Beta: The future of government websites
June 15, 2011 — 7:03am ET | By Molly Bernhart Walker
Launching a website in “beta” used to be a way to test functionality before releasing a more polished product for public consumption, but according to some federal technologists, beta is now a goal in and of itself.
“I love this thought of being a government in beta,” said Nick Skytland, a NASA engineer and designer working on NASA’s open government initiative.
“We’re talking about a time when there’s not a lot of government dollars to spend and we’re all freaking out about cutting our budget and consolidating. But maybe we should change the way we think about this, and think about this as a big experiment. How can we be more experimental, more iterative in our thought process?” said Skytland June 14 at OpenGovDC in Washington, D.C.
The redesigned FCC.gov launched “explicitly and very proudly in beta” in April, according to Dan McSwain, senior new media fellow at the FCC.
“We wanted to instill this idea, and really stand by it, that this website is never going to be done,” said McSwain.
“When the website launched in the late 90s/early 2000s somebody put a finished stamp on it and that was it. I think we succeeded both internally and externally, in showing that we don’t need that stamp. That stamp actually hurts our product and that collaborative code mentality, that beta mentality is actually what keeps the website improving over time,” said McSwain.
NASA and the FCC’s vision for constantly-evolving web properties rely heavily on open-source solutions and innovative developers. But leveraging an open-source community also means the agency really isn’t developing it alone, said Skytland. It’s a collaborative effort.
Skytland said he hopes this eventually leads to a point where NASA doesn’t even have formal offices to manage its sites, but has an open source platform where NASA can communicate what’s going on and engage citizens in the mission, said Skytland. “We’re a long way away from that right now, but I think it would be interesting for the future,” he said.
“Ultimately I see a future where all this converges, where NASA’s website, or all government websites, aren’t really developed by the government. They’re developed by the citizens,” said Skytland.