1. My agency is not attached to a secretariat. Does the memo apply?
Although addressed to Cabinet Secretaries, the memo applies to all Executive Department agencies, whether or not they are attached to a secretariat. (We apologize for this oversight.)
2. How does the memo apply to web applications?
While the long term vision is for the Mass.Gov portal to serve as the "presentation layer" for applications, this feature is not currently available. Web pages that are part of applications that enable you to complete transactions online, such as online driver's license renewal, are not expected to be migrated into Mass.Gov.
Web-based applications, however, must use a government web address in the "state.ma.us" domain (which can be promoted using a simplified Mass.Gov "friendly" URL that directs users to the actual state.ma.us site). We also urge agencies who are redesigning applications to adopt Mass.Gov's branding, look and feel.
Web applications are subject to relevant ITD policies and standards (such as the Web Accessibility Standards) regardless of web address or hosting location. We urge agencies to consider hosting their applications at ITD's Data Center as a cost-effective solution that will help you remain in compliance with all relevant requirements.
See also: Web Publishing vs. Web Applications
3. Does the memo apply to intranets or small applications that only my agency uses?
The memo is primarily concerned with public- or customer-facing websites. Nevertheless, intranets and inward-facing, agency-specific web applications are still subject to all other applicable ITD enterprise policies and standards, including the Web Accessibility Standards.
4. Why should we use only government web addresses (URLs) for our public-facing websites and web applications, and use www.mass.gov in particular?
Increased credibility and findability
Based on hit statistics, the majority of users find state web content using external search engines like Google. Search engines also consider the number of sites linking to a given site in the search results ranking. When using a Mass.Gov URL, your search rankings tend to be higher, because of the thousands of sites linking to thousands of Mass.Gov pages.
In addition, external search engines tend to provide better coverage for sites they recognize as authoritative. The .gov domain, because it has strong restrictions on eligibility, is automatically viewed as authoritative by search engines like Google, whereas .orgs and .coms must earn this over time.
Anyone can purchase a .org, .com or .net domain name, and users have no way of knowing who is providing the information on those sites. Many websites exist that resemble government websites or that appear to provide "official" government information. They can mislead the public into believing and acting on erroneous information. Recently, one site was charging people $5 to redirect them to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Other domains are racking up advertising revenue when people come to them from search engines. Search engines try to weed out sites like these, and give precedence to official sites, but it's harder when government sites aren't using government domains. With the wide range of information (and misinformation) available online, it is essential that users trust the information provided by the Commonwealth. Using domains that are exclusive to the government is one way to communicate to citizens that state websites are legitimate.
Supports civic engagement
Agencies seeking to use the .org or .com domains often argue that "my customers don't trust government;" yet we view use of these domains as perpetuating that problem. The Administration, in seeking to increase civic engagement and public trust, believes that it is important for citizens to recognize all the good work that their Massachusetts government is doing, and not just view government as a tax and fee collector, regulator or law enforcer. The .org domain is supposed to be used by nonprofits; the .com domain is supposed to be used by businesses. When agencies use .org and .com, they hide or obscure government's role in delivering key services, services that they pay for!
Maximizes the Commonwealth's limited advertising and marketing dollars
Unique URLs are hard to remember and once a marketing campaign ends, it will be harder for users to find your website. The Mass.Gov brand is well established and trusted and the www.mass.gov prefix is easy to remember. It is referenced again and again in the news media and in agency print and ad materials, including those with the highest volume of traffic (RMV, DOR and HHS). This includes bus and subway ads, billboards, tax forms, car registration renewals and the flashing highway signs promoting the new mass.gov/511 system. By using it for your site, the Commonwealth gets more for its extremely limited advertising and marketing dollars: You help us reinforce trust and familiarity, but you also benefit from that trust and familiarity.
Reduced exposure to risk
Ownership of a particular .com, .org or .net domain is only assured for as long as the registration fees have been paid. This leaves plenty of opportunities for cybersquatting, where someone else picks up the lapsed registration at cost, and then offers it back at a higher price. We usually get at least one report a year of a local government .com, .org or .net URL being redirected to a pornography site because their domain lapsed.
5. What is "full adoption" of the Mass.Gov platform? Why shouldn't we develop new websites or redesign existing ones which don't fully adopt it?
Full adoption of the platform entails undergoing rigorous analysis of your content and your customers' needs with the Mass.Gov team; thorough grounding in best practices (user-focused organization of information, marketing and branding, usability testing, writing for the web, search engine optimization, accessibility, and web management); migration of that content to Mass.Gov's navigation and display templates; and use of Mass.Gov's hosting and content publishing toolset. In the case of secretariats, it entails consolidating agencies' content into a single "subportal" and organizing it according to customer groups and topics, not along agency lines. Lastly, it entails using a Mass.Gov web address (e.g., www.mass.gov/eohhs).
The benefits of full adoption are:
Common look and feel
Experts in web design and ease-of-use agree: A pervasive, consistent look and feel with common navigation gives users confidence and makes it easier for them to accomplish their tasks. Conversely, formal usability testing has shown that Mass.Gov's users' confidence is undermined when they navigate from Mass.Gov-formatted pages to dramatically different-looking pages and websites. Indeed, the current Mass.Gov design is based on objective usability testing with citizens and businesses. Copying the look and feel does not achieve consistency because it is often only "skin deep" and deviates from our layout in subtle or obvious ways that undermine familiarity and ease of use. It can also become instantly outdated if Mass.Gov undergoes a redesign.
Increased exposure for your content
The top level Mass.Gov portal receives nearly two million visitors per month. Secretariat "sub-portals" receive millions more, and because their agencies' content is integrated, individual agencies benefit from sister agencies' traffic and vice versa. When content is fragmented across a variety of separate agency-specific or program-specific sites, users cannot conduct comprehensive browsing and searching of related material.
Reduced exposure to risk
Mass.Gov is a high-availability platform that will soon have full disaster recovery capability. It complies with web accessibility standards, the secure public access architecture, and other ITD policies and standards that ensure equal access to all and protect the Commonwealth's interests and yours.
Together we can leverage shared financial, technical and human resources for continuous improvements to portal features that benefit everyone. Separately, we compete for the same scarce budget dollars. Whenever a new, standalone website is developed outside of the Mass.Gov platform, its features and benefits cannot be reused by other Mass.Gov agencies. This is not a sustainable model for the Commonwealth.
Mass.Gov's publishing tools do not require special web coding expertise. Subject matter experts can create content and publish to the web without needing to know special programming languages like HTML. Technical resources are no longer required to update your site. The web can be integrated into your normal customer service and communications processes. If you have funds or technical resources to invest in the web, you can focus on application development rather than on coding and graphic design.
In the near future, ITD will be publishing additional guidance regarding hosting and web addresses. This will provide you with a better understanding of why these policies have been established and how they benefit you.
6. How do I seek a waiver?
ITD has developed a waiver request template for secretariats and independent agencies to use. As the memo indicated, ITD will not consider waiver requests from agencies attached to a secretariat, until the secretariat has first approved the waiver. We ask that secretariat-approved waivers be transmitted to ITD via the secretariat's member.
In the case of agencies that are not attached to a secretariat, we ask that the agency head submit the waiver request.
All waiver requests should be addressed to John Letchford, Commonwealth Chief Information Officer.
7. Does the memo apply to websites in production or web addresses in use, prior to the memo (10/11/07)?
You do not need to make a change or seek a waiver at this time. However, ITD is in the midst of inventorying externally hosted websites and websites and applications using nongovernment web addresses. We will be in contact with secretariats and independent agencies concerning possible migration or transition. In any case, if at that time you seek a waiver and we do not approve it, we will work with you to minimize disruption and establish a workable timeframe for migration or transition.
8. What about websites in development at the time of the memo?
Please notify your secretariat and ITD as soon as possible. We understand that you may be working to meet a deadline. If your launch date is imminent, we will do our best to render a decision on waiver requests within five business days of receiving a complete waiver form. If we do not approve your waiver request, we will work with you to minimize disruption.
9. What about websites not yet in development?
Please notify your secretariat and ITD as soon as possible. We will do our best to render a decision on waiver requests within two weeks of receiving the waiver form.
10. What if I am granted a waiver?
If you are granted a waiver you are still required to comply with the following policies and standards:
- Enterprise Web Accessibility Standards and, if a vendor is involved, Required Terms Regarding Accessibility for Information Technology Contracts
- All relevant security policies
- IT Acquisition Policy (if a vendor is involved)
- Website Privacy Policies
In the case of websites that have not yet launched, you will need to demonstrate to ITD that you have complied with these requirements prior to launching. In the case of websites that existed prior to 10/11/07, ITD will be in touch concerning compliance.
Information provided by the Information Technology Division, Mass.Gov Office. Last reviewed: June 10, 2009.