Government sites realize less is more

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Google should be flattered. Taking the search giant’s cue on simplicity, government Web sites such as GovBenefits.gov and FirstGov.gov are winnowing clutter on their Web pages, a Labor Department official said.

Steven Law, Labor’s deputy secretary, said simplicity is the “the new [information technology] nirvana.” He gave a keynote address yesterday at the IRMCO 2006 Conference.

The push for simplicity is already under way, Law said after his speech. “What’s striking about [GovBenefits and FirstGov] is that they are fairly uncluttered for government Web sites,” he said.

Labor hosts GovBenefits, and the General Services Administration hosts FirstGov.

In the private sector, “there is just a lot more ruthless discipline applied to what gets put up on a Web page,” Law said.

On Google’s home page, a lot of real estate for advertising could be available. Instead, Google emphasizes its iconic logo on a stark white background. The push toward simplicity is driving government Web managers to that same ruthlessness. That businesslike discipline is causing them to delete unnecessary information to make pages easier to use.

“Virtually every element on [FirstGov] has a didactic purpose,” Law said. It draws the unsophisticated user to a wide range of services and information that the government offers.

Along with simplicity, he said, transparency and interoperability are important trends in e-government. Throughout the conference, Bush administration officials used the buzzwords clarity, transparency and accountability to describe their programs' goals and the President's Management Agenda.

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