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What Happened to the GovGab Blog?

For the past couple years when I conducted training for agencies on the use of social media in government, I cited the GovGab Blog as one of the benchmarks for government blogs. With recent changes, I just can’t do that anymore (sorry to my friends at GSA – still love you all ;-). In fact, please take this post in the spirit it’s intended: tough love – from someone who’s a big fan and bummed by some significant modifications. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and holding on to the past…but I really liked the casual, conversational feel of the blog in it’s previous form.

One of the things I loved about GovGab was the fact that it had informal biographical sketches for each of the bloggers (see pics to the right). They had faces and fun ways of talking about themselves. They seemed like a friend or a family member or the neighbor next door. As a citizen, I had the sense that the folks working there were “just like me.”

In fact, I blogged about them as a best practice to counter Mark Drapeau when he said (among other things) that government agencies don’t have personalities online.

Now they’re gone.

And not only did they remove the faces and personalities, but they removed the names completely!

If I remember correctly, they had an easy-to-find link to their Comment Policy, which is missing on the new build…and it seems to me that they had a few other helpful links that led the visitor to other helpful resources. All gone.

Finally, they’ve canned their Twitter account, too!

For me, these changes are a bit baffling and I don’t understand why they happened. 🙁

Did the staffing structure change? I had always cited GovGab as an excellent example of resource allocation as they spread the work load among several members of their team to minimize overall impact and get increase buy-in for social interaction among a greater number of staff. involved.

Is this just a temporary change while they’re building something better? Take the old down, put up something simple and make a splash with the new build – that might make sense.

Have their goals changed such that they’re making this something akin to a glorified feed? It appears now as if they are potentially posting once and replicating across platforms…so it’s less about the people and more about the product (read: information). In that case, I’d say there has been a de-emphasis on conversation and a focus on content…which is also a move in a different (wrong?) direction.

So I know I’m calling out my friends publicly…but I hope that a conversation can ensue so that we can all learn from the evolution of one of the first (and what I used to believe was “best”) Federal social media presences.

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Jed Sundwall

Caveat: I’m a contractor and none of this is an official GSA statement. That said, I’ll fall on the sword for this!

A perfect storm of factors informed the decision to consolidate GovGab into the USA.gov blog. GovGab was based on a Java blogging platform called Roller that was not particularly well supported and was getting creaky. Because of this, the GovGab team was in the process of looking for a new platform at around the time that USA.gov started looking seriously at Tumblr as a new social media outlet. Instead of spending resources to move GovGab to a new platform while running a new USA.gov blog on Tumblr, we decided to join forces
under the USA.gov brand.

That last factor is probably the largest factor pointing to change in direction you mention. Personally, I very much believe it was the right decision. USA.gov, to most people, represents THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES. If we’re going to present a blog as the blog of the U.S. government, that blog needs to meet people’s expectations of the government of the United States in terms of content and tone.

What we aspire to, however, is to FAR EXCEED people’s expectations of the government in terms of helpfulness and ease of understanding. We have a truly awesome set of guidelines that help us do this. And the awesome team behind GovGab is still being awesome behind the USA.gov blog. Almost every blogger who was writing before is still writing. Also, Drapeau is still wrong: USA.gov has an awesome personality, even without faces and names. (All those awesomes are for Steve)

Re: the emphasis on content rather than conversation. The guiding principle of our social media efforts is the following: “USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov help people find, understand, and benefit from government information. Everything we do is motivated by this principle.” Tax payers are paying for this service and it’s supremely important that we honor that by remaining committed to a clear purpose. Conversations can emerge around our content, and we engage in purposeful conversations whenever appropriate, but our goal is to help people. Conversations can complement that, but they’re not the purpose of our social media efforts.

This change was a team effort and a group decision. It wasn’t easy, but we’re confident that this approach provides a clearer experience for the millions of people worldwide who encounter the USA.gov blog.

That said, THANK YOU for the tough love! The USA.gov blog is still brand new, and we’re still getting our sea legs and really appreciate the feedback! GovGab bloggers (and guest bloggers from other agencies) will still write personal blog posts whenever their personal experience and expertise can add value and context to the content. So, look out for that!

Dannielle Blumenthal

Weighing in.

I actually like USAgov the way it is. I don’t think the unified voice of the federal govt should have a noticeable personality. It is supposed to cater to all people. Be so objective its almost like hearing from a librarian.

The TSA blog (disclaimer – I work for a component of DHS but this is my own opinion) does have a voice. And I think that works for them.

That said I was not familiar with GovGab. But I don’t like that name from a branding perspective. The gov should not be “gabbing.” We are serious. Do you want to “gab” with your bank or your lawyer? Of course not…its sort of the same concept for me.

With social media we run a real risk of becoming too informal with the public. I don’t think that is what they want or what inspires trust.