Jean-Luc, the Borg and LG web sites.

Martha Lane Fox

Some years back DirectGov here was the butt, rightly or wrongly, of many a jibe by local government web officers. Things have changed. They have collected up their skirts and are now running at a pace that can’t be ignored.

Moreover with the governments avowed intent to rip the costs out of just about everything, the pressure for us all to be subsumed by a single giant beast grows. And of course DirectGov is being reviewed at present. My concerns were not helped at all by reading La Lane Fox’s  tweets this week (Martha Lane Fox, she who is doing the review)  where she is commenting about her being immersed in Direct Gov.
Martha’s Tweet
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Marthalanefox

i have now read so many documents about directgov that my brain is melting – time to think now….

1:03 PM Sep 17th via web
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As Martha is the Governments web guru you’d be best to take notice of  her sneezes and consider them as possible harbingers of the industry catching a cold.

More on the review of Direct Gov here…

where it says…

“The review of Directgov will focus on four key areas. These are:

  1. central government’s objectives in digital delivery
  2. who should do what?
  3. sharing the platform
  4. trends in digital delivery”

It’s the 2nd and 3rd elements that make me twitch.

Out in the Shires the more forward thinking can see a future where individual ‘district’ sites may be redundant. It’s argued they could become a part of a single whole.

It takes little stretch of even the most unimaginative to see this potential grow into something larger, possibly into a giant pot into which we all place our content. In fact into Direct.gov.  As ever it’s the detail that may frustrate the process. The detail in fact in managing that process. Like keeping thousands of marbles together on the deck of a pitching ship. Tricky

Is this a view of an alternative future do you think; a future where we have no individual sites but share our data with a mother brain? Very “Jean Luc and the Borg”.

OK, I’ll give you,  it’s a black view of a strange landscape but one that I wouldn’t gamble on not happening.

Of course there remains a small element of LG web sites difficult to centralise i.e. the Comms element, but I’m sure that’ll not be allowed to stand in the way of the great God “Kostensenkung”. And perhaps that’s how it should be.

My lad could build a web site for £50

The public are rightly concerned with how much Local Government spend. Me too! After all it’s my money as well.

So it is with a curious mixture of agreement, at least with the sentiment of prudence,  and chagrin that I greet that statement which we all must have heard or read, about our web efforts… “My lad could’ve built that for £50. Why do you need to waste so much of my money?”

Commenter’s on your web site utter this phrase. Members of staff in the council where you work mumble something similar. Councillors have it in their eyes when they ask you questions.

I agree we spend lots of money on web sites, either by paying outside suppliers to do the work or our own IT development staff.  Simply put, building and maintaining local government web sites isn’t cheap.

Recently I had cause to look at something that was constructed on the basis of “why can’t we do this? It’s cheap and it looks good”.

Here is the list of problems with that “cheap and effective” set of pages I looked at…

Review of web pages…

Accessibility

No skip links

Non symantic markup e.g. empty <ul> (index page line 39) and <div> (index page line 41)

Index page – Orphaned <label> tag for ‘Order by:’ text

All textural information is included within the <form> tag meaning that a screenreader (in forms mode) wouldn’t read any of the relevant information on the page.

Forms – ‘Required’ text unreadable for visually impaired users due to red text on lighter red background.

Validate Code

Index page failed on:

Line 9, Column 56: Bad value X-UA-Compatible for attribute http-equiv on element meta.

Line 36, Column 44: Element br not allowed as child of element ul in this context. (Suppressing further errors from this subtree.)

Browser Checking

A number of issues eg.

CSS3 border-radius used extensively which doesn’t render in IE.

Layout issue in IE7 – Just a simple hasLayout fix would be required

Miscellaneous

HTML 5 DocType used, though not yet widely supported.

No Meta Data for page content etc.

Site doesn’t appear to work fully e.g.

  • ‘named section’ doesn’t have any data
  • <div> which is meant to hold suggested search terms doesn’t have any data

These are just the first glance issues without considering the usability of the pages at all.

This piece is not intended to knock others developers. It’s merely to highlight the differences.

Local Government sites are poured over by all and sundry from the SOCITM crew with their electronic ‘testmeisters’ marking us down for any slight misdemeanour let alone major infractions. RNIB  seeking to jump on people for  non compliance and the government with their recommendations. All are critical and admonishing if we get it wrong.

Commercial sites are relatively free of these encumbrances and it shows. They don’t have to be hidebound by the requirements of others in quite the same way. And yet it’s these very sites we are compared with when it comes to cost – not that I necessarily believe all commercial sites are cheap. They are not, but when you are compared to the 5 bob sites knocked up by the next-door neighbours 16 year old lad who doesn’t give a fig for compliance with standards, usability and government requirements it gets just a bit irksome.

Organisations like local and national newspapers are keen to point and shout if we dare spend money – sorting out these issues and complying with all the ‘papier-rouge’ inflicted on us by some self-seeking quango’s and central government.  I suppose it shows their ignorance and consequently we should take no heed, but it stings, no matter how ignorant the  critic

Why? Because it’s a cheap shot and  we’re an easy target? After all, the average individual – let alone a journalist – has no terms of reference on the other things councils do like building roads, providing education, providing social care or collecting rubbish etc. They’ve  never done any of these themselves so there is no comparative information…but they may have knocked up a web site and in their view it was easy.

So why so much? After all it’s just a piece of ‘electronic media’. It’s not real and so it can’t have cost much can it? And yet… HOW MUCH!

“My lad could’ve built that for £50”.

Ohhhh  Sighhhh….

Is all net traffic considered equal?

At the moment that would a ‘Yes” but Internet Neutrality is under threat!
So what I hear you say. Well consider this. How would you like your lovely and important  web site content deliberately slowed down at the receiving end unless you pay  to ensure it remains fast?  That is the threat the abolition of net neutrality poses . Sort of knocks a hole in the importance of the vaunted “ fast download speed’ requirement advocated by SOCITM and their suppliers of on-line tests.

At the moment it just relates to the wireless end but…

Greater and more informed minds than mine have written about this here,  here and here.

Would GOOGLE sell us down the river? Apparently a river only the wealthy will be able to cross?  Seems so. Google’s view is  here. And their explanation of their stance here.

Go take a look. Join the debate and have your say.
Which side of the fence are you? Will your council pay do you think?