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In order to see how the US stacks up against the rest of the world online, we compared five english-based government sites for credibility. Credibility was measured using four metrics: speed, accessibility, typographic errors (see Figure 1), and (X)HTML validity. The results show that these countries fail nearly every test, except Section 508 (only India failed this test). This study and others (Mankoff 2005) show that by mandating compliance to a narrowly focused automated test, other problems invariably arise that degrade the credibility and usability of public websites.
Because they provide information to the general population including the disabled, government sites are some of the most scrutinized sites on the Internet. Even after Section 508 took effect, previous studies have found accessibility problems with government sites. As website complexity has increased, accessibility has decreased (Asakawa 2005). In a 2004 study only 22% of 50 random government home pages passed Bobby's Section 508 automated test (Ellison 2004). In a more recent study of 50 state home pages 98% did not meet the WCAG Level AA conformance, and only 70% met Level A requirements (Goette 2006).
However, automated studies give only an approximation of accessibility problems. Accessibility reviews with multiple users on screen readers received the best results among "lightweight" methods (Mankoff 2005), but still caught only 50% of known problems. Only a thorough review by an accessibility professional can give a definitive answer to a site's accessibility.
To see how well the five government sites complied with the speed guidelines published in my book Speed Up Your Site (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) we analyzed government sites from Australia, Canada, the UK, the US, and India for download speed. The home pages were analyzed using our free Web Page Analyzer tool. The results of our analysis are listed in Table 1.
*The download times were measured on a 56Kbps dial-up connection. The first number is the time in seconds it takes for useful content to display. The second figure is the time it takes for the entire page to load (i.e., useful content/entire page).
~Note that Canada has a splash page to choose language, the page analyzed was the English page at http://canada.gc.ca/main_e.html. The UK website also redirects to http://direct.gov.uk/Homepage/fs/en.
^India's government site embeds their CSS within their HTML.
For constituents who use a "narrowband" connection of 56Kbps or less, typically lower income or rural residents, you'd be happier in the US (King 2006). The US firstgov.gov site was the smallest site tested at 111K and loaded in 21 seconds (see Figure 2). All the other home pages took over half a minute to fully load, with Canada being the largest and slowest site tested. Ironically Canada was also the fastest site to load useful content in 6.6 seconds, due to its layered page construction. These times are beyond the attention threshold of most users. Ideally, you want to deliver something useful for your users to interact with within 1 to 2 seconds. Overall, users prefer page load times of 8 to 10 seconds without feedback, regardless of bandwidth (King 2003).
We analyzed the above government sites for the five key elements typically included in accessible web pages as well as for Section 508 and WCAG Level 3 compliance with Bobby. We found partial support for
alt attribute and link
title attribute values, and all except India include a "skip to content" link (see Figure 3). Although link titles are not required (since ideally the links themselves are self-explanatory), they can be a barometer for how much attention is being paid by developers to user comprehension. None of the sites include other common accessibility elements of
tabindex attributes (see Table 2). None of the sites complied with WCAG Level 3 (with varying degrees of errors) and all except India passed Bobby's Section 508 test. Note that Priority 1 ("must do to be accessible") and 2 ("should do to be accessible") are the most important accessibility measures, Priority 3 is going the extra mile. Only Canada had valid (X)HTML.
|Government Site||Alt attributes?||Skip to content link?||Link title attributes?||Accesskey?||Tabindex?||Bobby WGAG (type 1/2/3 error) /|
Section 508 (Auto/Manual)
|Australia.gov.au||All||Yes||Some||No||No||No (0/0/1) / Yes (Y/N)||No (1)|
|Canada.gc.ca~||All||Yes*||Some**||No||No||No (0/3/3 )/ Yes (Y/N)||Yes (0)|
|Direct.gov.uk||Most||Yes*||Some||No||No||No (0/1/3) / Yes (Y/N)||No (1)|
|Firstgov.gov~||All||Yes*||Most||No||No||No (1/3/2) / Yes (Y/N)||No (22)|
|India.gov.in~||Most||No||No||No||No||No (2/6/4) / No (N/N)||No (94)|
*Has skip to content link but no title for screen readers.
~Canada, the US, and India used a table-based layout.
These government sites could be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. To improve accessibility convert graphical rollover menus to text and CSS2 for higher speed and better accessibility. For the remaining images, add descriptive
alt attribute values to functional images, and blank
alt attribute values to non-functional images. Include accesskeys in menu options and important links with visual cues to identify the matching key combination. Our other suggested solutions can be found in our presidential homepage review as well as the references listed at the end of this study.
Sites that are perceived to be more credible are more likely to be believed and succeed, according to Stanford's B. J. Fogg (Fogg 2003). Fogg cites typographic errors, popup ads, errors, and slow downloads as some of the most important factors that degrade web credibility. For each government site we tested every page for typographic errors using our crawler-based spell checker in our partnership with TextTrust (see Figure 1). Four had a number of typographic errors, ranging from one every 92 pages for the UK (see Figure 4), to one every twelve pages for India (see Figure 5). Users who see error rates this high will perceive sites to be less credible and are less likely to trust the information presented.
|Government Site||Pages||Mistakes||Error Rate||Percentage of Pages with Errors|
|Canada.gc.ca||1393||34||1 mistake every 41 pages||2.4%|
|Direct.gov.uk||6454||70||1 mistake every 92 pages||1.1%|
|Firstgov.gov||705||29||1 mistake every 24 pages||4.1%|
|India.gov.in||1206||99||1 mistake every 12 pages||8.2%|
In our opinion, all of the five government sites tested had credibility problems. All five sites failed our size and download time guidelines, all but one had typographic errors, all failed our accessibility tests and WCAG Level 3 (although only one failed Bobby's Section 508 test), and only one site, Canada, passed the W3C's (X)HTML validator.
The US had the fastest and smallest site with Canada and the UK the largest and slowest sites. Australia had the best accessibility score with India the worst including the most HTML errors. After our initial review Australia dramatically improved their error rate to zero and India had the highest error rate. There was no clear winner among these sites, all need some attention to boost credibility.
Andy King is the founder of five developer-related sites, and the author of Speed Up Your Site: Web Site Optimization (http://www.speedupyoursite.com) from New Riders Publishing. He publishes the monthly Bandwidth Report, Optimization Week, and Speed Tweak of the Week. Thanks to TextTrust for their assistance.
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Last modified: August 29, 2007