TooManyWebsites.gov

This week the White House blog posted a message from Macon Phillips, the White House Director of New Media, titled “TooManyWebsites.gov”. This initiate is part of the Campaign to Cut Waste that the White House launched this week, quoting the President: “As President Obama has said, we can’t win the future with a government of the past.” Phillips estimates that as part of the over 2,000 top level domain sites, more than 24,000 subsites were developed over the last years to display government content.

In order to stop the “confusion and inefficiency” and make access easier for citizens, government received the mandate to avoid duplicates: “So the federal government will do more with less, improving how it delivers information and services to the public by reducing the number of websites it maintains. To help drive this change we’ve set a specific goal that over the next year, we’ll get rid of at least half of them.

As part of this effort, all new .gov names are stopped and need to be directly approved by the federal CIO, who will first map out the existing landscape to see if a new site is necessary. Within a year the plan is to cut half of the federal websites.

While I salute the White House for recognizing this seemingly unnecessary growth of websites, it sounds like a massive effort to me. My hope is that similar to the Open Government plans, the agencies themselves will have control over what of their content is important, what can be consolidated and what they would like to cut. This will avoid the impression of “big government” and will leave the responsibility to actual content providers instead of too much micro- and top-down management. The ‘drawing the landscape idea’ seems to be a helpful first step, although I wish the White House would also look at the actual user statistics. Which websites are frequented by citizens and therefore indicate a real need for information that is displayed on them or transactions that are facilitated? Moreover, going beyond the mere numbers: What are the websites that need to stay because they are catering to a small niche audience that would otherwise not get the information? Here, government needs to make use of the lift of the cookie policy to understand who their audience members are. With over 24,000 websites in place, I am worried that only those make the cut that come in above a certain number of hits per month.

This mandate has also sparked other concerns for me: What about agencies starting blogs or adding social media accounts to their online presence? Many of the third party social networking services providers are creating new URLs for a social media account. Do these URLs count toward the cut? Do the SNS need to find a way to allow for folding account URLs into the existing .gov domain names? Does this mean that the agencies and departments are no longer allowed to create new accounts and with that new URLs? Or are external URLs excluded from this effort?

Watch the update on the Accountability Government Initiative here:



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Profile Photo Jeff Ribeira

Great post, Ines, and I think you mentioned many of the same concerns that immediately came to my mind after first hearing about this. This cannot be a top down implementation plan otherwise you’ll end up cutting a lot of great, informational sites that may not get very many visitors per month, but for that particular niche group, the information housed at that domain could be potentially vital. I’m all for cutting waste and duplicate sites, but, like you said, there’s more to the value of any site than just pageviews. Other questions to ask: is the site truly a duplicate (seems like there could be a lot of grey area here)? Will clear redirection to an alternative site be provided to users whose sites are chopped?

Also, do we know how much they anticipate to save through these efforts? I mean, I know websites cost some money to maintain, but it seems like a lot of effort for little comparative payoff, considering other items that could be potentially scaled back…

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Profile Photo Ines Mergel

@Jeff – I completely agree and don’t have answers to your questions either. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do going forward.

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Profile Photo Michael Rautio

I think you are taking the wrong approach at looking at where to scale back. What the government needs to do is aquire web services in a much broader way. For example, how many different content management systems are in use…? How many of those provide basically the same thing as all of the other systems…?

There are places to save money, but by going after a website is a poor way to approach this. Go after the big and redundant costs of establsihing websites and look for ways to consolidate.

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Profile Photo Tim Bonnemann

In their announcement on Monday, the White House mentioned that they plan to invite the public to “offer feedback” but failed to give any specifics. Given their mixed track record in this area (Change.gov, Open Government Dialogue, ExpertNet), this raises a number of concerns. I shared a few basic tips this morning that might help them build a better consultation: White House To Seek Input (Again): A Few Basic Tips to Make It Work

I think this is yet another promising opportunity to incorporate public input. However, it’s not gonna work if the process gets botched (again).

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