Dear Vivek Kundra

March 5th, 2009

Topics: Digital Marketing

Dear Vivek Kundra,

I wanted to reach out and congratulate you on your selection today as the chief information officer for The White House as reported by Brian Knowlton in The New York Times. The next few months will undoubtedly be busy. Nonetheless could I bend your ear for a moment?

I’m sure you’ve seen the spirited conversation stemming from Chris Soghoian’s article on the Whitehouse.gov’s ‘removal’ of YouTube in favor of Akamai’s content delivery network.

Not true it turns out.

Both YouTube and Akamai will continue to communicate their work toward security and privacy, I see you use YouTube in the District already. I wonder what your view is about all the cookie fuss?

In no way am I trying to downplay the importance of data privacy or security, especially within a government run web property. Privacy and security are of the utmost importance to my business. All of the talk about the enabling of cookies seems like an old tired debate. Sure I work for WebTrends and absolutely we provide baseline web analytics software for Whitehouse.gov, but aren’t we past all of this cookie business? I am sincerely interested in your opinion here.

Let’s think about this for a moment….how efficient is a government web site if citizens can’t find the information or services they are after? The analytics tools that the Whitehouse.gov team is using, much like most private sector companies with a website, is simply to help ensure the site is providing visitors the information, pictures and multimedia content they want to see. Making it as easy as possible to find information is exactly what people are asking for (in the public and private sectors) – a government that uses technology to assist them can cut down on costs associated with providing information to citizens. That is practical empowerment; it is communication, transparency, participation.

A hypothetical: What if a large percentage of citizens who visit Whitehouse.gov perform on-site searches for the term “stimulus” but aren’t visiting the companion Recovery.gov site? Are the promotions for the Recovery.gov site too hard to find? Are these citizens not relating the word “stimulus” with “recovery”? Aggregate analytics provide the collective data and insight needed to diagnose and help correct these types of challenges. And, think what would happen if we allocated the fiscal stimulus funds for infrastructure improvements without taking into account how people use our current infrastructure. We’d run the risk of waste millions of dollars improving bridges that don’t need repairs or don’t get much traffic – or we’d dole out an equal sum for an inconsequential amount of work on every bridge in the nation — rather than investing in the ones that that need the most repairs due to the heaviest use and or age.

I believe there is a difference between the security of a web application and the analysis needed to gain better insight and take better actions from data.

I would love to hear what you think about all of this. How about over dinner at The White House in May?

Sincerely,

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff

6 Responses to “Dear Vivek Kundra”

  1. S

    As an analyst and someone who’s done analytics work in the past for a very large government organization, I’ve never really had a big problem with their cookie phobia.

    Did we try to convince them? Of course. But they didn’t listen, and in the end, I don’t think it totally killed our ability to make informed recommendations. We still used cookie-based tracking, just not persistent cookies. While that affected some of the topline stats, it wouldn’t hurt our ability to make basic insights such as those made on on-site searches and content navigational paths.

    Other than return visits, etc, am I forgetting something for which persistent cookies would make a big difference? It’s been a while since I had this debate, last.

    Reply
  2. Aaron

    Interesting. As someone not in the analytics industry, I thought cookies were ok. Didn’t we have this argument about 10 years ago and then folks were able to move on? I guess that’s not the case. Sigh. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

    Reply
  3. Justin

    If you hear back, Michele and I want to know if we get to go with you to the White House!

    Reply
  4. Eric T. Peterson

    Jascha,

    Nice letter. I wrote something similar back in November of last year to Vivek’s boss. While I still haven’t received a response from the man (I suppose he has other stuff on his mind) my letter did promote an interesting and spirited discussion that you should check out if you have time:

    http://blog.webanalyticsdemystified.com/weblog/2008/11/an-open-letter-to-president-elect-obama.html

    The essence of what I learned through comments, email, and many follow-up conversations was this: No, we are collectively NOT past all this cookie business.

    Sad as it seems, foil-hat wearing “journalists” like Soghoian have a much more compelling story to tell and are far more likely to get air time than “the truth.” And while it must be intensely gratifying for CNET to believe that somehow Chris’s “expose” of the new administration is forcing President Obama to “do right” by the American people, I personally am perplexed that an organization doing as much data mining against their visitors as CNET would even approach the subject.

    Anyway, nice to see you actively blogging about the subject. If you hear back let me know.

    Sincerely,

    Eric T. Peterson
    Web Analytics Demystified
    http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>