, Galat said. IntegriTea Server runs natively on Microsoft platforms, the open-source Apache Web Server 1.3 and 2.0, and platforms based on Java2 Enterprise Edition.

A typical installation costs $130,000 to $150,000, Galat said.

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