About Alpha.gov.uk (spring 2011)

This information is archived for reference only. The project has ended.

Late last year Martha Lane Fox published a raft of recommendations intended to revolutionise the UK Government’s online services. At the launch of her report (subtitled “revolution, not evolution”) she recommended the introduction of:

“a service culture, putting the needs of citizens ahead of those of departments”

She also made a strong case for the UK Government to adopt a single web domain, analogous to the BBC’s use of BBC.co.uk, and recommended a radical change in how gov.uk sites are produced:

“Government should take advantage of the more open, agile and cheaper digital technologies to deliver simpler and more effective digital services to users.”

Alpha.gov.uk is a prototype, built in response to some of the challenges laid down in Martha’s report. It has two overarching objectives:

  1. To test, in public, a prototype of a new, single UK Government website.
  2. To design & build a UK Government website using open, agile, multi-disciplinary product development techniques and technologies, shaped by an obsession with meeting user needs.

The prototype, or ‘alpha’, in geek-speak, is far from complete. Indeed, it isn’t necessarily accurate or up to date – it is not intended to be an instant replacement for existing gov.uk sites. Nor does it improve the quality of government’s online transactions – others are working hard to make these easier to use.

What Alpha.gov.uk does do is trial a selection of new, simple, reusable tools aimed at meeting some of the most prevalent needs people have from government online. The aim is to gather feedback on these new approaches from real people early in the process of building a new single website for central government.

For example, every year a surprising number of people mislay their passport, and turn to the web for help. In this instance, the steps you need to take depend heavily on your precise circumstances. Was your passport lost or stolen? Are you in the UK? If so, where? If not, which country are you in?

The team has developed what is hopefully a simple solution to this surprisingly complex problem.

Alpha.gov.uk is trialing a range of such tools (guides, decision trees, answer pages, calculators etc.). It is very far from a comprehensive product. It includes about two hundred different tools, targeted at the most popular needs, where a final site would feature many thousands. The prototype also includes an early view of how each Government department could have its activities represented via a single government website, radically reducing cost and complexity.

The prototype will also test a new information architecture (IA) and a new open source-powered technology platform. It assumes people:

  • Begin their journeys on a search engine (as the vast majority now do)
  • Want to minimise the time they spend on a gov.uk site
  • Do not understand anything about the structure of Government in the UK

Mirroring the new information architecture is a single government brand to replace the myriad of different department and agency logos. The aim is to keep things as simple as possible.

Notably, everything has been designed for the Internet, not just for the Web. In English, this means that all the tools and content can be easily shared (‘syndicated’) with non-Government sites, or quickly made suitable for other Internet platforms such as mobile or Internet TV.

Normally an ‘alpha’ would not be made public. A product team would normally open the doors for public feedback at a later, ‘beta’, phase in a site’s development. In this instance, we think it’s vital to get real feedback from real users on what is a relatively radical product approach before a huge amount of money and time have been spent.

What is also radical, albeit primarily in the context of Government, is how Alpha.gov.uk has been developed. To learn more about this, and other aspect of the project, visit the project blog.

But please find time to play with the prototype and send us your feedback via the “Tell us what you think” link in the top right of every page.


54 comments

  1. And the other languages such as Cornish, and Scottish. Not forgetting Geordie. Then we have other major languages such as Gugarti, Hindu, Arabic, Chinese, Punjab. They must be major languages, they appeared on the 2011 Census.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The cost-benefit analysis for an Alpha didn’t support the case for including other including languages. That’s not to say they couldn’t be included in future developments.

      1. You could possibly broaden your use of language to include words other than include?

        Nice site though.

  2. Yes, it might be helpful for the “real one” to have other languages options – though deciding which I leave to those who design gov. leaflets for non-English speakers. Would it be hugely expensive?

  3. This is fantastic! I’ve generally attempted to avoid DirectGov whenever possible because of how terrible it is to navigate and how bloated it all feels. Everything about alpha seems to be perfect. Keep up the hard work!

  4. Well done. What a breath of fresh air.
    Good for Martha Lane Fox. !!
    When you start thinking about authentication – check us out.
    Lets hope the rest of Govt sits up and takes notice.

  5. Everything seems cleaner and nicer than previous government websites. However that horrible starburst grey / grey background has to go. It is terribly distracting taking the focus away from the foreground material.

  6. Excellent site. Clean and simple whilst doing everything that is necessary. It’s like the government is cool or something. Nice humans.txt also

  7. Well done guys, genuinely impressive and done with grace and a sense of humour.

    Beyond layout and ease of use, are you considering life events in developing the website functionality so as to properly (horizontally) integrate all the central government offerings/functions (given this is a revolution…)?

  8. Considering the breadth of information the design is fantastic, as is concept.
    What is ongoing model for maintenance?

  9. Such a pity about the horrible mark up. Why not go with nice clean accessible semantic html 5 instead? It’s 2011 now.
    Also a shame that you still have to provide your email address to leave a reply. Why not let us comment as a guest or if you are dying for a name let us use our Twitter/Facebook accounts to authenticate?

  10. Whilst Im not a supporter of many of the current coalition governments policies, I do applaud this initiative. It makes common sense to provide a single portal that will hopefully make life easier for UK citizens.

    My hope is that it will be fully integrated across all government depts and also provide open source access for legitimate ‘big society’ type organisations that provide competent advice; such as medical and lifestyle charities (Im thinking of the likes of Age UK, Cancer Research, etc) who provide invaluable information to sections of the population.

    I also hope that it will drive down cost by utilising, more fully, the potential for e-commerce and e-information.

    The potential to drive down costs should, in my opinion, be driven by pragmatic decisions that seek to achieve an equal or improving service through efficiencies, as opposed to the type of dogma which for example sees our libraries closing and more generally local authorities watering down service provision with the one hand and then charging for petty things with the other.

  11. I have one further comment to make, this relates to the three architecture assumptions. The first two are both a common sense and practical assessment of peoples habits and needs, the third however strikes me as a sad indictment of our nation as a whole. The acceptance, by government that there is not a general understanding of the structure of our government is woeful. How can we have a meaningful democracy if voters do not understand how government operates?

  12. It’s refreshing to see this project public at such an early stage.

    I think this has great potential to educate. What of those people who don’t know exactly what they’re looking for? It has to be a significant segment of the population and http://alpha.gov.uk/browse.html is too generic.

    For these people (eg me!) Search isn’t the best solution but instead a display of highly relevant information. You’re already recording my location but other metrics could be used to help accurately suggest information to me (age, ethnicity, etc). If I go to the ‘apply for passport page’, display an address based on my location. If I go to the ‘how to vote’ page, show my local MPs, their biographies and a map with directions to the closest polling station! Ultimately it is about getting the right information and fast. Then educate by recommending other relevant information. As an individual this is something I’d actively use and contribute to. Look forward to seeing the site develop!

  13. Agree with Simon: If you start anywhere it should be with clean HTML5, and start with accessibility and the first rung of usability (semantic HTML, compliant verified code, graceful degradation, etc.)

    But very excited about this prototype and gobsmacked you were allowed to take that evolutionary leap forward! I hope Australia sees fit to be equally as adventurous! Keep up the great work!

  14. Can I clarify, Is Alpha.gov going to replace Directgov?
    It seems the two sites are in direct competition for information. At a time of rationalisation it would seem odd to have two portals, one claiming to be
    “Public services all in one place” and the other “a new, single website for UK Government”.

  15. It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with what ANY politician has to say but in this case there are several compelling (and cost saving) arguements for making all governement department web-sites ‘sing’ from the same template layout for as you get down to local gov level the quality and useability of sites becomes decidely poorer.

  16. It looks good. Vast improvement on Directgov.

    Alpha seems like a great way to test and design the public face of e-govt and I’m sure a lot of the comments you get will praise the big leap forward in usability on show here.

    I hesitate to say this, but that’s the easy bit. Does your remit with Alpha go as far as testing the other side of this – i.e the other end of the transactional processes, within the Departments? It’s just as important that that alpha provides Departments with the flexibility, functionality and autonomy they need to adapt and develop their products and online services quickly, as it is to make sure the public interface works well. I suspect this will be hard though – the barriers will be more cultural and political than technical.

    Good luck though, it’s looking promising.

  17. this Alpha is a great start – the challenge is going to be developing a consistent standard to interface with a gazillion systems developed and maintained by regional public service ICT teams across the country…

  18. Consistency of navigation and branding across the government’s web presence can only be a good thing. alpha.gov.uk has a stab at creating that, and as with any other corporate/government website, while the aesthetics are a matter of taste, usability, and well-targeted content, are the key criteria. So far, alpha.gov.uk has aimed at the low-hanging fruit – a very limited subset of the possible interactions with Government. In other words, it’s a pilot, or proof of concept.

    I don’t know the processes inside the alpha.gov team but, when building a big new website, it’s common to ask different suppliers for competing approaches, and select the best. That best approach is then further refined before work actually begins on building it. alpha.gov gives the impression that it is an accretion of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ ideas. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but, at some point, you need to understand the totality of the requirement. That’s often the point when you find that your pilot was a useful learning exercise, won’t scale to meet all your needs.

    On another post, Paul Annett states that there are three distinct audiences for the government’s website, ‘citizens, businesses and more specialist Government audiences’. Anyone currently working in government can tell you that they have other distinct audiences than those, and that within those broad headings, are very different sub-groups with different needs and interests. A single government website can’t hope to meet all of those needs – it can only ever aggregate the most common needs. There’s still a need for departments and agencies to have their own sites. This is demonstrated by the fact that the alpha.gov blog is a separate site to alpha.gov itself. That tells me that the blog’s audience doesn’t neatly fit into the ‘‘citizens, businesses and more specialist Government audiences’ groupings.

    Process is another issue – when building a website, maintainability must be designed in. Writers and editors need non-techie content creation tools to add and amend content on demand. Elsewhere, the alpha.gov team have dropped a few hints about the platform that they have built from open source frameworks. Developers love frameworks. Users – not so much. Let’s hope the user interface to alpha.gov is not a work request form.

    So, I don’t think the sole answer to government’s web needs is a single web factory that sucks in content from the various departments, and spits out web pages built at some remove from the actual business. It’s good to have, but it’s only a storefront. Departments also need the tools to build and maintain their own web presences. However, this must happen within a framework that minimises the current fragmentation –
    – Unify government branding
    – Procure scalable hosting of the key open source CMSs (Drupal and WordPress)
    – Set up the templates and write the styleguides
    – Build a pool of development skills within government
    – Be good open source citizens and contribute back to the community

    I should be able to delve into that governmental internet toolbox within a day. Customers should know how to use it straight away, as it looks and works the same as every other UK Gov website.

    Getting this devolved approach right is at least as important as having a slick storefront, if not more so.

    1. Sorry Chris, I just don’t agree with some of the assumptions you’re making here about the difficultly about bringing this about. It rather sounds like a suppliers pitch to me.

      The fact is that we should work from the front end backward, leveraging in the technology to support the simplicity of that front end, this is simple good design. There is, in my view no tension between the needs of the different audiences where a common standard of usability and accessibility is concerned, only of content.

      With that in mind and whilst we might need to have different sites to host content, they can and in my view should all look and run the same way. This brings efficiencies across government and for those audiences that need to address cross cutting themes. It reduces the scope for errors and the frustration of having to relearn layouts for each different Government website.

      When faced with this type of fallacious argument, I usually cite either the National Grid or Apple Computers (but others could also be included). They would be successful if they had not come up with a way of meeting the needs of a broad range of customers, with a broad range of disparate needs. To say that we cannot create a user friendly front end that does the same for our citizens, researchers, civils servants and businesses is to admit defeat in an arena where success has already been convincingly and repeatedly demonstrated.

      It may cost, yes but then the business case to offset those costs should be correctly calculated in terms of the total efficiencies the solution brings to the UK econonmy.

      Iain

      1. @Iain Dewar – you don’t agree with some of my ‘assumptions’ about the difficulty, yet you leap to the assumption that I’m a supplier making a pitch.

        Actually, they’re not assumptions and I’m not a supplier – just someone who, like Alison S and David Maclean who has a sense of history and some bad memories – Government Gateway, DotP, etc… I’m slightly more optimistic/naive than Alison S in that I think a well managed common branding and design exercise can be achieved cost-effectively. However, Alison is spot on about the scale and compleity of government information and services.

        I just don’t think a ‘National Web Service’ can ever take the place of devolved content creation and management.

  19. I do like the comments here about ‘you should use HTML5’. This excludes people and devices from the website. This website would be a single portal for government to citizen information dissemination. How would excluding citizens be a good idea?

    And before you start talking about free upgrades to browsers, not all devices or users are that flexible. I have un-tech savy relatives who can’t even create a new folder on their machine, much less upgrade their web browser.

    You need to aim for a realisiticly low target. Having worked on a government IT scheme in the last 18 months, we had to provide for IE6 / Firefox 1.5 compatibility.

    1. Unless I am sadly mistaken “a service culture, putting the needs of citizens ahead of those of departments” was the core of the Citizen’s Charter initiative driven by John Major. And the idea of a “single government window” was a major proposal in the UK Government TV documentary programme “Information and the Citizen” which I produced in 1992 (admittedly before the arrival of the Internet). So where are the revolutionary ideas or is this a repackaging exercise ?

      So why has it taken so long – 19 years – to arrive at the “startling conclusions and recommendations” in Martha Lane Fox’s report. I’m delighted that maybe at long last political leaders have learned to listen but would humbly suggest that a great deal of this work had already been undertaken by people working in the public sector. Of course, as everyone knows, public sector workers have no idea of how to run anything, hence the need to recruit from the private sector – alas another ideological myth which still continues.

      Delivering e-Government does not start with a single Government window. It starts with a well defined, understood and agreed governance model where Departmental and Agency staff are part of a cross-Government team with a central group (e.g. Cabinet Office) chairing and facilitating. Let’s not have the “technology dog wagging the business tail !!!” Of course, Government needs to respond to new technological developments but no sooner has one arrived than it will be replaced by another. Get your business analysis right, look at technology opportunities and then decide your strategic direction.

      And most important of all, remember that not every UK citizen has the latest mobile device, is connected to the Internet, is a regular member of the “twit” group, is addicted to on-line chats, understands terminology used by web designers and developers (or indeed politicians). Why not be really revolutionary – create a “user group” consisting or real citizens (not friends of the local MP or Minister with the usual string of degrees in PPE or similar) but ordinary citizens drawn from across society and the country who represent our national demography. At least you might find a modicum of commonsense prevailing. Are you up for that challenge ?

      Happy to provide the lessons of history if that will help, but doubt whether that offer would ever be taken up. Good luck anyway.

      1. Great history lesson plus, as you say, where is the evidence of co-design/coproduction/co-development that has been promised in ever so many reports since the e-forcefeeding of the first decade of the millennium?

        Evidence of user-participation in the development, please!

        Mick http://greatemancipator.com

        1. It’s still very much in development, and won’t be finished for a year. You want evidence that we’re including users in the process? You’re it! :-)

          1. Yeah, but we’re not real users. We’re a self-selecting group.
            Have you asked anyone who has problems with reading and writing to test the site?
            Is the site accessible for people with motor disabilities, blind people, deaf people?

    2. HTML5 is still a draft, I believe. It is years away from being a recommendation.
      Even IE10 will be missing lots of HTML5 support… I’d imagine the decision to ignore IE6 was a difficult one for a .gov.uk site so there is a large gap between HTML5 dreams and reality.

      1. Yes IE10 doesn’t support a lot of the new features of HTML5 and the extended family.

        However the standard markup elements are just standard HTML, the only new ‘HTML5’ elements are the ones such as canvas, audio, video.

        Ones such as header, article, section, nav etc can obtain backwards compatibility with relative ease.

        Or am I missing something?

        You can use “HTML5” today without worrying about any issue of backwards compatibility. The markup is just markup, the rest has just joined “HTML5” in a handy buzz word.

        1. >> Ones such as header, article, section, nav etc can obtain backwards compatibility with relative ease

          Sure. So long as this is done, is my point.
          In my experience, developers tend to ‘forget’.

  20. Excellent work. The design is clean and simple, the content really well structured. I also liked the open and transparent tone, the clear language. Keep up the good work!

  21. I like it but I think you need to be careful not to make it appear like a propaganda vehicle for the coalition. I don’t see the relevance of having photos of Cameron and Clegg and links to their speeches and policy. the site is meant to be for the public to gain information on public services not for the government to publicise their policies.

  22. Nobody taking part in any of the Lane Fox consultations or on here seems to understand just how complex and ever-changing government information is, and the full implications of that fact for a website seeking to host it.

    1) Alpha gov is simple. Alpha gov’s currently got a clean simple layouts because it doesn’t have much content on it yet. If it seriously began to host the hundreds of thousands of web pages contained in all govt sites, that look would be forced to change by departmental insistence on linking types of useful content to ‘help’ users and create a better ‘user journey’. Set off down that path and you end with Directgov and Business Link levels of visual clutter and user confusion.

    2) Government is complex. You are confusing simplifying a website with simplifying government. Nothing can simplify government. Government itself doesn’t know how many rules and regulations it has. Nobody knows. Nobody does or can understand the complexity of government. In fact can anyone draw a definite boundary between central government and its numberless quangos and agencies? Before you even start on local government and its various branches. And this vast unfathomable universe of information changes daily. And the UK gov has to implement a stream of directives from Europe. New laws, rules and regulations, thresholds, allowances and taxes come into force every week. No one portal can a) host the sheer scale of information govt owns b) keep track of permanent daily changes to it. The attempt is so obviously destined to failure. The attempt reeks more of Hitler or Stalin and the attempt to create a Total State, than Libdem or other politicians’ lipservices about devolution, more local democracy, encouraging diversity and creativity.

    3) Unify government. Various comments are along the lines of “this must minimise government fragmentation”, lead to “unified branding”, “simplify government’s offering” and so on. I can’t believe such naivety. Government is complex because the United kingdom is complex. It houses 60 million people, millions of businesses, each with thousands of unique needs, requests, and bound by countless rules, laws, regulations. It is unavoidably complex, and any body who thinks you can wave a magic wand and ‘simplify’ a society of 60 million people hasn’t worked in local government let alone national government.

    4) There will be no cost savings. Why is anyone mentioning saving money in this context? All the existing govt department websites, Direct Gov, NHS Choices and Business Link will remain open for… how long? When will alpha gov swallow them all? Right. Whatever the answer to that question, for that period you will have multiple sites hosting duplicates of information, maintained by duplicate teams dealing with overlapping technical and content issues. This will INCREASE costs for the foreseeable future. How much is this prototype costing? Not much probably, but you take my point. Everyone talks about saving money while actually spending MORE money. Iain Dewar writes “it may cost, yes”. Lol. there’s no ‘may’ about it. It WILL cost a lot of money and never be finished.

    5) Convergence is ruinously expensive. How will the process of converging content to alpha gov be managed? It cost over £100 million and took over three years to converge the current content onto Business Link. Is that how much alpha gov are going to spend? If so, I fail to see where saving money comes in. If not, how are you going to converge the content to alpha gov? And BL only handles a fraction (a large fraction, but not all of) UK government business-facing information. Same for DirectGov. It hosts a lot, but not all of uk govt citizen-facing content. If alpha gov sets out to host ALL government information it will take literally forever to create, at huge COST. If ag decides to host only a fraction of govt content a) how will you decide what to include and what to leave out? You will enter detailed negotiations with each government department and agency which will takes years, negotiations run by special teams of consultants hired for the task, costing millions. Whatever you DO decide to converge will cost a fortune to reversion to whatever fabulous CMS you adopt. Who cares if it’s free and open source. The actual convergence work (with detailed approval and sign-off by owning government departments) will take years and cost millions. If you don’t host everything (which you can’t) you will end up creating a mind-bogglingly intricate lacework of links from core content out to more detailed nitty gritty forms and publications, downloads and pdfs, lots of which will also be linked to the departmental content you haven’t converged, leading to serious and permanent issues around maintenance, increased risk of error and, yes, INCREASED COST.

    6) All the existing govt departmental websites will remain open. For a substantial period of time you will be paying for web teams at each dept, plus the big web teams at each of the 3 supersites, plus an ever-expanding technical and maintenance team at alpha gov. This will be a permanent, ongoing EXTRA COST.

    7) There are suggestions that to ‘simplify’ things (lol) govt departments will need the tools to publish to the site. Are you going to retrain the staff of all current govt department websites to understand the new CMS and the new tools and functionalities you are going to create? How much will it COST to create and run this training? How often will people have to do refreshers?

    8) Other posters suggest a ‘rebranding exercise’ to unify the look and feel of government websites, forms and information. Didn’t it cost £250,000 to rebrand the Department of Trade when Lord Mandelson took it over and changed it to BIS? Multiply that by, how many government departments and agencies? In fact it just won’t happen and is a symptom of how so many hopes and dreams around this project are just that – fantasies.

    David Maclean has it right. Each few years a new government comes in and assembles round the Cabinet table with shiny new ideas and enthusiasm and says, Wouldn’t it be a good idea to simplify government to make it easier for citizens to use, and sets up working groups, commisions reports, funds new initiatives, listening exercises, consultations, and generally spends money left, right and centre. The result is the current situation – not a disaster, just nowhere near the simplification and accessibility generations of politicians and consultants have promised.

    CONCLUSION
    Forget about hosting govt content. There’s too much and it will be ruinously expensive to try. Accept the fact that government is irreducibly complex and a small group of enthusiastic and idealistic techies is just never going to change that.

    Concentrate on what is do-able and, in my opinion, what is do-able is letting the departments and local govt continue to create and maintain the content they need to as new laws, rules and regs or local pressure dictate – but providing a state-of-the-art Search engine, itself capable of as detailed customisation as the simplest or most sophisticated web users require, which takes all levels of users to precisely the govt form, tool, page and information they require.

    This would be a limited, well-defined project whose costs could be carefully controlled, and whose success would be obvious to everyone in the country. It would create an invaluable service to the UK public, something which doesn’t currently exist. And it would be nowhere as ruinously as expensive or doomed to failure as so many of the other fantasies – rebranding all government information, closing all gov websites etc – mentioned above.

    1. Completely agree with Alison’s conclusions. I don’t currently see where this site fits in to the current landscape of Govt’ sites, and think resources would be better spent on improving the accessibility of sites such as Direct.gov. rather than starting a new hare running.

  23. Several people here have mentioned DirectGov, but some journalists seem to think that Alpha is the first time the government has tried to provide a one-stop-shop approach. Alot of money was spent on DirectGov, and I would be very interested to see some justification for throwing that all away and starting again, especially since the DirectGov team were working hard on radically improving it (I should know – I was part of that team for a while).

    There may be very good reasons to ditch that work and start again, but it would be good to acknowledge that this is what’s happening and explain why.

  24. hi there,
    im a web dev
    ive developed over 15 sites in the last 18 months

    good job so far. i know how hard it is to keeptrack of everything on a big site like this.

    the only issue i can forsee is the domain…. will it be just gov.uk ? not even sure if thats possible but probable is because this is government afterall…

    you need to intergrate social networking more
    an if you search “e-petitions” it practically lists every page on the website >> fix that!

  25. yaa we think it’s vital to get real feedback from real users on what is a relatively radical product approach before a huge amount of money and time have been spent.

  26. Is this a replacement for Direct.gov? Personally I’ve never found this website a problem. OK, it took a while to see the benefits, but I can quite happily tax my car, apply for student finance etc etc. Forgive me if I’ve missed something here – but is this new project site being developed due to public demand or is it just change for change’s sake? If it (Direct.gov) is broken – wouldn’t it just be better to fix this, instead of abandoning it for something else?

  27. I agree with Judi’s comments. Will this replace DirectGov? If so what are the reasons for this? What are the objectives for this new site and how will it be maintained?

  28. If I want to apply for a passport or do my self-assessment tax return online, I want to go straight to a form to do it. I don’t want any ‘Did you know you can also do this?’-type pages getting in my way.

    And I don’t want to read MPs’ speeches, press releases or blogs – stash ’em somewhere else, please.

  29. Icons – you’ve got three different icons – red two-way arrows, question mark and document outline – what do they mean?

    Branding – your aim is to create a single brand. But on the front page of the portal, you feature a second brand ‘Business Link’. Confusing for someone who doesn’t know what Business Link is.

  30. EDITORS
    To create the site’s content in plain English, you will need a team of editors. You cannot rely on civil servants to produce content in plain English.
    Due to the anticipated volume of content, let’s say one editor is needed for each government department. So if there are 15 government departments and if you pay each editor £30,000 annually – that’s £450,000 a year.

    CMS
    Any new CMS needs to be tested by the editors who will use it. And if you are using open source software for the CMS, is the software scalable enough to support the number of users you’ll need? And what about bug fixes? How long will they take? Bug fixes – how does that work with OpenSource CMSs?

  31. This seems like a vast improvement on any existing site. I would be interested to know what if any user testing has or will be carried out for disabled groups. I am impressed with the decision to show this off at this stage to canvas opinion, it’s a shame more organisations don’t do this!

  32. Simple, sensible and effective. As someone who’s originally from outside the UK this is a genius way to quickly, simply and easily find the correct information without spending years looking for the right page of direct.gov.uk
    Well done!

  33. Well done! It’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re not constrained by having to ask customers what they want, or by what is feasible to provide.

  34. For two years I created short videos for HM Treasury’s YouTube channel following Alistair Darling to schools, farms, G20, Mansion House dinner, you name it. I wondered if there are plans to populate this site with online video – something beyond a civil servant and a wobbly camera. Also what level of interactivity will there be?

    I’m about to become Director of Strategy and Development at CTN and happy to chat to any relevant parties about creating compelling content and getting it to target audiences.

  35. I have to admit being initially skeptical after reading about alpha.gov.uk on The Register, and given the background of previous government projects, but it seems the designers here have a good understanding of how they can develop this, and make it work with future technologies that use the Internet to exchange data, rather than just the web browser. And it’s so far been done very well on a relatively small budget.
    This project definitely has potential.

  36. I’m not aware that converging government websites on to Directgov saved any money – the only savings I’m aware of were in terms of web hosting, but these were offset by the increased levels of bureaucracy and operating costs from trying to run a service through a badly designed government supersite. Individual government websites tailored to the services they offer will always be more efficient and useable that a one size fits all government websites. The idea of running a supersite purely on search with no branding or local navigation is also pure fantasy. Sorry to be negative – I’ll be happy to be proved wrong – but to me this is another Project Austin; a noble idea cooked up by people who don’t actually deliver government services for a living. Directgov is and always will be useless, because it’s run by committees of civil servants and a rotating cast of consultants. Give service providers their own websites.

  37. Alpha.gov – potentially an excellent idea – emerges as a typical bloated, technically complex script-ridden site. Only a reckless fool or someone with zero understanding of security would browse with JavaScript generally enabled or accept scripts from untrusted third parties these days, as it’s the prime vector for drive-by attacks and exploits are very frequent – the prime reason there are around 10 million botnet members out there at any one time. Pretty much all the important core functionality of this site could be implemented in HTML/CSS. If you feel you have to use JavaScript for trendy effects or “extras”, the primary functionality of the site MUST still work with it disabled.

    The recent Commons Public Accounts Committee report (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubacc/1050/105002.htm) points out how little attention is given to security by the government’s IT and communications strategy, and the Alpha.gov site is currently evidence of this. Security doesn’t reside in avoiding crass programming errors, but in the creation of robust systems that address the whole spectrum of threats over the product life cycle. This prototype clearly doesn’t. So given this and the government’s record for IT and security, before I would contemplate using a site designed like this I would expect to see the results of an exhaustive penetration test. OK, so I’m a security professional, but that means I actually understand the risks. Do you?

    The bloated nature of the site also makes it very slow to download and render – no all of us are on super-fast broadband and not everyone is using the latest browser. Thinking of your public should oblige you to accommodate those using older/slower technologies, not to disregard them.

    It might also be useful to employ someone on the team who understands the basics of established human/machine interface theory, or at least who knows how to communicate. The front page alone of Alpha.gov is a disorganised postage stamp album of random items with no observable rationale for their order or placement. Come on guys, an intelligent school kid could communicate better than that.

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