Sitemorse. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Reputation on line article

Those chaps at Sitemorse, never slow to throw bricks at what they ‘judge’ as failing councils, picked on Lincolnshire County Council last week.

Using a spurious article from ‘The Sun’ where LCC were accused of spending £35,000 on a consultant to teach them how to Tweet, Vikki Chowney at Reputationonline here chose to construct a piece on Twitter in large organisations. Sitemorse used this article as a reference to say this… ” Rather than spending £35,000 twittering, perhaps Lincolnshire should focused on sorting out the complaince, quality and finctionality of thier own site as it was the greatest faller, dropping 254 places, scoring 3.77.”

Setting aside the own goals of the spelling mistakes; If ever you wanted a demonstration of how a piece is wrong in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place then this is it.

As I no longer work for Lincolnshire County Council I am not here to defend their wasteful spend on a Comms consultant – you can read all about Mr Fletcher, the consultant in question, and just how much he has cost the tax payers of Lincolnshire here and here – what I am commenting on is the use of totally wrong information to rig up a jibe  at an authority simply because they don’t use your service.  Fletcher’s report was not about teaching LCC to Tweet. So far as I am aware Fletcher knows nothing about Twitter other than not to use it.

I have talked in the past about  Sitemorse’s curious practice of kicking their potential clients where it hurts and then expecting them to become users of their service. Here we see jackboot marketing ably demonstrated yet again by these masters of tact.

I have said to Sitemorse before they should check their facts, not only, as in this case, when they take a swipe at an erstwhile client but also when they construct their reports. Oh yes, and thay shud chack there spillung two.

Birmingham DIY web site was free wasn’t it?

Iron man statue

Gormley's Iron Man, Victoria Square, Birmingham

I declare an interest here. I’m a Brummie and proud of it. Imagine then my feelings about the furore over the cost of the web site and the setting up of the FREE! DIY site by a bunch of web coves eager to prove a point.

I was disappointed of course; the largest authority in Europe spent the largest amount of cash on it’s web site and some said it wasn’t very good either. As a Brummie my shoulders sagged.

Having ran a large local government web site for the past – too many years – I am fully aware of the problems besetting every web architect / manager/ content editor etc from out of date data to “I’m just too busy darling to bother with YOUR web site” (your web site?) type attitudes of the care-less folks across the organisations. Perhaps that’s a bit unfair. They have their jobs to do too.  Nevertheless content is a pain and the churn rate is so high that… well it fair makes your head spin.

I’m guessing what Birmingham achieved is a good scaffold on which to build further services and data repositories and that costs money. But I’m not here to defend the eye watering figures mentioned.

What I am here to argue is that it’s really easy to pick. Pick, pick, pick, “Oh I wouldn’t have done this or that” or the ” I could do that for nothing” – as appears the case with the DIY site for Birmingham.

Also these DIY or cheap and cheerful sites don’t have the imposed standards hanging around their metaphoric necks. They can simply ignore them. Up-time being just one of those and from what I have heard here the DIY site for Brum wasn’t exactly stable, to say the least.

In a nutshell it’s pretty easy to to talk of the impossible but doing it is another thing altogether. And it’s even easier to whine from the sidelines without having any responsibilities for the finished product whatsoever.

Certainly my experience has shown that internal critics of a site, when sat down and asked what they would do to resolve the set of problems facing web managers, suddenly find the current ( though criticised) solution amazingly competent.

I have similar views about the so called “Free” open source software. What’s free about software that requires an unspecified amount of “techies” – and they are not free – within the council to build it so it works? It’s not free at all. I heard recently of one council that used  open source CMS software and then had 4 techies developing, running and managing it + those who actually ran the site and chased the content.

So all this “free” glistery stuff is not savings gold is it?

Flack jacket and helmet on at the ready. I sense incoming.

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…


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


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….

We’re all useless. The Guardian says so. It’s the silly season.

Guardian piece

Local Government spends far too much on web site design when it could all be done for £15,000. That’s the gist of a couple of conjoined reports from the Telegraph and the Guardian this week here and here.

The Guardian drew these conclusions and figures from a piece of work by a journalist, a “datajournalist” no less, who, after sending an FOI request to all councils, ‘discovered’ councils spend money on talking to their clients via a cheaper  more cost effective channel.

Birmingham, it seems, spent over £2m on their new web site design. By analysing data the Guardian’s researchers deduced it could be done for £15k on average. So why the excessive spend?

I’m not here to defend Birmingham’s spend ( though as a rabid Brummie I have a view) but the set of questions sent out in the FOI was flawed as it allowed folks to provide answers – or not, as the case may be – which made it impossible to compare like with like.

The Guardians conclusions  seemed to depend on how much we each spent on external suppliers. If you didn’t use one then it showed your costs as nil. And if you did… well the slewed results are obvious.
No mention was made, because the question wasn’t asked, of how much was spent internally on staff to design, construct and manage the site (not the content). I heard recently of a council who has 5 full time members of staff working on their site and developing it to meet changing needs. That has to be £125,000 a year in anybody’s money.

Telegraph piece

Telegraph piece

This shows  it’s simply not possible to compare Apples with Apples from the data collected. Comparisons can be made but will be flawed.

It got worse as  inaccuracies in the way the data was used became evident. For Example the data provide by my own council showed a cost of new web site design (one of the questions asked) as being about 18p per head of population. The guardian declared it as being £1.11 per head using  a population of over 1million. We don’t have a population of over a million, let alone that sort of budget. I thought journalists, especially data ones, checked their facts. To get the facts wrong and then to compound that with arithmetical errors is simply sloppy. All they had to do was divide the amount of spend by the population.

Our comm’s department complained to the Guardian so they corrected the offending figure. To £18.20. What!

Our comm’s department complained again and this time the Guardian, after much red faced appologies, got it right. I wonder how much of the manipulation of others data was similarly mishandled?

I’m not against FOI requests per se. They do lend a transparency to the processes in Local Government which should be welcomed but when they are used in such a confusing, dogmatic, and yet, inept manner I find it difficult to defend their use; and indeed defend the masses of time spent on making the replies.

Looking at the gaps in the Guardian’s listings; surely the real story is how many Local Authorities didn’t answer the FOI at all. That would be 96%.  No.09%. Argh… I give up. I’ll leave you to work it out for yourself in true Guardian style.

One comment on the Guardian page seems to grasp the issues we face



17 Aug 2010, 12:58PM
This information is not only wrong, it is very missleading – the results of FOI questions that were not specific and the answers to which have been adapted and false representation has resulted in wrong details being printed.

Local authorities have to follow very strict rules on use and access to all, accessability guidelines are among the toughest in the world in the UK for authorities.

To display the hoem made site for Birmingham council as being cheaper and better value is wrong, a simple look at the site shows errors all over, a poor amaturish look and not developer skill anywhere. There is no usability, accessability or user experience considerations at all…
The site has 3 errors making this site at present illegal under DDA laws and would be served a 90 day penalty notice to close. Newspapers seem to liek to glamorise facts and figures, but the wrong ones.

As a designer/developer I am fully aware of these laws and considerations that MUST be taken daily by LA web staff.

Local Authority websitea have the widest target audience anywhere – everyone!
The laws in place make it a requirement to develop and redesign sites on average every 3 years -this is never mentioned!

Why not print the truth and the reallity of this?


I have only a miniscule amount of knowledge of publisher  websites but from the little I know perhaps I could suggest these journalists discover how much their own sites cost to design construct and manage before taking a shot at a sector which probably ‘talks’ meaningfully  to more people on a daily basis than the whole of the sites in the newspaper sector. If they were to do that they may begin to put local government spending on web sites into perspective, but of course that wouldn’t sell newspapers.

Lets turn off the web

p.s for a considered look at how spending on Local Government web sites benefits councils and their clients  take a look here.

When the needs of the user are constantly evolving, standing still is not an option.

The Lincolnshire Echo produced  a negative piece today about Lincolnshire County Council’s web site. The piece attacked the Councils spend, the size of the web team and, ludicrously, the Councils  need to update the site regularly. The inference being Lincolnshire County Council are wasting tax payers money by producing the Council web site.

The County Council web team has constructed a rebuttal here…
thewaistline by Lincolnshire County Council
The piece on TheWaistline defends the Council’s spend on its web site, its use of external contractors and suppliers to produce the site, the size of the web team, it discusses what the web team does and the size of the task, its need for constant development of the site and how the site is perceived by those who have some knowledge on the issues surrounding Local Government web sites – as opposed to the perceptions of those who simply wish to throw brickbats.
But, better still, it talks of how the web site and by definition the web team, make savings of over £1million a year for the Council.
This article is worth a read by anybody who is similarly pilloried by a clumsy and unaware press.