Federal Register set to unveil extreme makeover

Friday - 7/16/2010, 7:09am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

It's found in lobbyists' offices on K Street, lawmakers' offices on Capitol Hill, and the desks of cabinet secretaries all across official Washington. But now users who access the Federal Register online are being asked to prepare for big changes on the Register's 75th anniversary on Monday, July 26.

Meet Federal Register 2.0.

"Not only will our content be more clearly organized and better presented," said David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, "but the new website will make it easier to find what they need, comment on proposed rules, and share materials relevant to their interests."

The National Archives and the Government Printing Office have been long-time partners in publishing the printed register, and maintaining the current online version.

A handful of reporters were invited to a press-only preview of the new Federal Register 2.0 yesterday morning at their Northwest D.C. office just across K Street from the GPO.

Mike White, managing editor of the Federal Register, notes that any resemblance to the websites of popular newspapers is entirely intentional.

We have six main topical sections (at the top of the Register's home page). As you move down, you highlight the current issue, which is the place where a lot of people will want to start, to get an overview of what's going on today. Then we have individual documents, or articles as we're calling them in these individual sections highlighted. So this is something that our webmaster and our staff will choose to put in these topical boxes.

Articles have been designed with a clean, readable look, with less critical header information moved to a slot at the right. This, says White, allows them to present at the top of articles the summary paragraph, designed to give users a quick read of the agency document they have opened up.

White says inside of each document readers will find "ribbons" at places in the text of the document, which contain "sharing" links to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter; and buttons that will create links to specific paragraphs or tables within a document, allowing users to send discrete links to those portions of a document to colleagues more readily.

The new Federal Register 2.0 owes its crisp new look and features to three web developers from the West Coast.

Their involvement, in turn, is one of the first tangible fruits of the Sunlight Foundation's Apps for America contest, tied to the popular Data.gov website.

Ray Mosley, director of the Federal Register, says a web development team from WestEd Interactive in San Francisco began to study the 10 years of data from the Federal Register that had been posted online earlier this year as part of data.gov.

WestEd had helped develop GovPulse.US, an application that can help users examine the geographical impact of proposed and final government regulations.

Mosley says they were impressed enough with WestEd's work, that the GPO, which handles the technical support for the Federal Register online, offered them a contract for $275,000 to design Federal Register 2.0 .

And Mosley told Federal News Radio that they are eager to launch the site on the 26th, and, in the true tradition of web 2.0 crowdsourcing, plan to openly solicit user feedback as they refine the look and operation of the new Federal Register website.

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