DCSF’s new Drupal site

Hooray for another high-profile UK government website based on an open source content management system: the new National Strategies website from DCSF, built on Drupal. It’s big, bright, bold, and once you’ve registered – a remarkably painless process for a government site, without any apparent checks on your membership of the target audience – it offers significant social functionality: commenting on articles, bookmarking pages to your own personal homepages, group discussion, page rating, sending links to Delicious and the like. Nothing exceptional for a Drupal site, perhaps, but pretty impressive for HMG.

There’s particular significance to this particular launch, though. The National Strategies, and much of this ‘2.0’ functionality, were due to be part of Schoolsweb, the ambitious plan to rationalise all schools-related sites into a single mega-portal, to be built on the same Stellent-based infrastructure as Directgov (known as ‘The Club’). It was initially scheduled to launch in late 2005, with eight-figure budgets quoted; the last public reference I’m aware of was in February 2008, when Jim Knight responded in a PQ: Work is currently being taken forward to bring these sites into a single new website for schools – ‘SchoolsWeb’. (Note the present tense.) And as I noted some time ago, the guys who did the visual design work for Schoolsweb are still quoting it in their online portfolio, with the caveat: ‘We are currently supporting the project through a challenging build phase pending the full launch of the website shortly.’

To paper over the cracks, a temporary signposting website was launched at www.schoolsweb.gov.uk, labelled ‘Schoolsweb Locate’ – but even that has been taken away now, replaced by a slightly clumsy redirect to the long-established ‘Standards Site’.

On this evidence, one would have to assume that Schoolsweb, as initially conceived at least, is dead. In its place, we have a feature-rich online community built on open-source tools, and making use of pre-existing functionality – either in its core platform, or via plugins. My understanding is that the Drupal site came together in a matter of months, and seems to offer most (if not all) the functionality envisaged for Schoolsweb.

Somewhere in there lies a great case study just waiting to be written.

5 thoughts on “DCSF’s new Drupal site”

  1. Fantastic to see another UK gov site launching on an extensible, flexible OSS platform rather than a big commercial CMS.

    So what’s the tally now Simon? Perhaps we need a delicious powered case study list like Steph has made for social media stuff – or could add them to that with an OSCMS tag.

  2. Certainly I’ve started adding all my WordPress-based stuff into Steph’s catalogue. Of course, open source doesn’t necessarily equal ‘2.0’; but the reality is, when all the 2.0 functionality is laid out in front of you, chances are you’ll use it. Which is exactly how this site is what it is.

  3. On the subject of Schoolsweb … I’m still dumbstruck that it’s nowhere in sight. The only news I ever see is that it’s due “in six months” from whenever I’m looking or asking. Considering my work on the Standards Site was stopped back in 2005 because of the imminent launch of Schoolsweb, it’s amazing that there’s still no firm sight of it and yet the Standards Site carries on (I just wish they’d allow the Standards Site to grow in the meantime instead of being sadly mothballed.)

    But it WILL happen in some shape or form, I’m sure. If nothing else than for Transformational Government reasons (which means the current status quo can’t last indefinitely.) My guess is that it will be a patchwork of different approaches and different technologies, some of them open source and collaborative like this one, others probably not so much and/or built on proprietary enterprise software, and they will be grouped under the Schoolsweb banner at the centre (although I really, really hope they find a better name for it. They’ve had long enough to think about the branding!)

    But in these cash-strapped times, I’m pretty certain that any wholesale migration onto Stellant or some such is long since consigned to history, which is good news. We don’t need that sort of expenditure.

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