Loosemore leads Lane Fox vision work

Confirmation on the Cabinet Office’s blog of something that’s been known within the Whitehall webby world for a little while now: Tom Loosemore (ex BBC, Channel 4, Ofcom, Show Us A Better Way, etc etc) has been ‘asked’ to put together an ‘alpha’ version of what a Single Government Domain website, as proposed by Martha Lane Fox, might look like.

My feeling was that, although Martha’s principle was sound, I feared for its execution. With the ‘right people’ involved, it could be made to happen; with the usual people involved, however, it would almost certainly go the same way as previous attempts.

Tom Watson MP took a very similar view of things. Writing at Labour Uncut last November, he said:

As Martha rightly points out, to achieve the changes required to make engaging with HMG online a simple, pleasurable experience requires a massive change in culture and technical expertise. And Francis [Maude] is also humble enough to know that he’s going to need the flair and talent of Britain’s best web people. He needs the A-team.

… and indeed, one of the names Tom (W) went on to list was Tom Loosemore. It was a suggestion I entirely agreed with: indeed, I’d mentioned Tom as an ideal candidate for the CEO Digital position (although he himself didn’t agree!).

Tom and his team – which also includes FCO’s Jimmy Leach as the designated Editorial Lead, and has called on various ‘usual suspects’ from the gov/web field (including yours truly, briefly thus far) – have been working out of a deserted floor of COI’s Hercules House offices for a couple of months now, starting with a thorough analysis of traffic and search data from various sources, to identify exactly what the public wants from its government.

Subsequently, there’s been quite a lot of activity over at ScraperWiki, showing a combination of political material, consultations and general public information. There’s an alphagov account at Github. And intriguingly, there have been a couple of FOI requests made via What Do They Know, in Tom’s name, to get JobCentrePlus-related information out of DWP.

Some early visuals – rather bold, post web-2.0 you might call them – have been shown to senior Whitehall webbies, but it’s far too early to offer a judgement on them. The Cabinet Office blog includes a pledge that the team ‘will be making public their progress as they go’, and ‘will report when the first iterations are public’: which, I believe, should be in a matter of weeks rather than months. Meanwhile, you’ll probably want to start following @alphagov on Twitter:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/alphagov/status/52762689625268225″]

Whether or not you like the thought of this initiative, or its hush-hush approach (thus far), there’s no escaping the fact that Francis Maude had given his provisional approval to the notion of unification; and to get us all to a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, we need exercises like this to test out what it will/would actually mean. And you’d struggle to put together a team with better experience, skills and insight to do so.

PS Don’t forget, Francis Maude and Ian Watmore are in front of the Public Administration Select Committee tomorrow morning (Wednesday). I suspect this may come up. Follow the action live at parliamentlive.tv from 09:45.

PPS I couldn’t resist a cryptic tweet this morning: ‘Tempted to register betagov.co.uk – it’s still available, and might come in, you know, handy.’ Amusing to note that it’s since been claimed by Richard Pope (aka memespring).

Jimmy Leach returns to Whitehall

News from the Foreign Office: they’ve selected Jimmy Leach, former head of digital at 10 Downing Street, currently ‘Editorial Director for Digital’ at The Independent, for the recently-advertised position of FCO’s Head of Digital Engagement. He’s due to start in February.

It’ll be great to have him back: as I’ve written previously, I think he effectively kickstarted the wave of innovation around third-party services like YouTube, not to mention the e-petitions site, and did so without ever actually relaunching the No10 website.