Feds flock to Web app to create short links

Wednesday - 8/25/2010, 7:34am EDT

By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Library of Congress turned to a simple tool to help deal with a huge influx of material in April when it announced it would accept the entire archive from social media site Twitter.

Matt Raymond, director of communications with the Library of Congress, said a website address shortener developed by the General Services Administration and the Drupal community has made its collection much more manageable.

"We had the announcement that we were going to acquire the entire Twitter archive, at least the public tweets of folks, in the Twitter community, that stoked a lot of interest," he said. "The short URL that we posted on that has gotten about 75,000 clicks, and I would point out that that is close to four times the second-most clicked link across the federal government, so it's been very effective for us."

Raymond also said the tool helps the LOC manage the more than 19 million links to source material available on the Library's servers, many of whom have URLs with 50 characters or more.

"We're confident that because this is an entity of the government, that it's here for the long haul, and because of the popularity of Web 2.0, and the .coms, we see some of them come and go, and we don't want to have to rely on a third-party of commercial service," he said. "Because we are a .gov, there are some things we have to be concerned about, such as not commercializing or advertising. There's the possibility that some of those commercial shorteners might point to advertising."

Bev Godwin, director of GSA's Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement, said her office helped to create go.USA.gov to aid agencies in dealing with the demands of Web 2.0.

The Web address shortener is a trusted alternative to using tinyurl or bit.ly.

"We started our pilot in 2009, less than a year ago, and we had the pilot open with just 10 agencies in five months, and it was popular, wildly popular," she said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "We opened it up to the whole government in March of this year. Right now, you can take any URL of any length, and shorten it, and it becomes go.usa.gov/, and then three random characters."

Godwin said as the service grows, GSA might add a fourth character to the possible shortened URL in the future.

The main idea is to let users know that the shortened Web link they're clicking on indeed comes from a trusted government server.

Godwin says more than 2,000 feds have signed up to use the URL shortener, and at last report, more than 18,000 government links have been processed. She said users can go to go.usa.gov, and see the sites whose shortened URLs are getting the most traffic.

She said like many innovations in social networking, go.usa.gov has its roots in the open source community.

"It was originally created by the USA.gov Web team, and a detailee we got from (the Department of) Veterans Affairs," she said. "That person worked with the Drupal community, and the Drupal community volunteered their time, and helped us build it, and so we actually built it without cost, except for the salaries of the government employees."

Godwin said the site still is in beta because those open source Drupal coders are enhancing it, similar to an application program interface (API) that would make new capabilities possible.

"That would be so powerful, to make the data more easily available, so people could build applications based on real-time data about what's most popular across government," she said. "It would also allow third party applications to automatically create shortened URLs using go.usa.gov."

Godwin added the only limitation is staffing. Her office is looking for volunteer collaborators who are capable of writing computer code in Drupal, and who would be willing to work with the programming community who made the site possible in the first place.

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