The Web is no place for geek speak
Technobabble. Geek-speak. If you are in charge of, or are working on a web site you have likely waded through your share of the complex, nearly indecipherable language that comes with any venture into the computer technology world. Most of the time it isn't a problem, there's usually someone to whom you can turn to that can translate things into english. But what kind of effect does this high tech talk have on us? If you work in an IS/IM/IT organization, you likely converse this way by nature. But what if you are running a web site? Do you also speak geek as your primary language? If so, you might be missing something.
Building and administering a web site has plenty of techie talk associated with it. There are all the technical issues that have to be dealt with. What platform to run on, what http server to use, which web authoring and application development tools to use. Most of the time that Webmasters spend is in dealing with the myriad technical things that come up in the daily grind. But is this what the focus of running a web site should be?
For a number of years now there has been a saying about the web; "Content is king." This goes doubly so for web sites run by and for the Federal Government. Yes, technical issues are a large part of the work, however the main focus has to be content. What you are saying is far more important than how you say it. Commercial sites have to worry far more about things like presentation and the "Gee Wiz" factor (Ooo, let's put this latest java doohickey thing in so that our customers will see pretty twerlies) than Federal Government sites. This doesn't mean that everyone should be building web sites with nothing but text on the pages. It does mean that, due to the specific "industry" we are in, we must make sure that the information being conveyed by our web sites is being done so in a clear and easy to understand manor.
I'll say it again, as Federal Webmasters, we have a duty to make sure that WHAT we publish gets more attention than HOW we publish it. There are plenty of tools and resources available to help with the building and running of web sites. One of the better resources for Federal Webmasters is the mailing list available at http://www.army.mil/webmasters/faq. But the best way to know if your site is doing the job it is intended to do is to ask the people who use your site what they think of it. This includes the public as well as any internal users within your organization. Don't be afraid of criticism. Don't dismiss any feedback out-of-hand. Continue to ask anyone and everyone what they think of the site you run; before, during and after any redesigns or upgrades, too. And don't take any comments about your site personally, even though you might get the occasional flamer who is just trying to rattle your cage. These kind of comments are simply part of being on the 'Net. Every comment made can help you in running your site. Ideas that might not be feasible can still lead you to something that will add functionality or streamline your pages.
The best sites are the ones people go to to get the information they are looking for. The easier and faster it is for them to get it the more they'll come back. This is, after all, what the web was made for.
[Joe Klemmer has been working in the computer field for 18 years, 10 of those online. He can be reached at email@example.com]