On Thursday, December 9, the FCC launched its redesigned website, and it is a great improvement over the last incarnation.
The FCC website serves two primary purposes. It is 1) a portal for consumers, companies, legal practitioners, and other stakeholders to interact with the FCC electronically; and 2) a phone book. The previous website frustrated practitioners because it did neither of these things particularly well. Links to the most useful destinations were buried in a sea of fifteen “Quick Links” with small and difficult-to-read type, while the search tool was less than ideal. Meanwhile, the website’s most central and visible real estate went to news and the FCC blog, neither of which was the primary reason that the FCC page gets visits. Some joked that navigating the FCC website was really why the world needed telecommunications lawyers in the first place.
The new website is both more focused on functionality and more in line with modern website aesthetics. The most useful links to practitioners (eCFR, ECFS, EDOCS, and ULS) are presented centrally, eminently readable in nice big blue print on a white background. Just to the right, in pleasingly large typeface, are boxed-in links to file consumer complaints and public comments. There is a lot less clutter and a lot more whitespace, meaning the eye is actually directed to what’s important.
Another nice new feature, which the FCC itself highlights in its announcement, is the ability to toggle between navigation by FCC function—including a “For Consumers” tab—and navigation by “Bureau or Office.” The FCC responded to “[e]xtensive user research” to determine that separating out practitioner uses from consumer uses would make the website more beneficial. Doing that makes a lot of sense, and it works well here. Although header tabs are not always obvious to use, the most common users of the second tab will be practitioners, who will be familiar enough with the site that it would work here. The announcement also states that the website has improved search functionality; for now it still seems easier to find the Open Internet Order, for example, via a Google search, but the FCC is still working on that function.
One final piece worth mentioning is an addition by subtraction: the FCC removed the carousel. Carousels are normally useful for telling someone that they’re on the front page without actually putting them there. If any useful information is buried in them, it will usually be missed – in this case important information about the Open Internet Order, the Consumer Help Center, and Connect2Health. In the new iteration, the FCC took the first slide—a link to the Public Safety Support Center—and moved it as a standalone piece into the upper right corner, ensuring it would not simply be ignored due to banner blindness. The other information is available elsewhere now.
Overall, the website is an upgrade for consumers, practitioners and other stakeholders, improving functionality and aesthetics while retaining all its key information. The only complaint (and it’s a small one): the phone book is still hard to find and requires scrolling to the lower left corner of the page. For practitioners that have bookmarked all the individual filing systems separately, the primary benefit of the FCC website is the phone book, and it would be nice to have it load higher on the page with more visibility. Of course, as good as it looks overall, the real test of the FCC’s web technology may come the next time John Oliver decides to encourage viewers to file comments.
Kudos to the FCC on creating a much better user experience.