Coast Guard intranet named in 10 best

The clean design and personalized features of the Coast Guard's intranet brought the network to be recognized as one of the 10 best intranets this month by the Nielsen Norman Group.

The Coast Guard intranet, known as Mission Advance Collaboration Network or MACnet, was the only government intranet to be honored for its usability and design.

"It was surprisingly good-looking for a government intranet," said Kara Pernice Coyne, director of research at Nielsen Norman. "It's very clean."

Nielsen Norman received for review about 100 submissions, roughly 10 percent of which were government intranets, Coyne said. The judgment process included initial design reviews and numeric ratings, follow-up questions with the top 30, and thorough design reviews and interviews with the top 10 contenders. Judges evaluated the intranets based on usability and design and considered the users, their tasks and how well the intranet helped them.

MACnet stood out among the nominees first for the aesthetic design. A Coast Guard seal makes the site feel official while the blue and gray color scheme connotes the water, Coyne said. A personalization feature allows users to add and organize information based on his or her needs, she said.

The site also includes a Feature from the Field — stories of Coast Guard personnel, — which serves to connect the organization. "These kinds of heroic stories can pull together an organization," Coyne said. "This can be something, in talking to users, that makes them feel like something is really going on in [their] organization and that could be [them] up there."

The design process for MACnet began in 2000 and demo portals were built in Nov. 2000, May 2001 and May 2002. The first round of funding for building the actual portal was granted in March 2002. The intranet pilot went live in June 2003, and of the 40,000 personnel, about 5,000 people are using it, according to the Nielsen Norman report.

Although accessibility tests were not performed on each submitted intranet, networks with glaring accessibility problems were cut from the running, Coyne said. In the future, the focus will be beyond just usability and more on accessibility, she said.

"In the future, we are going to be a lot stricter about that stuff," she said. "Right now intranets have not come far as they should have."

Other federal agencies building and redesigning intranets should make sure to have the appropriate news and information that bring members of the organization to the site, Coyne said. Designers should also ensure the sites are usable. "There are too many intranets that are not doing any kind of usability testing," she said. "I know how difficult it can be to engrain this in the process, but it's something that has not done enough."

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