Before giving websites the ax, feds should consider public satisfaction, analyst says

A task force charged with slashing and rationalizing the federal government's Web presence should look at traffic, redundancy and user satisfaction as it decides which sites should get the ax, an analytic agency recommended Tuesday.

The company, ForeSee Results, manages the E-Government Satisfaction Index, a quarterly survey of customer satisfaction with participating federal websites.

The White House has embarked on a major campaign to slash and consolidate the more than 20,000 government websites that have sprung up since the 1990s.

Many of those websites were built around a specific issue or initiative and are now rarely visited and poorly maintained. Other websites are visited more often but were built with distinct architecture so it's difficult for casual Web surfers to tell what's official and what's not.

ForeSee primarily analyzes high-profile websites, such as agencies' main websites or those with popular customer service functions, not antiquated sites that are likely to be cut entirely.

A customer satisfaction metric similar to the one ForeSee uses to assess often-visited sites could be a useful tool in determining which lower level sites to drop, the company argues.

"Web traffic alone isn't enough to justify cutting a website because that site may contain valuable, highly targeted content that isn't available anywhere else," the company said in a statement. "Considering whether the site duplicates content is another important consideration, but determining overlaps will be long and arduous . . . An assessment of the quality and value of the specific sites to citizens is therefore vital to determining whether a site is necessary."

The website consolidation campaign is part of a larger Obama administration initiative to improve customer service.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has floated the idea of creating a single federal Web domain with all other government sites slotted beneath it and using similar architecture and designs. He's stressed, though, that a single government domain isn't a foregone conclusion.

Tuesday's quarterly report from ForeSee found high customer satisfaction with many federal websites. Participating sites' aggregate satisfaction score was about 75 out of 100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, about where it's been hovering the past two years but higher than where those sites rated before 2008.

Customer satisfaction with federal websites has consistently rated above satisfaction with non-Web government functions, the company said.