Observant readers will have spotted more than one reference in this blog to the frustration of dealing with UK government web sites. 

Well now they’ve asked dot.com guru and UK digital champion Martha Lane Fox to review their flagship (?) site Directgov.  With my track record of comment on this blog I thought I should take up the offer of giving a view.  You should too. 

Incidentally, the site for comments opened yesterday (17 August) and views are sought by 3 September.  This is a tight timescale and my next post will be on this subject. 

My views follow.   

It’s fascinating that this is “An independent review of Directgov” yet none of the four questions posed actually asks “What do you think of Directgov?”  I assume this is why many of the respondents to Question 1 [Central Government’s objectives in digital delivery] are using it to give their views on that obvious but unasked starting point.

I agree with many of the comments made.  Directgov is a giant site (portal if you will) in which it is all too easy to get lost. 

The claim on the Cabinet Office site at that Directgov is “the central website for public services” is exaggerated and unsustainable.  For example in relation to local authorities all it does is provide a brief contact page with the barest details – address, phone number, web site address, opening hours.  No map, no context about what services they provide.  I thought I’d test the search facility for a council I know well – Aberdeenshire.  It returned four entries from the entire site: 

  1. the contacts details for the council
  2. ditto the police force that covers the area
  3. separate contact details for PassPlus for new drivers
  4. a press release dated 8 December 2008 about winter train services for that year (today is 17 August 2010).

However, the NHS body that covers the same area (NHS Grampian) is not returned for my Aberdeenshire search.  A separate search for “NHS Grampian” returns 500 hits, many of which however are nothing to do with Grampian and relate only to England.

The whole feel of the site is very “clunky”.  As an example, every page has a “Was this information useful” section at the bottom which is the same every time regardless of the information provided and on shorter pages takes more space than the in formation itself. 

I gave another example of the frustrations of this site on my own blog.  You’ll also find various other posts there expressing frustration at other UK government web sites. 

Finally, I am concerned about the transfer of Directgov to a team responsible for communications rather than service delivery.  There’s already enough press releases cluttering up the site and I hope staff whose main focus is communications can make the leap to understanding and driving the much wider role a web presence should have.