FBI, DOD sites strip away the gloss

The FBI and the Defense Department have given new looks to their central World Wide Web sites, and both have opted to defy convention by stripping down, rather than dressing up, the appearance of those sites.

The newly designed FBI home page (www.fbi.gov) supplants the somewhat jazzy, icon-smattered old home page with a just-the-facts page that is more in tune with the subdued, unassuming and even secretive demeanor of the FBI as portrayed by Hollywood.

It's not that the FBI site lacks the information that was available before, it's just that the revamped site requires visitors to snoop quite a bit to find that information, whereas the former design provided colorful icons for hot links to high-profile topics, such as information on the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800.

The new site still offers links to broad categories of information, but it does not quite draw readers' attention to more specific topics. The information is not overly hard to find. Tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of the main page is a scrollable index leading readers to a host of topics, such as a list of missing persons and information on taking a tour of FBI headquarters.

The redesigned main page still has prominent links to popular FBI sites, such as the agency's most-wanted list, news releases, Freedom of Information Act documents, a section on science and technology, crime statistics and an educational page for youths.

The main page also includes an artist's rendering of the agency's No. 1 fugitive, abortion-clinic bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph, as well as quick links to two FBI-affiliated organizations: the National Infrastructure Protection Center and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The "Science and Technology" link whisks readers to a concentrated list of links to FBI organizations and projects, including a newsletter on the second incarnation of the bureau's National Criminal Information Center, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, the National Computer Crime Squad and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Now for the Fun Stuff

But the fun stuff on the new site, as on the old version of the site, lies under the dry-sounding heading "Freedom of Information and Privacy Act." Here you will find links that will lead you to declassified FBI files on deceased celebs such as singer John Lennon, baseball player Mickey Mantle, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, rock king Elvis Presley and actor John Wayne.

Then there are the declassified files on unidentified flying objects and purported UFO crashes. But "X-Files" fans should be warned: The files provide no conclusive evidence that there are little green men out there. Of course, maybe that's just what they want us to think.

Like the FBI site, DOD's DefenseLink (www.defenselink.mil) hardly hits a visitor over the head with icons. It's another just-the-facts kind of site that lacks a central "eye magnet"— the old DefenseLink banner/index is gone— that would draw a visitor in and show him where the really hot DOD news is.

But DOD knows that not all visitors are necessarily looking for the hot news. Some are looking for run-of-the-mill information— military pay charts, lists of military installations or DOD history— so the main page offers that information up front, including a scrollable index as well as quick links to home pages of the military services.

And the hot stuff is there too— the latest DOD news, highlights of departmental investigations and progress reports on the DOD reform initiative.

But what's significant about the new DefenseLink is that it's loaded with more information in more formats. The index of topics changes more often now, as often as every 20 minutes, as information is added to the site. And the site includes more military photographs and video clips— something users said they would like to see more, according to a DOD statement announcing the revamped site.

DOD officials also said the new page will allow for quicker downloads of files.

Moreover, DOD has added a site map to DefenseLink, which should allow visitors to quickly access a big picture of all their DOD surfing choices. And, of course, two critical features of a Web site— a search function and contact information— are available on the page. In fact, with the new DefenseLink, DOD has endeavored to include more points of contact, via more media, on the site, incorporating online response forms, e-mail links, postal addresses and phone numbers.

And the revamp isn't over. DOD officials said that in coming months they will add new features, such as video news clips and the ability for visitors to e-mail news articles on the site directly to others. That should be welcome news to the thousands who visit the site each month. According to DOD figures, DefenseLink gets about a half-million hits monthly.

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