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Redesigning the FCC Website

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 As a result, the common look-and-feel is outdated and beginning to unravel as FCC web developers become anxious to keep pace with technological innovations.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.

10 Responses to “Redesigning the FCC Website”

  1. Cliff says:

    Can we modify the Search function on the entire FCC page to find and sort queries by date? I don't need items from 1998 when i am looking for current digital television information, etc.

  2. vera says:

    And the clutter is endless. For example, no other federal agency with a commission structure clutters its home page with names of all commissioners. I can assume that SEC commissioners have just a big egos as FCC commissioners, yet they are willing to survive without their names cluttering the agency home page.

  3. Jeff Krauss says:

    Comments in Cable Special Relief (CSR) proceedings are not accessible today on the FCC web site, because they are usually not docketed proceedings. These proceedings are sometimes started to deal with complaints, and some of them have significant policy implications. The CSR files need to be made available.

  4. Guest says:

    Information needs to be there, but information that can be used is much better. Case in point. One of the FCC pages that was very helpful was http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/bickel/73525.html. However, this webpage does not work because of a computer "upgrade" and got pushed to the back burner to fix. That was in December 2008. The page is still not functional.

  5. Larry Goldberg says:

    ECFS and EDOCS may have been improved, but still need more work to be user friendly - the site should be for consumers as much as for law firms.

    A great help would be that all NPRM filings and comments be discoverable by the actual entity whose interests are represented and not the law firm submitting the comments. And search be much more powerful and useful than relying on docket numbers (which are often multiple) and FCC filing numbers.

    And when I file a comment, I would like to be able to subscribe to all other comments on that proceeding, with various filters enabled, so I can track the flow of input.

    And of course, fully accessible to people with disabilities!

  6. Jim Tobias says:

    Thanks so much for what you've already done to open up the FCC, and for this opportunity to submit ideas.

    "Task and User-Focused Design vs. Organizational-Focused Design" says it best for me: the average visitor doesn't care about the Bureau names, or docket numbers. Professional telecom lawyers will always find what they need; focus instead on the average, first-time visitor.

    Other points:

    1. Accessibility and usability should be brought together and made a key part of design.
    2. All documents should be searchable -- no exceptions.
    3. Make all information reachable from several directions; a visitor concerned about his/her wireless bill should be able to get the right information by searching "customer rights", "cell phones" or "bill too high".
    4. Link out to other resources in industry, research, government, etc. The FCC isn't alone in the areas it regulates -- help people find other sources of information.

  7. Jon Hosford says:

    I agree with Larry Goldberg's comments and would add my biggest frustration with EDOCS is every single time I've searched for a specific document, even when I know the RM# or other identifying material, *It is NEVER found*. I search for RM-XXXX, and get no results. I go to the actual location and manually search and it is there in the EDOCS area for browsing.

    Google or not. The search function is terrible. Either nothing found, or thousands of unrelated documents 10 years old are found.

    I submit that you need to actually know how people use the site, and in my experience, the first thing a visitor will do is search. if that doesn't work, they're gone.

    The second thing that makes my job harder is accessibility to the correct staff person with the *correct* answer. The web has evolved to where people expect instant communications. Just try to figure out who you need to contact and then find the contact info (email or other), then wait a week for a reply only to learn you need to ask someone else and start the process over again. If you can fix that, it would be a wondrous thing! 888 CALL FCC is useless, unless you want to add a layer of idiocy to your quest for the correct person. EVERY time I call, I get forwarded to someone's voicemail, that is in every case, the wrong person. Communications is key, and you have a great opportunity to assist.

    The FCC's site has definitely improved in the last 10 years. I do remember the horrible old days. I hope you succeed. It will make my job much easier.

  8. Old Radio Guy says:

    First of all, get the FCC rules and Regulations on the FCC web page, not just off on the
    GPO web page.

    Secondly, make the waiver request process transparent and traceable on the web. My waiver requests disappear into the bowels of the FCC and I never know where they are until a decision is reached or the request is returned with a denial.

    A 10 day window to renew an STA? Ridiculous! Every other license has 90 days to renew it. Further screwing things up is that STA's are listed in the renewal window as if they were also renewable for 90 days. Only when you submit a renewal are they bounced and you are told they must be submitted in the 10 days preceeding expiration. Make the renewal window 30 days, and put a flag on STA's in the renewal window.

  9. NBR says:

    Continue to develop, maintain, and promote FCC web sites similar to the just launched 700 MHz wireless microphone site (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/wirelessmicrophones/) targeted at signal booster users and sellers and even Part 90 licensees subject to the 2013 LMR Narrowbanding Mandate.

    Such initiatives could be very useful as an out-reach tool to help consumers learn about and understand the reasons for some of the FCC's current Rules, Regulations, policies, and spectrum enforcement efforts that many are now either unaware of or have been mis-informed about.

  10. Michael Marcus says:

    Some nice things I have written about FCC site - http://spectrumtalk.blogspot.com/2006/08/emphasizing-positive-some-nice-things.html

    But here is a discussion of the problems: http://spectrumtalk.blogspot.com/2007/10/fcc-web-site-nations-communications.html

    The emphasis has been putting more information on the site, and that has been quite impressive. But there has been little or no attention paid to making the information findable. And the clutter is endless. For example, no other federal agency with a commission structure clutters its home page with names of all commissioners. I can assume that SEC commissioners have just a big egos as FCC commissioners, yet they are willing to survive without their names cluttering the agency home page.

    Similarly, every time there is a pet project, it gets added to FCC home page, things are rarely removed or grouped with similar projects. As you can see from the graph in the second blog post above, FCC's home page by far has more words and more links than anyone else's. These are signs of lack of leadership and focus.

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