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Website of the Week, Sort of:

The agency's website is still something of a disappointment.

We typically apply the Website of the Week tag to honor government agencies’ outreach efforts and exemplary use of Web technology to help them with their missions.

Heckuva job: A visual offering from And while we realize that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a lot on its hands with the BP oil disaster, the agency’s website is still something of a disappointment, and here’s why.

First, the oil blowout is a catastrophe with little end in sight, combined with corporate evasion and major implications for national energy policy. It could in the end dwarf the effects of Three Mile Island some 30 years ago.

But whether by design or by neglect, the NOAA site seems as much a showcase of its high-level bureaucrats as a source of information that might match the importance of the incident.

But, you say, look at NOAA’s front page. There it plainly explains all that NOAA’s doing: “As the nation’s leading scientific resource for oil spills, NOAA has been on the scene of the BP oil spill from the start, providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations.”

OK, fine, and it even links to “trajectory maps” showing the extent of the leak and where it may head. It documents the rescue and deaths of charismatic megafauna such as dolphins and sea turtles.

OK, so far, so good. But what about pictures and videos?

Well, click on the agency’s spill-related video page, and what do you get? A couple of outdated videos of the agency’s boss, Jane Lubchenko, discussing the response. Yawn!

Note to NOAA: What we care about is the disaster and its effect on nature and humans. Your agency director is NOT the star of the show. And in a crisis with no easy solution, why would she want to be?

OK, but what about NOAA’s YouTube page? The first selection, advertised as “Oil Sill Overflight Video,” claims to be three days old. But actually it was produced May 1. And about one-sixth of the video is text-only introduction.

Note to NOAA. That video is more than three weeks old, from a quaint and innocent time when we thought this was just a spill that would be contained with a few dozen miles of booms.

OK, but what about still photography on the NOAA site?

That gives us some intriguing oil blobs (the first one is more than two weeks old), and some shots of scientist-types carefully looking at sand. But, predictably, there are the posed shots of government officials smiling in front of helicopters and candid-looking shots of them standing around talking. They could have at least gotten their khakis a little dirtied before snapping the photos.

Where is the compelling video of the disaster to be found? NOAA knows where, and that’s why they linked to a web page on the NASA site, a powerful presentation that was the Government Video Website of the Week a couple weeks back.

And the newly released live feed of the actual bottom of the Gulf gusher, the one that BP fought tooth-and-nail to suppress? Even has that–apparently it first appeared on the site of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the relevant House committees. (On his own site, the leading video is of Markey in white shirt and tie, talking to an actual rescue/cleanup worker, with a LINK to the live feed. But this is the norm for politicians.)

Maybe NOAA thought actual live footage of the gusher was too politically charged, leaving that opportunity to a politician who found it just politically charged enough.

Also, as noted last week, the thermal camera giant FLIR posted some interesting video on its own site (along with video from that Icelandic volcano that paralyzed European air traffic.)

NOAA, we all wish you luck in this epic cleanup task. But your website seems to reduce to spill to the level of your everyday activities–predicting maritime weather, improving mapping, and monitoring global warming.

So for a mixed bag of good information and missed opportunities, is the Government Video Website of the Week

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