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Last year I introduced OSTI’s Web Metrics and how they help our organization measure how successful we are in disseminating the research information we curate for the Department of Energy.
Recently we have had the opportunity to enrich the functionality provided by our web metrics. On June 25th, 2010, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released guidance that enabled the use of persistent cookies for web measurement on Government websites.
What is a persistent cookie? Why are they important? Both are great questions.
First and foremost, persistent cookies are important to web users. The use of persistent cookies leads to better designed websites. These improved websites lead to users finding what they are searching for faster.
A cookie is a small file that a website transfers to your computer to allow the retrieval of specific information about your session while you are connected to a website. A persistent cookie will remain on your hard drive until it reaches its expiration date or is deleted by you. This type of cookie is stored on your computer so the website that placed it there can recognize and remember when you return and keep track of which pages on the website you visit.
Persistent cookies are important to web managers because they enable them to understand the usage of their websites better. For example the following questions can be answered through the use of persistent cookies:
How many users return to my site?
What path of navigation do users follow on website?
Is a particular branch of website used once and never again?
Are search engines successfully referring traffic to my site?
What is the technology profile of the users of my site, e.g. browser types, operating systems, screen colors, screen resolutions, Java support, Flash support?
Through these questions, and others, web managers can make more intelligent decisions about the content and design of their websites.
Since the issuance of the OMB guidance, OSTI has been hard at work to enable usage of persistent cookies on our websites, while, of course, remaining in compliance with the guidance. The main hurdle in compliance was the implementation of an “opt-out” capability that would allow the user to disable all web metric gathering schemes related to their session. OSTI has enabled opt-out functionality and has since begun the rollout of this new technology across our web presence.
Our first few months of metrics have now been collected and our initial analysis on this new set data has started. We now, at last, have the ability to learn more about the people and systems that are driving the ~130 million information transactions OSTI receives each year.