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Redesigning the FCC Website

by: David Kitzmiller, Internet Working Group Chairman

January 7, 2010 - 01:04 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:161:height=100,width=70]]The FCC website was launched in June 1995 and redesigned in June 1999. The most recent redesign, initiated in March 2000 and completed in September 2001, achieved a common look-and-feel across all static pages of the site by introducing a standard agency-wide template supported internally by a style guide, design standards, posting policies and other web resources.

Incremental Improvements and Expansion
Although there have not been subsequent redesigns, there have been additions and improvements to the site content and associated systems (if not the design) continuously over the years. Some of those improvements include the introduction of a Google-based search tool, new web servers, interactive complaint forms, items-on-circulation reporting, and greatly improved functionality for EDOCS, ECFS, DIRS, eSupport and many other systems.

Content available from the Commission has also expanded outside of the traditional FCC.gov site to a dozen new FCC-owned domains to provide in-depth coverage of issues such as the DTV Transition, development of the National Broadband Plan and the Open Internet Proposed Rulemaking. Most recently we've joined the Web 2.0 revolution by launching an FCC presence on sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and many others, while making it possible for users to get an extensive selection of FCC information delivered directly to their desktops via RSS feeds.

Usability Has Not Kept Pace With Content Creation
Although web guidelines and cooperation between content providers over the years has proved successful at expanding the volume and quality of information offered through the website, the usability of the site design has not improved along with it. Few interactive, automated or innovative functionalities have been introduced outside of the most recent additions to improve the public's ability to find what they are looking for in this burgeoning collection of information. Most static pages on the FCC Internet web site are still based on the 2001 design template that uses coding techniques now considered inefficient compared with modern conventions. As a result, the common look-and-feel is outdated and beginning to unravel as FCC web developers become anxious to keep pace with technological innovations.

Task and User-Focused Design vs. Organizational-Focused Design
Page formatting on sites across the Internet has already been perfected and decided over the years - people expect page elements to be in certain standard places on the web page - and that's a good thing. As pedestrian as it sounds, content is king, and intuitive navigation is the key that unlocks it. Long before any fonts or colors are selected, or any image elements designed, we need to thoroughly understand the content that the FCC has to offer for any major redesign to be effective.

The accepted best practice in the Federal Government webmaster community for effective website redesign is to discover what tasks people come to your website to accomplish. (People come to government websites to complete tasks, not to browse.) Once you've identified the tasks, you can then organize your content along those lines instead of organizing your agency's content according to organizational structure as the FCC does through its current Bureau-by-Bureau-focused design.

What We Can Find Out Through Data Analysis
Statistics based on research and collected data should be used to help determine FCC's top tasks and the prominence with which the tasks are featured on the website. Without data, we cannot be sure whether the site's design is focused on the needs of the site's real users or simply the preferences of the site's owners.

Some of this data can be collected through analysis of statistics on the most requested web pages, top search terms, top complaints, and through feedback from emails, phone calls and stakeholder meetings. Preliminary analysis of web metrics confirm that people come to our website to accomplish specific tasks as opposed to general browsing. Our e-filing systems are by far the most accessed component of our online programs.

We Need Your Input
The statistical data only provides part of the picture. For example, the average number of monthly page views generated by the top 100 most requested pages account for just 40% of the total number of page views logged by the public at the FCC's website each month. The remaining 60% or "long tail" of top page views suggest that there is a significant and broad diversity of information that the public is seeking from the FCC. This is why we are asking for your help through the Reboot site to fill-in the data gaps as we try to piece together the tasks that you come to the FCC website to accomplish. What we learn through your input, and in addition to what we are required to provide by various policies, regulations and government directives will give us the essential building blocks on which to anchor the site redesign.

Using What We Know and Your Input: A Strategic Plan for Getting it Done
The FCC's website should not be considered as just another IT project, but rather a core business function. Even after the building blocks are in place and we have an idea in hand for the design, a redesign cannot be implemented (or will quickly fail after launch) if it is not backed up by a comprehensive strategic plan as the official roadmap for an orderly and sustainable transition to an improved FCC web presence.

With your help and the proper plan in place, we will be empowered to organize the site's content and services through an information infrastructure that is streamlined, task oriented, user-centric and self-service. Consistency, usability, relevance, innovation, compatibility, clarity, accuracy, timeliness, and accessibility will become the watchwords for content and applications across the full spectrum of the agency's web presence.

Updated: April 16, 2012 - 04:49 PM
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