Social Media points the way for Corporate Website Development

I have had a draft web strategy written for some time now as i need to finish off a few extra bits which will hopefully complete the picture. One of these areas is the technical architecture required to deliver the desired outcomes.

In looking into this and speaking to several of my more knowledgeable ICT colleagues on this topic it occurred to me that what we really want to do is to follow the social media approach. I’ll try to explain what i mean and include some pictures to help me.

Firstly, it is worth trying to explain what i believe the future is for local government websites and online service delivery. I must stress this is my view and does not reflect the views of my employer.

Social media is allowing us to see how people prefer to use the Internet and what features, functions and opportunities they prefer to have available to them, as well as the seamless use across multiple platforms and browsers for example, PC, notebook, PDA, Mobile, iPhone etc and this will in my view increase.

What is also interesting when seeing what social media offers is that most if not all of what it does is allow people to select and dictate the relevance of the content and services delivered to a given browser.  It is also coupled with the fact that people are also at the same time connecting with other people and allowing information to flow through their networks.

So social media is providing choice, relevance and connections, if you throw in the trend of local and hyper local and in a local government sense the drive toward Total Place. I see a model where corporate websites are essentially delivering packages of “information and services” into the wider Internet community or even social networks. This would essentially allow people to participate in particular topics, based on their preferred community.

So a “package” could be a specific service on its own or a collection of other services based on a geographic or specific community (see end of post for community types).

For example I live in Exeter, so there could be a “Exeter” package which would contain a set of services (Not just local government services) but a set of relevant location focused services. Part of the personalisation of that package could be my specific postcode and therefore a more local neighbourhood context (hyper-local). Or i may just be interested in service such as transport, which would allow me to access the travel to work information based on my preferences (think of the google maps (from here to there scenario) and the information would be displayed based on those parameters.

As a user i would simply select the services within that package which were relevant to me at any given time. For example i would select the following and then have the opportunity to display a combination of or all of the sub services within the package:

Service based packages

  • Schools (location, for admissions, term times, governor info, school news and access to my child’s school performance data etc)
  • Transport (location, for public transport info, roadworks, travel information, car tax,)
  • Environment (location, planning, waste collection, recycling, graffiti, fly tipping etc)
  • Health (location, local dentist, GP’s, pharmacies,  NHS direct etc)

Alternatively you could deliver geographic based packages

  • Exeter
  • Newton Abbot
  • Barnstaple

These might be presented in the style of widgets or gadgets, an example of how this might work on a website or even within a social network application is on the BBC website – The key thing is to allow and facilitate a deeper level of customisation within that widget itself – the only thing the BBC widget doesn’t facilitate which would be essential is mapping function which would allow you specify your geography (travel to work, school run etc)

BBC News Widget
BBC News Widget

This essentially combines local and national information within a single package. This would require everyone to develop in such a way that allowed mashups and web services with information related to the following community types.

The types of communities that we need to understand in terms of matching services and information to are in my opinion the following:

  • Community of place are people who are bound together because of where they reside, work, visit or otherwise spend a continuous portion of their time.
  • Community of interest are people who share a common interest, pastime or passion.
  • Community of circumstance – is driven by position, circumstance or life experiences rather than a shared interest. An example could be a Cancer sufferers support group.
  • Community of position – is distinguished from a community of practice community in that it tends to be more personally focused. This community is built around life stages (such as teenage years, university/college student years, marriage, or parenthood) provide individuals with the opportunity to build relationships with others during that particular phase of their lives.
  • Community of practice – refers to the process of social learning that occurs and shared sociocultural practices that emerge and evolve when people who have common goals interact as they strive towards those goals.
  • Community of purpose – people who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective. Such communities serve a functional purpose, smoothing the path of the member for a limited period surrounding a given activity. For example community’s purpose revolves around allowing people to accomplish something they want or need to do whether it’s buying something, selling something, fixing something, dating, or the like.

What i believe is that the increasing complexity of people’s lives is being amplified with social media in such as way that the most important things we as information and service providers need to think about is how we manage and classify our content in such as way that whatever the situation, whatever the search, the right content appears and is delivered to a user. If that means it is joined together with another organisations to give context or to give it additional purpose then we need to facilitate that.

This will no doubt require a change in architecture for some councils towards a more flexible Internet service delivery framework.  This type of framework essentially provides the opportunity to allow a councils content and its services to be delivered to a presentation layer (combination of html, mobile and ditv) as well as to other platforms such as facebook, twitter, iphone app store.

This isn’t rocket science and it certainly isn’t new but in the context of social media it allows us to provide relevant content and services not through pages and groups or friends but through applications which allow a greater deal of interaction directly with us as a service provider.

Internet Service Delivery Framework
Internet Service Delivery Framework

The future looks very exciting from a user perspective and very scary from a local government web team perspective, however it certainly looks like it going to be a lot of fun getting there.

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5 Replies to “Social Media points the way for Corporate Website Development”

  1. Good post.

    You can of course collaborate with the people who use the site to organise the information. The problem with very local or very personal is that it becomes almost impossible for any centralised system to create an appropriate set of tags.

    The people who live in a place are best placed to decide what is truly relevant to them.

    (I know you know this – just adding a couple of pennorth)

  2. Much of this is what biz has been aiming for for ages.

    Couple of points:

    1. usability processes are key for driving the design of any new systems, Crowd sourcing is not enough and liable/guaranteed to lead to bad design because
    2. social media is not universal and I don’t just mean the digitally disenfranchised – according to The Guardian it’s becoming the preoccupation of the middle aged, i.e. us :/

    There are some good ideas here but, sorry, they’re not new in terms of website development and how you produce product and IA.

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