Create a new government Web experience
FCW.com's DotGov Thursday column suggests an entertaining, interactive future for government Web sites
I believe that the future of the World Wide Web lies in creating new experiences for users, a concept that fits with the new emphasis on categorizing government information according to people's needs and "life events" rather than by agency.
As more real-time devices — such as digital cameras, video cameras, IP telephony and video on demand — become integrated with the everyday diet of designing Web pages, we move away from the mere dissemination of information to creating new experiences for the public.
Think about the dramatic difference between reading a (boring) text weather report and viewing a satellite weather map. Then, consider the increasedr ichness of the weather report when it is combined with a live-cam view of your favorite vacation spot organized on your own custom travel page.
When we add video, pictures and sound files, we move from information dissemination to the creation of experiences. The public can "experience" the weather by seeing the live video feed and not just reading about the weather. Your friends can "experience" your vacation by looking at your image files.
It is this aspect that is driving the development of new products and processes for the Web. Internet and computing giants AOL Time Warner Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have clearly entered into the entertainment industry. Although I prefer the term "creating new experiences" to "entertainment," even dry and humorless government Web content must have some entertainment value if you are to achieve any measure of customer satisfaction. Have you visited the Internal Revenue Service's site lately? The IRS has done a great job. The home page is entertaining despite being about something as dry and complex as taxes. Content need not and should not be boring.
Today's clear winning Web-based applications are entertainment, games, chat rooms, instant messaging and e-mail. The key to understanding the future of the Web is to think about why these applications are successful. Everyone talks about an interactive Web, wireless Web or more video on the Web as the next cyber frontiers. This concept of "creating new experiences" is driving new Web applications and the attachment of devices.
I have never gone to a movie and said, "Wow, what a great data file that was," or "Wow, what a great product." No, the movie is an experience. Similarly, a conversation with a friend on your wireless phone is an experience, not a sound file. When you post digital images from your vacation, your friends can share in your experience.
As wireless phones, video cameras, digital cameras, MP3 players, handheld computers and other devices are produced and sold in mass quantities, it becomes obvious where the new markets are. It is no wonder that some traditional information technology companies are aggressively moving into the fields of electronics, entertainment and telecommunications. Wireless is also an underlying foundation to "creating new experiences." I am most often interacting in the world around me, not my video screen.
Federal Web sites should continue to migrate in the direction of creating new experiences for users. This is done through the inclusion of real-time functions, content for wireless devices and other evolving Web features.I t is no longer about information dissemination; federal agencies have conquered that difficulty quite well.
The "kids' pages" on federal sites provide an across-the-board example of agencies' success in creating new experiences on the Web. I would suggest entertaining pages are not only for kids, but for adults too.
Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairmanof the federal WebMasters Forum and director of GSA's Emerging IT PoliciesDivision.
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