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Building a Better "Beta"

by: Steven VanRoekel, Managing Director

May 11, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:92:height=100,width=66]]When we launched beta.fcc.gov on April 5, our team kicked off an iterative process to maximize the impact of citizen feedback on the site.

The traditional concept of “beta” reflects some of the best attributes the Web: fast cycles of change designed to build off of what’s working, tweak things that can improve, and ditch the things that aren’t helping users. Our goal is to embody that continual improvement online.

That spirit is the bedrock of the new Fcc.gov platform. At a moment when federal agencies are taking stock of their customer service strategies and leveraging new tech to increase agility and responsiveness, this beta approach can and should make dot govs more valuable for citizens.

In our beta period, here’s a sampling of what we learned:

  • User testing happens online: Since the launch, we’ve been taking feedback from our discussion forums and over social networks using the #FCCengage hashtag. As a result, we’ve seen hundreds of tweets and over 1,000 votes on our UserVoice discussion forums telling us what users want from future site development.
  • … and off-line: Before we launched the beta, our team learned how real-world consumers and industry interact not just with FCC.gov, but with our agency as a whole. We sent new media team members to the FCC call center in Gettysburg, PA, to hop on the phones and hear from real consumers. Our team also took the site to GSA’s monthly user testing session. Since the launch, we’ve invited FCBA members and other business and legal practitioners to show us how they use the legacy site.
  • Building a better business experience: We’ve added a new date-based document browser tool on the home page. It’s a powerful accompaniment to the Daily Digest experience users have come to rely on, and it allows new browsing and filtering capabilities not found in the past. The Daily Digest is also now part of a new block on the FCC.gov home page called “Doing Business,” an aggregation of the features and functions practitioners rely on.
  • Usability improvements: We heard users who wanted more visual contrast in some parts of the site, like the navigation bar and the “Take Action” button, so we moved quickly to provide an experience that reflects users’ requests. We also ran additional tests on the site’s accessibility with screen reader software: the results were great, with respondents calling the new FCC.gov easier to use with accessibility software than the previous site.

One more thing: Today, we’re also starting a test drive for My.FCC.gov. The idea behind the platform is that dot govs should serve every American equally well -- no matter what visitors come to our sites for.

My.FCC.gov lets users control how they access FCC.gov content on their own terms. It takes advantage of our flexible, Web Services-based site architecture to make all of FCC.gov’s content fluid and malleable. The result is that users will have more power than ever in determining their own FCC.gov experience.

Once My.FCC.gov opens to the public in broad beta this Summer, users will also be able to take the code from the site and use it to populate their own blogs and web sites with just a few simple lines of code. We recognize FCC.gov isn’t on everyone’s morning reading list, so we want to make it easier than ever to consume FCC content wherever users natural visit online.

Visit My.FCC.gov now to watch a video about how the site works and what we’re building towards. Have any other feedback? We’re listening.

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