Seeking Feedback on a New Approach to NASA.gov Navigation

We’re working on a new approach to our navigation menus and we want to hear what you think of them. The primary goal of the new menu design is to surface popular and hard-to-find contents so they are easier for you to get to.

We’ve been listening to our users through a variety of channels including satisfaction surveys, e-mail and social media to learn what information you’re seeking on NASA.gov. Our new menus highlight this information, making it easier for you to get to, along with the standard sub-categories and links to featured and most popular content.

The new menus can be found below. We really want to perfect these before launching them on our site so take a look at them and let us know what you think. And if you know of other Web sites that do navigation even better feel free to share them with us. Thanks in advance for your valuable input!

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News Menu

Missions Menu

Multimedia Menu

Connect Menu

About NASA Menu

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A Season of New Improvements

With Thanksgiving behind us, we at NASA.gov are thankful for our colleagues across the country who work so hard to tell the story of NASA on the web. We’d like to take a few moments to point out some of the new enhancements we’ve all been working on this fall:

  • mobile.NASA.gov – We’ve mentioned it in passing before, but we’ve rolled out a new mobile version of the agency’s website, aggregating the latest news, features and images onto your mobile devices. More features are still to come, and we’ll update you with a full post about the mobile site soon. 
    Screenshot of the Mobile site
    (Above: A screenshot of the mobile.NASA.gov website)

  • go.NASA.gov – Our new URL shortener helps us save characters within our tweets, and it also signals you that clicking on a go.nasa.gov URL will lead you to a NASA-related web page. We’ve worked to integrate this URL shortener (powered by bit.ly) into most of our social media tools and are working to integrate it into our sharing tools as well.
  • Slideshows – We’ve rolled out new slideshows on the homepage and on many sections of NASA.gov. These slideshows automatically step through a series of latest news or features, but you can also take control and manually navigate the content. This new design has a larger image and gives us more spots for showcasing material from around the site. We’re rolling out this feature across the site as we update each section.
    Screenshot of the Slideshow
    (Above: A screenshot of a slideshow in the News section of NASA.gov)
  • Tweet/Like buttons – We’ve added the “Tweet” and “Like” buttons you may recognize from other news sites to the top of our story pages. These buttons allow you to easily tweet the title of the story and URL to your Twitter account, or “like” the story on your Facebook profile. This tighter integration between those two networks and NASA.gov will make it easier for you to let your friends and followers know what you’ve found interesting on our site. We’re continuing to look at other ways to more closely tie our content with the social media sites you use.

These are some of the larger items we’ve worked on this fall. Thanks to all of you who continue to give us feedback about the site. The tweets to @NASA, the e-mails to webcomments@hq.nasa.gov and the comments on our blog posts help us improve the site.

We’re thankful for all of you who have taken the time to come to NASA.gov and want you to keep coming back to catch up on the latest news and information about NASA.

NASA.gov: Working to Be the Best

Webby StatuetteEvery day, hundreds of thousands visit the NASA web site seeking information about the agency, our missions and programs, and we’ve been getting feedback that they’re liking what they’re seeing. Recently NASA.gov received the highest customer-satisfaction rating of any government web site. NASA.gov also was included in a map of the most far-reaching web sites. And just today we received the statuette representing our third Webby award.

That’s gratifying of course, but what does it mean besides a chance to blow our own horn? Mainly it’s validation that what we do here works for you, the Web public. We take your feedback seriously and rigorously incorporate it into our efforts to improve the site.

To find out what the site’s users think of it, and most importantly if they’re finding what they’re looking for, we get feedback through multiple sources: e-mail to the site, traffic statistics showing what content people are interested in, and a customer-satisfaction survey. We use this information to prototype new features, which we then test with representative users before releasing it. Our goal is to constantly improve our site and make it consistently one of the best on the Internet.

The latest customer-satisfaction data says we’re headed in the right direction. Starting in 2001, we had a rating of 73. More recently we have rated a 79 in 2007, 80 in 2008, and 82 in 2009 and most recently as high as 84. In plain English, NASA’s web site is closer to industry leading websites like Google.com (an 86 in 2009) or Amazon.com (also an 86) in customer satisfaction ratings than it is to other web sites both inside the federal government (74) and in the private sector (72).

Icons of the Web showing NASA.govWith continual growth in daily visitors to our site, increasingly high ratings of customer satisfaction, and additional recognition of our efforts to communicate effectively online, we are proud to be ranked among the best websites on the Internet. Earlier this year, Google released what it considers the top 1,000 web sites in the world by website traffic and NASA made the list. And, on Aug. 25, NMap released a poster of favicons, or small icons used by your web browser to represent a website, scaled to size based upon Alexa traffic rankings. NASA again made this ranking and was within the top-third of the rankings of the top 3,000 sites online.

This year’s People’s Choice Webby Award in the Government category was our second in a row and third overall. Earning recognition as a Webby winner is a tremendous accomplishment, one we humbly accept. With nearly 10,000 entries from all 50 states and 60 countries around the world, the 14th Annual Webby awards was the largest competition in the award’s history.

With all of these rankings, ratings and awards, we believe that the public is finding NASA.gov to be an authoritative source for the latest science, technology and mission-related news from the agency. We continually strive to improve and serve our site’s visitors in new and innovative ways. Our teams of web editors, multimedia producers and technical specialists meet at least weekly to discuss ways to enhance NASA’s online experience.

With more than 50 staff located across the country and internationally, we are always on call and always posting the latest news from NASA. We are always listening to feedback, planning for the long term, analyzing what it will take to get the word out and rolling out enhancements to the NASA site.

In the next few weeks, look for a new presentation of news stories on the home page, a revamped version of the mobile site and online streaming of NASA TV in HD. And remember your feedback is always welcome.

Always Room for Improvement

Last month, Google released what it considers the top 1,000 web sites in the world and NASA made the list. We were honored to make the cut and were the third highest federal government site on the list. Some would think that a well deserved vacation is in order since we’re already on the top web site list. But our teams are working harder than ever to improve the site.

We’re constantly fine tuning NASA.gov to make it easier to navigate and more enjoyable for you. We’ve been making a host of minor tweaks lately. Some are barely noticeable, while others are major improvements:

  • We added images to the ‘What are people interested in?’ box on the homepage.
  • We changed the navigation on the homepage multimedia box so that the options are clearer within each panel of the box.
  • We swapped the ‘Connect’ and ‘About NASA’ buttons in the top navigation bar to reduce confusion since we found several users intuitively saw ‘Connect’ and thought ‘Contact’ since the words are similar and that’s a more standard placement for contact information.
  • We pared down the ‘Share’ options at the top of pages from a list of hundreds to four-options which then expand out to the full list.
  • We tweaked the information we provide when you share our pages on Facebook so that it shows a image to illustrate each page and video.

Screenshots of some of the changes we made to the site recently.
A compilation of screenshots of some of the changes we made to the site recently.

Additional improvements in the works include updating our Twitter box on the homepage to make it easier to understand which tweets are coming from where, adding additional Facebook and Digg integrations so you can ‘Like’ our pages without having to share them on your social networks, and making improvements to our mobile web to accommodate smartphone users visiting NASA.gov. As these improvements come online, we’ll be sure to let you know.

A Day of Firsts

President Obama in the Preview Television at the EventLast Thursday was a very busy day for those of us here at NASA.gov. It was a day of many firsts, as we worked hard on special coverage of President Obama’s visit to the Kennedy Space Center, where he spoke about the new course for NASA and the future of the U.S. in human spaceflight.

In a first for NASA.gov, we streamed live video coverage of the visit in high definition (HD). Web users increasingly expect to see HD video online, with sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo offering increasingly higher and higher quality video. Thursday was an important test of this capability for the team here and overall, it went really well.

In today’s online world, single-person teams armed with cell phones and social media accounts seem to accomplish this type of work routinely, and technology has made it much simpler. But most people in those situations don’t worry too much about technical risk. If the gear fails, it fails. At NASA.gov, we worry a lot about the risk. Regardless of technical difficulties, people still expect to see what they came to see. We tend to spend most of our time not worrying over how to make something happen, but how to keep things from going south once we’ve got it working.

That takes a lot of geographically dispersed people working closely together. We were getting our HD video from a team on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center who fed it to the encoding team at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Their encoded web stream went to our commercial data centers in Texas and Virginia, then out to the globe via Akamai and Yahoo!. Only then did it get on to your computer.

Additionally, there was the NASA.gov Web and Multimedia Team, plus the NASA TV Master Controllers at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. who helped provide support and coordination of the video streams and coverage. Also involved were our colleagues at the White House’s operations. With coverage on streaming NASA TV, NASA.gov, internal NASA websites, and on White House Live, there was an incredible breadth of locations where viewers could watch this event online, including Yahoo!’s main web page for a while.

In addition to the HD streams, the space conference following the President’s speech was streamed in standard definition. This conference included several sessions, including four simultaneous breakout sessions that were webcast only. With the standard three channels of NASA TV streaming, plus the Space Station views stream, we were broadcasting eight unique feeds of video at one time, another first.

Beyond the streams, we provided a full-spectrum of coverage before, during and after the event. One hour into the event, multiple photos were online, and the arrival video was posted. We continued this level of coverage throughout the remainder of the conference and well into the evening as more and more materials became available.

Additionally, all of these materials were also posted in multiple locations across cyberspace. This included photos going into photo galleries on NASA.gov and on Flickr from teams of photographers located on the ground in Florida. It also included videos being posted to the NASA.gov video collections, the NASA.gov HD page and also on YouTube. We also posted MP3 soundbites on the NASA Audiofile page, and supporting documents across the NASA.gov site.

In all, this was a busy, but exciting day for us here on the NASA.gov team as we provided this special coverage of the event. Hopefully, some of these technologies will be used again in the future and eventually, become standard fare for our online offerings. Let us know what you thought of it all. Did you like our coverage? Did something not work right for you? Please let us know. We’re always listening.

Going from Cloudy to Clear

There’s a part of the homepage that very few users were looking at. If you went to the homepage, I’d bet that you missed it several times over the last several years. Most of our visitors do. It was a little graphic in the right hand column about two-thirds of the way down the page. And for the last four months or so, it has said “2012” in really big digits in four different places.

And now it’s gone.

We’re talking about the “tag cloud” that appeared under the “What are people interested in?” area in the right hand column of the page. It was that nebulous-looking area on the homepage that showed you the popular search terms from the past day, week, and month in different font sizes depending upon their popularity. And the reality of it was that it was a cool feature to look at in 2007 when we launched the current design of the site, but it wasn’t a very useful tool for our actual audience.

However, the concept of sharing what are people interested in is still very, very useful. You’ll find it on some of the best Web sites out there. On CNN.com, they have “NewsPulse.” On the New York Times web site, they have the “Most Popular” section. And it’s on countless other sites.

So taking some of the standard-bearers’ approaches and putting a NASA twist on them, we reinvented that box to hopefully provide a ton of more useful information. We ended up giving it a multi-layered tab approach with three areas of interest:

  • A “Most Viewed” tab that looks at the top stories, images, videos and interactive features in separate lists.
  • A “Top Rated” tab shows the top user-rated pages on the site for the last week.
  • And an “Editor’s Picks” tab that showcases links selected by the Web site staff based upon popular pages that people often say are hard to find.
Transition of the Tag Cloud to a List of Links

We hope that this provides more useful information to you than the previous ‘tag cloud.’ A more standard list of titles with links should already present a more intuitive interface compared to the different search words of smaller and larger font sizes. Let us know what you think of this. We hope it takes things from ‘cloudy’ to clear and useful.

Does it work better for you? Are there other hard-to-find links that we should work to put into the “Editor’s Pick” tab?

Tuning Into Better Improvements

As promised in the last post, yesterday we rolled out a new NASA Television schedule page. This page shows NASA’s three television channels listed much like you’d see listings in your local newspaper with blocks of time indicating which program is on which channel. We hope this small improvement makes the online program schedule easier to read.

NASA TV Schedule Screenshot

This change also combines program information into one place instead of the old model of three different schedules depending upon whether something was regularly scheduled, a live event, or a mission event. Now the schedules for all three channels are listed on one page. Additionally, when a user hovers their mouse over the program title, they see a small window open that has either a description of the program or a link for more information. This was added in response to user feedback that more information was sometimes necessary, especially on cryptically named television programs.

Listings of upcoming programs, events and features on NASA TV’s Public, Education and Media channels now can be accessed easily in the NASA TV section.

Stay tuned for more changes coming soon to NASA.gov.

Getting a Jump Start on our New Year's Resolution Diet

Screenshot of the old NASA TV and Video BoxYou might have noticed a condensed homepage that launched earlier today. In response to your feedback on the old ‘NASA TV & Video’ box, we’re trying a new approach to surface different types of multimedia without burying some content in “hidden” tabs.

(Image Right: The Old “NASA TV & Video” Box)

Combining the NASA TV channels, on-demand video, interactive features and podcasts & vodcasts into a single box allowed us to shrink the page and reduce a little “clutter.” As a result, we shrunk the blogs box to half its size, allowing us to showcase only the most recent blog posts.

We’ve also removed the polls and quizzes box from the homepage, since our stats showed only a small percentage of our users were interacting with it. We’ll continue to engage users with polls and quizzes elsewhere on the site, but we want to focus the homepage on the most useful information for our visitors.

Screenshot of the New Multimedia BoxOther things that have been on our to-do list for a while include the cleaning up of links on the homepage in the right column. By combining some similar links (like NASA Directorates and Mission Support Offices), and eliminating redundant links, we were able to tighten up that right column. We hope this will help streamline items.

(Image Left: The New “NASA Multimedia” Box)

This is all part of an effort to slim down our addiction to links all over the homepage, since our audience has consistently asked us to eliminate clutter. This change has already helped us eliminate about 25 links, and we’ll keep chopping it down.

There are more changes still to come. For example, before the new year, we’ll being rolling out a new schedule for NASA TV that works more like the TV channel listings you’ve seen on the big Internet portals.

2009: An Online Year of Milestones

As our turkey comas wear off from Thanksgiving and the chilled air of December settles in, a New Year looms around the corner. 2009 held many large events for NASA.gov. Almost 392,000 people watched the LCROSS impact video live on NASA.gov with 5.4 million visitors simultaneously looking at the NASA.gov Web site, the second-largest online event in our history. We also set a new bandwidth record during the LCROSS impact with data transfers of over 75.5 gigabits per second spread among live video and the Web site. All-told during the LCROSS impact event, we moved a total amount of data equal to over 85 terabytes or about the equivalent of 127,327 CD’s.

Graph Comparison of Major NASA Events

Astro_Mike's First Tweet from SpaceNASA.gov also set milestones with the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission during STS-125. In addition to all the normal online activities that any shuttle mission usually garners, astronaut Mike Massimino captivated space enthusiasts around the world via Twitter by sending the first tweet from space. His Earth-shattering tweets also managed to amass @Astro_Mike over a million followers on Twitter, rivaling the likes of Ashton Kutcher. Additionally, the launch of STS-125 also resulted in our fourth-largest online event in NASA.gov history.

Tweetup ParticipantsNASA delved deeper into our enthusiastic group of followers on Twitter by hosting ‘Tweetups‘ where Twitter users learn about our programs and speak with astronauts. Thus far, Tweetups have been held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Demand for attending the Tweetup to learn about STS-129 and view the launch of the Space Shuttle from Florida culminated with the filling of our 100 registration slots, plus all the spaces on our wait-list, in less than twenty minutes.

Operation Ice Bridge WebisodesOther ground was broken in NASA’s online communications with this fall’s Operation Ice Bridge campaign, which featured an unprecedented level of near-real time coverage across cyberspace with tweets on Twitter, Webisodes on YouTube, photos on Flickr, and a blog on NASA Blogs. This precedent-setting social media coverage exceeded all expectations and is something that we hope to repeat in the years ahead.

Another large online event for NASA.gov was the launch of the Ares I-X Development Test flight. While lasting just a few minutes, the intrigue of the new rocket and it’s successful test launch showed sustained interest in the days leading up to the launch, even after the first launch attempt was scrubbed.

Now that we’ve talked about some of our online highlights from 2009, what other NASA events interested you from throughout the year?

NASA Chats Help to Make it a 'Small World (After All)'

Maybe Walt Disney was right when he commissioned the song, “It’s a Small World (After All)” in the 1960s. At the time, commercial aircraft and other modes of transportation were beginning to bring folks together from the furthest reaches of the planet as never before. Fast-forward to the 1990s when the spread of the Internet made the world an even smaller place.

At the time, large scale chat rooms and instant messaging ruled the day. It was a community meeting place where people with similar interests met virtually even if they were in different parts of the world. These chat rooms provided some of the original allure of the Internet and showed how easily it could make this one small world after all.

Since then, chat rooms haven’t really changed. The rooms still bring folks together in the same virtual space, allowing them to collaborate and talk with one another. It’s not cutting-edge; it’s not high-tech. It’s just a good idea that still manages to be highly functional, even after all of these years.

Image of a Restricted Area sign. Image credit: cmurtaugh on FlickrHere at NASA.gov, we’ve previously hosted chats between astronauts, educators and students. Continuing this tradition, from time-to-time we’ll be hosting question and answer sessions between NASA scientists, engineers, and support personnel. It’s a chance for you to chat with the folks behind that gates at NASA and ask them anything you’d like about a given topic.

This afternoon, NASA Chats features Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, who will be online to take your questions about the Leonids meteor shower. The shower is a pretty neat thing to see and will be visible over the Americas on Tuesday morning.

Join the live chat with Bill Cooke today, Nov. 16 from 4:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. EST at: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/09-094.html.

As topics come up and neat things are happening at NASA (when aren’t they?), we’ll have NASA experts answer your questions in future chats. Hopefully, the chat room just keeps proving that “it’s a small world, after all.” Now that’s pretty neat.

(Image credit: cmurtaugh on Flickr)