Directgov under fire

I really set the cat among the pigeons when I noted the existence of a Directgov internal blog (which subsequently disappeared). I sort of regret mentioning it now; although it was a bit daft of them to hope it would remain a secret, I’m happier for knowing that some of them are experimenting with tools like blogs.

Beneath one of those posts, Paul Canning wrote a pretty damning comment on Directgov generally. He backs this up today with a review of their efforts (or otherwise) as regards search marketing. With evidence (which mostly holds up, although I’d question some of it), he rightly describes it as ‘not very efficient and either ill-advised or ill-directed’:

‘Search is the gatekeeper to Government services online, but in failing to take up Search Marketing with any seriousness government is abandoning citizens to the market for their advice at crucial moments. This is even more important when – as a result of a wider failure around linking – government advice does not show up automatically or with any consistency at the top of organic results.’

Absolutely. If anyone ever saw the presentations I regularly gave to Government Communications Network staff, you’ll recognise my point here: government finds itself in a competitive information market. It used to have a monopoly in terms of availability and authority. Both of those disappeared several years ago.

But I will come to Directgov’s defence in one respect. Paul wrote in my comments: ‘Just working with Google to boost eGov PageRanks would do more to send traffic to online services, many times more, than the entire multimillion pound ‘branding’ mess they’re running.’ There’s some merit in his comment, but it misses one important aspect. A key audience for the Directgov branding effort is the Civil Service itself.

The UK population sees one government, not twenty-odd Whitehall departments. But that didn’t exactly stop those Whitehall departments developing their own web presences, and usually several of them. Creating a content-rich Directgov was entirely the right thing to do. But to survive and thrive, it needs the engagement of the public sector – and to do that, it need profile. If a bit of real-world advertising helps in that regard, I don’t consider it a bad thing. There are better ways to spend public money, true. But without this spend, I hate to think how much more would be spent developing new, unconnected web presences.

6 thoughts on “Directgov under fire”

  1. You know, I don’t think DirectGov’s doing that bad a job really. Crucially they often have the content I’m looking for, and whilst they inevitably have information architecture issues with such a large amount of content, they manage fairly well.
    Incidentally, I have seen DirectGov ads on Google SERPs before. It shows that they are making an effort and are recognising that the route to their information likely isn’t through their front page but through Google – the point that has already been made by others.

  2. Hi Simon
    can I just clarify? I am not damning DirectGov. Unfortunately even my mild, usability critique of DGKids somehow becomes damning criticism …
    It is frustrating to see stuff got wrong, however when I look at things like DirectGov Kids this is more than any other government is doing. With search marketing, the US government isn’t getting it right either and I know DirectGov is better at most things than most other bits of government.
    Hurrah. I like innovation. that’s what the web’s about. It’s bureaucracy and it’s doings that drives me nuts …
    Yes, it’s great to see someone innovating, but it really is baby steps in turning the Tanker around to face the customer. Or to mash up another analogy, staring down the wave, looking at those SE results, how do you wade in and compete? Oh, wait, it’s THE GOVERNMENT. They set the rules.
    Look at what’s driving the Search Marketing which has happened. Why it’s ended up the way it has. Therin lies the rub. When no-ones taking to Google either, it’s all part of the same abandonment.
    Internally, I think you’re wrong (I won’t go into the clod-hopping dealings with local gov … plus DirectGov has to offer a good, useful, competitive product before anyone but the acolytes will enthusiastically support it, compare with Transport Direct).
    Most of the officers I deal with are and will become web-focussed in their work. Go through them and work it out, it’s most. They just haven’t realised it (those who have either love it or fear it).
    The scale of website visits/web use in every field imaginable is now enormous. comparable with calls, way past physical visits.
    I think the Web will get there before any internal marketing. campaign, you can already see this. I see it every day at work, the Web making the internal job easier.
    Who brought Google Maps into egov?
    Also, that’s yet another top-down approach. Part of becoming more like other web sites is being able to get information from the bottom to the top quickly. That means things like freeing up websites – Ministers / Politicians figuring out that one – so they can behave that way. (There’s also an extremely political angle to Search Marketing but that’s another story).
    There, I think it’ll take generational-change, frankly, before someone powerful starts focussing on the real issues like TALKING TO GOOGLE (maybe it’s because they spoke to the Tories first? I have wondered about that).
    Generational is reflected all the way to the coalface – the young ‘get it’, the old fear it. But even Milliband isn’t exactly shouting about the Web from the rooftops. Who else? Where’s the bloody leadership Simon … ?
    Paul Canning

  3. You must be aware of the massive website rationalisation project that is going on across Whitehall to cull the majority of the websites and refocus government information and services online around a small number of key web presences, including (primarily) DirectGov. This has got momentum and political will – but will take time to implement and has many practical difficulties for the bods like me who are charged with actually doing it. Promise to write about it soon.

  4. Hi again
    of course, immediately after mentioning Milliband I scroll post your posting of him speaking to camera at Google Zeitgeist.
    Don’t really take it back though as he doesn’t relate back to anything concrete except one Manchester Project, which appears to be a web marketing project (getting people to join a list against climate change).
    other than that it was very similar to the tories speak on web 2.0, hardly inspirational and very derivative.
    Milliband’s the best hope?

  5. Let’s put it this way. I’ve spoken to quite a few people in the e-gov business who were quite excited at the (admittedly remote) prospect of Miliband becoming PM. But let’s see what Mr Brown has up his sleeve. I know for a fact that things are happening behind the scenes.

  6. To be honest, I think Directgov probably aren’t quite as dumb as is being suggested here, though I’m sure they’re well behind the times on some fronts.
    What really worries me is the rationalisation project. When there’s just Directgov and BusinessLink left, plus a few random sites, then where will the impetus for new ideas come from? Directgov definitely hasn’t won the battle of ideas online in the public sector, but it’s certainly won political backing.
    It’s a bit frightening how quickly the momentum swung behind rationalisation – led by senior people I suspect are not entirely au fait with technology strategy, or indeed good business sense. But somehow the idea took hold.
    Disclaimer: I have no interest in any website under threat of rationalisation, nor do I work for DG.

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