Energy wires Web portal to fuel easy user access

The Energy Department unveils a new portal today that will make it easier for people to find information with a click of their mouse — from tips on cutting energy costs to saving the environment.

Gone is the department's stodgy Web site (www.doe.gov) with canned news releases, speeches from the DOE secretary and a bureaucratic tone that provided statements but little help for the customer.

Taking the old site's place is Energy.gov (www.energy.gov), which features a state-of-the-art design that makes the wide range of department information easily accessible.

"Energy is everywhere. It's your health, your transportation and your school. It's your world. It's your future," said one top DOE official who worked on the project.

"The philosophy was to present it in a way that was not intimidating," said Michael Schafer, director of new media at Supon Design Group, Washington, D.C. "We took the headache out of finding what they are looking for."

The biggest task was designing a site that could be easily used by scientists as well as ordinary consumers, Schafer said.

And it included working on a shoestring budget. DOE's Office of Consumer Information used existing resources and spent about $200,000 for the design. The eight-month project was led by Kathleen McShea, director of DOE's Office of Consumer Information.

Among the features of Energy.gov is an e-mail service that provides updates on the current price of diesel fuel. With the oil crunch weighing on the economy, it gives truckers timely information at their fingertips so they can calculate fuel surcharges on deliverable goods. Though the service has been available since 1994, when the Energy Information Administration went online, EIA spokesman Jonathan Cogan said the site is now getting thousands of hits from truckers because of the rising price of oil.

Energy.gov has received high marks from all of those who have navigated their way through the site, including focus groups asked to evaluate the design. DOE said its site is sensitive to the needs of the disabled and protects the privacy of users. It is possible to find information on the portal in different ways, ranging from a site map to a search button. The portal also includes more than 800 links to relevant sites.

"We had a tricky issue on the table — the site had to be accessible to everybody. That included the everyday Joe to the more educated individual like a scientist or researcher. [We wanted] a friendly, non-intimidating, less formal approach," a DOE official said.

Rich Kellett, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Webmaster subcommittee, said, "It looks very customer-oriented in that they are trying to help you find people or information that you need. It's very quick to navigate through and very intuitive.

"You don't need a class" to use it, he said. "They have structured a lot of information in a narrow space."

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