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

 
 
Monday 26 October 2009

FCO's modest redesign

newfco

The Foreign Office relaunched its corporate website over the weekend - always a brave move. You're met by a very striking news-y homepage, with large-format high-impact (and high maintenance) imagery: it works very well indeed, but is the sort of homepage which takes a lot of editorial effort, and presumably a photo budget of some sort. There are several RSS icons dotted around the place; blog and Twitter areas on the homepage; and if you dig a little deeper, a press office blog (of sorts). It's a homepage which clearly knows its purpose. And that's a good thing.

Design-wise, the header feels modest and contemporary. But I'd have concerns about the presentation of text lower down the page. Whilst I'm sure a lot of the issues - inconsistent spacing, curious alignment, empty links - can probably be put down to teething troubles, I'm forced to look back to the Blogs site which started fairly messy, and hasn't ever improved. Stephen Hale promises a new look to that site too; I sincerely hope so.

The press office 'blog' is a very interesting addition: running since June, it actually uses an account at Tumblr.com as its CMS, with the material being pulled into FCO chrome (presumably) via RSS feed. It's publish-only, so no comments; and if you want anything beyond the last few items, it sends you off to Tumblr. Now don't get me wrong, there's lots to like about Tumblr, a lighter-than-lightweight 'blogging' solution. But I don't feel comfortable about a major department of state using it. And I wonder if they'd be doing that if their main blogging platform wasn't a better one.

You'll be wondering about cost, no doubt. 'None of this work cost any extra money,' says Stephen, 'we've done it in house.' And whilst that doesn't mean it's free, at least it means (one assumes) they've avoided the worst excesses of some previous site rebuilds.

Is it better than what went before? Yes, I think so. It feels like a much smaller, slightly better organised site. But as I said last time, we expect a lot from FCO - with a famously digitally-savvy Foreign Secretary, a communications remit and a significant budget. I still think they can do more, and do it better. We await their new appointment with interest.

Comments ( 8 )

  1. Steph Gray says:

    Blimey, you're hard to please, Simon!

    I think Tumblr (and Posterous, for that matter) has a lot of potential in govt for internal audiences who don't quite have the patience to master WordPress and don't need quite the functionality.

    This phase of work is an impressive effort by anyone's standards, surely (especially given the scope of the sites involved). The fact it was done in house is the icing on the cake.

  2. shane dillon says:

    Steph, read your comment with some interest. I agree with you about Posterous and Tumblr they have potential for internal audiences. The FCO uses Posterous for internal audiences to support our staff who are involved with our Twitter presence. Posterous provides a quick and easy way to post content about how each use Twitter. Essentially we are trying to build a community using Posterous to share knowledge about Twitter. Like Tumblr, Posterous is easy to use and I see no problem with either being used. As for the idea that a "a major department of state" should not being using Tumblr, not sure quite why we would not. Equally that could apply to any web tool. Basically my personal view is that the size, prestige or title of a government department should not come into it whether you use or do not use a web tool.

    As for the FCO blog platform, I will let the content speak for itself, for example a great blog post from the UK ambassador to Eygpt, Dominic Asquith

    http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/asquithenglish/entry/marwa_el_sherbini

    As for the website, Steph thanks for the encouraging comments.

  3. Simon says:

    Why uncomfortable about Tumblr? Because it's a third-party service with no export facility - and as the T&Cs state, 'Tumblr may change, suspend or discontinue the Services at any time.' I know they all say that, but you have to make a call as to how safe and sustainable you think each third-party service is. And without intending any offence to Tumblr whatsoever, they aren't on the same level as Twitter or Facebook.

  4. I know the old mantra of keeping key stuff 'above the fold' is no longer seen as gospel. But the thing that strikes me when I hit the homepage is of the old splash page with 'click to enter our site'. Maybe I'm being a little unfair.

  5. Matt says:

    One of two statements is true:
    - the last (short lived) redesign was a waste of money.
    - this redesign is a waste of money.

    Assuming it's the first, we're talking about a considerable sum I'm sure. That said, it'll take time to fix all the glitches in the new design as it does with any new development.

    The idea that 'in-house' work is free is ridiculous, as it implies that the people who did it usually sit around doing nothing.

  6. Steph Gray says:

    @Matt, in-house work is not free, I quite agree. But compare the day rates of civil servants and the day rates of agency developers, factor in the diminished risk and hopefully smoother team communication, and it can be pretty damn good value for the taxpayer. Crucially, this depends on the team having the right skills, which I think FCO's probably does on the face of it.

    And if the team's anything like ours, I suspect a fair bit of the work was done out of pride and passion, in their own time.

  7. Matt says:

    You need to compare the cost of employing whoever it is. It's more - significantly more - than their salary. I'd be pretty surprised if they were civil servants (more likely to be contractors). Also - as mentioned above - it only got redesigned recently @ great expense - only to be thrown away... didn't it ?

  8. [...] look FCO website – Stephen Hale on the new FCO website and see also FCO’s modest redesign for a healthy [...]