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.

Comparing the Interwebs to Social Media

Spent part of this week checking the spread of Monday’s Chandra story across the web, both from www.NASA.gov and social media. Though the social media channels are increasing in importance, especially in spreading the word on the first day, the web site still takes the preponderance of traffic, particularly the follow up in the days after the event.

Not surprisingly, attention generated by Facebook drops very quickly as the story moves down NASA’s Facebook page. Plays of the video fall off on both the site and our YouTube channel, but traffic remains higher on the site, paralleled by the drop we see on the site.

Notice that the reach of Twitter can increase as days go by, especially as people start retweeting others’ retweets.

The point of social media is not explicitly to generate traffic to the site, but it’s worth noting that a very small but growing fraction of people are coming to the site that way.
Trying to ascertain patterns and identify the strengths of each channel will be a key element as we start formulating ideas for the next version of NASA.gov in the weeks to come. As always, suggestions welcome.

(FB: Facebook; YT: YouTube. Like you didn’t know.)


Chandra FindsYoungest Nearby Black Hole (Nov. 15, 2010)







Chandra main page downloads





Feature story downloads





Shares via Add This





Video on www.nasa.gov





Video on NASA TV YT




12,286 (2)

Press release on www.nasa.gov


N / A

N / A

N / A

Press release via Gov Delivery


N / A

N / A

N / A

Press release via listserve


N / A

N / A

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Impressions on FB page





Likes on FB page





Comments on FB





FB likes on NASA.gov




2,000 (4)

Reach of retweets (people)




42,213 (3)

Retweets from NASA.gov




210 (4)

Referrals to www.NASA.gov from FB





Referrals to www.NASA.gov from Twitter





Total visits to www.NASA.gov

1.85 million




Live press conference streams on www.nasa.gov


N / A

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Press conference replays on NTV YT




767 (4)


(1) Data not available until Saturday due to the size of logfiles to be processed

(2) Total for Wednesday and Thursday

(3) Includes retweets from other sites, e.g., NationalGeographic

(4) Cumulative for the week

NASA @The Webby Awards

NASA was well represented last night at the 14th annual Webby Awards Gala in New York City. Six of us were there, representing the teams behind the three award winning sites: NASA.gov, NASA Home and City 2.0 and Global Climate Change.  It’s not our first time as winners (and we hope it won’t be the last), but is was the first time a real-life moonwalker took the stage to accept the awardWebby Award event photo of Buzz Aldrin and wife Lois.  Few who were there are likely to forget it.

Legendary Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and his wife Lois joined us at the NASA table at the beginning of the night. From the start, it was clear that the stars of the web world were starstruck by Buzz. A steady stream of admirers lined up for handshakes and photos throughout the night.  There were plenty of celebrities on hand for the event, but it was clear that Buzz had an entirely different level of star power.

Near the end of the evening, Buzz was called to the stage to accept for the three NASA groups. Even before he took the stage, the crowd and other awardees cheered him on (with some sometimes colorful language I can’t share here). Once he was announced, the room erupted with a standing ovation and sustained applause that outshone any other moment of the night.  After some playful mugging for the cameras, Buzz gave the traditional 5-word Webby speech: “Humanity. Colonization. Phobos. Monolith. Mars!” (see it on YouTube).

It’s easy sometimes for those of us who work at NASA to start to see it as routine. It is after all, a job for us, with the ups and downs and stresses of any other job. But events like this remind us that what we do is just inherently cool to the outside world. The Apollo 11 landing happened before many of the people in the room were even born, but Buzz still has the power to inspire, because of the simple but awe-inspiring fact: He traveled a quarter million miles from Earth and walked on the surface of the moon. All in an age before the technology behind the Webby Awards even existed. 

It was a great feeling for the whole NASA group. I can only close with my own five word speech: “My government job is cool.”


Web 1.5

NASA has recently received a lot of kudos for its social media efforts. We had 150 Tweeters, who in turn had about 150,000 followers, attend the Tweetup at the last space shuttle launch. NASA’s Twitter feed, now up to 417,000-plus followers, is one of the most influential on the service. The agency has embraced Facebook, YouTube and other social media services as well. (Though by now everyone should be aware that most of the channels tagged with “NASA” on those sites have nothing to do with the agency.) One of the things the nasa.gov Web team has been figuring out is how the social media efforts relate to the existing Web site, and how we get them to work together.

Fair warning: I’m about give rein to my inner numbers nerd.

The growth in NASA’s social media efforts hasn’t lessened the impact of the website. We’re up to 190,000 web pages on www.nasa.gov. Traffic grew by 18 percent from 2008 to 2009, outpacing the growth of the global online population (14 percent). Google says we’re the 604th most-popular site on the Web. Our customer-satisfaction ratings continue to be among the best on the Web, noticeably higher than most government agencies and not too far behind such popular sites as Google, Amazon and Netflix. And we were honored this year with our third People’s Voice Webby for best government site, for which we thank you.

Comparing metrics offers some insight to the relation between the website and social-media sites, with the weight of numbers tilting heavily toward the website. Compared to the Twitter followers, we had more than 8 million visits to the site in May, with an additional 12 million hits to our RSS feeds. Videos of the STS-132 launch were viewed more than 168,000 times from www.nasa.gov, and about half that many times on official NASA YouTube channels.

The benefit of social media, of course, isn’t the raw numbers of people coming to official sites; it’s in the sharing those people do with others. Non-NASA posts of private STS-132 launch videos were downloaded from YouTube another 50,000 times. (And if you haven’t seen it, check out the launch video shot out the window of a commercial airliner. Warning: contains profanity.) Similarly, at least according to one source, NASA is the 48th-most retweeted Twitter feed. NASA’s Facebook page has 59,000 fans, and though there’s no way to tell how many friends those fans have, it’s not unreasonable to think they could reach several million more.

So how do these tools work together? Social media is terrific for quickly releasing the constant parade of news that NASA has on any given day, from the minor to the extraordinary: Tweet it, share it on Facebook, post it to YouTube and Flickr. But limits on character counts and the types of content that can be posted to each site restrict one’s ability to supply background and context. They’re great at “Hey, this is cool”, but not as much in explaining why the cool thing is also important, or where it came from or where it might lead. That’s why that boring old Web 1.0 site — referred to by one of our bosses as the “brick-and-mortar website” — will always exist and continue to be important. That’s where the big picture is, where all the pieces of the puzzle — text, video images — can be pulled together in one place.

(As a government agency, we’re also concerned about what happens to the content on third-party sites if those sites disappear. Granted, in 2010 it’s hard to imagine YouTube going away. But in 1997 it was equally hard to imagine Netscape and AOL going away.)

At NASA we’re starting to try to merge the efforts. We’ve embedded our Twitter feed on the main page. Our new video player adopts some of the features of YouTube that have become de facto standards. The NASA web community is embracing third-party apps and sites sanctioned by the government. Integrating them all is going to have to become a fundamental part of any communications plan. Like everyone on the Net, we’ll learn as we go. If you’ve got suggestions, you’re welcome to post them here.

— Brian Dunbar

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?

Tweet,two,one … Liftoff!

Group photo ofThere was something different this time.  From the veteran reporters and public affairs officers at the NASA News Center to mission managers in the firing room, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was buzzing about the fresh burst of enthusiasm as the clock ticked toward liftoff of Atlantis on STS-129.

In the shadow of the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and just a quick stroll from the famous countdown clock sat a white tent filled with 100 NASA Twitter followers from 21 states, the District of Columbia as well as Canada, England, Morocco and New Zealand.

They came to Florida from all over for a two-day Tweetup (an informal meet-up of people using the social media tool Twitter), including a tour of the center and a chance to talk to the people that help send the shuttle to space. They got an up close look at shuttle hardware and face-to-face time with astronauts and reporters. Some were pleasantly surprised to become part of the story themselves, as members of the news media came looking for interviews.

But for many, it was simply about the joy of being there. One was overheard telling a reporter, “NASA could’ve bused us out to a big field and let us watch the launch and we would’ve been thrilled, but they did so much more.” Twitter user Karim Jazouani from Casablanca, Morocco, uses his laptop

So what’s all the fuss about? Think of Twitter as an ongoing conversation with a few thousand of your closest friends. There may have been only 100 “tweeps” in that tent, but many more were following the conversation using the #nasatweetup hashtag (988 according to one metrics site). The people who attended have more than 150,000 followers among them. And many media outlets reported on the event, spreading the excitement even further.

It’s not just “how many?” but “who?” Some web users, no matter how much they’re interested in space, aren’t coming directly to NASA.gov for their news.  There’s a whole generation of web users who get their news and share their interests on social media sites. Engaging with them on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and other sites is bringing the story of NASA to new audiences that may not otherwise connect with us.

Tweeters who came to NASA Headquarters in October got to talk live to the International Space Station, and others have talked with shuttle crews and scientists exploring Mars and Saturn. About a dozen NASA Astronauts are tweeting already, sometimes from orbit. One — Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) — has more than a million followers. You can find NASA Twitter accounts and other social media efforts on the NASA Connect page.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

New Social Media Integration Features

A big hello from the NASA.gov Web Team at NASA Headquarters. We’re starting this blog to keep you informed about what’s going on ‘Behind the Page.’ We hope to update this on a weekly basis or more frequently as needed. It’ll be the place where we talk about new features in the works, respond to your e-mails and issues, and highlight intriguing things from across the NASA.gov web site. Without any further ado, let’s jump right into the deep end.  

Screenshot of new Connect menuSome of you have e-mailed us, tweeted us, and inquired over the past few months suggesting that we integrate our social media into the home page more and your wishes are being answered. We’ve been collecting all of NASA’s vast social media presences on a page that’s linked in the top navigation bar under the button “Collaborate.” While that page has several good resources, we’ve found that some folks keep missing the links to NASA’s Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

As a result of this confusion, we’ve surveyed other leading Web sites online. Looking at these sites, we decided that maybe we weren’t calling it what you all were expecting to see. We’re re-labeling that button into ‘Connect’ instead of ‘Collaborate’ as that has become more of a standard label for an organization’s social media section. To also help you locate the main NASA social media accounts, we’ve added them to a new drop-down menu that displays when you hover your mouse over the new ‘Connect’ button in the top navigation bar. As always, if you click on the Connect button or the new ‘More Social Media…’ link in the bottom of the drop-down menu, you can reach the main NASA social media page that has all of our links on it. Hopefully, this change will make our top navigation more user-friendly to everyone looking to connect with NASA on social media.

Screenshot of the New Twitter Updates boxAnother exciting change that’s been in the works for a while is also being unveiled at the same time. In the right column of the home page we’re replacing our current “Get NASA Updates” module with two new modules. The first presents updates from the @NASA Twitter feed in near-real time ; the second, smaller box allows you to sign-up for NASA updates by e-mail. We hope that displaying the Twitter feed on the home page will show a broader cross-section of material across NASA.gov, including material that won’t fit into our featured spaces on the home page. Additionally, we’re hoping the smaller e-mail subscription box has a better look-and-feel to fit in with everything else going on with the (admittedly, pretty busy) home page.

These changes are just the first of a series of tweaks that are coming on NASA.gov as we look at how to streamline our online presence to make it more user-friendly. We know that we have a very dedicated following of folks from every corner of cyberspace. This blog and your comments will hopefully allow us to share insight into what’s in the works here at NASA and also be a forum for us to hear about what you’d like us to work on next. No promises are being made, but we’ll always have an open ear.

As always, you can e-mail the NASA.gov Web Team at webcomments@hq.nasa.gov or drop us a line in the comments. We’ll try to respond as time allows, but know that we read every comment and e-mail that comes through the door.