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Mastering the Web: An Old-Fashioned Notion?

Posted August 12th, 2010 by David Kitzmiller - Internet Working Group Chairman

David KitzmillerDammit Jim, I’m a Webmaster, not a Digital Government Web Content Communications and Application Development Knowledge Management Specialist! ...or am I?

compilation of text phrases including page editor, web project manager, web coordinator, web editor in chief, and other alternatives to the webmaster title

Is the term webmaster an accurate description of the responsibilities of today’s web professional, or is that moniker just a quaint artifact from the simpler, earliest days of the web where someone akin to a similarly quaint notion of a Ringmaster juggled a circus of unwieldy text, spinning logos and blinking text?
Those were the 1990’s, and while the profession is still undecided on what to call it’s folks formerly known as webmasters, the web community has in fact moved on to figure out that it takes an entire web village – and now even other villages near and far – to run a modern web presence. This seems to be the consensus from recurring threads on the Web Content Managers Forum, the leading forum for  government employees who manage the content of government websites. This blog highlights many of the themes from those on-line discussions.
One comment in particular on the Web Content Managers Forum illustrates the incongruity of the old, one-person web shop by comparing the web to traditional print media processes. Does the IT staff of a newspaper or magazine manage the design and layout? Do the newspaper’s reporters deliver their stories to the paper’s back-shop IT for editing? Of course not.
These mismatched roles and responsibilities in the web world are the inevitable result of attempting to use limited resources to cover all of the various job titles depicted in the illustration. The titles in the illustration are all really just focused on two broad categories: content and technology, which can be broken down into the following basic components of running a modern website:
  • Content (write, edit, manage)
  • Governance (policy, roles, responsibility, administration)
  • Design (brand, layout, navigation, images)
  • Architecture (systems, security, technologies, backup)
  • Applications (interactive tools, databases, languages, API’s)
  • Outreach (social media, public affairs, other media and platforms)
The newest, and I think the most revolutionary pieces of this puzzle are the concepts of the social web. The semantic web, content syndication, mobile apps and cloud computing are reshaping once again how we run our websites. These new technologies and concepts transcend the core definition of how we thought we should create and maintain our web presence.
Chances are that an old-style webmaster, a content management system, or even a well-structured web editing governance strategy no longer commands a dominant role in deciding the exact contents of a “web page”. The modern web page is likely populated dynamically from multiple disparate sources and is modified, added-to and constantly re-priorized and redistributed multiple ways by the users of the information (the public) through the aforementioned social web and related technologies.  It’s as if the home builder has given the home owners the tools and access they need to customize their own house while it’s being built. The webmaster is now arguably anyone who perhaps updates a WordPress blog, or for that matter, anyone who posts comments on that blog, votes it up or down, provides syndicated material for it or hosts the entire site in their cloud.
To borrow another idea from the Web Content Managers Forum, if the web of the 1990’s was the Wild West with the webmaster as wagon master, then the web professional of today’s new social web is something more like The Manager of Fleet Operations. Regardless of the title today’s web universe happens to bestow upon me and my colleagues in the business, we are all excited and ready to master whatever comes along.
- Dave Kitzmiller, Webguy


Posted in Reform - Redesign Office Of Media Relations
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Highlighting the staff of the FCC...

Posted March 31st, 2010 by David Fiske - Director, Office of Media Relations

Jeff Riordan, the Deputy AV Officer in the Commission’s Audio-Visual Center, is another “behind the scenes” public servant who makes sure the numerous events held at the Commission and around the country each month run smoothly and are publicly accessible.

Have you ever attended an Open Commission Meeting or watched a live webcast of an FCC event?  For days before a public event, Jeff and our other expert audio-visual staff engage in meticulous planning and preparations to help ensure that these proceedings run without a glitch.  Jeff spends most of his day going over dozens of details to make sure that the technical aspects, such as sound, lighting, audio and video are carefully coordinated, and that the equipment is working properly, so the public can easily tune in to Commission events.

Recently, as part of the Commission’s efforts to solicit input from the public in the development a National Broadband plan, Jeff’s job has required him to travel across the country to work on FCC field events in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, to oversee the audio-visual and streaming needs of these events

Through his job working on Commission events Jeff has met some well known people including Stevie Wonder, Marlee Matlin, Vinton Cerf and Elmo! 

“I enjoy my job,” said Riordan.  “By working on FCC events held in Washington or across the country, and providing consumers with smooth webcasts, I feel like I’m doing my part.  Most people can’t come to D.C. to see Commission events first-hand.  I get to help bring the FCC to the public so they can be part of the important things we do.” 

Jeff has worked in the FCC’s AV office for almost 19 years.  Before joining the Commission he worked for the EPA in their television studio.

He lives in Frederick, Maryland with his wife and their two children.

Posted in Office Of Media Relations
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Highlighting the staff of the FCC...

Posted January 28th, 2010 by David Fiske - Director, Office of Media Relations

The vast majority of Commission staff serve the American public each day “behind the scenes.”  Sharon Hurd, a Media Relations Specialist in the Commission’s Office of Media Relations (OMR), is one such staffer.  If you subscribe to the FCC “Daily Digest”, or are interested in information about Commission actions, the chances are pretty good that Sharon may have been involved in helping to get this information to you on a timely basis. And last spring, you could even have met her personally when she traveled around the country as part of the FCC team meeting with consumers to help with the transition to digital television.  

OMR is the arm of the agency responsible for overseeing the release of official FCC actions and decisions. Ask any agency staff member who they turn to in OMR when they need assistance in getting items released and you can be sure Sharon’s name will be high on that list. These items include a wide variety of documents from high profile policy decisions and Chairman and Commissioner speeches to routine license renewal notices. But Sharon – and the entire OMR team – know that there are a lot of consumers and interested parties who are waiting to learn about these decisions, and they work hard to help get this information out expeditiously.  

Do you subscribe to the FCC’s Daily Digest?  If not, you should check it out.  The Digest provides over 10,000 subscribers across the world with a brief daily synopsis (with hyper links) of all Commission orders, news releases, speeches, public notices, press releases and other FCC documents released each business day.  Sharon is one of OMR’s editors of this widely used summary and document source, and she works to finalize it each day in a timely manner.

Last year Sharon volunteered to be a DTV outreach coordinator and traveled to states such as Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to help educate America’s consumers about the digital television transition.  A February 2009 article in Wheeling, West Virginia’s Intelligencer newspaper highlighted Sharon and fellow Commission employee Sandy Haase’s DTV efforts.

This summer she’ll serve the public yet again by doing outreach in another vital way -- locating households and conducting brief interviews as a census taker for the 2010 Census.  Sharon worked on the year 2000 census so she knows what to expect. “Census volunteers play an important role in making sure everyone in this country is counted,” Sharon said.  “I really do find it rewarding to explain to the people that everyone’s voice counts and they need to complete their census forms.”

Sharon joined the agency in 1982 and worked in the Labor Relations Office and Complaint and Inquiries Branch before joining the Office of Media Relations. Sharon is a resident of Waldorf, Maryland and has a son.

She said, “I enjoy my job. I feel like I am doing my part by helping consumers, businesses and even other governments agencies get the communications information they need in a quick and efficient way.”

Serving consumers is what the FCC is all about, and we couldn’t do it without the dedication, commitment and hard work of consumer specialists like Sharon Hurd.

Posted in FCC Staff Office Of Media Relations

Redesigning the FCC Website

Posted January 7th, 2010 by David Kitzmiller - Internet Working Group Chairman

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.

Posted in Reform - Redesign Office Of Media Relations