How big is your web presence

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I’ve been doing a bit of research linked to my previous role as corporate web manager, on how many websites and separate domains the council uses to present and display information.

However this got me thinking to what a good number should really be for local government. I know Martha Lane Fox has suggested that central government should have one site, whilst I agree in principle I’m not convinced that this is actually practical for local government. I’m not referring to one for the whole sector I’m specifically referring to a single council’s web presence and this is not including social media domains.

So far I have found just over 65 separate websites which are either directly presenting council information or are presenting information in partnership with one of more partners.

It is this last scenario, more than one partner of course which is gradually increasing across the council as we move forward with a commissioning agenda, so how do others councils approach this aspect of web provision…do your partnership sites sit on your platform but have their own branding, do they sit within your branding?  I’m keen to find out what others are doing in this area.

I have actually looked at all of the sites and apart from a few sites they all pretty much offer a good level of interaction which can not be found in our current website.  The majority again pretty much contain the appropriate branding for the site and where applicable include the councils branding.

The big problem though is that they are all disconnected from the main council site. You can not currently search this sites and for some you can’t access via the AtoZ either.  This is a major fail and as previous web manager, well I won’t say how I feel about it.

So why do I think this is not practical. Well firstly we are not very good when it comes to partnerships to specify that all content be presented via the councils site. Most if not all partners wish to have their branding used equally and therefore the councils website often presents a barrier. To review this will take time and of course development resource to bring this sites internally.

But why would we, what is the value in creating a single site. Surely a framework of web delivery is more appropriate, a site which displays core council information and either embeds content and functionality from other sites or use a federated search solution across all domains to allow users to find and access all of the content and services.

There is a cost saving to reviewing the sites, but there is also a cost in moving and migrating the sites, so this would need to be considered on the basis of delivering value and not just for the sake of a “pure” website.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the right or the wrong approach, I merely believe it isn’t practical for all councils.

I think local government web managers have a tricky job to balance the customer journey and pure single website vision with the increasing move toward commissioned services with a mixed economy of service delivery and service providers.

So how many sites does your council have and how are you managing the wider web presence.

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10 thoughts on “How big is your web presence

  1. I think flexibility is the keyword here. If ‘council’ sites can’t provide a flexible platform to enable partnership working then folk will simple look to host them elsewhere. Essentially we try to enforce too many rules… personally I like Tim Berners-Lee ethos ‘That a simple system with simple rules that would be acceptable to all was needed. The new system would need to be easy and decentralized so that anyone anywhere could share information without having to go to a centralized authority.’

    • Maybe so lynda….

      Ok, I will share my personal preference, although i’ve already said it isn’t that practical.
      I think we need to enforce more standards to ensure that the flexibility actually delivers a consistent set of outcomes.
      For example what I believe we need is to adopt a similar approach to Amazon and provide a robust framework for which our approved providers and partners can deliver their services through. However where that isn’t possible (yet) we need to ensure that any site built on behalf of the council meets a minimum set of criteria…We don’t have any of this written down to my knowledge so some work to do here.

      The technology infrastructure underpinning this can be a variety of things to ensure that you as a user has flexibility and some freedoms to be creative etc.

      So whilst we would facilitate perceived flexibility we would actually be setting and enforcing standards and guidance.

      Hope that makes sense

  2. Russell Taylor

    I don’t think it’s an issue of enforcing to many rules. There’s no rules to say we can’t do a lot of the things we want to. The issue is that we aren’t actually able to create these sites internally using current resources.

    I think the current rules we have work fine we just can’t work with them the way we’d like to.

  3. There’s always been a confusion here I think between sites and domains. People might think of DirectGov as a single site, but actually it’s made of of lots of microsites running on various CMSs as well as the main platform.

    You couldn’t run everything that a local area needs off one CMS – you need the flexibility that other platforms can offer. Whether they all sit on one domain or not is probably neither here nor there to the public!

    • Agreed, I’ve just literally replied to Lynda sort of saying the same thing…..sort of 🙂

      However do you think their is a good number of “domain names” for a local authority?

      • Probably the answer is ‘as few as possible’.

        There are instances where web sites, particularly if aimed at engagement activity, shouldn’t be too heavily branded and so being off the corporate domain would probably help.

        But I suspect in the main, like the subdomain vs folder approach to microsite addresses debate, no normal person gives two hoots.

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