FedSmith.com recently asked readers their opinion on a variety of issues. The purpose: to find out more about our readers and what they like or don’t like about the services of the FedSmith.com website. The study, including research design and data analysis, was aided by Alex Trouteaud, a researcher in the department of applied sociology at Baylor University.
We literally received thousands of responses. Thanks to all of you who took the time to send in your opinions and comments. Our goal is to provide a useful site that appeals to those with interest in the Federal community. Your time and effort in answering these questions will help us do that.
As we promised in the survey, the responses were anonymous so we can’t respond to any individual. But some of you asked questions we would like to answer. Some readers also made comments that deserve a response.
We have already made several changes to the site as a result of the survey. For example, we are now posting the more popular headlines for an extra day under “today’s headlines.” We have also added a graphic at the bottom of each page to make an easy link to the headline archives. And a number of readers wanted more information on the Thrift Savings Program so we are adding a daily quote feature on the site for the various TSP funds.
The vast majority of respondents had a very positive response to the site for several reasons–including the fact that it is free. Here is one of our favorite quotes:
“FedSmith.com is an outstanding service. I can’t believe it’s free. I hope you keep it that way! Knowing you have to make money some how, I assume you eventually will sell ads. I encourage you to keep your site content in making room for ads.”
This is typical of a number of other comments we received:
“This is one of the most well rounded and best informed newsletters I’ve seen. I like the format and the information it provides as well as the timeliness of the articles.”
We found that our readers are working in locations around the world. In fact, we were surprised to see so many readers from around the world check the site for the news items and links. One reader told us: “Good information that those who work outside the beltway do not see.”
Confusion with Other Companies
FedSmith.com is a new company (we started this service last year). Since we are new and less well-known than more established companies, there is some confusion among our readers.
Here are several comments from survey respondents that we think were describing another company’s service. One reader wrote: “I don’t like the extra emails trying to sell me things. I like the regular email newsletter. Why not just combine the two?”
And another writer told us: “I don’t like the commercialism of the emails. They are always pushing to purchase something. Which is very annoying.” And, yet another reader comment: “Retirement book teasers are just that to me. It’s always about teasing one to buy the book. One builds credibility with me by being correct, not by advertising that others are losing out by not buying your book.”
The truth is FedSmith.com does not have any products or services for sale. We have not sent out e-mail with ads for books or training seminars, etc. as we do not offer these products.
And in a different version of this same theme: “By the time I receive your weekly summary, I have seen the news elsewhere. You need to [sic] as timely as other services.”
As most readers know, FedSmith.com does not provide a weekly summary of the news. We provide daily updates (and updates throughout the day) of the latest possible news on a daily basis.
Finally, one reader wrote: “I do look forward to the Quote of the Week and the Friday Funny each week – so please keep sending them!” While we hate to say this because the reader obviously likes this feature, the quote and “Friday Funny” don’t come from FedSmith.com so we can’t take credit for them.
Links to Articles
One subject that generated a number of comments is our links to daily news articles. A few readers asked if we would begin putting the articles directly on our site instead of including links to other publications. The quick answer is we can’t do that without violating the copyright of the other publications. One advantage of the FedSmith.com site is the variety of information from a wide variety of sources with a number of different viewpoints in one location. But to do this, we can only provide a link to the original source material.
A few readers asked us to change the policies of the news sources that contain articles. For example, The Washington Post asks for personal information including zip code and gender before you can access an article the first time. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about the policies and practices of the web sites to which we link.
Several readers asked that we provide direct links to the articles in our daily e-mail instead of through the website. We could do this but have not done so for several reasons. One is that we want readers coming to the website so we have some idea as to how much the service is being used. Another is that some of the links are very lengthy and with the wide variety of e-mail readers being used, a number of readers would end up with an e-mail each day that is too long and too complex to be useful.
A few readers also asked that we send out the daily e-mail in HTML format with color and graphics and the headlines in bold with vivid colors. We have considered doing this but there are a wide variety of e-mail readers in use throughout the government that do not translate HTML code. If we were to adopt this suggestion, which we agree would benefit many readers, we would eliminate the ability of many readers to read our daily e-mail news summaries.
Posting of Articles
Some readers asked that we post headlines on the front page for a longer time. “At times when I read your brief e-mail synopsis and decide I would like to read the full article, I click on the website, and the article isn’t there. I have to go into the archives from a few days before. This is confusing.”
As the writer notes, we have an archives section where we store two weeks of news items. We have worked to make the archives easy to find and easy to search. We will look at the suggestion of several readers that we leave the articles up for a longer time if it appears more of you would like that approach.
Several writers also commented that there are times when links in the archives are no longer active. That is true and is one of the inherent disadvantages of linking to other articles. We have no control over how long other publications post their articles on the Internet and they are occasionally taken down during the two weeks that we leave them posted. This was also part of our rationale for only displaying the archives for two weeks.
Links to other publications
Several readers commented that they do not care to see links to publications they do not like. Some do not like Rush Limbaugh or George Will while others dislike Maureen Dowd or Molly Ivins. We want readers to make FedSmith.com their home page and each reader can set up a link preferences file that will have only the links you want appear on the page. If your access to the Internet blocks this feature, we have no way of having only the links you want appear on your page.
Thanks for all readers who took the time to send us your comments. We have already made changes to our site as a result of the information you provided. We enjoy hearing from our readers and encourage you to send us your ideas and opinions on how to improve the services offered by FedSmith.com. (You don’t have to wait until the next survey. Just go to https://www.fedsmith.com/contact/ and send us an e-mail!)
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47