j.j. toothman

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Category: NASA (page 1 of 6)

Working NASA’s Enterprise Web

While reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book Space Chronicles, I came across a passage that helped remind me how great it is to get the chance to evolve NASA’s enterprise web environment.

From January 3 through January 5, 2004, the NASA website that tracked the doings of the Mars rovers sustained more than half a billion hits — 506,621,916 to be exact. That was a record for NASA, surpassing the world’s Web traffic in pornography over the same three days.

Working NASA’s enterprise web is exactly what I’ve been been deeply focused on for that past year. The entire stack, from infrastructure to software services, is being examined with the intent of providing a technological refresh. Details are beginning to emerge and I’ll share them here as I can.1

Without sharing the nitty gritty details, anyone working with Web technologies should be able to predict what NASA is hoping to adopt. Cloud infrastructures. Open source software.  A good overview of this effort can be found in NASA’s Open Government Plan.


  1. Meaning: as I’m allowed to 

Why I do it

It’s been forever since I’ve posted here.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about blogging over the years, it’s that (for me) blogging is like exercising and eating well.  You’ve got to do it regularly.  If you stop for a while, starting back up takes much longer than you believe it will.  I’ve done many a public online proclamation expressing my commitment to regular blogging.  I’m not going to do that this time.  It hasn’t worked in the past, so I’ll spare you.

So what got me back to writing a post this morning?  It was how pleased I was at the public’s reaction, especially in D.C., to the Space Shuttle Discovery getting piggybacked into Dulles for permanent display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Shuttle flyover DC

I’ve always liked the notion that the Space Shuttles were “our space machines”.  Seeing the people of DC come out and see Discovery arrive was a reminder of why I enjoy working at NASA in the first place. In the picture of what NASA does, my contribution is pretty small, but I do believe that I’m doing my part to help America’s space program and that I’m helping contribute to NASA’s mission, in particular the missions of inspiring the next generation of explorers and sharing knowledge with the world.

Last week’s event was a reminder that people still are fascinated by NASA and the American space program.1  The media is rich in reports of NASA’s demise and there are no lacks of calls for shutting down the U.S. space program. In my opinion, NASA isn’t dying.  It’s evolving.

Enterprise, Meet Discovery


  1. And let’s be fair, that whole event was engineered in a manner to remind people that matter – like Congress – of just that. 

Looking for Help on a Google Sites Project at NASA

Though it’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, there have definitely been some interesting steps forward in advancing NASA’s enterprise Web environment. I’ll write more about that soon.  One thing those steps forward have resulted in is the green-lighting of some pilot projects to prototype new enterprise Web solutions for NASA.  One of those projects involves developing two prototypes using Google Sites software and other applications and features within the Google Apps Enterprise Suite.

I’m currently looking for 3 resources to help out with this pilot.  See below for details.

Project Description

The NASA Google Sites Projects will use Google Sites software (and other appropriate software applications within the Google Apps Enterprise Suite) to develop 2 prototype enterprise web solutions. The first prototype will explore Google Sites as a social intranet solution. The second prototype will explore Google Sites as a collaborative extranet that allows NASA scientists, researchers, and mission operations personnel to effectively and securely collaborate with trusted, non-NASA partners. Each prototype will be developed using content in existing legacy web content management solutions.

Project Timeline

Length of project is 2-3 months and will start on March 1.

Web Front End Design Engineer

Candidate will lead the visual interface design, information design, and information architecture of 2 prototype enterprise web sites to be built using Google Sites. Candidate will be responsible for developing the required Google Sites compatible themes, page templates, and Google gadgets required for the presentation of existing content within a Google Sites based solution. Candidate will also provide necessary documentation for use by resources tasked with content migration.

Required Skills

  • 3 years experience designing and implementing web sites/ web applications using front-end web technologies, including XHTML and CSS
  • Previous experience with Web content management systems and CMS templating features
  • Previous experience designing and implementing designs and information architectures for web content published with Google Sites

Content Manager (2)

The Content Managers will be tasked with the migration of content from existing web sites into prototype web sites built with Google Sites. This task will include the implementation and formatting and content into predefined templates and layouts.

Required Skills

  • Previous experience with online content management systems
  • Previous experience publishing content using web based content editors and publishing tools used for display of photos and images
  • Understanding of web templates and layouts
  • Understanding of web display technologies such as html

To be clear, candidates would be working for Dell Federal Government Services on a contract Dell has to provide I.T. resources at NASA Ames Research Center in California.  But I am willing to discuss the project and work with the right person located anywhere in the U.S.

If you are interested, send me an email at jj.toothman@nasa.gov.  Please include your resume; any web links that might help me get to know  you and your previous work; and your hourly rate if possible.

open.nasa.gov launches to the public

Congratulations to NASA’s Open Government Team – Nick, Ali, Chris, and a few others I’m sure I’m forgetting – on getting their new website launched – http://open.nasa.gov.  The site uses the open source content management system WordPress1 to publish and share success stories as well as projects that promote government transparency and collaboration.

open.nasa.gov Screenshot

I have intimate knowledge of everything the team went through to get this site launched. And as it is with anything having to do with the inner workings of the federal government, this project met its fair share of bureaucracy, repetitive debate, and internal politics.  I’m pretty sure they had to jump through a ring of fire, solve the debt crisis, and return the ring to Mordor before getting this site released to the public.2

But as much as I could praise their perserverance in seeing the project through to the finish line3, I’d much rather highlight and applaud the site’s visual and information design. As a admirer and practitioner of minimalist web design, I believe that interface design should get out of the way and let content shine through.  Simply put, the best web design lets the content speak for itself.  NASA possesses visual imagery that makes up some of the most compelling content anyone has ever seen.  I’m happy to see that open.nasa.gov was designed and developed in a way that I notice the site titles, logos, and navigation only as the functional elements that they are; and not the design and branding elements that they are often deployed as.

I wish I could say the same of every NASA web site.4


  1. Hey, just like this site does.  Those guys chose wisely. 

  2. No. Not really.  Except possibly the ring of fire part. 

  3. A lot of that bureaucracy stuff is often utilized to make projects organically drop off the radar 

  4. Especially, this one 

The big (and only?) opportunity for Google+

We’re a couple weeks into the life of Google+.  Yes, it has been fun to be part of a social network as it is born and learns to take its first steps.  The hangouts feature is definitely uber-compelling and the circles interface is kinda neat.  But other than that how much has Google+ really differentiated itself from Facebook.

By the way, if the above paragraph means little to you, it probably means that you have yet to try out Google+. Everything you wanted to know about Google+ (so far) can be found in this Mashable post.

What I think about Google+ is that by the end of 2013, we won’t be talking about it anymore and the tumbleweeds will be rolling in.  One of the big things I’ve heard people say about Google+ is that it provides a Facebook “do-over” for those Facebook users that ruined their social graphs by friending too many people, or worse, friending a lot of strangers.  But I think people like that are in the minority of Facebook’s 700 million users.  Furthermore, I think the majority of Facebook users shudder at the thought of having to recreate their networks on something like Google+. 

But there is a place Google+ can be an easy, uncontested slam dunk.  That’s as internal social network for enterprises making use of Google Apps. The number of people craving a Facebook for the workplace is massive.  People want to utilize social network mechanics as tools for working together and getting stuff done.  And while there have been plenty of attempts to provide this from companies such as Microsoft, Jive, and Salesforce, Google is in a position to simply turn Google+ on as part of its Google Apps offering and provide the solution with very little barrier to adoption.  I’m telling you, it would be an instant success.

I’m certainly not alone in desiring Google+ be included as a Google Apps feature and fortunately, Google appears to be hearing the pleas and taking action.

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