Last weeek I had the pleasure of helping 18F launch analytics.usa.gov, a public dashboard showing basic data about how many people are visiting government websites at any given moment. While we got a lot of attention for it, being featured on Gizmodo, the Washington Post (twice), and a bunch of other tech and government industry press. More surprising to me was how many people I knew that weren’t in either industry that heard about it and wanted to build one of their own. (You should, you can, here’s how)
Why does something like this matter? Gizmodo and The Post did a pretty good job of explaiing that. This dashboard shows, at a really raw level, which parts of the government ordinary citizens interact with every day. Even in the wee hours of the morning there are about as many people interacting with a government website as can fill the Packers Stadium in Green Bay. At the time Gizmodo picked it up, there were 150 people on government websites, which is large enough that no football stadium in the country could hold everyone. They also compared forecast.weather.gov’s normal traffic to what The Dress was able to accomplish and weather.gov destroyed The Dress by about 20 million.
One of my colleagues pointed out the weather.gov traffic was likely a lot of scrapers from news and weather organizations but that only reinforces how important these numbers are. As the Post put it, these numbers offer “an altogether different study of the population, one that highlights not just who we are, but what government services we find most useful.” And while the top two right now are the National Weather Service and “Where’s my Refund,” scrolling down the top 20 list reveals some surprising insights. The Astronomy Photo of the Day is routinely in the top 10. The Department of Agriculture’s home page also makes the list, but so does StopBullying.gov. Specifically, a page on how to stand up against bullies. Other top contenders also include websites for checking immigration status, Veteran’s Affaris and social security benefits, and applying for a job with the United States government.
All told, there were nearly 1.4 billion (with a b) people who interacted with the government in the last 90 days. Put another way, that’s four visits per resident of the United states every three months. They’re coming to the government for information and help they know only the US government can provide. They’re coming for public services and resources they can use to improve people’s lives.
To paraphrase the late Paul Wellstone: Public service is not about big money or power games; it’s about the improvement of people’s lives. Analyitics.usa.gov is an active expression of government “for the people, of the people, and by the people.”
PS: while writing this post, about 20,000 more people started accessing government websites.