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Clearing the Clutter – A Success Story

For years, many of us have worried there is too much content on government websites…that we’ve let the clutter overwhelm the content that our customers really want and use. Well, let me tell you what Sam Gallagher, my friend and former colleague at HUD, has accomplished because this is an honest-to-goodness hoorah success story in “clearing the clutter.”

HUD – mostly Sam – has come up with a terrific strategy for archiving obsolete – but important – web content so that customers (particularly researchers) can still refer to it, but it doesn’t obscure the current stuff.

Several years ago (before I left HUD), Sam proposed setting up a separate website called “archives.hud.gov.” The idea stemmed from concern among top executives that obsolete documents, news releases, reports, and such from prior administrations could be misconstrued as current. It’s a legitimate concern, and Sam’s idea was a great way to deal with it. It took awhile to get off the ground, partly because he needed to work through federal records issues; but Sam now has some great results to report.

In one year, HUD has reduced the number of files on the active site by a whopping 47%! They’ve gone from almost 400,000 files (of all types) to about 210,000. While many of the files removed were graphics files, they’ve reduced the “content” files – HTML, spreadsheets, PDFs, text files, etc. – by 22%. In one year. That’s a huge start on clearing the clutter!

Sam’s strategy is straightforward. A year ago, he established these rules for archiving:

  • Move content from previous administrations and their initiatives at the end of their tenure.
  • Move dated cyclical material (e.g., funding announcements, grant applications, etc.) at the beginning of the next cycle.
  • Move press releases, statistical reports, and other serialized content after one year.
  • When a program becomes obsolete, move basic program content.
  • If a page on HUD’s public websites is being deleted, review it to see if it should be archived.

When content is moved to archives, it’s no longer reviewed or updated. The content carries the “archives.hud.gov” masthead; and at the bottom of each document, it says “content archived (and the date).” The archives home page explains that the content is no longer current and that you can review it either through categories (like “funding announcements” or “initiatives”) or by using the archives “search.” Customers can get to the archives from HUD’s home page, under “resources.”

Is there more to do? Sure. Sam estimates that, of those 210,000 files remaining, only about 60,000 (29%) are being used regularly. And, of course, more content gets posted every day.

But gosh, you have to applaud an agency that is addressing the governmentwide content tsunami head on. HUD is making real progress clearing the clutter…and making it easier for customers to find what they want. Well done, HUD. Well done, Sam.

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Alexandra Debelnogich

This is definitely a very impressive undertaking. It is a wonderful lesson for all who are responsible for maintaining websites current and clean.