The Web is no place for geek speak

Technobabble. Geek-speak.

If you are in charge of, or are working on a Web site, you very likely have waded through your share of the complex, nearly indecipherable language that comes with any venture into the computer technology world. Most of the time it isn't a problem. Usually you can turn to someone who can translate things into English.

But what kind of effect does this high-tech talk have on us? If you work in an information systems, information management or information technology organization, you converse this way by nature. But what if you are running a World Wide Web site? Do you also speak geek as your primary language? If so, you might be missing something.

Building and administering a Web site are associated with plenty of techie talk. Technical issues have to be dealt with, including what platform to run on, what Hypertext Transport Protocol server to use, and what Web authoring and application development tools to use.

Webmasters spend most of their time dealing with the myriad technical decisions that come up in the daily grind that is their jobs. But is this what the focus of running a Web site should be?

There is a saying about the Web: Content is king. The adage goes doubly so for Web sites run by and for the federal government. Technical issues are a large part of the work, however, the main focus has to be content.

What you are saying is far more important than how you say it. Commercial sites, as opposed to federal sites, have to worry far more about things like presentation and the gee-whiz factor. "Oh, let's put this latest java doohickey thing in so that our customers will see pretty twirlies."

This doesn't mean that everyone should build text-only Web sites. It does mean, however, that because of the work we do, we must make sure that information on our Web sites is clear and easy to understand.

I'll say it again, as federal Webmasters, we have a duty to make sure that what we publish gets more attention than how we publish it. There are plenty of tools and resources available to help build and operate Web sites. One of the better resources for federal Webmasters is the mailing list available at www.army.mil/webmasters/faq.

But the best way to know if your site is doing its job is to ask the people who use your site what they think of it. This includes the public as well as any internal users. Don't be afraid of criticism. Don't dismiss any feedback out-of-hand. Continue to ask anyone and everyone what they think of the site. Ask them before, during and after any redesigns or upgrades, too.

Don't take any comments about your site personally, even though you might get the occasional flamer who is just trying to rattle your cage. These kind of comments are simply part of being on the Internet. Every comment made can help you in running your site. Ideas that might not be feasible can still lead you to something that will add functionality or streamline your pages.

The best sites are the ones people go to for information. The easier and faster it is for visitors to find the information, the more they'll come back. This is, after all, what the web was made for.

— Klemmer is a senior Unix system administrator and security analyst at the Strategic and Advanced Computing Center at Army headquarters. He can be reached at joe.klemmer@us.army.mil.

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