I’ve seen a few ripples of excitement at the news that ABCe is to act ‘as a sole third party to independently validate the figures generated by an audit of government websites, in the largest project of its kind to date’, with ‘COI [to] publish comprehensive figures on the cost quality and use of government websites by June 2010’. Not exactly a surprise though, as this was in the COI document on Improving Government Online, published in March.
The exciting part, I suppose, is the fact that the figures are to be published. I wonder how. If Sir Tim really is to lead a push to make government publish its raw data, wouldn’t this make an excellent ‘best practice example’?
It’s coming to something when the editorial policy of a single page on a government department’s website is the subject of a parliamentary question.
Naturally, the Tories’ shadow secretary of state for Work & Pensions has a particularly keen interest in new additions to the DWP site’s What’s New page. The top of said page says it ‘lists all the latest additions to the site.’
Except that’s not quite the case, as the answer to Grayling’s PQ reveals: ‘The Department does not include every new addition to the website as this would make the “What’s new” section too long and unusable.’ So it’s not all the latest additions, then.
It’s a perfectly good idea to apply some kind of editorial criteria to what does or doesn’t get included on the list. But don’t then say ‘all’ at the top of the page. Call it a ‘highlights’ list or something.
But in fact, is there an audience for a page – or more likely, a feed – of all new content? In the last few days, marketing guru Seth Godin referenced a Robert Scoble point about the pointlessness of popularity, noting: “how many” is not nearly as valuable as “who”.
So sure, only a total pensions geek might be interested in knowing everything added to your site. But if you can find a way to automate it, isn’t that pensions geek precisely who you should be talking to? Or indeed, concentrating on?
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published its latest report on ‘Government on the Internet: Progress in delivering information and services online‘ a few weeks back. Much of it was pretty predictable: we know we don’t have an exact figure for the number of websites, we know we aren’t always brilliant on accessibility, and we’ve heard the social exclusion argument countless times (although we haven’t heard much from the Cabinet Minister responsible).
(Correction: I see Paul Murphy gave his first speech as Minister for Digital Inclusion a week or two back. Details on the Puffbox-produced Wales Office website… and hey, also available in Welsh.)
But its conclusions include some genuinely worrying data. ‘16% of government organisations have no data about how their websites are being used,’ it tells us – what, none at all? I’ve come across a few in my time, but never feared it was quite that many. Unforgivable in these post-Google Analytics days, surely. A quarter could provide no data on costs. Only 19% provided a full picture on cost and usage.
I’m not sure I can accept the assertion, based on NAO data, that ‘overall the quality (of government websites) has improved only slightly since 2001 and one in six sites has become significantly worse’. But it leads to an interesting aside, which seems to call for government departments to embrace user-generated content..?
The National Audit Office found that many government websites have yet to adopt approaches now commonplace among leading private sector websites. These include allowing users to post content onto websites and to provide comments about the services and information provided. … Some government sites are piloting such facilities, and some are well established including the online petitions facility on the 10 Downing Street website and the Department of Health’s feedback and testimonials site for NHS patients.
But perhaps the most striking recommendation of all is the proposal that ‘no new (websites) should be established without the agreement of the Government’s Chief Information Officer in the Cabinet Office’. That might be enforceable on a domain name level… but it surely can’t be workable in terms of subdomains or microsites. (And that’s before we think about areas on external community sites, whose usage was endorsed by the Power Of Information work.)