Government website = blog platform?

I got some bad news yesterday. Last week, I took an urgent call from a colleague working in central government; a new (but quite large) public sector organisation (which I won’t name) was in desperate need of a new CMS-driven website, but its long-term solution was still months away. Was there anything I could suggest? And could they have it by the end of September? Red rag to a bull… 🙂

Within a couple of days, we had put together a proposal to build the whole thing in WordPress MU (multi user). In many respects it’s the logical extension of much of my recent work and thinking. ‘Press releases’ is just a blog. ‘FOI disclosure log’ is just a blog. Want to keep stakeholders informed of activity on your project, or in your department? That’ll be a blog, plus a few static ‘pages’ forming a pseudo-primary nav. And so it goes on. Plus of course, all the inherent goodness of a blogging system – built-in search,sidebar widgets, subject tagging, RSS, comments if you’re feeling brave. The price? Only just into five figures.

It was genius. Design, development and deployment measured in (literally) days, rather than months. And if you’re prepared to apply the ‘near enough is good enough’ rule, everyone gets what they’re most eager for.

It got rejected, ostensibly because it was too ‘out there’. I’m reminded of President Kennedy’s inspiring words about the 1960s space programme:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

How many organisations do you know which are happy with the big, ugly content management system they spent hundreds of thousands (or indeed, millions) on? Not many, I’ll bet. Yet we keep doing and re-doing it. Meanwhile, millions of bloggers prove how much you can do with an open-source tool, a few community-derived plugins, and a genuine desire to communicate.

So I’m afraid, despite Jeremy’s upbeat comments about Thursday’s government heads of e-communication meeting, I’m feeling a bit depressed this morning. To be in with a chance of meeting the deadline, I had to start before getting the go-ahead – so that’s a few days’ hard work largely wasted. I know I’m going to look at whatever they end up with, and know it could have been so much more. I’m worried that it’s easier to sell a £100,000 product than it is to sell an identical – or indeed, a better – £10,000 product. I fear we might be in an Emperor’s New Clothes scenario.

If anyone out there is feeling brave, please get in touch while the idea’s still fresh.

6 thoughts on “Government website = blog platform?”

  1. Simon
    I’m not really in a position to implement your idea, but I recognise the barrier you hit and sympathise. IT departments and buying decisions baffle me. I can’t think of a single thing that would fulfill the requirements of a CMS-driven website within weeks (or days) that wouldn’t be one of the blog (or other open-source) platforms, and they’d do it perfectly. Do you know what their long-term solution is?
    You didn’t say the word ‘blog’ when you were presenting it, did you? Surely you know better than that?

  2. Madness.
    the solution you describe sounds perfect for the solution at hand – particularly given that a longer-term CMS was planned anyway.
    maybe you could have skinned this in a way which intimated a discount on price if they indeed DID go ahead with the CMS?

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