The Digital by Default Service Standard has been running as a beta for almost a year now, but formally comes into force in April. Now that we’ve run over 40 assessments, we thought it was time to summarise what we’ve learned so far.
Yesterday the BBC published data showing more people accessing iPlayer via tablet than via computer. This prompted me to update some of the data I gathered for the government’s agreed approach to mobile last this time last year.
The objective of the UK government’s digital strategy is to make sure our digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so. But what our users consider to be ‘straightforward’ and ‘convenient’ is not static. We need government services to be able to adapt quickly to big changes in people’s behaviours and expectations.
For example, here’s a graph showing how the devices people use to visit GOV.UK have changed since its launch. (To be precise, the data is for visits, rather than users.)
Since 1 January 2014, 63% of visits to GOV.UK have come from a computer, 23% from a mobile and 14% from a tablet. In January 2012 it was 77% computer, 15% mobile and 9% tablet. If you visit the GOV.UK performance dashboard you’ll see that the sample sizes are non-trivial.
Compared with the general UK population, the graph above may be skewed by a minority (around 2%) of GOV.UK users who visit the site more than 100 times a month, often to research government activity as part of their job, typically from a work computer.
I’ve tried to get more representative UK data by looking at the visit data for the two weeks following Christmas Day, when such power users are probably not quite so busy.
The device breakdown for this period last year was 74% computer, 16% mobile and 10% tablet.
This year saw 61% using a computer, 24% mobile and 15% tablet.
On Christmas Day 2013, only 51% visited GOV.UK from a computer, compared with 66% on Christmas Day 2012. (Over 300k visits to GOV.UK this past Christmas Day; 34k were looking for a job; over 5k bought a tax disc.)
Shifts in the devices people use to access the internet should come as no surprise, but the pace of change might. And I do not expect this switch away from PCs towards more personal, portable, touchscreen devices to slow down anytime soon.
The UK government e-petitions service has seen incredible changes in how, when and where it is used. Pete Herlihy has product managed this service since it went live in summer 2011. As he revealed recently, only two years ago over 75% of visits came via computers. Now a mere 27% do so, with 56% from mobile, and 17% from tablet.
Not every service will end up with such proportions, but e-petitions demonstrates just how rapidly and radically user behaviour can change. Here’s current data for some of the transactional services on GOV.UK:
Computer – 67.4% (was 71.3% in March 2013)
Mobile – 21.4% (was 17.7% in March 2013)
Tablet – 11.2% (was 11% in March 2013)
Computer – 56.9% (was 61.3% in March 2013)
Mobile – 32.4% (was 30.3% in March 2013)
Tablet – 8.7% (was 8.4% in March 2013)
Computer – 64.6%
Mobile – 26.6%
Tablet – 8.8%
Computer – 84.3%
Mobile – 12.4%
Tablet – 3.3%
Computer – 67.1%
Mobile – 17.7%
Tablet – 15.2%
I hope this helps explain why the digital by default service standard requires that, from April 2014 onwards, all new or redesigned central government digital services must be designed with an appropriate range of devices in mind. As we say in the GDS Design Principles, our services must understand the context in which people will use them. And for many people, for many services, that context is swiftly becoming more mobile, more personal and more touch-controlled.
Designing for small screens can be a real challenge. Which is why for many of the 25 exemplar services we’re now designing the mobile version first, despite visits from computers still being in the majority. Why? Simply, it’s often easier to make a service also work for a computer monitor and keyboard if you’ve already made it work really well on a small touchscreen than it is to go the other way.
Moreover, as Andy Washington, MD of Expedia UK & Ireland, explained at a recent panel, designing within the constraints of a small touchscreen helps keep your underlying service as clear and as simple as it needs to be to serve all your users, including those who may be new to the internet, or find it a struggle.
Finally, to answer the question posed in the title to this post: When will more people visit GOV.UK using a mobile or tablet than a PC? On Christmas Day 2014, if not before.
NB I’ve seen no data over the past year to suggest the government’s approach to downloadable apps should change. We’re still not ‘appy about them, and central government departments and agencies must seek an exemption before they start developing any.
What a great way to say goodbye to 2013 – we exceeded 500,000,000 views on GOV.UK recently – which tells us that you’re finding loads of ways to access our services. We’ll keep working tirelessly to make things better, and here’s to the next half a billion!
Join the conversation on Twitter: @GDSteam
When it comes to improving our offering, looking at what people search for on GOV.UK is one of the best ways we can understand what you want from government information. The search box allows you to articulate what you want in your own words – and this data is easy to interpret, unlike a lot of the number-based metrics. (more…)
This week we celebrated that we have transitioned more than 100 websites to GOV.UK over the last 12 months; 102 to be exact. Elisse Jones, GOV.UK Departmental Engagement Lead, talks about the challenges of such a big programme of work, while G-Cloud Product Manager Stuart Reeve updates us on the latest iteration of the G-Cloud procurement framework.
Follow Elisse Jones (GOV.UK Departmental Engagement Lead): @ElisseJones
Last month we celebrated the first anniversary of GOV.UK’s launch. Today marks one year since the first two departmental domains were switched over, and the “Departments and policy” section (then known as Inside Government) went fully live.
Today we have also hit a new landmark: the 102nd organisation has moved its corporate publishing to GOV.UK which takes us a third of the way to completing the programme of transitioning agencies and non-departmental public bodies onto the site. (more…)
This week we have three quick updates on work that’s been going on at GDS recently. Brij Thakrar talks about how we’re training people to write for GOV.UK, Allon Lister introduces the Carer’s Allowance public beta and Amy Whitney explains how we’re updating tools for businesses on GOV.UK.
Follow Brij, Allon and Amy on Twitter:
It’s been a busy week at GDS, but this afternoon we took a few minutes out to celebrate the first birthday of GOV.UK.
I wrote a bit this morning on the Inside GOV.UK blog about what the year has meant for the team.
Elsewhere people like Dai, Adam Bye from FCO, Gemma Daly at MOJ, Tim Lloyd from BIS and others have written about their experiences over the last year – what’s worked, what we can improve, what’s coming next. (more…)