Website rationalisation – its all a bit tricky
You may recall the announcement last January that the government was to close a good chunk of ‘.gov’ websites to improve both customer experience (by shifting content/online services into DirectGov or Businesslink) and efficiency (by reducing each department’s website support and development costs).
Conceptually this is pretty much a no brainer – most people accept that DirectGov/ Businesslink has visitor traffic that their servers could only dream about trying to support, and there are many sites out there (one estimate puts the total number at over 2000 but who really knows…) which could benefit from tighter control, consistency of presentation etc to ensure the user experience is better and the content up to date.
That’s all well and good, the difficulty comes when trying to persuade the owners of the sites destined for ‘retiring’ to agree to all this in practice. Not so easy. Many of the organisations affected have been deliberately set up at arms length from government for all sorts of sound reasons. However good or bad you may think these sites are, they have been owned, paid for and supported by these organisations and letting go is hard, however compelling the reasons might be.
These organisations also find it hard to visualise how their information and services might sit within DirectGov. In the conversations I have had, opinions have ranged from ‘people will never be able to find it’ to ‘that orange is horrible’.
But they are missing an important point. The quality of government websites (in terms of quality of editorial, presentation, navigability, metadata etc) is incredibly variable. If a consistent approach to these issues resolves a lot of the problems then it will make it easier for users to find government (with a small ‘g’) online information and services via search engines rather than trying to hunt it down.
Presenting their stuff on DirectGov / Businesslink will also likely expose them and their responsibilities to a much greater potential audience than they could hope to achieve on their corporate website at the moment.
Heads of eCommunications across Whitehall have been tasked with negotiating website rationalisation across the organisations sponsored by the central departments, not an easy task when we already have full time jobs, and a tricky piece of work to complete to a tight timetable.
Its not an easy thing to do, and there are difficult conversations ahead (we’re just completing the latest phase which is assessing the sites owned by government agencies and non-departmental public bodies), but it is an important piece of work with ministerial leadership behind it.