Friday, April 04, 2003

Searching hard

To prep for a conference the other day, I spent some time on google looking for what I thought might be words that people search for to do with government. I picked things like "disability living allowance", "child benefit", "child tax credit" and so on. I also added, just for fun, "public sector IT failures". And I restricted the search to just .gov.uk domains. The flaw in doing this, of course, is that I am relying on people who search to be "government savvy", i.e. to know that there is such a thing as "disability living allowance", but bear with me on that. The number of items found for each was in the 1000s - more than 10,000 in several cases. In isolation, that may not be bad - it might mean that many sites have tried to increase their value to the people who visit by pointing to information that might be elsewhere. But, it turns out that the .gov.uk sites have tried to provide even more value by re-explaining what, say, DLA is in their own words. That's a dangerous thing for a few reasons - (1) 10,000 references means 10,000 changes might have to be made if the rules change, (2) The odds of getting it wrong and misleading someone are high and (3) it's hard to find who is the authoritative source. I understand why a web manager or a business owner of a website would do this. Maybe the source site is inadequate, maybe the site is trying to be a one-stop shop. But, the end result is confusion, duplication, increased costs and more disillusionment.

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