Monday, May 16, 2011

Omega to Alpha - a new start for UK government online

The UK government last week launched alpha.gov.uk, an experimental site that explores different ways of presenting government information online to better support citizens.

Designed based on recommendations from the 2010 Review Report led by Martha Lane Fox, which was intended to revolutionise the UK Government’s online services, the site provides a glimpse into a citizen-centric future that takes a very different direction to Directgov.

The site is designed to seek comment and feedback from citizens and public servants. As the site's about page states,
What Alpha.gov.uk does do is trial a selection of new, simple, reusable tools aimed at meeting some of the most prevalent needs people have from government online. The aim is to gather feedback on these new approaches from real people early in the process of building a new single website for central government.

The site does away with the crowded index-based navigation approach of Directgov (which is internally the more common approach for central government sites) and instead focuses on a search-based mechanism for most enquiries, with top enquiries listed below the main search window.

Search results are formatted in more useful ways, such as calendars (which you can add to your own), such as this one for a search on "Holidays" and instant forms - such as this result for "Lost passport".

Note that many searches will not currently provide relevant results as the site is a prototype, however there's already an impressive range of 'top of mind' searches supported.


Below the fold is a set of 'latest news from government', however laid out with lots of white space and with a simple, well-structured side menu.

The note stating 'EXPERIMENTAL PROTOTYPE - This section will almost certainly not be up to date after 10th May, it is for illustrative purposes only' demonstrates how experimental the site truly is.

The site blog talks about the aims of the site and allows comment and discussion and there's a tool for providing feedback enabled through the GetSatisfaction service.

All in all this site is an excellent research tool and it will be very interesting for governments around the world to view the public comments and criticisms of the site to inform the future development of their own central government and departmental sites.

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