Wednesday, 8 May 2013

What is the purpose of the website?

Marc Snaith recently started a thread on the kHub about website redesign which is timely for me as today we formally launched a project to develop two new websites tasked with delivering digital services and information, to be completed over the next year.

For me, the most pertinent question in Marc’s post is “what is the purpose of the website”, and this was the catalyst behind why we’re creating two rather than one new site. For me, there’s a clear distinction between digital services and information, the former being doing stuff digitally, the later reading about stuff digitally. Retailers like Tesco understand this and have created a digital services site and an information site for shareholders and those interested in what the company does.

Though our current site has altered design since its inception in 2005, the basic premise of it being focused around delivering information to laptop and desktop devices hasn’t. This is why we’re creating two new sites because trying to deliver digital services, information, news, events, blogs, consultations and more to a multitude of devices well using one website.

The service site will offer quick access to our digital services, promoting top tasks but including as much as we can online not as a downloadable document, but a digital form. We also won’t expect people to have to wade through sixteen pages of guidance before they order a new bin.

Tom Steinberg wrote about how councils are websites in 2012 whilst this is quite a provocative assertion, in my view he’s saying for many, websites are now the public face councils which I agree with. If this is the case shouldn’t councils offer everything they can as a digital service? Promoting top tasks is fine, but using the comparison with retail, Tesco or Amazon would never just sell ten or twenty items online.

So that’s digital services, but what about information? The second site will focus on plain English, jargon free content and to help achieve this we’re changing our content publication model from devolved content management to a central team. This will enable us to do a lot more with content in terms it tagging it, allowing users to access it by various means, and moving towards the Semantic Web, but that’s another blog post.

We’ll also be creating new guidelines for authors, borrowing from or collaborating with those like Monmouthshire who have already written their own excellent guidelines.

I could go on (and probably will do in future) about why we’re looking at hybrid of Responsive and Adaptive Design, why we’re looking at the ESD Toolkit’s mapping of Services to Interactions to provide a catalogue for content, but basically it’s one council, two sites, one year.

So if you’re looking to redesign your digital services and information, the first question I’d ask is “what is the purpose of the website".
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.