Prompted by an old, old posting by Jon Udell that he recently referred to again on mindshare, I wondered what mindshare might mean for government websites. It’s a topic that I’ve mentioned before in the context that government doesn’t have any. That is, the more websites you have, the harder you make it for people to find what they need, the lower mindshare you’ll have.

Jon said if you put something like “link:www.diverdiver.com -url:diverdiver.com” into a search engine (I used alltheweb, which has recently replaced google as my default), you get both a count of the number of sites that link to the site you input (less internal links) and a list of them. Is that a useful measure. Jon actually goes on to do things that I don’t understand with scripts to refine the results (something that given a command line I could probably figure out, but you don’t want to know the last time that I saw such a thing).

I ran this for a few government web sites, first showing all links (excluding internal ones) and then excluding all government links (i.e. .gov.uk). That’s not perfect as it doesn’t exclude thinks like, say, parliament.uk or mod.uk, but I think it’s close enough. What I was interested in was whether the percentage of non-government sites linking in would vary across the domain. The slide below shows a selection of the answers.

You’ll see, I hope, that although ukonline.gov.uk has the highest number of links, less than half come from sites that are not government. Given that it’s supposed to be the entry point to government, I’d expected it to be much higher. But comparing it with Firstgov.gov (the confusingly named US version of ukonline), it looks normal – 45% versus 42% in the US.

Departmental websites in both US and UK score much higher percentages of non-government referrals, meaning (I think) that their brands are better understood. Accountants link to the Revenue and so on. Is that right I wonder?

The link count, though, falls dramatically after the Foreign Office (which is getting a lot of links because of SAR, the war and it’s general value for finding out about travel information I imagine). And the most surprising count of all was Number 10’s own website with only just over 1,000.

For comparison, I looked at three other sites: Scripting.com (Dave Winer’s long-time blog), the Beeb (now there’s a well-linked to brand) and also Upmystreet, which gives local information based on postcodes. I thought that would have been higher. Of course, there was no point in excluding government links to those (I did check, doing it for Upmystreet shows practically no change).

So, what does that all mean?

First off it means, I believe, that the “central sites” are linked to by other government departments (in the UK and the US) because they’ve been told to, yet they are not trusted as useful or definitive sources by third parties who point their own consumers to the right place in government. That’s pretty hard if it’s true.

If the notion of a “single entry” to government is right, then there needs to be some serious work on (1) awareness, so that it does indeed become the first port of call, (2) content, so that it has what people need, when they need it and that the content is definitively accurate and trusted, and (3) a network of partnerships and interchanges with commercial sites so that citizens can pass back and forth between sites to which they have granted a share of their mind, comfortably and easily. I think it also means that if government is going to establish a serious web presence, then consolidation is the only way to go – the kind of link numbers shown do not bode well for mindshare.

P.S. Just catching up on my reading, via NTK.net, and I see that Upmystreet has gone into receivership. I haven’t seen this news elsewhere, but I haven’t been particularly looking for it. If it’s true then it’s a blow to the idea of delivering local information to people efficiently and effectively. Government hasn’t managed to do this yet and Upmystreet was one of the few to do it successfully. Coupled with faxyourmp, it will be a crying shame if they disappear.

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