What's Next for NASA.gov?

We’re starting on the next go-round of what NASA.gov looks like and want to know what you think.

The digital universe has changed radically since we overhauled www.NASA.gov in 2007. When we released that version (NASA.gov 5.0) we were most concerned with reorganizing our content so that it reflects how the general public sees NASA and its work, making things easier for people to find. (Your feedback said we largely succeeded, though with a site as complex as NASA’s it will never be perfect.) We also added blogs and the ability for users to rate and comment on our content.

The biggest change since then has obviously been the growth of social media. You’ve probably seen some of the numbers: NASA has 1.3 million Facebook likes and 3.1 million Twitter followers, and more than 280,000 people circle us on Google+. I was wondering if that would mean a drop in visitors to the site as people became content with the information they could get on social media. In fact, visits to the site dropped from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2009 to 2010.  Then we set a record with 150 million visits to the site in 2011 and already have 166 million this year. With four years of data, it’s now no surprise that they don’t correlate: while there’s some overlap between the two audiences, almost 70 percent of our site visitors aren’t really influenced by social media. 

Meantime, we’ve been trying to bring the conversation back to NASA.gov. Social media sites are great for flashing the latest news or multimedia item around the world, but the depth and context are here on the site. We want to make sure people know that they can always learn more about what they’re most interested in by coming to the site. 

We also want our regular visitors to know that there’s NASA content available off the site. We’ve embedded the @NASA Twitter feed in the home page so visitors can see the latest updates. We’re pushing streams of NASA TV to Ustream and videos to YouTube, and offering programming there that isn’t on NASA TV. We’ve covered recent news events by putting up a splash page that combines live NASA TV with Twitter feeds and active commenting.

Hand-in-hand with social media’s growth has been the public’s adoption of smartphones to access websites. We launched the mobile version of www.NASA.gov a couple of years ago and have watched its usage grow. We recently put it through some user testing and made some changes based on the results.

So — do you like something you’ve seen? Is something missing? How do you interact with NASA online? Where else do you get your NASA news from? We’re opening up an online forum at Ideascale to take your feedback. You can offer ideas of your own or comment and vote on others’ suggestions. You can post comments here. We’ll take all the data and do some prototyping, then see what you think.

NASA.gov Video and More on Your Smartphones

If you’ve visited NASA.gov 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 mobile.nasa.gov, 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! NASA.gov Beat Google!

If you’ve visited www.nasa.gov 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.