Brookings Irked by Web Imitation
Iraq Authority Takes Think Tank's Online Cues, but Not Views
By Mark Stencel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A21
Scholars at the Brookings Institution have all kinds of ideas about Iraq policy that never seem to get much attention from the staff at the U.S.-led occupation authority in Baghdad.
But when it comes to Web site design, the Coalition Provisional Authority seems to have studied Brookings's ideas very closely.
Civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer's webmasters apparently lifted the design for their Web site (www.cpa-iraq.org) directly from the Brookings site (www.brookings.edu). The duplication included overall layout as well as small details, such as fonts, colors and the placement of a search box -- just with a little splash of Arabic here and there.
Online political columnist Joshua Micah Marshall, who first pointed out the similarities between the two sites on his "Talking Points Memo" Web site last month, dug into the underlying source code for the occupation Web page and found traces of Brookings's layout coding.
"Now if they'd just crib the policy proposals and not just the html!" Marshall wrote, referring to the hypertext markup language in which Web pages are coded. "Hey, at least those CPA folks are saving money!"
As it happens, the Web staff at Brookings had spent a significant -- and undisclosed -- sum hiring one of the Internet's leading designers, Roger Black, to redesign its Web site early last year, a short time before the invasion of Iraq.
Stephen G. Smith, Brookings's vice president for communications, said his Web team was not pleased to see their costly redesign and laboriously coded pages copied. But Smith said the organization chose not to make a big deal about the matter and never contacted Bremer's staff about the aesthetic piracy.
"In the case of Iraq, there are a lot bigger things going on," Smith said.
A spokesman for the CPA did not respond to an e-mail message last week asking about the similarities. Public information officials at the Defense Information Systems Agency, a branch of the Pentagon whose Defense Technical Information Center developed the occupation authority's Web site, also did not return calls for comment.
Since Marshall uncovered what he called a "secret liberal influence" on the U.S. authorities in Baghdad, Bremer's staff appears to have made some slight changes to differentiate the two sites. Now the date in the top left corner of the coalition homepage is a little bolder and a slightly different font than it had been a month ago, and the small arrow-like icons on the navigation buttons on the left-hand side of the page are now red instead of their original Brookings-esque yellow.
"But you can still see that it's derivative," Smith said.
Steve Outing, a columnist for Editor & Publisher magazine's Web site, pointed out that Brookings is hardly the first organization to see major portions of its design copied so thoroughly.
"Website designs are often mimicked, and sometimes 'borrowed,' " Outing wrote in an online forum about Internet publishing trends.
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