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USA.gov's redesign includes apps for mobile users

Tuesday, July 6, 2010; B03

The Obama administration has revamped and relaunched USA.gov, the online home for federal services and information. Dave McClure, associate administrator at the General Services Administration, oversaw the site's revamp and spoke about the redesign and dozens of new Web applications, or "apps," for mobile phone users:

Q Why did USA.gov need a redesign?

The Web site itself is 10 years old, and it's gone through some upgrades, but it's basically been created around information. Now we're trying to transform it so it's built around citizens.

What kind of audience research was done to determine what was needed?

We engaged the public online on what they found useful about USA.gov. The engagement ranged from design to format to functionality to presentation to relevance, so we did a pretty extensive dialogue to get ideas.

We also engaged usability design experts to actually help us test different looks and feel and usability. And, of course, we've run it through folks at GSA and the Office of Management and Budget and the White House for feedback, too.

Any idea how many people access USA.gov on a given day or year?

Monthly visits to USA.gov are 4.2 million, and we're forecasting 5 percent growth over the next year.

What's the most popular search item on USA.gov?

Go to the site and it shows you on a real-time basis what the most searched or used subjects are on the site. So you'll see jobs, energy, loans, debt relief, things that people are coming to the government for information about.

Part of this redesign rollout are the new apps for mobile users. Give me an example of how they might help folks in everyday life.

The My TSA app has information on baggage restrictions, what you can take on planes, and it's got information that's crowd-sourced on average wait times in airports. We know that people aren't going to be walking around with laptops plugged in at every counter, but they'll probably have a smartphone on their belt. So I'd probably use that on a regular basis.

The other would be product recalls, food and safety recalls. I walk into a store and I'm buying a baby carriage, but I think I've heard about a recall alert. I want to be able to get online quickly and check against a product code, whether it's on an official recall list. We have about 1,000 products where you can actually use your phone and scan in a bar code, and it will automatically check to see if it's on a recall list.

That's where we're trying to go with these kinds of services. Fast, very useful and in the terms of everyday citizens.

If I'm developing my own apps for mobile users, do I have easy access to government data in order to build it?

The government data on Data.gov is unrestricted, so anyone can take that and do whatever they want with that. There are 270,000 data sets. We're looking at cases where applications can be built. If we build it before a private developer, it'll satisfy a market need. But we won't build ones that impede on the open market.

This is new, we're evolving and we have to work some of this out as we get deeper into the application space.

Some people charge to download or use apps. Will the government charge?

No, absolutely not.

So what's it like being the government's webmaster?

It's a challenge, because it's a big national audience. You're not dealing with just one agency; it's the entire government. So we're trying to put together a site that realizes that citizens need access to services quickly. It's a big palette, and we're trying to improve that delivery as fast as we can.

What we don't want to do is ever sit stagnant and say it's finished. It'll be an ongoing process to make sure we're on the edge of innovation and creativity.

-- Interview by Ed O'Keefe

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