Eight annoying things federal websites don’t do

Federal websites have managed to stay a step behind state-of-the-art commercial sites since the dawn of the World Wide Web, and commercial informational websites as a group have gotten so clogged with doohickeys they can be impossible to view. Here are eight things I’m glad government websites don’t do:

Load from what seems to be 10, 50 or 1,000 separate servers, assembling a melange of core content plus dozens of ancillary feeds for which third parties...

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Federal websites have managed to stay a step behind state-of-the-art commercial sites since the dawn of the World Wide Web, and commercial informational websites as a group have gotten so clogged with doohickeys they can be impossible to view. Here are eight things I’m glad government websites don’t do:

  1. Load from what seems to be 10, 50 or 1,000 separate servers, assembling a melange of core content plus dozens of ancillary feeds for which third parties pay, each one a possible vector for malware.
  2. Devote acres of screen real estate to so-called third party content. For example, something called Outbrain serves up titillating panels promising questionable pictures of cheerleaders, tidbits on celebrities few people actually care about, and compilations like spectacular motorcycle racing crashes. Usually these secondary sites are so stuffed with ads and popups they are unusable, or else they’re loading your hard drive with cookies you don’t want.
  3. Make you click through page after page to get the complete story about something. This is a gambit to boost traffic for advertisers, but it sure makes for a slow and tedious reader experience.
  4. Force you to watch boring ads before seeing a video. The standard length on commercial sites used to be 15 seconds. It’s stretched to 30 without the skip-ad option, and now I’m seeing one-minute ads.
  5. Immediately cover their main content page with pop-up or drop-down ads. Advertisers are getting shrewd, too, about these window shades. They’re rendering the close-it button hard to find or camouflaging it.
  6. Require you to do this or that via Facebook. Facebook is a wonderful medium for those who choose to use it, and it can build communities for products, media, nonprofits and whole companies. But it should be a suggestion, not an exclusive route to, say, posting a comment.
  7. Automatically start videos you weren’t planning on watching. Sometimes I have a dozen tabs open in my browser. A video will start blasting and I have to check all of them to find the offending video’s pause button.
  8. Blast you with graphics. Every story doesn’t need it’s own graphic. People can read clearly written headlines that are black on a white background. In fact they can get to it faster than a spread of pictures that end up looking like nothing so much as the cat’s breakfast.

Most of these sins you find at quasi-media sites like Yahoo.com. Serious media sites tend to be more restrained. Federal sites most closely resemble retail sites. Retailers have one purpose, to move product. Such sites tend to load fast, get you to what you want in very few clicks, and contain nothing extraneous to distract would-be buyers. That organic approach is refreshing in a web of cacophonous sites.

More commentary from Tom Temin