You go away for a week

I’m back after a week in the mountains doing some skiing. Thinking about it, I call it skiing but plenty of others might not agree with me. Anyway, whilst I was away not only did we launch the first version of the Online Government Store, known as Directgov

There look to have been quite a few stories on the site, with one or two astute observations that I’ll come to in a minute. The new site contrasts with the “old site”, ukonline, in many ways – but most obviously in look and feel. Ukonline looks like this:

Both were built using the same core engine, DotP, which “forces” a few consistent pieces – thinks like the tabbed navigation, the search engine in the top right, but then lots of others things be up to the design team. For example, the Department of Health’s website, which also runs on DotP, looks like this:

On to the comments: James Crabtree, over at VoxP, wonders why there are so many external links and ponders whether more use of XML would solve this. He’s right, in some ways at least. XML feeds from sites that we linked to would allow us to “suck in” content from that site and present it within the DirectGov world. That needs a few things but, obviously, it needs the sending sites to be set up so as to publish XML; but then it also needs guidelines for each site on whether whitelabeling is allowed, whether it has to be branded, whether text can be chopped up and so on. There would also be some issues about change control – if the text on a page changed, what would the editorial team have to do about it (all things that can be bypassed with a link, although we do check to see if text has changed significantly); there’s another set of issues about the whats and wherefores of XML feeds (or RSS), whereby they are rarely used as intelligent feeds, only as simple lists (e.g. the last 10 news stories); finally, there’s the issue that RSS today is only about headers and links (or full body copy) and tone and style could make for big differences in understanding. Still, it needs to happen – or, we could simply, have everyone write their content in the directgov house style and host it internally. – you can check in, but you can never leave.

Mike Cross wonders about end to end transactions and, particularly, the role for local government on the site. I’ll leave the latter to the experts. The former, though, is a very interesting question. The hardest thing to do, I think, would be to take a transaction that is explicitly understood to be with, say, the Inland Revenue (like Self Assessment) and rebrand/repackage/represent it in a new style – it would be confusing for everyone all round. But, if we were to look at transactions that noone really owns – say, single engines that calculate benefits/tax credits entitlement or business regulations for a given type of business/business size/business geography – then a site like directgov (or its business equivalent) would be an ideal home. Then the transaction can be built from scratch and designed in a joined up way. Folks tell me all the time that web stervices will solve the issue of how to handle transactions like Self Assessment in sites like directgov and my response is, well, let’s just say I’m waiting to see it.

There’s a funny quote that popped up a few times, in VNU, for instance

“With UKonline, a single change could cost several thousands of pounds to make; now we can make changes easily,” said the e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder.

That was true in 2000 but hasn’t been true since about January 2001, so I think there’s either a misquote in there or a misunderstanding driven from the original ukonline not being built inside a content management system

And, talking of Andrew Pinder … But also (in the list of things this week) … the e-envoy redux job, aka the head of e-government was announced … and lots of commentary on that too:

e-health insider, who ponder whether Richard Granger is up for the job

silicon, who mix up DotP and the Gateway and say that Dotp was developed by Sapient and Microsoft … but Sapient and Sun would be correct.

and contractor UK … who wonder how everything will be pulled together by the end of 2005

For those who want to apply, the job ad is on the times site.

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