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.