A new web culture coming to government?


Even a quick comparison between change.gov (run by the Obama team) and presidentialtransition.gov (run by the US General Services Agency – GSA) is fascinating.

The former shows its Facebook heritage — beautiful URLs, pages with very tight information architecture, calls to action, a blog, and a navigational model that lets people find what they need fast (journalists go to the newsroom and the blog, people passionate about specific issues get to find out what Obama has to say about them _and_ contribute their own ideas).

The latter shows that it’s the issue of a huge process, where the human face gets lost. The most prominent link, right under the redundant link to the home page in the sidebar, is to an organizational chart which of course is a PDF — is there anything more link-friendly than an organizational chart, and a document format less suited for hierarchies than PDFs? It doesn’t matter, as I can’t get the downloaded file to open in my PDF viewer — most likely they never tested the site with Macs, or maybe even with Firefox.

The font chosen by the former is deliberately presidential, with serifs used to convey gravitas, while being easy to read. The font chosen by the latter is authoritative (see the great documentary Helvetica). The paragraphs in the former are short, with larger fonts, and thus readable. The paragraphs in the latter are long, with long lines, and too boring to bother reading.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison, because the latter is intended for a much smaller audience than the former. Still, it makes one hope that someday we’ll be able to go to governmental websites to perform routine business and it might just be as easy as poking someone on Facebook…