Feds vary Starr report packaging

Looking to avoid overwhelming traffic at any one federal World Wide Web site, more than half a dozen government offices have posted Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton. But not all the federal sites on Starr's report to Congress are the same, with agencies taking a variety of approaches to packaging the information and offering a variety of add-ons.

For example, visitors to THOMAS (thomas.loc.gov), the legislative Web site at the Library of Congress, find not the usual rich and wordy opening page splashed with search buttons, links to information on bills and updates on congressional actions. Instead they find a stark page bearing only two options: "For information on the Independent Counsel's Report, click here" and "If you want to go to THOMAS, click here."

Choosing the option for the independent counsel's report transports visitors to yet another bare-bones page that belies the soap-operatic content of Starr's report. That page offers links to the report itself, to the text of the House resolution that released the report to the public and to other federal sites hosting copies of Starr's report. Moreover, the site provides an easy link to the other side of the story: the White House home page (www.whitehouse.gov), where the Clinton administration has posted its response to Starr's report.

The LOC site presents Starr's report in a series of plain-text chapters, the approach that most sites favor. Webmasters say the chapter approach is a good one when posting hot documents. Congestion is eased if visitors load only one small document at a time rather than one big document.

Webmasters at the House of Representatives took a similar approach. Visitors to the main House site (www.house.gov) will not see the familiar image of the U.S. Capitol and links to members' offices. Instead they will see a plain-text page that gives them the option of delving into Starr report-related links, including links to presidential rebuttals, or jumping to the main House page.

The Web address www.house.gov/icreport (as well as icreport.house.gov/icreport and icreport.house.gov/press) transports visitors directly to the cover page of the report. Like the LOC site, this site takes Clinton watchers to a table of contents featuring hot links to individual chapters of the report.

The Web site for the House Judiciary Committee -- the committee that could oversee impeachment proceedings -- has carved out a slightly more dynamic niche devoted to the Starr report. The site includes links to relevant statements by committee chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). In addition to offering the plain-text chapter format, the Judiciary Committee's page offers Starr's report in portable document format (PDF), a format that shows an image of the document as it appears in its original form, complete with special fonts, letterheads and other graphic elements.

Visitors with a PDF plug-in, such as Adobe Systems Inc.'s Adobe Acrobat Reader, can load and print the entire document (a total of 17M) with just a couple of clicks of the mouse. Visitors to this site also can search the text of the PDF version by using keywords.

The Government Printing Office also hosts the report on several sites. One GPO page, icreport.access.gpo.gov/report/1cover.htm, features the report in the chapter-by-chapter, text-only format used on the LOC and the main House sites. But like the Judiciary Committee site, another GPO site, www.access.gpo.gov/congress/icreport, allows visitors to search the report for keywords. Search results are returned as links to plain-text chapters of the report as well as links to PDF versions of the chapters. But this site does not provide a PDF version of the entire report.

But fedbbs.access.gpo.gov/icreport/text/contents.txt, which is another GPO site, provides a much larger menu of options. In addition to PDF, visitors can choose to view sections of the report in Hypertext Markup Language, text, Corel Corp.'s WordPerfect or zipped WordPerfect.

T.C. Evans, GPO's assistant director for the Office of Electronic Dissemination Services, said his office broke the report up into many types of documents to serve customers better. "Some people want to pull down small chunks and [then] read it or print it out. And some people want to pull down the whole document," he said.

All these government sites saw a lot of traffic last week, but Relevant Knowledge Inc., an Atlanta firm that monitors Internet usage, said, "Even though they did not receive the brunt of Web traffic [Sept. 11 and 12], the government sites that originally published the report saw their audience increase nearly twentyfold to 1.3 million unique visitors vs. 70,000 the week before."

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