Among the many takeaways from the Healthcare.gov fiasco, one is so blindingly obvious it's easy to miss: You can have as much lovely user experience design as you want, but if the Web site's underlying framework doesn't function, people aren't going to like it.
The good news is, the government isn't always terrible at making these things. In fact, a new survey shows, people are as happy with federal government Web sites overall as they are with private sector Web sites (which have the built-in disadvantage of having to show advertising). And guess their favorites: three Social Security-related Web sites, which have some similar functionality to Healthcare.gov, but with one option instead of many.
Many other Web sites in the top 20 were also health-care related, including Womenshealth.gov, Cancer.gov, Medlineplus.gov, and Healthypeople.gov. Now, it's possible that the ratings were skewed by their audience; older people enrolling in Security Benefits may have less experience with the full range of what the Internet has to offer, and thus fewer comparative benchmarks. But the Social Security site does appear genuinely easy to use, and if it's making the elderly happy, then it's doing its job.
And satisfaction matters: According to the survey, citizens who like a Web site are 64 percent more confident in the agency it represents than those who don't. (FEMA.gov, perhaps indicatively, is way at the bottom of the list.)
The one downside to the report? Overall, government Web sites haven't been getting better. Foresee, the company behind those annoying pop-ups that asks you to rate Web sites, has been rating them in partnership with the American Consumer Satisfaction Index for over a decade now, and the average score has lately stayed flat at 74.9 percent. That's still better than most private sector Web sites, but as they say, leaves room for improvement.