Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is the future portals or mash-ups?

While many governments around the world pursue the 'one portal' approach, a few commentators are arguing for a different type of model - many correct doors rather than one big door.

This means reaching out to embed government content in the websites citizens choose to visit rather than simply attempting to encourage all web users to go to a single central portal for all government-related content.

This approach is described well in the Read Write Web article, E-Government Meets Web 2.0: Goodbye Portals, Hello Web Services, which states, in reference to the online channel that,

Gartner's conclusion is that governments "should make sure that their information, services and applications are accessible through a variety of different channels, some of which are not controlled or directly owned by government."


This is similar to how government agencies already distribute physical publications beyond their own shopfronts - into libraries, doctors' surgeries, lawyers' offices and into the shopfronts of other government agencies. It also reflects how government has a presence at various community and commercial shows, festivals and other events.

In both these cases government reaches out into other organisations' venues in order to better reach citizens in the places they frequent.

I'm a proponent of this 'any door' approach being extended online. As an egovernment practitioner I do not necessarily care how people get to the information and services my agency provides online, provided that they get to them.

This means I am a supporter of central portals as an avenue outside my agency's own website to reach our customers. It also means I am a fan of greater cross-agency collaboration on information provision, where agencies with similar audiences work together to provide government information to citizens.

Most importantly it means I am a supporter of rss, mash-ups and embedded web services - any technology that allows my agency to reach beyond the confines of its own website to reach our customers in whatever websites they choose to visit - commercial, public or citizen-run.

After all, with research indicating that government sites only make up about two percent of online visits by Australians, if I want to magnify the effectiveness of my agency's tools and information online, I need to increase their reach.

For example (hypothetically), if my agency produced a video relevant to the customers of any organisation involved in the family law system, it would be worth our while to look at how we could reach beyond our own website traffic to the traffic of other involved websites.

Using Youtube, we could generate a video that can be embedded into any site across the family law system, thereby potentially magnifying the reach of its content.

Assuming that my agency has 10 percent of the traffic to the family law system, this could, with the agreement and support of other organisations, result in up to a 10x boost in traffic to the video - all targeted at the appropriate audience.

If we also had the video included in the australia.gov.au portal this would lift usage further, but in a less targeted way, as the portal does not specifically target the same audience as we are attempting to reach.

The approach in this scenario applies for any type of government information distribution online. It also means that government needs to think more about how it provides information online, and how easy and attractive it is for other organisations to embed the information, not just link to it.

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