.gov Usability and GSA’s Monster First Fridays

There were two video options to promote the General Services Administration’s First Fridays web usability challenge: Get program manager Nicole Burton on camera talking about the initiative … or use monster trucks.

Strangely, the debate didn’t last long.

“Our philosophy here is it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission,” Burton joked in an interview with FedScoop. “Admittedly there was some apprehension, but when the lawyers viewed it and told us everyone was laughing at the video we knew we were on to something.”


From there the rest is a little bit of Internet magic as the video that parodied the over-the-top excitement (and endearing cheesiness) of monster truck show commercials, became a hit in federal technology circles.

The video was the idea of Jonathan Rubin, a new media manager at GSA, who secured the footage used from various monster truck promotions and found an announcer with a deep enough voice to bring it all together.

“Even though the usefulness of government web sites can be a serious topic, we wanted to look at it from a point of view of creativity and fun to help interest people in the program,” Burton said.

And the program, First Fridays, is one of importance all around government agencies as the usability of government websites – the primary way many people interact with the government – is a key of citizen engagement and can greatly aid government agencies in helping the public.

Burton said for the past year and a half, GSA has been testing government websites – both ones it runs and others throughout the government – in the agency’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government.


The tests are done in two rooms with one serving as a test room and the other as observation. A testing subject sits at a computer and goes through a set of pre-assigned tasks, such as finding a link or specific information.

The subject vocalizes what he or she is seeing – like whether a piece of information was hard or easy to find – while those in the observation room listen and view the test, including a blown-up image of the subject’s computer to see how they are navigating.

“The idea is not to make large scale changes, because that can be incredibly time consuming,” Burton said. “What we want is to give web developers feedback that they can take to make small fixes that can have an immediate impact.”

To date, 34 sites have been tested with more than 500 participants from 50 agencies. The tests – done the first Friday and third Wednesday of each month – are free, but agencies must get on a waiting list that is now more than six months long, which is why they made the monster truck video. Burton and company want agencies to submit short videos about their sites to the website test challenge. Two winners will get test dates in 2012. The challenge ends on Feb. 29.

Monster truck video and details are at GSA has information on how to set up your own usability test at


Of course, they’d love to see your videos entries to the challenge, with or without monster trucks.

Latest Podcasts