Back in January we changed how we presented the main news stories on NASA’s Home Page. Under the old treatment
As we prepare for the final space shuttle mission, NASA.gov is planning special coverage for the end of this era. Today, the first element of our special coverage rolls out onto the homepage in the form of a promotional graphic and link to get the latest information about the STS-135 mission and the end of the Space Shuttle Era. Keep checking back as we rollout additional new features and special coverage in the coming days and weeks ahead.
P.S. – Have you read some of the wonderful stories in the Space Shuttle Era section detailing every part of over 30 years of the Space Shuttle Program? If not, you really should. It’ll give you a great many perspectives on the entire monumental program.
Notice something different on the homepage? In a subtle switch, late yesterday we changed three of the topical buttons on the right side of the homepage to reflect NASA’s new path and new programs. As we said before, websites are organic creatures — growing, shrinking and constantly changing as the organizations they represent are themselves changing. NASA is moving forward on a new path, investing in the commercial space industry for access to low earth orbit, while developing a heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to carry astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.
As a result, we added Commercial Space and Beyond Earth buttons to the homepage to reflect this transition of direction for the agency. We removed the Moon & Mars buttons as the content previously there was covered under these two new buttons or the existing Solar System button. We also combined NASA History and People into one button since there was often a lot of overlap between those two topical areas. Over the last two blog posts, we asked for feedback about the icon and label for what became the Beyond Earth button. We really appreciate all the feedback we received. It was truly helpful to hone our concepts down to the finished product.
Following up on another blog post from the end of April, we also have some good news to report. After launching NASA TV streaming to Android-based smartphones, we realized we had a compatibility issue with certain versions of the Android system. This produced a scrambled picture for the affected users and was widely reported in the comments. We worked for a few weeks on a fix and soft-launched a fix for the scrambled picture prior to the current Space Shuttle mission.
While this may not solve our stream compatibility issue for every type of Android-based devices, we have been monitoring the blog comments, our firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail account and feedback on NASA’s Twitter and Facebook. We think at this point the major scrambled picture issue has been resolved. We’ll continue to monitor it and troubleshoot compatibility issues as they arise. We hope it’s working significantly better for everyone out there than it was when we first loft-launch Android streaming of NASA TV. Check it out today by visiting http://mobile.nasa.gov on your Android smartphone and selecting the ‘Watch NASA TV Live’ link at the top of the page.
Last week, we launched our first shuttle mission in nine months and first of the remaining three space shuttle missions. Given the lull in shuttle missions and the ramp-up to the end of the space shuttle era, we weren’t shocked to see an increase in traffic on the website. The places we received traffic, however, were enlightening and reflect growing trends we’re seeing elsewhere. This was our fourth largest online video event to date on NASA.gov with over 284,822 unique streams of NASA TV being watched during launch with an average of 42,189 website users per second.
Demand for mobile coverage of NASA is growing at an incredible pace. Over 30,000 people watched the launch on their iOS devices. During the docking of Discovery to the International Space Station, over 20,000 of you were watching on a mobile device. This is incredible growth given that this time last year, we were not even running a beta test of mobile streaming. While we’re elated that this is extremely popular, we still have work to do. We have seen incredible growth in the number of people viewing the stream to the point that it has tested some of our hardware to their limits and we are now looking to expand the capacity of the mobile streams.
We are also working to add Android-compatible streaming of NASA TV. While the iOS stream was fairly straight forward with a standard MP4 encoded stream, Android presents a more complex array of formats and software versions to grapple with. We’re working with our vendors and content hosts to sort this out as soon as possible so that NASA TV will be available to as many of Android users as possible. We hope to have an Android-compatible stream within the coming weeks.
Additionally, NASA TV is broadcasting in HD during this STS-133 Shuttle Mission via UStream. This is a new way to see NASA TV in high definition online. We’re still evaluating this stream given our operational requirements. We hope to continue this after the mission, tweaking it to improve the performance along the way.
As we work towards the successful completion of the Space Shuttle Program, there is more interest in the space shuttle than we’ve seen in a while. Some wonderful writers and program officials throughout the agency have helped to begin a compilation of the entire space shuttle era from every angle. This retrospective will only grow with new content being added all the way until the end of the last mission. It’s worth reading these wonderful stories about the nuts and bolts of the program to really see the program from all perspectives.
You’ve seen the designs. You’ve witnessed us asking for feedback on them. Now, we’ve unveiled the new navigation menus on NASA.gov. Visit the site to check them out.
These new navigation menus have been several months in the making. They started as stick-figure-like wireframe documents, and then became graphics. We them modified and played with different colors, textures, patterns, styles and other design elements. We settled on the designs we posted to this blog several weeks ago and we solicited and received lots of feedback. Our goal for these new menus was to make readily apparent popular, as well as hard-to-find content. The new menus highlight this content and other information, resulting in fewer clicks to find the links that are the most sought after. This is coupled with the standard sub-categories for each section of the site, featured links or other popular content.
Since you last saw the menus, we have worked to transform the designs into code and then tested those newly coded menus on our staging environment. This process took user feedback into consideration, which resulted in the tweaking of the menus to include changing a few of the labels and refining some of the content showcased by those menus. We then integrated our existing analytics into the menus to automatically populate certain pieces of the menus. Finally, we tested the functionality of the new menus and worked to resolve any conflicts that may have arisen.
At long last, we’re happy to officially roll-out this project.
Now we are moving on to other development projects, including getting embedded videos to play on tablet devices. We’re also working on other projects, and as always, we look forward to receiving your feedback. The tweets to @NASA, the e-mails to email@example.com and the comments on our blog posts help us improve the site.
In many ways, last week was an experiment for us. Like most sites, we collect user feedback about our pages, the designs, the content and more. And we have always incorporated user testing into our design process. It’s really an integral part of the process. However, last week was the first time we officially collected feedback via social media.
Traditionally, we have collected feedback on our site, using three methods:
User Satisfaction Surveys – Using ForeSee Results, which you may have noticed on any number of sites, we gather feedback about how satisfied you are and benchmark it against other sites, such as Google and Amazon, using the same basic survey. The survey also has questions specific to NASA.gov. We review the results monthly and pay especially close attention to individual comments.
Analytics – NASA analyzes web statistics — metrics such as page views, time on site and referrals — to show us what is popular across our site. We use these stats to see what people are most interested in and how they’re finding it, and this helps us make editorial decisions about where and how to highlight content on the site. This also includes items like the ratings for popular content or the number of likes/tweets stories have received, which can help users make informed decisions about their next clicks.
User Testing – NASA.gov conducts usability testing on most major changes to the website. This allows NASA.gov’s team to watch how users accomplish certain tasks and use the site in general. Which buttons and links do folks click on to get to this or that? Do they scroll the page missing the item we’d like for them to locate? Analyzing user behavior during these sessions helps us to make our designs smarter and more in-line with user expectations.
But last week, our blog post was an experiment at a fourth way: using Twitter and Facebook to drive visitors to the blog post and soliciting their feedback. Thanks to all of you who responded. We’ve had a wide range of comments that will help us refine our designs, and we plan to implement these navigation menus within the coming months. We’ll blog about it again once the changes are live.
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.
(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.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
So we’ve rolled out our brand new video player– Flash, no multiple formats, only one plug-in required for most browsers, interface and controls that have been made de facto standards by a certain popular video site – and we’ve rolled right into the latest technology firefight, encapsulated by this comment from a discerning NASA.gov user:
“Why are you wasting time on Flash? HTML5 is the coming thing and makes any plug-in unnecessary. Plus your Flash player won’t work on my iPhone or iPad.” – Steve Jobs
No, not really. But it’s a valid thought, and the response has to do with how we work around here, sometimes by choice, but most times by necessity.
We’ve been working on the Flash video system for some time, because we’re as tired as everyone else of dealing with multiple formats to cover all major platforms. As YouTube has demonstrated, Flash is a great format for getting video across platforms with a minimum of hassle for the user.
I realize no one wants to hear about limited staff or budgets, but the reality of our world is that our staffing at NASA HQ (3 editors and 3 multimedia developers) and rigid budget always puts development on the back burner relative to daily operations. Between shuttle missions, high-profile anniversaries and fundamental shifts in U.S. national space policy, we haven’t had a lot of time recently to work on new things.
And as we just as we shift to Flash, the technology is already moving beyond it. That’s not surprising. In fact, I’d argue that’s exactly the way it should be. As a government web site, we spend taxpayer dollars. The best use of that money is to spend it on making our content available to the widest number of people, and that means developing to more widespread – i.e., older — technology.
The biggest problem with HTML5 is that it’s not a seamless presentation on all browsers yet, including IE, which is still about half the global market. Flash penetration, meanwhile, is about 97 percent of better, according to Adobe. For web video, Flash, regardless of its shortcomings and critics, is the de facto standard. HTML5 may well get there, and when it does, so will we. At which time its current advocates will be pillorying us for not keeping up with whatever they’re enjoying then. (I think this is what Elton John once referred to as “The Circle of Life”.)
If you haven’t seen it already, check out our new video page at https://www.nasa.gov/videos. We feel like it’s a pretty big step forward, but as always, we want to hear what our users think.
We’ve heard you loud and clear over the years — in mail, tweets, and other communications everyday from every corner of the globe. And one of the most frequent complaints has been the way we presented videos. The biggest challenge has always been how to deal with multiple formats produced by various video teams at NASA Centers all across the country.
Just a few years ago, we simply opened videos using the “native player” — a .mov opened with QuickTime, a .rm with RealPlayer, a .wmv with Windows. There was no context; videos were presented one at a time and not grouped with other videos.
A few years later, we developed a standard video player that at least grouped our videos together and automatically detected a users settings, but still required various browser plug ins to see all the videos. We still weren’t quite there.
So we pulled together a working group made up of some of the agency’s web editors, technicians, and video professionals to gather requirements. It was pretty clear from their work and from your comments that we needed a single format for all videos. So we evaluated several commercial off the shelf technical solutions, made a selection, and began the transition to Flash-based video.
Now, visitors to NASA.gov can finally view our videos without the need to install multiple plugins — all you need is a Flash player. The videos are displayed in several ways, from recent uploads to topics such as “Solar System” or “Earth.” Users can search for a video without leaving the video page, or browse by most popular and top rated. In addition to rating, viewers can also comment on videos, download them to their local computer, share with a friend via e-mail and social networks, or copy the embed code to post in their own blog.
Many of these features will be familiar to you if you look at any video sites on the Web today. While video may seem like an easy thing to fix in the age of YouTube and other video sharing sites, it can get pretty tricky for a large organization like ours. We certainly wish we’d gotten here sooner, but we’re glad to be here now.
As always, we’ve still got a few things on the drawing board, and we’d love to have your feedback.