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Turning Government Data into Better Public Service

Every day, millions of people use their laptops, phones, and tablets to check the status of their tax refund, get the latest forecast from the National Weather Service, book a campsite at one of our national parks, and much more. There were more than 1.3 billion visits to websites across the federal government in just the past 90 days.

Today, during Sunshine Week when we celebrate openness and transparency in government, we are pleased to release the Digital Analytics Dashboard, a new window into the way people access the government online. For the first time, you can see how many people are using a federal government website, which pages are most popular, and which devices, browsers, and operating systems people are using. We’ll use the data from the Digital Analytics Program to focus our digital service teams on the services that matter most to the American people, and analyze how much progress we are making. The Dashboard will help government agencies understand how people find, access, and use government services online to better serve the public—all while protecting privacy. The program does not track individuals. It anonymizes the IP addresses of all visitors and then uses the resulting information in the aggregate.

A screen capture of a portion of the Analytics dot U S A dot gov dashboard shows a tally of 140,868 people viewing government websites at that moment.

Here’s what we’ve already learned from the data:

  • Our services must work well on all devices. Over the past 90 days, 33% all traffic to our sites came from people using phones and tablets. Over the same period last year, the number was 24%. Most of this growth came from an increase in mobile traffic. Every year, building digital services that work well on small screens becomes more important.
  • Seasonal services and unexpected events can cause surges in traffic. As you might expect, tax season is a busy time for the IRS. This is reflected in visits to pages on IRS.gov, which have more than tripled in the past 90 days compared with the previous quarter. Other jumps in traffic are less easy to predict. For example, a recently-announced settlement between AT&T and the Federal Trade Commission generated a large increase in visits to the FTC’s website. Shortly after the settlement was announced, FTC.gov had four times more visitors than the same period in the previous year. These fluctuations underscore the importance of flexibility in the way we deploy our services so that we can scale our Web hosting to support surges in traffic as well as save money when our sites are less busy.
  • Most people access our sites using newer Web browsers. How do we improve digital services for everyone when not all Web browsers work the same way? The data tells us that the percentage of people accessing our sites using outdated browsers is declining steadily. As users adopt newer Web browsers, we can build services that use modern features and spend less time and money building services that work on outdated browsers. This change will also allow us to take advantage of features found in modern browsers that make it easier to build services that work well for Americans with disabilities, who access digital services using specialized devices such as screen readers.

This Analytics Dashboard is just a first step. Not every government website is represented in this data. Currently, the Digital Analytics Program collects Web traffic from almost 300 executive branch government domains, including every cabinet department, out of about 1,350 domains total. Over the coming months, we will encourage more sites to join the Digital Analytics Program, and we’ll include more information and insights about traffic to government sites with the same open source development process we used to create the Dashboard. If you have ideas for the project, or want to help improve it, let us know by contributing to the project on GitHub or emailing DigitalGov.

Learn more about the Digital Analytics Program at: < /services/dap/ >

Learn more about the U.S. Digital Service at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/usds

Learn more about 18F at: https://18f.gsa.gov/

Learn more about the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostpLeah Bannon is part of 18F within GSA; Tim Lowden is a Program Analyst on the Digital Analytics Program within GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies; Ryan Panchadsaram is Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer; Charles Worthington is part of OMB’s U.S. Digital Service HQ. This article was originally posted on the White House blog.

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