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Errors Rampant on Gov't Sites

  |  June 20, 2003   |  Comments

An examination of the top U.S. government Web sites revealed application integrity failures on more than two-thirds.

Looking for speedy service? Try the Internal Revenue Service's Web site. The IRS was ranked first in site performance on the Keynote Government 40 Internet Performance Index for the second week in June 2003.

The Keynote list for the week of February 9, 2003 provided the samples for a collaborative study from the Business Internet Group of San Francisco (BIG-SF) and TeaLeaf Technology designed to capture, assess and quantify the integrity of Web applications on 41 specific Web sites under the management of the U.S. Government.

The study found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the government sites that were evaluated had Web application failures. While the figure may seem high, the government sites actually outperformed a sample of e-commerce sites, which recorded a 72.5 percent failure rate.

In fact, in the week before Mother's Day 2003, TeaLeaf analysts uncovered Web application errors in 75 percent of the gift, card, candy and flower sites that were examined, with almost 65 percent attributed to user failure errors – which are typically undetected by site administrators.

Of the 28 government sites with recorded failures, 61 percent had technical errors – such as blank pages and internal server errors – and 7 percent had incorrect data errors that involved programming, database or human mistakes.

"When the federal government asks citizens to file tax returns every April 15th, they demand those returns be filed in a timely manner and that they are accurate," said Diane Smith, BIG-SF analyst. "Government Web sites should be held to the same standard. While the Web pages reviewed in this report were timely, they fell short with respect to accuracy."

As Web applications become more complex, site maintenance and management becomes more difficult, particularly when IT departments are overburdened. The Big-SF/TeaLeaf report suggests that deeper examination of end user functionality could be the key to overcoming failed expectations.

"What we continue to find is that most monitoring approaches fail to recognize the crucial difference between the availability of a system and the availability of an application," added Smith. "Government agencies can only achieve a comprehensive view of their Web site health by incorporating the perspective of the end user into the testing and monitoring process."

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