Friday, January 19, 2007

Follow Those Brits!

Last week, the BBC website published a startling article: “Government to Close 551 Websites!” The article went on to describe the “transformational government” initiative underway in the UK, which will eliminate more than half of 951 government websites, consolidating content in two (that’s right, TWO!) “supersites:” “Directgov” (for citizens) and “Business Link” (for partners). At the same time that I celebrated this brilliant accomplishment of our neighbors across the ocean, I cringed as I thought of the more than 24,000 U.S Government websites that we force Americans to navigate.

Why did the Brits undertake this change? Well, because that’s what their citizens want. They want it to be easier to find the information and services they need. They think there’s too much information out there – most of them are interested in only a percentage of all that “stuff” that government agencies publish. They’d like to have one-stop shopping, and they’d like related information to be organized in ways that make sense to them. Duh. Do British citizens differ from American citizens? No. Americans want the same thing. We hear it all the time. Our stats prove it. Duh. Oh, and by the way, this UK initiative also is going to save millions of pounds. Duh.

So the question is this, U.S. government web managers. Are you going to just sit there and let the Brits outshine us? Or are you going to do the right thing and start getting rid of those esoteric and often outdated or obsolete websites? Are you going to start working across agencies to combine content in ways that make sense to citizens and partners or are you going to stay in your little organizational fiefdoms and drown in the proliferation of useless content? Are you going shift your focus to writing and editing the words so that citizens understand them, instead of worrying about yet another “redesign?”

I’ll tell you what. Take a look at Directgov. It’s plain – no fancy graphics or waving flags. It’s simple – basic content organized in logical ways, using terms that real human beings use. It’s effective. It demonstrates that the government agencies understand what their citizens want and how they might ask for it.

We’ve done so many wonderful things with the web in the U.S. Government. There is much to be proud of and many shining examples of really terrific citizen services. But they get lost in the forest of all those darned websites.

Three years ago, the Web Content Management Working Group established a goal to make U.S. government websites the most citizen-centered and visitor friendly in the world. Well, someone got there before us. But let’s not let that stop us. Let’s do the right thing for the American people. Follow those Brits!

Related links
Practice What You Know

Common Look and Feel – Maybe the Time Has Come
Stop the Proliferation of Federal Websites!

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