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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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Reader comments

Wed, Jun 15, 2011

Clarity? From the Vice President? Why even bother to say, "Hah!?"

Wed, Jun 15, 2011

and Macon Phillips is still not getting the terminology correct. Top level domains (TLDs) are the letters after the last dot,for example, .com, .gov, .mil, .org, .us. The Whitehouse is not focused on reducing the number of TLDs, but is focused on reducing the number of second-level domains (SLDs) under the TLD .gov. Domain structure and hierarchy is one of the most basic elements of the Internet. If the Whitehouse can't discuss this using at least the correct terminology and relationships, then no wonder we can't get traction on some of the more complex Internet challenges. Shutting down an SLD is not the same as shutting down a website (depending on how one defines a website), as the information may just move to a different address. For example, forestfiddlers.gov is shutdown, but will the same information now be managed as a website at http://www.fs.fed.us/forestfiddlers/? Ah yes, .fed.us: how many Federal websites are under that SLD? How many Federal websites are under the other TLDs, like https://hrm.gdcii.com/directory/ and http://www.godefense.com/ and what is the strategy for "dealing with" them? One TLD at a time, I guess. I wonder if every Federal agency CIOs has an inventory of every Internet domain assigned to their agencies.

Wed, Jun 15, 2011 DonF

The author of this article appears to believe the VP and staff know what they are doing regarding the Internet - that is taking too much for granted!

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