Thirteen years in digital is an eon, and on the eve of its 13th birthday, we at USA.gov found ourselves reckoning with a mid-life crisis.
In the thirteen years since Firstgov.gov was launched (and ten years for FirstGov en Español), the sheer volume and sophistication of government websites has exploded. We’ve seen Web customers evolve from timid and curious users to adroit searchers who can download music, read a newspaper, and respond to a text message simultaneously—using only their thumbs.
Things have changed, and we realized it was time to take a good, hard look at our value as a portal. Are portals obsolete? Is the USA.gov brand relevant? With the advent of search and the maturity of other government websites, does the government Web space need a front door anymore?
Tough questions. Hard questions. But absolutely crucial.
To get to the answer, we talked—and listened—to our customers. We poured through our Digital Analytics Program data, analyzed and segmented our customer satisfaction reports, conducted focus groups and created new personas and journey maps. The data was clear that for some 26 million visitors every year, USA.gov is the government website—and the brand means trusted, official government information.
But we didn’t just talk to our users—we talked to another, even more critical, customer base: our agency partners. You told us that partnering with the USA.gov brand provided a wider audience for your message and a distinct and powerful brand recognition mechanism. A recent example of this was the work we did with CFPB to amplify their message around reverse mortgages.
And that’s when the lightbulb went off: the future of USA.gov is not as a self-contained, self-maintaining portal. The future of USA.gov is a bilingual publishing platform for government agencies—a powerful engine that can grab content directly from authoritative sources (agencies) and dynamically publish it on the USA.gov domain—thus giving the content a much wider audience and the benefits of the powerful USA.gov page rank. We can even push your content further to our trusted media partners like Facebook, Huffington Post, AOL Latino, Univision, NPR, the Washington Post and more—and in so doing, we “free” government content from our own websites and distribute it to multipliers who can reach a broader and more diverse audience. Our social media channels, our email program and our contact center also play a key role in connecting millions of people with government information and services in English and Spanish.
The mechanics are pretty simple: the USA.gov platform is built around a central content API—this API populates our flagship websites, USA.gov, GobiernoUSA.gov and Kids.gov, as well as the console used by our live-assistance agents to answer phone calls, emails, and live chats. The API can pull directly from your agency APIs and syndicate out to other platforms. If you’re curious about the nitty-gritty mechanics of our adaptive content system, you can find out more by watching this video series.
So, without further ado, here are the new beta.USA.gov and beta.Gobierno.USA.gov. Built in Drupal and built with a central content API to ingest and syndicate government information, this site is so much more than a site. It’s an invitation to agencies to use our brand, leverage our partnerships and release their valuable information out into the wild.
We need your help to make this work. So please, explore our beta sites, learn more about our design and journey mapping work, offer suggestions, and most importantly, contact us if you’re interested in learning more about how you can use the platform. You can also join the conversation on Github.
We’re excited about the new direction of the USA.gov bilingual platform and confident that no matter what the digital future brings, we can work together to keep government information and services relevant, engaging, and delightful for our customers.