NASA Redesigns Site to Be More Social

Aiming to keep abreast of the times, the U.S. space agency today rolled out a major upgrade to its presence on the Web. The new site has the same address, NASA.gov, but it features many of the newer bells and whistles that surfers have grown to expect from contemporary online resources in the mode of the Web 2.0 revolution. The move comes as NASA prepares to mark its fiftieth anniversary in the upcoming year.

The site, which is one of the federal government's most robust and content-intensive resources on the Internet, has generally been adept at keeping up with serving its users' needs in the past, but it's been nearly four years since the agency has given it a major makeover. The designers of the new iteration, dubbed NASA.gov 5.0, say the revamped site has received more than a cosmetic facelift. It features a new level of interactivity and customization and provides the opportunity to comment on selected NASA stories, create personal playlists of favorite NASA videos, and share agency content with social networking sites on the Internet, according to NASA.

"We're very excited to roll this new version of NASA.gov out for the public," said Brian Dunbar, NASA's internet services manager, in Washington, D.C. "We've been able to add new functionality to the site, broaden and simplify the navigation to NASA's wide range of content, and still keep the features that users liked best about the old design. All together, the new design will make it much easier for users to complete their top tasks."

Following a partnering arrangement worked out two years ago with Google (see our blog entry "Google Goes Into Space"), the new site also features Google's Customer Search Engine, as well as tools to apply "crowd wisdom" to search results by weighting findings according to how many previous searchers clicked on a particular link.

The agency has revamped the customized MyNASA feature to allow users to collect their favorite content, including videos and news feeds, all in one location, NASA stated. This could be a fan favorite among today's more savvy users, as content from NASA is free of usage restrictions for U.S. citizens, because of its status as government property.

In addition to the internal NASA team, the re-launch owes its enhanced technical capabilities to contractors from Critical Mass, of Toronto (for the new interface), and eTouch Systems, of Fremont, Calif. (for design implementation and infrastructure support).

"This new approach to the NASA home page arose from ongoing feedback from the site's users, which we get continuously through e-mails, customer-satisfaction surveys, and traffic statistics," Dunbar added. "The initial concepts and subsequent iterations have been put through three rounds of user testing with external audiences. We're proud of the initial reaction to the new design and the entire NASA Web team looks forward to adding new features and listening closely to user feedback."

So give it a look. Kick the tires. And offer your thoughts on it directly to the space agency. After all, you paid for it.

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