Open season and hold the front page?

The e-summit last week prompted coverage across most media, including a pretty good piece in Tthe Guardian. I say pretty good, because it essentially rehashed old ground – the Self Assessment problems, the PRO problems, Iraq dossier and so on. All of those are good and true things, but they’re a bit tired – it’s not as if every time I read the Guardian (which is not often) I lambast them for being wrong so many times – wrong at spelling, wrong on opinion and wrong on page layout or whatever. The article did give some options for the future – a weekly webcast for the PM or a new hompage for No10. If that’s the limit of innovation in the Private Sector who are so hot to trot on this stuff, then really we should be worried. People don’t come to government sites to see the PM and they don’t particularly go to No10’s home page (although it is one of the more regularly visited sites, partly because it has regular news updates, speeches from the PM, briefs from Alistair Campbell and partly because it’s a good tourist site) – they come to government for help in solving problems that only government can help with. So information on tax, setting up companies, claiming benefits, finding a job – those are all common search terms on ukonline. Now more importantly I suspect, over time they will come less and less to government sites for those problems because the services will be available through an increasing variety of intermediaries who take the base offer from government and wrap an additional layer of value around it. We’re not at that point yet, but suspect we will be 2, maybe 3 years from now.

So that brings me to the other post of the day, from James Crabtree over at Voxpolitics. “Hold the front page” he says … and links to yet another turgid report on how awful government websites are. Same old, same old. Another company with a service to sell (in this case, about some large number of pounds for a full report on a big government website) issues a press release, vaguely touting their service and pointing out how they can help. Can they? Well only if you want to know that x% of the errors on the site are badly formatted HTML that remains invisible to the client, y% are other invisible errors and there are a few broken links. I can come up with a bit more than that without spending that kind of money. But so little innovation in thinking about what services to put online, how to make them easy to use, how to genuinely do new things that are not available offline. Now that would be good info and would help us tune our own work. Instead its open season on the easy target. James – I thought you knew better.

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