Gov web boss: Our sites look like bleak council estates
Vows to ape Google, make pages more sexy
The Cabinet Office's freshly uploaded digital boss Mike Bracken is on a mission to sex-up government services online.
At the moment, he views Directgov as a "pretty bleak" landscape and illustrated his point at the supplier's conference in Whitehall this morning by providing a photograph of what appeared to be a rundown council estate.
He wants the GDS (government digital services) to be on a par with other major web properties such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, all of whom - Bracken claimed - "put users first".
Reading from the Martha Lane Fox script, the ex-Guardianista, who has been in his job since July, said the government's approach to digital services needed to change.
"[When] we think about ourselves in size and scale, we should think of ourselves as one of these huge internet companies," he said, pointing at a slide that listed the aforementioned web giants.
"And yet we don't, instead we think of ourselves as departments," said Bracken, who was also keen to show off his government-issued Apple Mac laptop. Apparently being in possession of such kit illustrated that things were finally changing within UK.gov.
He said the government needed to understand "user demand" by sorting out the interface and transactions system to make the services more "attractive to use". Bracken said that the GDS team, which is currently beavering away at a closed beta version of the successor to Directgov, was "relentlessly" focussed on users.
"We don't know what the world will look like from a user perspective two years from now," he admitted, citing Apple's iPad as an example of how quickly a new gadget can catch on.
Bracken said that a digital development framework would be made available to suppliers in the next few months. He called on smaller, more agile procurers to pile into the process.
"There is far too much distrust within this [supply chain] system," he said. "I don't really have time for that... We've got to get over each other and build a network of trust." ®
just making them useful rather than sexy?
Many attributes more important than a pretty website
My attitude to using government websites is very close to my attitude to shopping. It's a necessary evil and to be minimised. Therefore my approach to both is: get in, get my stuff, get out - with the minimum time spent, no "looking around" and avoiding things that are examples of form over function.
So if this guy is talking about aiding navigation, providing helpful shortcuts and sensible defaults then I'm all for it. But if what he really wants is a vanity site that he can show off to his friends, but takes overly long to load (especially when under stress; such as when the tax deadline looms, masks "the true path" with unnecessary eye-candy, or requires specific browsers/plugins/OS's to support the wizziness - then forget it.
It would be best ...
if they were standards compliant, clear and up-to-date - forget the eye-candy.