Cabinet Office moves step closer to killing Directgov
Test drive new Gov.uk beta build today
A beta build of the Cabinet Office's single domain website project has now been opened up for public scrutiny.
The previous incarnation of the site - Alpha.gov.uk - has been killed in the process. It has now morphed into the capped-up-cos-we-mean-business GOV.UK. The incumbent Directgov is expected to be sent to the knacker's yard if the single domain is signed off by the government.
In August last year, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude dished out a further £1.6m for development of GOV.UK. Since then, its team, led by Tom Loosemore, upped sticks from the dingy Directgov offices in Lambeth to Aviation House in Holborn.
Not all of the single domain test build is public-facing as of today, however. A "corporate publishing platform" version of the beta is being enthusiastically fingered behind closed doors.
According to a blog post penned by Loosemore, that chunk of the site is expected to replace "most of the activity currently hosted on numerous departmental publishing environments".
Separately, his developers are also working on a first draft of something Loosemore described as a "Global Experience Language" - to make the design and usage of the site consistent throughout.
More releases of the beta will follow - the second is expected in the next few weeks, followed by a third test build at the end of March.
"The GOV.UK beta builds on years of work and learning across government and outside it about how to deliver great services to users. In the first instance it is designed to replace the content you’ll currently find at Directgov," said Loosemore.
"Directgov is a tremendous achievement and has consistently delivered huge value to its 30m+ visitors each month. However it is now 8 years old – an eternity in web years – and the user experience it offers is showing its age."
Cabinet Office says new site won't look anything like this beaten up Directgov 'estate'
It's obviously still in development, and Loosemore added that the "redesign of transactions, or government gateway, will take time".
That may be, in part, due to the fact that the Cabinet Office's grand plan to farm out the handling of taxpayers' online identities to the private sector will almost certainly be subjected to Blighty's laws.
The Cabinet Office gave us this statement about how much cash had so far been spent from the budget:
There are three deliverables* for the beta of gov.uk of which this release is just the first. The overall project budget is £1.7 million. We are currently running significantly under budget and are on schedule.
Anyhoo, the team wants your feedback. Here's the beta site. Go break it. ®
* This appears to be the government's new word for THINGS.
More centralisation nonsense
Too much stuff on one site, difficult to navigate and anything useful, deliberately hidden i.e. "free road tax criteria for the disabled" "carers credit" etc etc
The beta site is horrid, all style and no substance, it looks like myspace meets a bad record label site.
More iof our money spaffed on vanity projects, all whilst we are "broke" and "have nothing left" and "disability benefits are unsustainable" meaning many disabled people in work will end up stuck at home, living in squalor as they will lose their care allowance, which pays for someone to help them bathe and eat etc all because ATOS decide over a highly trained specialist that they "don't need the help" "are putting it on" etc
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Directgov is in need of tidy up and a prune. But it works well enough.
This smells of desperation to spend money on something/anything for the sake of it.
OK, I'll bite
There's already a website that does this - Direct.gov. Problems with the new initiative are:
Outside talent has been drafted in to sweep away all the working UK gov websites, and centralise them in a new megasite. However, they don't have the domain knowledge that has accumulated within the agencies, and haven't done the groundwork. Once you dig, you uncover lots of tricky exceptions. There's no glamour in dealing with those, so we can then expect the superstars to tell the incumbents, 'OK, we've done the hard bit, the rest is up to you'.
The mega-platform is fully buzzword compliant but the transactional websites must interface with a variety of legacy back-ends. Often that means the new platform will need expensive bespoke middleware.
The mega-site approach was taken rather than one of developing toolkits, standards, and guidelines. So, agencies can't use their existing teams to make changes, but must request them from Web Central, with a consequent huge impact on time and costs. As the new platform has no CMS, this applies not only to functionality but to simple text changes.
The strategy is flawed as the megasite approach only works for the mass audience of undifferentiated customers. There are many communities who need to interact with Government and the same portal won't work for all. Imagine a home page that says -
- Looking for a job?
- Need a TV licence
- Want to buy a second-hand aircraft carrier?
- Can you decommission a nuclear power station?
Clearly, almost every agency still needs it's own website - as illustrated by the fact that the Government Digital Service hosts its own blog separately to their new beta.
So, all the supply-side shortcomings of Direct.gov replicated for a few incremental improvements on the demand side. This plus the second-coming of the megaplatform fiasco - the government tried before and spunked £35million on something called DotP (Delivering on the Promise) before quietly canning it. But some of us remember…