It’s deja vu all over again

Today, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day. Two years and 7 days ago we launched the Government Gateway, certainly the first joined up government technology initiative in the UK and probably the only in the world at the time. Since then, just under a million transactions have flowed through its servers, on their way to back end systems in the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Dept of Work and Pensions and many other departments. Less than we expected? Certainly. But volumes are way up on this time last year and have exploded in the last month with the end of the Self Assessment filing deadline.

One year and 11 days ago we relaunched We named the project “Groundhog” for reasons that those of you who were close to me when the project kicked off will be only too familar. Those not familiar need only look at the link for a clue. UKonline’s traffic is up more than 10-fold in the last year, maybe even 15-fold. Not bad at all given where we started. Although my team delivers the platform for ukonline, we don’t do anything for the content (I occasionally throw in a few ideas but they’re usually, correctly, rejected for being crap) – that’s the editorial folks in the Office of the e-Envoy, who have done well to make the site a destination point for many people looking for help with government services, online or offline.

This week’s surprise result (and I do mean surprise because no-one I spoke to was expecting it) was ukonline featuring in Practical Internet’s Top 100 websites in the UK (that link goes to the magazine’s website, but you won’t find the top sites there for some reason – maybe they’re somewhere else. For now you’ll just have to take my word for it). Anyway, apparently they asked 50 famous people (Richard Branson is a name I remember from the list) what their favourite sites were, and ukonline came in at 30th place. Not bad, and the only government website to feature. Before you ask, I wasn’t in the list of voter and nor was anyone else from OeE. While 30th is nice from such a select audience, I won’t be celebrating until we hit 30th or better (top 15 would be nice) in a survey of the general public – then I’ll know that government websites have arrived.

Other surveys out this week show that it might be perhaps only a short while before the top 15 spot is claimed. The Register picked up on a press release from Keynote Systems. I hunted around for who they might be … there’s a few options. They might be Keynote, the Internet Performance Authority, or they might be Keynote Market Research, or they might even be Keynote Systems. Anyway, depsite hunting through those sites I was stumped for the source report – just shows how unhelpful the ‘net can be sometimes. So, we’ll have to go with The Register’s summary which says some good things about government websites and some bad things. The bad things are that there are broken links – as many as 10-25 on some sites. Actually I think that’s not too bad – links break all the time and no-one that I know fixes them in real time, so at any single snapshot with thousands of links on a site, having just 1% or less broken is probably not a bad result. Some overall conclusions…

“There were examples of ‘best practice’, particularly among new sites or portals established specifically to deliver e-government services to the general public, alongside government Web sites which had a number of integrity issues such as poor image optimisation, large pages and broken links,” said the research

And then some good stats:

NHS Direct Online receives half a million hits a month. UK online is the fastest growing government website, with an average 119 per cent growth per month. More than 500,000 people use UK online a month

I’m on record from June 2001 (and in an NAO report from the end of 2001) as saying that two million visitors a month might be a good target. At the time ukonline was less than 5,000 per month. So we’ve grown 10 fold per year since then, and only need to grow 4 fold this year. Two million would really be something I think. It looks hard, but maybe do-able.

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