How would your Minister and senior management respond if people could freely critique your content, pointing out any errors or misleading statements or airing their complaints (and compliments) publicly?
Or what if someone could redesign your website from the outside to make it better suit their needs, or to make a personal or political point - and then share this design with others?
This isn't just idle speculation - it's happening today.
Google recently launched its Sidewiki service which allows anyone at any time to make any comment on any website - visible to anyone else using Sidewiki.
This means that the public can hold a discussion on any page in any Australian government website completely outside your control.
Does that sound scary? It should if you're not aware of or able to participate in these conversations as needed.
Below is an example of Sidewiki in action - viewing comments in blogs related to the Whitehouse website.
At the same time, tools now exist that allow outsiders to redesign your website from the outside. For example the free Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox allows people to rearrange your content, or even translate the words into a different style (one recent popular script translates websites into 'pirate' speak) that becomes visible in their web browser. They can then share these rewrite scripts with others using the same tool.
Greasemonkey isn't the only tool that does this - and people are already writing scripts, such as this one to reconfigure parts of the National Archives website to display Australian government sites in a different manner.
This approach has been used to 'fix' the design of some websites which the community found hard to use - in several cases the website owner has even voluntarily made website changes based on these community suggestions.
It can also be used as a protest, adding, modifying or remove content from a website (as viewed in a user's web browser).
There's also organisations which externally redesign websites. In the US the Sunlight Foundation periodically redesigns a US Federal Government website to demonstrate how it could be done to work better. It would be simple for someone to do the same here in Australia.
In other words, while internally we control how we design and develop our websites - just as we carefully craft our media releases to say things the way we want - we can not control what people do with them once they leave our 'controlled' space.
Just as the media can pick and choose what material to use from our media release, the public has the ability to pick and choose what material they see in our website - and can comment on it outside our control.
People responsible for planning, developing and operating government websites need to be thinking about how these types of tools impact on how your official website is viewed externally.
So over to you for comments,
- What will you do if an organised group redesigns your website from the outside (either in a friendly or a malicious way)?
- How will you respond to comments that are visibly attached to your website?