Despite Obama's Web 2.0 efforts, e-user satisfaction slips

Report: High expectations for tech savvy president may be hurting sites' ratings

Despite the Obama administration's efforts to update U.S. government web sites, satisfaction with them has fallen for the first time in a year, a survey of 280,000 users of government Web sites found.

The average satisfaction level of users in the first quarter of 2009 dropped half a point -- to 73.6% -- from the previous quarter's all-time high, according to a report from the University of Michigan and ForeSee Results, which tracks web site satisfaction. The biggest drop - 3% -- came in program sites, which are web sites focused on federal government programs, rather than an agency. Two of the low-performing sites are grants.gov, which is set up to help people find and apply for government grants, and the National Archives' database, which gives users access to immigration and military personnel records.

This decline comes on the heels of various updates that President Barack Obama's administration has put in place since he took office late in January.

On Obama's inauguration day, a major overhaul of WhiteHouse.gov was launched as the president was being sworn in. At noon that day, the president's official Web site appeared online with a new design that focused not just on the new administration but on new media. For example, it has a feature called " The Briefing Room," where users can go to read the latest White House blog posts and even sign up for e-mail news updates.

Obama, who has already run an online town meeting and successfully fought to keep his Blackberry, is widely seen as the country's first technically savvy president.

So why is the government's web site rating dropping?

The new administration simply may not be able to meet the huge expectations that people have for it, according to the new report.

"The appointment of the nation's first Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, along with the appointments of Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra and Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients, should be good news for e-government, as all have said they are dedicated to innovation and breaking through the red tape that hampers technological advancement," said Larry Freed, CEO and president of ForeSee Results. "As a candidate, Obama made his campaign accessible to voters, and as president, he hopes to do the same for government. Change may have come to Washington, but it's not going to happen overnight."

It's not all bad news, though.

The study showed that citizen satisfaction, despite its fall, still remains higher than it was last year at this time. And sites dealing with e-commerce and transactions lead all categories in terms of user satisfaction.

And ForeSee Results noted that of the 107 sites measured, 24 - which is two more than this time last year -- are top performers, scoring an 80 or higher, and two more scoring a lofty 90. In fact, the Social Security Administration has higher scores than any private sector web site measured by ForeSee Results.

But in total, government web sites trail the e-commerce and e-business sites in the private sector, according to the study.

What will improve the sites?

The same thing that would improve so many sites - better search. Better navigation and functionality would make great inroads, as well, the report noted.

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Sharon Gaudin

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