Moving to GovLoop

Hi there.

I’m still blogging occasionally, but only over on GovLoop.  I started this WordPress site primarily because at the time, only GovLoop members could see blog posts there.  You still need to join GovLoop to comment, but everyone can read posts now.

I don’t want to have to keep double-posting, so I’m just going to post there.

Besides, if you’re reading my blog posts, you probably would get a lot out of joining GovLoop.

So – I hope you’ll read my posts over there!

I’m hiring! Looking for a hotshot web coder

I’m hiring!

We’re looking for someone with creativity, initiative, and great web coding skills (HTML, CSS, JS).  The job listing is open from now until April 7.

We’re the team that manages EPA’s home page and many sites, including Earth Day. You might also get involved in emergencies, like our Japan nuclear emergency site.

We also manage EPA’s top-line social media sites and are looking to expand our offerings.

I’m especially interested in you if you think you can show us how to do better.

If that’s you, please apply!  If you know someone like this, please share.

Current federal employees with competitive status; reinstatement eligibles; & candidates applying under the EPA CTAP or the ICTAP Program apply here:

Any US citizen, apply here:

Gov’t FB Pages: Allow Fans to Post or Not?

Here’s a discussion from a gov’t web managers listserv.

The original question was: should gov’t Facebook pages allow people to post?

Screen shot of a FB page highlighting where people post and comment I want to be very clear: I interpreted this question as being about posts – where they start a whole new item: text, photos, videos, links, etc.  I’m emphatically NOT talking about accepting comments.  To me, that’s a non-discussion: you absolutely must accept comments, good and bad, in accordance with a published comment policy.  For example, EPA’s is here.

In the image above, I’m discussing allowing people to use what’s in the red box at the top of the page, not the “comment” link or “write a comment” in the green boxes.

At EPA, we welcome comments on our main page, but don’t allow people to post their own stuff.

There are plenty of places for them to make their points, including commenting on our posts.  We don’t need to give them a platform.

I disagree that not allowing them to post is the same thing as any other Web page.  Other Web pages don’t allow comments, aren’t shareable, and aren’t in a network of 500 million people.

Plenty of interaction happens without allowing people to put whatever they see fit on your branded page.

I think of it this way: a social media presence is like a booth at a shopping mall.  You’re there so they can see you as people vs. an institution, you talk to people, you listen to what they say, they can hear each other’s ideas, and you catch casual conversations among people all around you whether they’re talking directly to you or not.  You might even hold a public discussion, where you put out a question and then invite people to share their thoughts.

But you don’t allow people to plaster their posters all over your booth and you don’t hand them the microphone unchecked for 3  hours to say anything on any topic.

What do you think?  What does your agency do?

Help EPA: We need a map!

We’re under a tight deadline to produce a map similar to the one at

To be clear, we just need a static image with rollovers that appear as you mouse over a state.  Not a Google-like map, not anything fancy or GIS-based.  Just an image that will show a little info and then let people click the state to go to a page w/more info about that state.’s map is done with Flash, but we want to do it using Javascript and CSS for easy maintenance and accessibility.

Got any ideas or examples to share?  Yours or other people’s?

We’ve got a mockup that’s quite good, but the little popup balloon appears in different places in different browsers.

Here’s an example of what’s happening.  I was pointing at Nevada, so the text is right, but obviously the balloon’s in the wrong place:

What’s interesting is that the balloon shows up in different places in IE, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.  Apparently, mouse tracking works differently across browsers.


Home Page Heat Maps

At EPA, we’ve started using regular heat maps to experiment and assess success on our home page.  These visual presentations show where people are clicking – hotter colors mean more clicks.

Every month, we update our popular topics list based on what people are searching for. We also often try out new features. So we also do a heat map run every month. For example, over the past few months we’ve moved around the popular topics and we’ve added a map with links to regional content.

I just compared the heat map from November 2009 to the one just completed, and I’m pretty pleased.  The stuff at the top hasn’t changed, and it’s still clicked a lot.  But many other areas are being clicked a lot more (more intense colors in more places). I interpret that as meaning that more people are finding what they want on our home page.

Neither the tool nor the page are perfect, of course.  And there’s plenty of other stuff we look at and consider. And not everyone will agree with our overall design (I know some folks think our banners are too big). But it’s nice, now and then, to get a sense you’re moving in the right direction.

November 2009 (Download 7MB PDF)

November 2009 EPA Home Page Heat Map - very few areas are lit up, indicating not much was clicked a lot

January 2011 (Download 7MB PDF)

January 2011 EPA Home Page Heat Map - many areas are lit, and most of those are bright, indicating many more clicks in each than shown for November 2009

EPA Social Media Guidance Docs

At EPA, we’re developing guidance docs for a bunch of different social media tools. As we do, our goal is to share as much as possible with the broader community of folks interested in using them, so today I’m delighted to announce I’ve added the current crop to the Social Media Subcouncil wiki.

You’ll find our guidance on:

We’re revising our blogging guidance, and we’ll post that when it’s ready.

We also have guidance on representing EPA online as an individual.

Atwitter About Reliability

Twitter has recently had some reliability problems.  That’s led some to question whether government should use it.

I’m not overly concerned for three reasons:
1) Twitter’s existence depends on reliability.  I’m confident they’ll improve.

2) We should be using all available tools, especially for emergency info.  If one channel fails, we still have others.  For example, in addition to Twitter, we use Facebook, large email lists, Flickr, YouTube, and our Web site to disseminate info about the oil spill.  And we’re researching cell phone text alerts (and the unified command already uses them).  That’s just online; we also meet regularly with non-profits, local governments, and others in the Gulf region.

There are no guarantees any single channel will work at a given moment.  During 9/11, cell phones and even some landlines stopped working, but texting still worked.

Another point: we’re in these channels for the long haul; when an emergency occurs, we already have a base of fans/followers/etc.  We’re not starting new accounts that no one’s ever heard of.

So diversity is one key to being confident that we can reliably communicate.

3) Getting off Twitter and onto the next big thing is relatively simple compared to the mindshift of getting into social media channels in the first place.  The policy and cultural issues are mostly the same.

So we could move pretty fast to something else if Twitter, Facebook, or other sites vanished tomorrow.  Whereas agencies that never use these tools because of the possibility one might go down will never gain from the whole concept.

Agencies who don’t currently have the resources to use multiple channels should still get into at least one.  Twitter, like any tool, has its pluses and minuses, but if it’s the right tool, I wouldn’t avoid it because of some service hiccups.

To sum up, I’ll steal from a colleague’s email on the subject:

“The benefit of getting the government on the road of social media, even if it gets stuck in a traffic jam , and realizing you just need a wider road or different route, far outweighs the thinking that they have no business being on the road at all.”

I’m on Twitter @levyj413