Have you seen analytics.usa.gov? We can see, in real time, how we and other Americans are using our government websites. It’s going to blow your mind.
Since 2015, 18F has been tracking how many visitors come to major agency websites, where visitors come from, and what devices and web browsers they use to get there. Using Google Analytics, they can track what we’re using and when we’re using it, which allows agencies to fix their websites to make what we need and want more available. And the public dashboard for that is available all the time.
While this may seem academic, this is actually a really amazing way to see how other Americans are accessing government resources at this moment and over time. Including things you may even forget are government.
The Post Office is visited all the time. The IRS sites are mostly visited in April (Have you Google’d Where’s My Refund?). The Zika virus is sending us all to CDC websites – although scientists may also be driving some of that traffic. We go to the National Park Service to find maps and plan our vacations to those incredible places around the country. And if you’re wondering why the National Library of Medicine has so many hits, Tim Lowden, a program analyst with GSA’s Digital Analytics Program, knows: “I didn’t understand why until I looked at the location data, and found much of their visitors were coming from Spanish-speaking countries. It turns out that nlm.nih.gov, which is similar to WebMD, provides incredibly comprehensive health information in Spanish. If you Google any ailment in Spanish,nlm.nih.gov is the No. 1 result.”
But they’re not just in it to know more about the American mind and how much we’re worried about something in particular. They want to understand how people find, access, and use government resources online, so that when they build and fix websites, they can group what we need better. (They do not track individuals and they do anonymize the IP addresses of visitors. You can download the code on GitHub right now if you want to check, or find bugs.) Which means that when 18F builds a new resource like Vets.gov, they can prioritize what veterans and their families are already seeking out and link it to related programs they may not have seen.
With great data comes great opportunity, and responsibility. It’s good to know that 18F and the GSA Digital Analytics Program are on the job.