Going under the hood of a revised web architecture – federated search

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I have on many occasion referred to a number of approaches in developing a web strategy for Devon, these can be found via the following links:

However, it isn’t often we get to hear or read about what or even how some of these grand visions actually get played out in terms of technology approaches , so I thought i’d share a few thoughts from a colleague of mine (Stian Sigvartsen) who works as an application analyst and is currently looking into a revised web architecture.

Stian’s post Achieving a federated single view of the customer (Caution – the post does contain some detailed technology descriptions. ) shares his learning from a pilot project using Liferay portal technology. Stian focuses on a particular challenge we have here which is search and has seen the portal approach as a way to deliver a federated search strategy, whilst maintaining information security.

 

a Concept for Devon Online – version 2

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My previous post on this topic sparked a number of great conversations offline with colleagues as well as some pointers to other interesting posts, one by Dave Briggs.

I was also made aware of the following interesting websites:

So here is my current thinking around a new blueprint and vision.

Overview
A pan Devon web presence that virtually brings together the wealth of information about and services for residents and visitors, that enriches their experience and online journey.

  1. Increasing visibility and profile of Devon, our people and communities
    1. providing opportunities to showcase Devon, our communities and people
    2. supporting platforms for community collaboration and community planning activities
  2. Ensuring aggregation and facilitating reuse and re-purposing of content (mash-ups and content strategy)
    1. making best use of existing data and content to ensure that it is presented in the right place, at the right time and for the right audience
    2. supporting a content strategy approach to best understand and manage the flow of information
  3. Enabling, supporting and encouraging online participation, community collaboration and e-democracy opportunities
    1. supporting and encouraging online participation methods which demonstrate added value
    2. encouraging more involvement in local “communities of interest” and providing a framework for wider democratic engagement
  4. Facilitating and supporting information exchange – Person – Community – Devon – the World
    1. enabling connections and providing greater opportunities to share and collaborate with others
    2. encouraging and supporting participation in the digital world e.g. through new and social media tools
  5. Focusing on the needs of users and not being bound by political boundaries
    1. ensuring that political boundaries are not a barrier to delivering an excellent online customer journey
    2. encourage and develop partnerships for service and information provision
  6. Encouraging Trust – Brand recognition, validity and reliability of content
    1. providing a clear identity and accountability of service

Outline Architecture

(non technical viewpoint) The architecture needs to support the separation of the “backoffice” and the “presentation layer”. This enables the delivery of widgets/mash-ups etc from locations outside of the main council platform to be integrated more effectively and within the overall style and design of the main site.

The basic principle is that the site is a hybrid mix of mash-ups and standard text and services.

The following represents the broad tools that are shaping my thinking in terms of functionality and user interaction:

  • Blogs—each member can have their own blog, and blog entries can be aggregated into collective views (e.g., most recent posts, most active contributors, highest rated posts, etc.)
  • Microblogging—users will be able to share there thoughts and ideas, as well as receiving updates from others about important information linked via SMS
  • Discussions—create threaded discussion forums where members reply to posts from other members
  • Wikis—a post from one member can be edited by another member, maintaining version and author history
  • Videos—upload and share videos
  • Photos—upload photos, embed images in posts, create photo albums
  • Calendars—mark events and posts on a personal or group calendar
  • Content Tagging—members can “tag” content to allow other members to find that content via “tag clouds” or through content aggregation
  • Geospatial tagging – content will have GPS data attached for location based content
  • Mapping—apply “geo tags” to display content or member location on a map
  • RSS feeds—use RSS to incorporate content from external sources, or create RSS feeds to syndicate content to other sources and users
  • Podcasts—upload and syndicate podcasts
  • Bookmarks—mark and share URLS with other members
  • Voting & Rating—vote on content and aggregate the results
  • Status-members can update the community and their friends on what they are doing

All comments are welcome (except spam)

Joined up to Mashed up

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Joined Up Government  – what does that really mean?  I know what it implies, that we are all disconnected and need something to bring us together…

In it’s most basic format and in the web context, i would say that it includes a “deep link” from my site directly to content or services in another site, instead of there homepage. We will all recognise that as common sense, wouldn’t we?

As part of the work i am doing in my council to redevelop and redesign the public facing website – i have proposed a new website framework moving us toward a “mashed-up” future.  Joined up will still play a role, but in a different context. Deep links will no longer mean the same thing and it will be moving us toward a platform that can deliver the content you want directly to your personalised web front end or in my example the council’s web framework (or homepage)

OR we could open the applications/content/services up to 3rd parties who would also be able to deliver them into personalised web front ends or their websites

My view is that, i need to ensure that my councils online services and information is accessible and deliverable in as many formats and medium as possible.  I also need to ensure that we are efficient and effective and provide a professional service.

Joining up with other councils creates a relationship and a reliance that is not always supported or sustainable. It also creates a forced structure on how we should join up information and services, putting increasing pressure on us to get these links right in the first place.  WHY? because we want our citizens to have a great online experience……that does however assume that i know what these citizens are after, each and every single one of them.

When i last checked our web stats (we use Google), we had just under 300,000 visits for May and 305,000 visits for June (not bad for public sector websites), so who are these people and what do they all want to do on the site.

This was causing my head to turn around and i have always been puzzled as to the real validity of web stats, but i see the value and i saw an opportunity.

Don’t build a single website to meet all of the individual expectations, provide a platform for all of individuals to create their own experience and providing our services and information are useful and usable and good or even great online experience.

This is how people seem to be using social networks to create an individual view. The public sector can learn a huge amount from this approach.

We first have to get past the need to deliver non -critical information to our citizens but information we are judged on in terms of communications, performance and reputation. Still some work to do, but we have started the journey none the less.

a Concept for Devon Online – version 1

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This is a work in progress and I welcome any thoughts ideas or references which would help me steer this concept in the right direction.

Overview
A pan Devon website which provides up-to-date information that enriches the experience of people who live in and visit the county. It would aim to be the number one online information resource for the County of Devon!

It would deliver value through:

  • Facilitating information exchange – Devon to Devon, Devon to the world
  • Supporting and encouraging online participation and e-democracy
  • Being demand and service focused – one stop shop to local and national public services
  • Encouraging Trust – Brand recognition, validity and reliability of content
  • Ensuring aggregation – reusing existing content and services where practical and possible

The site will be focus around 4 broad customer groups:

  1. Resident – Access to services and information
  2. Business – Economy and enterprise, services and information
  3. Community – Engagement and participation, connecting people and communities
  4. Visitor – Showcasing and Discovering Devon

It is important to note that these areas are to guide the development and to focus the information and service provision, however the site will be fully customiseable and therefore this “structure” is to assist with an organisational content repository.

Resident – Access to local council services 24/7
It would;

  • give access to all council services in Devon, with relevant links to national services such as TV licensing and Car Tax via directgov (Web services)
  • be reliable, trusted and contain up to date local information
  • provide useful features for residents, such as entertainment and activities, things to see and do, maps, driving directions, local news and weather
  • focus on fresh information such as cultural activities, TV and movie guides and local events, all updated daily (links with Existing TV listings)
  • ensure it provided an easy to use and simple layout and navigation
  • provide access to in-depth information and statistics about Devon and it’s market and coastal towns
  • Foster and support a user, customer, and commercially focussed culture within ourdevon and its partners
  • Use tagging and Mashups to aggregate local content and links

Business – Local economy, enterprise and advice
It would provide and support:

  • advertising space for local Devon based businesses, complimented by various emarketing activities and services
  • opportunities through the Devon Community Directory to promote groups and businesses in Devon with free community webpages facility
  • give access to all council business services and provide links to businesslink.gov services
  • provide a gateway to the countywide procurement portal for tenders
  • provide a gateway for investors to obtain key information and statistics
  • provide a gateway for employment and job opportunities in the county

Community – Engagement , participation and connecting people
It would provide and support

  • a local consultation and engagement portal supporting eDemocracy
  • opportunities to submit ePetitions
  • Participation through Issues Forums: Next generation online forums and facilitation
  • Promote communities in action
  • “Citizen” and Community Life Blogging
  • Promote pride of place through
  • Digital photography
  • Placeblogging and Community Blogospheres
  • Podcasting
  • Video Blogging
  • Community and group collaboration
  • Online Social Spaces
  • Online Community Calendars
  • Online Council events and webcasting of local meetings
  • Online engagement tools for community groups and local government

Visitor – Showcasing and Discovering Devon
It would

  • provide tourism information such as events, things to see and do and accommodation
  • support the existing Discover Devon theme based approach for example, cycling, walking, food, natural Devon etc
  • provide opportunities for Devon people to show what they do
  • promote the extraordinary wealth of culture and diversity within the county
  • support the Devon brand – shifting perceptions concept

Outline Architecture

The architecture needs to support the separation of the “backoffice” and the “presentation layer”. This enables the delivery of widgets/mash-ups etc from locations outside of the main council platform to be integrated more effectively and within the overall style and design of the main site.

The basic principle is that the site is a hybrid mix of mash-ups and standard text and services.

outline architecture model

The following represents the broad tools that are shaping my thinking in terms of functionality and user interaction:

  • Blogs—each member can have their own blog, and blog entries can be aggregated into collective views (e.g., most recent posts, most active contributors, highest rated posts, etc.)
  • Microblogging—users will be able to share there thoughts and ideas, as well as receiving updates from others about important information linked via SMS
  • Discussions—create threaded discussion forums where members reply to posts from other members
  • Wikis—a post from one member can be edited by another member, maintaining version and author history
  • Videos—upload and share videos
  • Photos—upload photos, embed images in posts, create photo albums
  • Calendars—mark events and posts on a personal or group calendar
  • Tagging—members can “tag” content to allow other members to find that content via “tag clouds.”
  • Mapping—apply “geo tags” to display content or member location on a map
  • RSS feeds—use RSS to incorporate content from external sources, or create RSS feeds to syndicate content to other sources and users
  • Podcasts—upload and syndicate podcasts
  • Bookmarks—mark and share URLS with other members
  • Voting & Rating—vote on content and aggregate the results
  • Status-members can update the community and their friends on what they are doing

Any thoughts or comments welcome

Am i missing something

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Late last night i was thinking about twitter (why as i am on leave this week, well that is what the wife said when at midnight i sent an email to colleagues with some ideas) and how that could be used effectively in the workplace. It was easy enough to come up with a bunch of possible areas for use, all subject to further thought and investigation.

  • school closures
  • school communications to parents
  • emergency information
  • road closures
  • extreme weather
  • breaking news
  • ICT outages affecting the CSC
  • web application availability
  • election results as they happen
  • reminders for new legislation/regs coming into effect (eg parking)
  • consultation activities
  • local leisure activities
  • bulky waste collections
  • planning applications notifications

However what started to occur to me is that it does require a critical mass to be really effective in terms of the public signing up to receive what i think is the best aspect (sms messages). Also it is very similar to RSS feeds when talking to people who don’t use twitter? so do we really need both, i think for now yes plus many more but i’m not talking about them today.

I came to the conclusion that twitter can be an effective business tool and for some already is. It provides opportunities for 2 way communication for people and best of all you don’t have to use the web to benefit from it, providing you sign up once (with the 30 minutes free you get in all local libraries in the county – some cross service marketing :). You can use the sms aspect to send and receive messages, especially if you were a parent who had kids at a school, they could use twitter to inform you of any issues or if the was closed due to extreme weather.

All great stuff i was thinking, but again perhaps a critical mass required to benefit the school, as they would still need traditional methods as well. I guess what is wrong with that?

The challenge here is that as councils we need to create an information and web architecture that enables us to push and receive information via all channels of delivery. So it could be twitter today or facebook tomorrow or the main council website after that. For this reason we are changing our website along the lines of the BBC and Redbridge to provide a modular based website which seperates the front end presentation from teh back end systems and databases. So the website is in effect one very big web service. We are due to launch are new site in september with a number of follow on phases building up the widgets/gadgets or whatever your preferred term is for them.

The important point though surely is to ensure that the right information/service is available to the right person in the way in which they want to get it. Or am i missing something? Grand vision of Varney flows through me when i think of that!!

All the web 2.0 stuff reminds me of a kid in a sweetshop, all wonderful, nice colourful things, all different flavours, all different tastes, some last longer some are quick and delicious but we all have our own preferences as to what our favourite sweet is. Some people just don’t care to move from one thing to another, so how can we integrate the functionaility into teh mainstream delivery of our website and online citizen registration/authentication?

It all started drving me crazy and around in circles when i spotted this post via twitter from Dave Briggs

What is the role of government websites

The post highlights the following 5 areas that Gerry McGovern suggests are the 5 things we should be addressing

  1. Get away from a technology obsession
  2. Manage customer top tasks, not government websites
  3. Get politicians off government websites
  4. Stop government vanity publishing
  5. Develop a government archive

Now what is interesting about this is that it is so simple, why someone didn’t come up with this sooner is amazing….

However i would like to take this one step further if i may.

Instead of websites, why don’t we focus on Government Communications and Customer Service, perhaps too much too ask and perhpas way above my thinking at present.

But it seems a simple concept also and much aligned to what Gerry and Dave raise….

  1. Don’t focus on technology
  2. Deliver services out to the public (not just via our traditional channels)
    This is where we can adopt a council 2.0 approach and mash-up our services to give to others to deliver with and for us
  3. Focus on customer needs and profiles
  4. Communicate and deliver services around identified communities (geographic, by interest, offline, online)

As i said it is only emerging as a thought, perhaps it will end with this post, but i doubt it, for me it seems to be key to developing a future web strategy for my council. Feel free to comment and point out my misunderstandings in this area……

It is also very similar to an idea i had about 18 months ago for our countywide portal. I have spoken to people about it, it sounds a grand vision but actually on face value, it makes perfect sense.

I will share more on this idea over the coming weeks and i woudl like your input into that.

feel free to tell me i am mad and i should stop and or start medication…

But as i said, i could just be missing something….