I had a job once testing the Environment Agency web site and it was OK.
Then they showed me the web sites of some other government organizations and they were rubbish!
The Cabinet Office's freshly uploaded digital boss Mike Bracken is on a mission to sex-up government services online. At the moment, he views Directgov as a "pretty bleak" landscape and illustrated his point at the supplier's conference in Whitehall this morning by providing a photograph of what appeared to be a rundown …
My attitude to using government websites is very close to my attitude to shopping. It's a necessary evil and to be minimised. Therefore my approach to both is: get in, get my stuff, get out - with the minimum time spent, no "looking around" and avoiding things that are examples of form over function.
So if this guy is talking about aiding navigation, providing helpful shortcuts and sensible defaults then I'm all for it. But if what he really wants is a vanity site that he can show off to his friends, but takes overly long to load (especially when under stress; such as when the tax deadline looms, masks "the true path" with unnecessary eye-candy, or requires specific browsers/plugins/OS's to support the wizziness - then forget it.
...my other half built a website for HM GOV a couple of years ago. Was the first they had on time and on budget I think.
There is a reason the sites look the way they do and not like Facebook etc. They are not meant to be fun, just give information and the barest means of interaction needed to get the job done. Less is more.
I'll give him say 6 months tops. I can imagine the look on the mandarins faces when he goes after them asking for billions to re-build all the sites out there.
As taxpayer I'd just like to say I've already payed quite enough for the council estate. I don't really want to now pay for Alton Towers.
Most of the French government websites look like they were made to live in GeoCities sometime in the mid 90s. (e.g. http://www.gers.pref.gouv.fr/) If you can find anything practical on them, it's a complete bloody miracle. Don't be fooled by the email addresses next to contact names, they don't actually provide a way to reach anyone, and neither do contact forms.
..but I for one would not like to roam around the HMRC site after dark. Full of sinister foreboding and dead ends and hostile functionality. A truly scary place.
Oh, and virtually unusable to boot! For a department and site that should be encouraging people to pay their dues online, they make it as hard and as awkward as possible.
Mind you, hats off to the DVLA and the way they have moved the process of paying road tax online. Far quicker and easier that standing for an hour in the post office to realise you've left a bit of paper at home!
The major accounting and tax bodies have spent months asking for "stripped down" input screens to be made available to their members, alongside the "idiot-proofed" ones written for IT illiterate, tax illiterate new business start ups. (Agents who submit VAT registrations & CT41g forms* on a daily basis really don't need 25 pages of drop downs, guidance and helpful hints; they can take a prepopulated "standard form" and edit it as appropriate).
Even though tax agents are probably the biggest users of HMRC online, and certainly the most intensive, HMRC/BiS are standing firm on the need for them to waste hours of time clicking and scrolling through interfaces not designed for them. I wonder if the fact that government figures show 4.4m SME businesses, but only 43,000 authorised tax agents in business, has anything to do with this?
*Of course you don't know what it is or how to fill it in. Nobody does except tax agents, which is why trying to write an idiot proof online version is so much less use than building one that talks directly to agents' specialised tax software to get the info it needs.
I don't care how a government website looks, as long as it's relatively easy to navigate and the information it contains is accurate and up to date.
What the current setup massively falls down on is search functionality and quality/accuracy of the information provided to the user. Directgov doesn't need a facelift, it needs the core functionality to work properly first.
Does anybody think he even paused to consider that a public sector website has to have maximum accessibility?, that it is NOT acceptable to take the tack of "well it only effects a few people". (which a comercial internet firm can)
Between the very high level of accessibility that a public services website should have, which does not lend it's self to pretty animations, etc., the average public body can not afford to develope and maintain 2 websites (1 plain accessible version, 1 pretty animated version)
When you then add on that due to the number of business functions combined at a public body (over 400 at a unitary authority), the sites are by their nature large and complex (, and if we have spare time, please can we try and manage that down to the minimum required complexity)
Will somebody get these clowns to actually research the subject before making up random statements and policy anoucements.
For doing things like paying your Car Tax when the reminder arrives, who needs a complicated graphically heavy webpage?
Remember also that there is a need to support older browsers from not just home computers, but mobile phones and linux machines used for low cost digital inclusion projects.
Simple websites with clean, fast to read and digest content, and obvious this is where to click are the way to go. Keep it simple, keep it cheap and people will use it.
The Government's web sites look indeed like a concrete 1960's jungle of sink council estates, the Toxteth, Hulme and St. Pauls of the world wide webs (maybe without even the finest shiny Chav bling).
The government’s highest priority must be getting them to look like the finest examples of web technology known to all mankind. The last time I used the DVLA, IR and IPS web sites could I find Farmville, no chance, what a national disgrace.
Sadly AC above I know little of the Environment Agency web site, it sounds like it should have some good agricultural games, but without checking who can tell. So if it doesn’t off to the sin bin with the site along with the rest.
Web two has got be the only way. At the end of the day who doesn’t love Martha. Mmmm
I had the misfortune of using a government site, it was to fill in the income support etc. forms, about 6 months ago.
The site recommended IE5. It wouldn't work on IE7. I had to install an XP VM to use IE6.
It was horribly slow.
And... after filling in the form and patiently waiting for a response - it lost all my data. Apparently, after chasing this several days later, this is 'common'.
And quite a UK Gov press team microsites on WordPress (with cost-effective hosting).
Don't worry though - the forthcoming gov.uk mega-system will soon abolish all that nonsense. How dare they use the right tool for the job and deliver a cost-effective solution!
In an age of 'accountability', 'visibility' and other similar buzzwords, surely the role (amongst other things) should be the publication of information in a raw but structured format - at that point other parties, be they internal to gov or external groups could then use that data as required - NOT making something pretty for pretty's sake (but I guess I'm preaching to the converted here)
"who was also keen to show off his government-issued Apple Mac laptop. Apparently being in possession of such kit illustrated that things were finally changing within UK.gov."
Nice to see that they are being sensible and prudent with regards to purchasing the cheapest functional kit in order to keep expenditure low.
Read me new rant blog about it -
Apart from being hideous, the problem with council estates is that the people who run them don't live there, and spend their time making decisions on behalf of other people. Directgov are essentially council slumlords.
Instead of running a government supersite from your cosy office in Whitehall, just write a cheque to every public sector organisation to run their own web services with their own staff. Then resign and hie thee to a monastery.
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