Webmasters: Link affinity and customers
- By Beth Archibald Tang
- Nov 29, 2000
Keep the site updated. Focus on the customer. Comply with rules and regulations.
How can a federal Webmaster keep up?
I previously wrote about the benefits of networking and pointed out that mailing lists and online discussions
provide ways to exchange ideas with colleagues. Now, I want to focus on
the broader concept of communication, especially with regard to affinity
groups and people who use federal Web sites.
In recent months, federal Webmasters have been inundated with new requirements
focusing on customers. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
requires that Web sites be accessible to people with disabilities. New Office
of Management and Budget guidance limits agencies' use of "cookies" to guard
the privacy of agency Web site users. And the Children's Online Privacy
Protection Act restricts online collection of personal information from
children under 13.
That is a lot of information for small and emerging Web shops to manage.
When one person can only work part-time on updating a Web site, it's hard
enough making sure that links work and information is current. So, how can
Webmasters learn about new regulations that affect their Web site? How can
they learn about what other bureaus and agencies are doing?
They can enter affinity groups.
Support for the one-person shop by way of networking, informal training
and question-and-answer sessions is invaluable. Such support can be found
in affinity groups. This is true not only for small Web shops but also for
new hires, newbies to the field and those who are just looking to keep informed.
As described in a Tom Horan, deputy director of the Emerging IT Policies Division
at the General Services Administration, affinity groups are composed of
"like-minded folks who get together to address professional issues that
matter to their communities."
Those groups require an investment of time and resources, and volunteers
are their driving force. With the support of their agencies, affinity group
participants reap the rewards of staying informed and help other agencies
by spreading timely information to members.
Customer satisfaction is the latest hot topic for affinity groups, as
demonstrated when volunteers gave a workshop on the 13 elements of Section 508 and when they gathered for a brown-bag meeting
to share best practices and guidelines developed for their agency's Web
I urge you to read "The Cluetrain Manifesto;
The End of Business as Usual" and memorize one of the book's most important
tenets: Markets are conversations. Disregard the book's apparently commercial
focus. Government sites conduct a kind of business regardless of whether
this includes commercial transactions.
Take stock of the first chapter, "Internet Apocalypso," and go full steam ahead in your affinity group of
Here are some conversation starters for Web affinity groups:
* What is our target audience?
* How do we present our Web site in innovative ways?
* Do we serve our target audience in a more-than-adequate manner?
* How do we overcome our bureau's organizational hierarchy to reflect
a more user-friendly interface?
* Is it easy to find information on the site?
* Is it easy for visitors to our site to contact someone about technical
problems as well as content-related questions?
* Do we make our Web policies (privacy, for example) clear and easily
* How can we improve what we have online?
Tang is a Web designer in the Information Technology Group of
Caliber Associates, Fairfax, Va.