Step away from the PDFs!

Photo of the author Leah BannonEvery year, one of our office’s biggest projects is to prepare the Information Sharing Environment Annual Report to the Congress. This report examines the progress of Congress’s mandate in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to develop a better environment of terrorism-related information sharing.

It’s a bigger and bigger PDF every year, but this year we created a web version as well. We used Bootstrap to build a simple site for the report, inspired by the Digital Government Strategy. It was a great decision:

  • More Traffic! We saw more unique visits (pageviews) to the web version of our 2013 Annual Report in one month than the entire past year of downloads of the 2012 Annual Report PDF.

  • Better Metrics: We divided the report’s chapters into separate pages, so we can track which sections are most and least popular based on visits, average time spent on the pages, and bounce rates.

  • Better Sharing: We made every section, sub-section, and header in the report a link so we could easily share specific sections. This report is primarily a compilation of hundreds of stories of our partners’ successful information sharing initiatives or challenges, so sharing specific sections of the report is helpful to our partners.

  • Better Search: We were able to use USASearch as the search tool for our Annual Report, which greatly improved the search capability. Curious about our past year’s work with GSA? Check it out.

  • Mobile: Our web version is responsive to any screen size, and building that in was easy with Bootstrap. Twenty percent of our visitors are on mobile devices now, and that number keeps growing.

  • More Accessible: HTML is a standard, text-based format that is much easier to parse for text, data, structure, etc. than PDF. This web version is more accessible and machine readable.

How We Did It

As I said above, we used Bootstrap to build it, which is free and open source. You can also view our report on our GitHub page and fork it for yourself! We are strongly committed to open standards and the open government values of transparency, participation, and collaboration, so this just made sense. We plan to use this model more and more, and we’re following Project Open Data’s model for accepting public feedback and edits for some upcoming documents soon.

Convincing Your Office

We still offered a PDF version – and about a dozen people did request it. PDFs do serve their purpose; they will guarantee that your product looks the same for everyone. But when your goals include sharing the content with as many people as possible, HTML is a better approach.

Leah Bannon is a web strategy and open gov consultant for the Office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment.

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