Too much exposure to USAJOBS has really turned me cynical. Despite news reports on the need to recruit thousands of new employees, the main federal jobs site is a usability nightmare, unfathomable to even people who work on web sites, like me. While the site has few defenders, some have argued that it has to be that way, because it’s the government. Federal requirements dictate its complexity and difficulty.

There’s got to be another way! And there is. It’s the job site for the Congressional Budget Office. The site is a model of simplicity and common sense, where you can apply for a job in minutes, rather than hours. Let me spell out the differences between the CBO site and USAJOBS:

  • It’s all one site.You’re not bounced to a separate organizational site to complete a whole other application, like you would if you applied for a job with Agriculture from USAJOBS.
  • An easy password. You don’t need a complicated ten character password with upper and lower case letters plus numbers.
  • Upload or copy and paste your documents. Choose which is easier for you – either upload a Word doc or copy and paste your resume. You don’t have to enter information job by job. Supporting docs can also be uploaded.
  • No KSAs.
  • Job descriptions less than a page long, in plain language.
  • No confusing instructions to fax or snail mail in additional information. It’s 100% online.
  • It’s well-designed. The site makes excellent use of white space and provides strong visual cues for users, such as making the “Submit Application” button blue and placing it at the bottom of the right-hand menu.

Why can’t the rest of government do this? The site is not complicated, in fact it looks like it was designed in the late 1990s. But it’s simple and easy for visitors. It’s oriented around their top tasks, as good government sites are supposed to.

Looking at this site, USAJOBS makes even less sense to me.

Lessons from a Webby-Winning Web Site

I was excited to learn that The Nature Conservancy won a Webby for their web site, They beat out the competition (which included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!) in the category of Charitable Organizations Nonprofit.

I worked on from 2003-2005 as a Web Producer. I think it’s a great site though, of course, I’m hopelessly biased 😉 was recently redesigned but it follows a core set of design principles that I think helped it win the Webby. If you look at past screenshots of the site, these principles have been pretty consistent over the years. They include:

  • Excellent use of white space. Text on the home page is given room to breathe, making it easier for people to scan down the page and absorb what’s on it.
  • Strong photography. What sells nature? Great photos of nature. The photos selected for the site are more than just pretty pictures, they tell a story.
  • A consistent color palette. Using the same set of well-matched colors across the site provides a consistent experience, one that underscores that this is a professional, well-designed site.
  • Third-party validation. The home page features endorsements from the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.
  • Concise copywriting. Many nonprofit web site are either hopelessly wordy or incredibly vague. In a limited amount of space, manages to communicate what the organization is about and how you can get involved.

Note how simple this is. Readers aren’t overwhelmed by flash animations or crowded blocks of content. This simplicity is a design choice that has paid dividends for The Nature Conservancy.

Clay Shirky on the End of Newspapers

Like it or not, newspapers are going away. Printing day-old news on dead trees and then shipping the results to subscribers by gas-burning trucks seems antiquated and inefficient, a process that has become obsolete in our lifetimes.

I love newspapers. One of things I like about living in DC is the heft of the Washington Post. Weight seems to connotate authority, a “real” newspaper for a real city, so different from the flimsy papers of smaller towns. However, that distinction is changing as the Post eliminates sections and physically shrinks while raising the newsstand price. Continue reading “Clay Shirky on the End of Newspapers”

No More Washington Post Book World?

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that one of life’s joys is to sit down with a good newspaper.  Though I’m someone who’s spent a career working on web sites, there’s some really special about a quiet morning with a paper.  And some coffee.

A newspaper is easier on the eyes than a glowing screen.  It also offers the chance of serendipity, of stumbling upon some article you never would’ve read, just because you have to turn pages to find the article you’re looking for.  A newspaper is also mostly distraction-free (no videos blaring, no animating ads) which, IMHO, makes reading an article in print a richer and more rewarding experience.  Things I really want to absorb, I need to see on paper.  

Today comes the news (ironically, from The New York Times), that the Washington Post is ending Book World, its Sunday books supplement.  Economic reasons are cited.  I find this hard to believe.  Washington is one of the most literate cities in the country, filled with readers, and writers, too.  Hop on the Metro, visit a coffee shop, stroll through a park and you’ll find scores of people lost in good books.  The city is home to excellent and popular bookstores, like Kramerbooks and Politics and Prose.  With the wide range of books that people in DC read, there’s got to be a need for book reviews. Continue reading “No More Washington Post Book World?”

Seniors Spend More Time Online Than Anyone Else

This seems counterintuitive but seniors (age 55+) spend more time online than any other age group, according to a recent Jupiter Research report.

How times have changed since my days at AARP in the late 90s, when seniors were underrepresented online.  More than once, I heard the argument that seniors would never use the web, that “old dogs don’t learn new tricks.”  They would never give up newspapers and figure out how to use computers – how wrong and silly those ideas seem now.

Go Hollywood! What’s the Logline for Your Site?, April 1, 2002

“In the dizzying world of moviemaking, we must not be distracted from one fundamental concept: the idea is king.”
–Jeffrey Katzenberg

I can hear the protests already. Creating a web site is not like creating a movie, we don’t need to go “high concept” or any of that other Hollywood marketing fluff. We will build the web site, its value will be obvious, and it will sell itself to the appropriate audience. End of story. FADE OUT.


Every year, around 300 movies get released into the crowded multiplexes of America. And they get encapsulated in a sentence or two to make it easier for moviegoers to find what they want.

Every year, thousands of web sites get launched into the disorderly, low-barrier world of the web. How will your site stand a chance among all these competitors for your customers’ most valuable asset, their time? How will you differentiate your site among this cacophony?

Just like a movie, you better be able to explain the purpose of your site in a sentence. For those who wish to look down on Tinseltown, you may refer to it as your “elevator speech.” If you can’t explain your site in 15 seconds to a customer, how are you going to get him to visit your site?

Unfortunately, web development frequently begins with only the vaguest notions of what a site should be about.


The CEO of Widgets, Inc., has ordered the construction of a new web site. It’s going to be filled with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles to impress his buddies at the country club. The MARKETING DIRECTOR is nervous.

And I want Java. I read about that.

I’ll get the techies to work on it. But, sir, who’s this site going to be for?


Well, yes, you, obviously. But who is the audience? Customers? Investors? The press? What are we trying to do here? Before we start spending money, shouldn’t we figure that out?

All of the above. And everything. Now get out.

The new web site for Widgets, Inc., has been launched to crushing silence. It’s another bland, corporate web site.

Can you explain to me why we have no traffic?

I’ve thought about that, sir. And I think it’s because our web site has no identity. Our press releases, brochures, banner ads, and emails just talked about the “online home of Widgets, Inc.” They provided no compelling reason for anyone to visit.

You better have a plan.

The most popular feature on the site is designing your own widgets.

It’s also the most profitable.

I propose rebranding the site to appeal to customers, highlighting our widget customization feature. Our logline will be, “Widgets lovers, design widgets in seconds at the Widgets web site!”

Why didn’t you think of that in the first place?


A good log line will help you focus your site around a single organizing principle. For example, eBay is “The World’s Online Marketplace.” provides news and viewpoints from the Internet marketing and advertising industry. The Onion is America’s Finest News Source. All these sites concentrate on one big idea which they do well.

Here’s a tool to help you get started.

Sample web site:

url: where’s the site going to be located?

title: what are you calling your site?

logline: what’s the elevator speech for the site?

audience: who’s the audience?

Think this is simplistic? It is, and necessarily so. Oftentimes, like in the example above, web sites get built with many different consituencies in mind and with many different purposes. The result is design by committee and a web site that pleases no one, especially visitors.

Creating a good log line is just the first step in marketing your web site. This first step is also the most important one. Taking the time to think about the unique benefits of your site will help focus the work of your web team on delivering a quality, unique site. It will also make later marketing efforts considerably easier and more effective.