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Biden simplifies federal website message a bit too much

Did Vice President Joe Biden -- or his staff -- botch a statement regarding a new effort to eliminate unneeded federal government websites?

It appears that might be the case. A statement from Biden's office reads: "There are almost 2,000 separate websites across the federal government." It goes on to say that the administration will shut down or consolidate 25 percent "of the 2,000 sites over the next few months and set a goal of cutting the number of separate, stand alone sites in half over the next year."

That figure, 2,000 websites, was the number Biden and other officials involved in the campaign used at the announcement, and it was reported by many of the media outlets that covered the story. Unfortunately, the number may be misleading.

The confusion arises from the difference between top-level domains and actual websites. Macon Phillips, the White House's director of new media, explains that there are almost 2,000 top-level domains in the government, but 24,000 websites.

There are top-level sites, such as www.whitehouse.gov, where a website is attached directly to the domain. But then there are secondary sites, such as the Office of Management and Budget, which is at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/

"Under many of these [top-level] domains are smaller sub-sites and microsites resulting in an estimated 24,000 websites of varying purpose, design, navigation, usability and accessibility," Phillips writes.

We suspect the officials wanted to keep the presentation simple and understandable to a group of reporters with varying degrees of technological sophistication. Talking about the nuances of Internet technology might have been an unnecessary complication. Unfortunately, the simplification may have gone a bit too far, erring on the side of imprecision.

So while the campaign has an ambitious goal of cutting out unneeded websites, the actual reduction in sites might not be as dramatic as the reduction in domains.

If the administration eliminates half of the stand-alone top-level sites, but leaves many of the secondary sites intact (moved to other top-level domains when needed), the overall change will be minimal, at least from the perspective of the users of the sites.

On the other hand, if the plan is to cut the top-level sites and take all the secondary sites under the top level at the same time, that could be huge.

Some clarity at the announcement June 13 would have been nice.

Posted on Jun 14, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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