Video and More on Your Smartphones

If you’ve visited on an iPhone, Droid or other smartphone lately, you’ve probably noticed a big difference in the site. 

First off, you can now play our videos on your smartphone, iPad or similar device. We’ve put a “sniffer” in place that can sense if your browser or device doesn’t support Flash videos, and then direct you to a version of the page which delivers the videos using HTML 5 (image right).  Videos from the last month or so are already available in this format, and we’re working to convert the hundreds of older videos over the next few weeks. We figured you’d rather have the most recent videos available than wait for all 1000-plus to be converted.

Our next step in the video process is to design a version of the video page specifically formatted for mobile browsing. Even though the videos already play on smartphones, a mobile-formatted page will make it easier for users to find the videos they want. We’re also working on a process for playing videos embedded in feature stories on your smartphone.

The video upgrades build on the recent rollout of, a stripped-down design based on feedback from user testing.  The mobile site showcases the latest news and features, the image of the day, and the agency’s Twitter feed, as well as the ability to share content and search the site.  As with all of our projects, this is a first step — we’re never really “done.”  We’ll continue to listen to your feedback and make changes to the mobile site in the future.

Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle! Beat Google!

If you’ve visited often enough, you’ve been asked to take a survey about the site. It asks you about the content, whether you find the site relevant and other things, including some demographic questions. I’ve you’re one of the people who have answered, thank you. The survey provides one of the key metrics that lets us know how we’re doing. (Here’s an explanation of how the ACSI works, for the technically inclined.)

So how are we doing? Pretty well it seems. Our scores for September and for the third quarter of 2010 were the highest we’ve ever gotten. We continue to outpace web sites generally and most other federal-government sites, and we remain fairly close to some of the most widely used commercial sites. Our September score of 83 wasn’t too far behind Netflix and Amazon, and it was well ahead of some others. (Here’s a chart for comparison.)

And, heck yeah, we were higher than Google last month. I can only recall one other month that we were even; Google is usually the highest rated site of all that use this particular service. Most likely it’s a one-month aberration, and the more interesting question is what caused them to drop so precipitately. But you’ll have to ask them.

The real value of this survey is in comparing our ratings over time. In that respect, we’re doing very well. Over any standard time period (months, quarters, years) our customer-satisfaction rating continues to climb. We’re convinced that’s because we pay attention to what you say, whether it’s via e-mail to us,  indirectly through your click paths across the site or through the survey itself.

We take what learn and use it to improve the site by developing prototypes and taking them to usability testing, then incorporating the testing results into our development. We’ve done three major overhauls of the site (1997, 2003 and 2007) and with each new iteration our scores have climbed. We also continue to make minor changes within the existing design, like deploying our new video player last spring and changes to how we display top news stories last month.

So thank you again for all your feedback. We’ll keep paying attention.