Web 2.0 Landscape | Vincos Blog

Much like the last post, Vincos Blog has an alternative picture called the web 2.0 landscape, also very pretty and one which i will also use.

Thoughts on a “perfect council website”

Yesterday i attended the “Building the Perfect Council Website” event in London. The keynote speaker was Gerry McGovern and i was very impressed although at times i thought it was hard to imagine how you actually achieve this stuff in local government, because web managers are only one cog in a big wheel, we are almost guardians of the corporate web instead of managers but still some great points none the less.

My observations and thoughts (this may not reflect exactly what he said, but will give you a flavour)

  • Get rid of those damn press releases (who the heck reads them).
  • Stop the political messages (Our Leader).
  • Nobody cares for this stuff, they are task focused and don’t have much time.
  • We already take their money and if we take even more of there time we will only create more frustrated citizens and visitors.
  • Delete most of your content as nobody reads or even maintains the stuff.
  • 80% of web management is observing behaviour.
  • Do the tasks your customers do and experience the “journey” yourself.
  • Personalisation doesn’t work, most people don’t want to do it – interesting considering i was on the panel about web 2.0 techniques with “Steve Johnson” from Redbridge and “Suraj Kiki” founder of Jadu CMS, more on this later)
  • Start with your top tasks and get them on your homepage to stop people having to search for them.
  • Don’t force “corporate” crap at your customers, they don’t really care.

I was buzzing afterwards and had so many thoughts and issues running through my head, one then stuck straight away was about deleting content.

My council and it appeared that most councils do the same as well, have started to use the web as a repository for “stuff” which someone at some point might read, it also make FOI easier (well that is the theory), but it doesn’t make using teh site easier as it just gets bigger and bigger with “stuff” that people don’t actually read but one day they might look back and say “i wonder if the council had a strategy on XXX, Oh look it was on there website all the time, that was lucky”

So perhaps a medium term action is to split the website up – not practically, but in a virtual way in to 3 sections

  1. Transactional Services and Core Information – linked with Customer Service Centre.
  2. Corporate Information – stuff you want to say but no one really reads.
  3. Archive – where all the “stuff” can sit and turn to virtual compost.

Right job done, sit back relax……phew…….Wait, there is more

I said earlier that it raised a number of issues in my head, and i started to clarify them on the train home whilst reading “clay shirky”. (I wanted to finish this sooner but got distracted by Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson also an interesting read)

Other issues included

  • Who do we really want our audience to be? We have many different types and research published by Socitm suggests that on average only about 25% of residents look at your website? so who the hell is the other 75% and what do they want to do in terms of top tasks?
  • Personalisation does work, surely it does, i mean amazon, ebay, digital banking, cookie based postcoded weather from the BBC is all personalisation, just varying levels
  • Are we all doing web management wrong?
  • How can you explain to politicians that nobody cares about them on the website?

On to “personalisation” and the workshop Web 2.0 techniques in councils websites.

Suraj, opened the workshop with the “machine is us” web2.0 video, which i have previously posted on this blog.

It was then my turn and i didn’t want to use any slides of presentation as we are on our journey to developing our new site (i will include some of the visual designs for you to see exclusively here towards the end of the post) But i explained why we are on this journey and the benefits we feel we will get.

I also said that i believed that personalisation is something that we should consider, but it will be in the implementation of it that will be key. we don’t intend anyone to register with our site to personalise it, so if you don’t your experience would be no different to anyone else who doesn’t, but if you do choose, then you may have a more personalised view of the council based on your interests and location.

Steve Johnson then gave a presentation on the real thing “redbridge i”, what was interesting to me was the redbridge conversation work that they had done around the budget process…check it out for yourself.

The rest of the day was a blur to be honest, as my mind was digesting all the issues and questions that the morning session had sparked in my head. although i asked lots of questions when opportunity arose, on the whole the event was good, but with all these things the people made it and it was great to make new contacts and meet people i haven’t seen for a while and who i should speak to more often.

Ok, as promised, the visual design for our website. NB: This reflects visually what we intend to complete over a number of phases of development.


Joined up to Mashed up

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.

The Business Implications of Social Media | Sally Falkow

There is an increasing need in the public sector to think more “business” minded. I appreciate that we are not driven solely by a single customer group and we are fundamentally here to provide public services and not compete in a market for customers, but the web and social media is changing that. This is an interesting post about business implications.

Am i missing something

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….