Government Web Sites Grapple with YouTube

YouTube is ubiquitous. Millions of people visit the site every day. For the Wired Generation, it’s the functional equivalent of television. Yet, despite the vast audience of YouTube, many government agencies do not make their videos available on the site. Some are even worse and ban their employees from even visiting YouTube.

By withholding their videos from YouTube, government agencies are shortchanging their key mission, which is communicating to the public. Taxpayers paid for those videos and they shouldn’t be hidden away. Most of these videos are in the public domain and should be made available in every venue possible, including the one that everyone watches. To not post your videos to YouTube is like saying, “Please don’t show my content on TV.”

There’s been discussion on the GovLoop and elsewhere on whether government videos can and should be posted to YouTube. The objections seem to fall into three main categories:

Sec. 508: Section 508 is about accessibility for all, i.e., making sure that government content can be accessed by people with screen readers and other types of disabilities. This is a legitimate issue but one that can be ameliorated by adding captions to videos and other measures.

Security: Can viruses be embedded in YouTube videos? Seems unlikely to me but this reasoning was used to deny one agency’s request to create a YouTube channel.

Snobbery: Videos on YouTube are “junked up” by ill-informed comments by the public. Also, YouTube is home to videos of stupid pet tricks and is not appropriate for my agency’s serious (yet obscure) mission.

I’m familiar with all of these issues, since I helped set up the NOAA Ocean Explorer channel on YouTube. For years, government web managers have gone back and forth on these problems. These challenges are holding up not just YouTube, but a wide range of social media tools that government should be using. A great deal of progress has been made (and is in the works, from what I hear). There are solutions to each one of these problems.

But, really, it’s time for government to move forward. Every government agency should have its own channel on YouTube. And every government video should be online.

Note: This is also posted on my personal site.

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I’m with you Joe. I think people get stuck in details and need to get back to the big picture thinking “what are we trying to do?” which in public affairs is usually “provide information to our citizens”.

So we should maximize ways to provide as much information to the citizens. Yes, that includes citizens of all backgrounds and with disabilities. But too often that is used as an excuse to not do anything.

“Well we can’t do a video and a YouTube channel as there is problems and it doesn’t completely fit 508″ so we won’t do anything. And then no information is distributed to the citizen.”

Focus on the business problems and the answer is simple. And don’t let the details take you off the bigger picture.

Joe Flood

Suzanne – that accessify site looks pretty interesting. I haven’t seen that before. Captions are hard to do and a pain though they are necessary. Government definitely needs more people to edit video or to contract some of the work out. It’s a big job.

Suzanne Long

I’m going to be making a few highlight clips of some usabilty testing video output from Silverback (what a joy to use, btw). I’m no video rockstar but video edits seem like they should be a straightforward enough task. We’ll see, but if I have time I might play with this caption creator…


Question – if not right place to ask – apologize: We are starting to use Live Meeting – how can we insure accessibility in using this collaborative tool? Any help appreciated.
Thanks Dennis Rogers

Kathy Bowman

If you’re USDA, go to USDA Target Center for advice on these things. ‘

Federal Relay and CART technologies can help. And for livemeeting — watch OUT for powerpoint. You’re essentially broadcasting a blank slate.

Tirst step is buying 508 compliant software in the first place (which is legally required). (Major DUH.)

Dual posting of accessible version of the message can help though it’s not perfect. Captioning gets easier all the time.


Kathy Bowman

Um… do I hear a vote for “do it anyway” here? In other words, let’s go ahead and violate federal law? I’m not with you on that. Just do it right, for heaven’s sake.