Simon Dickson has been blogging about online government, politics and WordPress since 2005. Some important people read it.

 
 
Monday 31 March 2008

New Foreign Office website

A year after spending £1.47m on the Morello content management system, the new Foreign Office website went live this morning. Having spent five great years there, the FCO is naturally dear to my heart; but with David Miliband at the helm, its online activity takes on added significance. So how's the new site looking?

It's unquestionably better looking than its (frankly quite ugly) predecessor. The consistent, colour-coded header area works well, and navigation into the site's depths is handled well. Personally I'm not sure about the homepage, whose four evenly-sized columns don't direct the eye particularly efficiently; and I'm not sure about the balance between white space and solid copywriting at deeper levels. But if the question is 'does it succeed functionally?', the answer is yes.

However, with Miliband in charge, and with its track record of innovation, we expect more from the FCO. I'm looking for examples of groundbreaking content, function or presentation - and so far, I haven't found many. The use of a layered Google Map is nice, to show worldwide FCO activity; and I suppose we should welcome the introduction of a first RSS feed on the main site (although it doesn't currently work). The blogging site gets a facelift, but it's suffering some especially nasty teething troubles, as I write. There are occasional references to their YouTube and Flickr presences, but I'd have hoped to see them integrated more deeply.

I'm a little disappointed that some obvious enhancements haven't made an early appearance. The lack of RSS feeds is a particular shame: a single news feed really isn't sufficient. The Travel Advice section is surely a prime candidate for RSS: shouldn't FCO be going out of its way to feed advisory notices out to travel websites? I'm surprised there isn't at least a general 'don't go there' feed; I'd also have hoped to see individual country feeds, which should probably also incorporate more general news content.

So overall, I'm underwhelmed. We need departments to push the boundaries, and few departments will have an easier ride from their Secretary of State than FCO. But maybe this is the prudent approach: migrate the basic stuff at the beginning, then start to push the platform harder in due course. We'll have to wait and see.

Comments ( 12 )

  1. Tom Scotney says:

    Seems to be down already

  2. Phil Barrett says:

    Any idea why the "powered by Morello" badge links to http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk ?

  3. Andrew Cooper says:

    They spent £1.47m on a content management system when they could have used WordPress Mu for free? Can we get our money back?

  4. Spring fashions...

    It's not just Amazon which is feeling the need for a new look. In quick succession come redesigns from BBC News and the FCO. Simon Dickson likes the design, but is disappointed by the limited innovation. There are some obvious...

  5. paul canning says:

    Is it me or is there something distinctly amateurish about the design? maybe it's to do with being a 'front end' for a CMS?

  6. Andrew Cooper says:

    Must be you, Paul. There's no way that anyone could spend £1.4m and end up with an amateurish result. Is there?

    Having said that, I'm not sure what the thing that looks like a google mashup is supposed to do - it's not clickable (at least, not in my version of Firefox) and if you go to page 2 you get a logo (also unclickable) which says 'Better World Better Britain' (pass the sick bag) and that's it! Duh?

    At least they've removed the link from the 'powered by Morello' advert, although I'm not sure what the asterisk means. I assume the F&CO were given a big discount for including this - it's not usual for government suppliers to get free ads for their products.

    Also, as Simon points out, there's nothing to direct the eye. Most visitors will go to the site looking for help, but if anything catches the attention it's numerous reassurances that we are getting brilliant value for money from the F&CO. (Don't fret guys - we know how tough it is attending all those receptions: you're worth every penny, I don't care what they say!)

  7. uksigma says:

    FCO Website not so good at the moment:
    Proxy Error

    The proxy server received an invalid response from an upstream server.
    The proxy server could not handle the request GET /.

    Reason: Error reading from remote server

  8. Andrew Cooper says:

    Oh yeah. I expect they're busy fixing the mashup and deleting the Morello ad. More work needed on that slogan though - Better World, Better Britain for feck's sake. What sort of mind....oh, forget it.

  9. Andrew Cooper says:

    Hey, it's back! :) But the stupid mashup lookalike still isn't clickable :( Maybe they were just swamped with visitors?

  10. alex says:

    Simon

    I am not sure how wordpress spell-checker allowed FCO, civil servant and innovation to appear in the same sentence.

    However, £1.47 million, cms and rip-off does seem to flow.

    When will it be allowed for small-scale, responsible social entrepreneurs to engage with civic-funded government departments ? Perhaps when the EU gets off the procurement process.....

    Would the guys at mysociety ask al-jazeera to sponsor the design and build of a second, user-friendly fco web-site for £ 50,000 ? Or perhaps their new friends at china tv might commission a better offering.....

    If Lincolnshire county council can do it for their polish, I feel we owe it to the tax-payer to consider the alternatives

    http://tinyurl.com/5htz9z
    (URL shortened by Simon for neatness.)

    Better world, fewer FCO interventions

  11. Linguini Genie says:

    The FCO's notoriously unstable servers and systems have created an emergency of their own worldwide with almost no visas being issued since October 9th when the system went down. My girlfriend having worked damned hard to get a work permit for the UK is now stuck in the US while the biometric computer system writhes around in a fit. Meanwhile the British consulates and embassies pull the shutters down and put their fingers in their ears. Apparently they are 'not authorised' to communicate with anyone. Not even on the FCO website to make people aware or manage expectations.

    They are probably singing Bread of Heaven and rationing ammunition as I type.

  12. Jim Hawkins says:

    Interesting article. I thought Morello came with RSS built in. Does it not work or is it an add-on?