Friday, 20 February 2015

"One site to rule them all..."

If, like me, you have cause to visit any of the UK government's websites you will find there has been lots of changes recently, and many of the separate sites for different depts have all come together under one umbrella domain, from which much of the old useful info has vanished and lots of arty farty new stuff has appeared.

The first impression was that I had landed on one of those ubiquitous domain parking pages full of spurious links and advertisements for dubious pharmaceuticals or gambling setups. Who thought that was a good design for the UK government portal?

Scrolling down past the parking page section, I found a notice on the front page that says,
The websites of all government departments and many other agencies and public bodies are being merged into GOV.UK. 

Well that's not quite true, as revealed on the page mentioned above, where it says the following have merged: 
  • All 24 Ministerial Departments
  • The offices of the PM and DPM
  • 9 of 22 non-Ministerial departments (are these not government departments?)
  • 144 of 349 Public Agencies and Bodies (it should be 145 but perhaps they have mislaid one somewhere...)
  • 71 High Profile Groups (go read the list if you really want to know who they are!)
  • 12 Public Corporations (ditto)
  • 3 Devolved Administrations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales)
So when it says all government departments are being merged, what it really means is 35 of the 48 have merged (well that's almost 73%, which is pretty close-ish!) and the rest are not going to do so. As various wise men have observed over the years, there are "lies, damn lies and statistics".

However back to super-gov...
I quite often popped over to various of the old sites to look something up, and there was always lots of useful info on each of the dedicated domains. Sites like the Charity Commission, DEFRA, Dept. of Work and Pensions, OFSTED, all had helpful easy to find pages, which were designed to suit the data presented. Now we have a one-size-fits-all supersite that looks like a social media wannabe. All it lacks are the avatars of each Minister down the right hand side and the option to Like or Poke a Minister (oooerrr missus!) and the job's a good'un!

It has sections for Popular on GOV.UK (apparently student finance, driving theory tests and renewing vehicle tax comes in there;  Most Active (student finance, driving theory tests and renewing vehicle tax figure in there too!);  or if you are bored and want something to read that's allegedly better than watching paint dry you could check out GOV.UK blogs - Search the list of GOV.UK blogs, and find one to match your interest.  Here you can find such delights as, "My visit to Manchester: how the Civil Service is becoming more innovative, collaborative and efficient" (presumably by going to Manchester); "How digital inclusion can support wider policy outcomes" (clearly not written by the Plain English Campaign);  or even "Knocking down the Towers of SIAM" (I thought it had been renamed Thailand years ago, and just why are we knocking their towers down anyhow?!)

I suspected it was just me being older and crotchetier than usual, not liking change and new looks and all that, but it seems I am not alone in my scorn for the new setup. The Register (whose strapline reads, "Biting the hand that feeds IT") also seems to think it's not fit for use... and they have been gathering interesting evidence that all did not go according to plan!  If you'd rather read something consdierably more interesting than a blog why not make yourself a cuppa, grab a biscuit, and read the nightmare story of how not to create a government website!

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