5 Things Every Good Website Should Have -- and This One Does (Finally)

Government Technology is changing with you: mobile, social, discoverable

by / June 26, 2013
See the evolution of the govtech.com over the years.

For 18 years, you have relied on govtech.com -- the digital publication of Government Technology -- to cover news. Today, we are making a little news ourselves. The newly redesigned govtech.com is live, and we think you’ll notice and like the changes. They have been a long time coming.

Over the years, we've covered the evolution of government’s use of the Web, identified and advocated best practices, and have even critiqued more than a few government websites. With this relaunch, we are putting into practice ourselves many of the things that we've suggested you do. It seemed only fair.

What you see is our take on implementing those best practices, creating a new dynamic digital canvas for storytelling, improving navigation and usability, encouraging discovery and fixing a few bugs along the way. Rather than tweaking the old site, we started over from scratch. Among the dozens of changes and innovations, here are the five things we think you’ll like the most:

1. Device Agnostic: Mobile Use and Responsive Design

The new site adjusts to you and your device of choice. Through responsive design, the site adjusts automatically to screen size from desktop to tablet to phone. To see it for yourself, come to the site on an iPad (if that’s not how you got here in the first place), and shift from latitude to portrait view, or change the browser size on your desktop. It's not magic, just some nifty coding. We think it will help you get the information you need on the device you have in hand at the moment.

There is plenty of evidence that your habits are changing in what industry analysts call a blurring of form factors. Recent reports from ComScore and Nielsen both indicate that almost 40 percent of time spent on the Internet is with mobile devices. A separate analysis by Adobe indicates that tablet use accounts for more Internet traffic (12 percent) than smartphones (7 percent). Combined, that’s almost 20 percent of all traffic through mobile, up from the low single digits just three years ago.

And our internal tracking indicates similar levels of growth by mobile users. Whatever devices you choose -- smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop -- the new govtech.com was designed and developed to grow, and go, with you.

2. Curation and Discovery, Together 

In a survey of opinion leaders in state and local government, the firm Erdos and Morgan found that Government Technology is regarded as the single most current source of news of any print or TV media source covered in the study. That’s high recognition for our writers and editors who produce the magazine and curate the website. As we see it, curation is about making editorial judgments about what’s important to you professionally and interesting personally.

The new site gives our editors the flexibility to feature the stories that matter most, and it allows you to explore and discover the rest through simplified, mobile-friendly navigation.  

The mix of content is up to the editors when you first arrive -- but the remix of content is up to you, thanks to a new filter bar that allows you to sort stories by topic:

Gone are the artificial silos that kept articles and blogs in one spot, video in another and photos somewhere else. The new site also highlights and groups related content around the article you are reading so you can drill as far down as you like on items that interest you.

In short, if you only have a second, you’ll see what you need to know. Stay a little longer and we’ll give you the world -- or, at the very least, we'll give you the latest news and analysis of government modernization in the states and localities.  

3. The Aesthetic: Better Looking, More Inviting

The industry-leading work of our designers and illustrators is recognized repeatedly through professional awards and honors, along with kudos from magazine readers. The new site design allows us to bring more of their award-winning design to the Web.

The pages are brighter, bolder and more visual. They now integrate photo galleries, graphics and other media elements in a story without making you click away. If an image catches your eye, one click will post it to your Pinterest page. (More on social media later.) Article pages have also been redesigned to be easier and more pleasant to read.

You’ll see the new look on our newsletters too.

4. Way Finding: Navigation and Search

We were determined to make it easier for you to find the information you need and find your way around the site. The navigation has been simplified on a fixed header that stays at the top of your browser as you scroll down -- so navigation, search and social options are always there when you need them. The new filter bar that marks the “fold” of the page, to harken back to daily newspapers, allows you to narrow or expand what you see.  

The new pages never end (for the most part). The site now offers an eternal scroll that allows you to thumb (or mouse) through a neverending selection of content of all types until you click on something that catches your eye … and then again on the next page … and then the page after that. To use another old school reference, eternal scrolling is a little like browsing the stacks at a well stocked library or bookstore. Sometimes the joy is in the exploration.

Before there was Google, there was GovTech (Just Sayin’)

Government Technology was on the Web in the year 1 BG (Before Google). It was the time when the Web didn’t have a version number. Hardcore gear heads insisted http was a fad and that FTP and listservs did everything you needed the Internet to do.

In the intervening years, our site has gone through five major redesigns along with a handful of minor refreshes (note our slideshow at the top of the article). During one of those redesigns, a half dozen years ago, we moved from our original address in the dot-net neighborhood to govtech.com

When you don’t have time to browse, there's always search. Though we've struggled with search over the years, we think we now have something that works. Simply put, the Google search you love across the Internet is now inside govtech.com. You said you wanted it; so did we. And you can also now refine search results by date and relevance.

5. Continuing the Conversation: Sharing and Commenting

Social network icons were first added to govtech.com in October 2011. By then, MySpace was in steep decline, losing 10 million users in a single month earlier in the year -- it was well off its high of 100 million. At the same time, the ascendant Facebook had signed up 500 million users -- the number is more than double than that now (1.1 billion). As for Twitter, it launched in 2006 and had grown to 100 million users by 2011 -- one-fifth of its size today.

Social media is clearly an important part of the media landscape, but the players and platforms are still shifting around. The portfolio of social networks to which we are paying attention is growing -- we’ll meet you on the ones you use the most. In addition to pinning, following and liking, we have made it easier to share a story through a cluster of social media buttons that float down the page as you read.  When the urge to share strikes, the icons to touch are there -- to your left -- where you want them.

Finally, the new site integrates social media into a new commenting function through a service called Livefyre. You can comment on anything on our site using one of your social identities and, with a simple click, Livefyre will share your comment and a link to the article with your network of friends, followers, connections and circles. Click the "Follow" link in the comments to follow a conversation and be notified of new comments.

In short, this is the site that we -- all of us from executives to editors, designers and developers, plus our colleagues in the Center for Digital Government and the people in sales and marketing -- wanted to build for you. Like everything on the Internet, it is a work in progress. We’ll tweak and improve and stretch it to do new things in the weeks and months ahead. We hope you like it -- and find it useful. 

The last word belongs to you. It would make the launch of the new site complete if you left a comment and shared it with your colleagues. Thank you.

Paul W. Taylor Contributing Writer

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.

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