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Wednesday 29 August 2007

More birth pangs of government 2.0

Public Sector Forums, which is a only forum, goes gangbusters today on one "wheeze" from the local council website (aka 'take-up') publicity campaign, run out of Whitehall [their bold]:
Take-Up Campaign's Accessibility-Busting Web Poll

[Whitehall's] 'Connect to Your Council' Take-Up Campaign is set to unleash its latest wheeze to get punters flocking to council websites: A national online competition to find England's 'favourite local attraction'.

The Pride of Place' poll, due to launch in a few weeks' time, will be accessed via council websites thus – so the thinking goes - 'raising awareness' of local authority online services.

The Campaign's PR agency, the Central Office of Information-owned Government News Network, are co-ordinating the nationwide poll. The GNN are in the throes of writing to every council urging them to do their bit and promote the poll prominently on their websites.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that web poll created by the Take-Up Campaign fails to comply with even the most basic web accessibility guidelines, having been purposely designed in a way which makes it impossible for certain users to access.

PSF point out some other problems with the Poll, which all sound fixable, such as use of Pop-Ups and lack of a link to another route to voting. [The latter is easy but easy to forget. We've added alternates to Google Maps page's content as we've discovered issues for some.]

It doesn't sound like a brilliantly executed Widget. Most notably, as PSF finds:

The guidance prepared for councils notes that "participants will be able to vote more than once" but "if possible votes will be limited to one per session to stop frivolous multiple votes". Very interesting...

But the biggest gap is missed — only council websites are being used (promoted to), as far as I can see. Thus missing the most obvious use for widgets. It's very unclear what possible reason there might be stopping making this more widely available - there's nothing to stop anyone using the code, although I'd be reluctant to use a unnecessary pop-up.

It's just like other netmarketing campaigns. Earlier this year Hasbro through Monopoly ran one in the UK as they have elsewhere, making use of town pride. They didn't have a widget though, so we had to plug it in other ways on our council site. Got lots of hits!

With accessibility, this is an acknowledged problem with Web 2.0, given the reliance on JavaScript and the lack of proper tools.

Thoughtfulness - alternative routes to voting - and engagement with your audience helps but there are basic issues which yelling doesn't fix. This blog tool, for example, could easily build in accessibility fixes to authoring tools. They haven't.

None of this should stop Web 2.0 and can't. PSF's tone suggests some think it should. Widgets can be made more accessible so advocates should talk to industry if they aren't already. If a provider advertises themselves as 'accessible' or at least being inclusive and making real efforts, people should flock there.

I'm referred to the Connect to your council media plan (PDF, 430kb)

And notice that they're saying in a section on Google that:

As in phase two of activity, relevant Google key-words will be purchased for the duration of phase two of the Campaign. Keywords are used to target the Campaign home page to potential customers who enter relevant search terms and improve advertising performance accordingly by making a top Google search listing.

In terms of overall Campaign strategy, it is recognised that the majority of referrals to council websites come from Google. This is reflected in the low key approach adopted for Campaign branding, with creative executions designed to:

• make councils the 'heroes' of the advertising;
• create a call to action;
• build the association between councils and the services represented;
• Communicate the online message.

I don't understand exactly what they mean here except that there's no branding or creativity in your keywords ads! But this should give notice that in key areas Council landing pages connected to certain terms may have some traffic redirected.

A lot of councils (most definitely not all) are #1 on key terms right now. So what are those terms? Would help stop double-bidding for one thing.

I've posted before about the issue of fine-tuning with keywords bidding.

And it turns out I can now actually ask these sorts of questions directly as those responsible for the 'Take-Up campaign' can now be addressed directly! In public space! Sort of!

Very discreetly on Monday the Department for Communities and Local Government rolled out it's new 'Have Your Say' web 2.0/social networking/most of the shebang website (yes, there's a tagcloud).

It's public facing and according to the - hard-to-find, more later - instructions posts will be read by civil servants. And responded to. It appears they mass signed up circa 2500 of the lucky 'policy officers' straight off and they appear to have added another 1000 users since yesterday.

We value your opinions and undertake to publish all comments, so long as they do not break the discussion rules outlined in our terms and conditions. Please ensure that you read the terms and conditions before posting a message. All comments you post on this site will be read by relevant policy officials, who will also take part in each debate.

Please note: That some topics will run for a specified time period and then close. Closed topics will remain available to read in our archive.

'Famine to feast' as I just emailed. It's not really a forum for other government web workers to talk to them through, although we could.

The introduction doesn't say that it's just for one class of people, so how the civil servants actually cope if it takes off like the Number Ten petitions, I'm not sure. It appears to be a fairly generic and 'beta' terms and conditions/introduction and use will change it to be much clearer on how contributions actually work.

It's not 'about us' and the only way to find it is via the 'home' link, which only appears on the Forums pages. This adds to my impression of it being kindof out-of-the-box web 2.0. Not properly introduced or explained but all working and well-styled.

It's a very good start and worth noting that very few other governments are doing this that I'm aware of.

They promise wikis and more and have one blog they're hosting thus far, which leads to a very good Olympics Authority blog which looks and acts like a blog and has got top brass contributing.

Lastly in egov Whitehall vs. local government updates, their advice on usability and other basics for web workers is finally available again, a simple lack of a redirect blocked it for many months.

It's a bugbear of mine when smaller governments manage to provide their hard-pressed and under-resourced web workers with proper advice and help. As far as I can tell, this is all Whitehall has planned for UK workers and it's already partly out of date plus the attitudes on display are distinctly unhelpful.

It's instructive that despite top-down, much publicised instructions to cull public websites in the name of 'transformation', web workers are offered endless specialist sites and forums, most of which have no traffic, a fair few of which are abandoned, defunded, and endless 'help' which is really aimed at bean-counters and bureaucrats and not the front-line.

The FAQ answering the question posed by amongst others me — Whilst accessibility requirements and guidelines are well documented there seems to be very little information available regarding usability. Can you please give some authorative [sic] sources for usability requirements and guidelines? — is really bad. Usability is essential to anything claiming to be 'customer-focussed' and about 'transformation' and the entire tone is take-it-or-leave-it.

The answer, written by Nomensa I assume, a usability company contracted by Whitehall, claims that: "no usability guideline is black and white, and the context and users have to be taken into consideration."

Whoever wrote this has a vested interest, pushing their expertise— are they really saying that someone like Jakob Nielsen doesn't make basic, apply to all, guidance? That ordinary web workers have nothing to learn from Nielsen or any of the others in my links list? That only filtered and packaged government-approved usability guidance is kosher?

This goes to the heart of the problem about our alleged specialness as websites ... leading people to believe that norms don't apply to them because they're an egov site is a big mistake.
"Other guidelines will tend to be generic, i.e. unhelpful and potentially open to a great deal of interpretation for someone without usability expertise.

I think the best advice is to use the CDs provided and come back to the helpdesk to fill in any gaps or answer any remaining questions."
You come back to me, darling. If our guidance isn't usable is confusing you. Can't do anything yourself, you need the professionals. You'd think they were selling used cars ...

Here's a link to my presentation about how, yes, YOU can do some of this yourself. The use of Homer Simpson on the first slide is very deliberate.

Postscript: Doh! I've posted about SlideShare several times - here's the presentation using SlideShare! n.b. some images have been lost in the translation.


Postscript: just saw a great 404:

The page title is 'technorati is borked again'.

1 comment:

  1. Cheers. History noted!

    What occurred to me though when I was about to see where to post my specific question - what terms are you bidding on? - I don't know if you want that answer in a public forum? A specific webbie-to-webbie gov forum would be more practical I think. And one between lgov/cgov doesn't really exist (I'm sure there's *something* but the point is I can't think of one!)

    PSWMG is a new forum which starts from egov webbies. Maybe this is a better route for dialogue?