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Two Improvements to Business.gov

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Two Improvements to Business.gov

By StuartR
Published: November 18, 2010 Updated: May 27, 2011

Would you like a cookie? If so, it will help the Business.gov team improve the website. But what is a persistent cookie and how does it affect you? Persistent cookies are small pieces of computer code that a webpage puts on your browser. The cookie is then used to measure how a visitor navigates the website. This might appear as shades of big brother but our plan is to be anything but.


In AprHappyComputer.jpgil of 2009 we wrote Federal Cookie Monsters about the policy that the Office of Management and Budget put into effect that banned persistent cookies on websites. Since then, much debate has taken place to determine the best way to improve website experiences without invading privacy.


The reality is that cookies can be used to track a perso;s activity and that can be an invasion of privacy. In order to prevent such intrusiveness, the Federal government has recently published requirements for those agencies that use persistent cookies. The requirements explicitly state that agencies cannot use cookies, or any web technologies for that matter, to track an individua-s activities.


The Business.gov team is not interested in your individual activities on the site, but we would like to improve the average user-experience. To do so, we use persistent cookies to make two improvements:


1. Limit how often you are invited to take our satisfaction survey

2. Distinguish between new visitors and repeat visitors.


Improve the User Satisfaction Survey


You may have been invited to take a satisfaction survey after viewing several Business.gov pages. In the past, you could have taken the survey only to be invited to take it again the next time you returned to the site. With a persistent cookie, we can limit the number of times yo-re invited to take the survey to once a month, whether you actually take the survey or not.


Furthermore, we had removed the invitation from the Community entirely, because members of the Community come to Business.gov repeatedly and were offered the invitation several times a day! Now we are able to invite Community members to take the survey as well but limit the invitation to once a month.


When you receive the invitation to take the survey, a persistent cookie containing a code with an expiration date is placed on your browser. The next time you visit Business.gov, your browser is checked to determine if a cookie with that code exists and if the expiration date has expired. If the date has not expired, you will not be offered the invitation. Because the cookie only contains a code containing an expiration date, the Business.gov team can never identify you as an individual.


Distinguish Between New Visitors and Repeat Visitors


Another way that we measure how well the websit's content satisfies visitors is to measure how much traffic the site receives. By distinguishing new visitors from repeat visitors, the Business.gov team can determine whether or not the site is valuable enough for visitors to continue to return. In the past, there was no way for us to make that distinction.


Now, when you visit Business.gov, a persistent cookie containing a randomly generated ID code is placed on your browser. The next time you visit Business.gov, your browser is checked to determine if that code exists. If so, you will be counted as a'repeat visito' and if not, you will be counted as a'new visitor'


Again, because the cookie only contains the random ID code, the Business.gov team can never identify you as an individual.


How Do You Prevent Persistent Cookies?


You always have the option to prevent cookies. You can adjust your browser to limit whether or not it automatically accepts cookies by setting it to'Always''Never, or Only Sites I Visit. The last option prevents cookies from third parties such as advertisers. To find out more, visit USA.gov's instructions on disabling cookies in popular desktop browsers.


What Do You Think?


Do you feel that these are beneficial improvements to Business.gov? Are you concerned about persistent cookies? Leave a comment below.

About the Author:


I actually like the idea of persistent cookies. When I filled out the survey it lead to to realize that Business.gov cares about its viewers and readers. It adds to a more professional feel on the whole and makes me want to come back. I am going to look into adding this style cookie to my website, I feel that I can model my site after Business.gov and help users feel more welcomed. The satisfaction survey is the most important part. Please keep it, it adds to the overall user expirence.---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.

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