Saturday, February 25, 2006

Burying the Welsh at sea

Dan's rambling about direct.gov's new welsh version. He notes that it's 4 years since we put proper Welsh live on UKonline and it must be 2 years since we put direct.gov live, during which time it's managed to live quite happily without welsh. Dan has some stats on how many people speak Welsh, I found some others: The most convenient source of statistics to hand is a survey published by the Welsh Office, Arolwg Cymdeithasol Cymru 1992: adroddiad ar y Gymraeg published about March 1995. It showed that 21.5% of the population of Wales (590800 people) speak Welsh; this divides into 32.4% of 3-15 year olds, 17.8% of 16-29s, 16.7% of 30-44s, 18.7% of 45-64s and 24.2% of over 65s. 55.3% of them (326,600, 12% of the population) are first-language speakers, meaning someone who spoke more Welsh than English as a child at home. 13.4% of the population of Wales claims to be fluent in Welsh, and 66.1% claim no knowledge of Welsh at all. The thing about Welsh, of course, is that the requirement to publish documents in it (in the public sector at least) is enshrined in law. And so, of course, is the need to ensure sites are accessible. What I've always thought odd is how poorly accessibility is handled by public sector websites (which is backed up by dozens of studies that I won't bother to link to) - and over 14% of the UK population has some kind of disability (although I suspect that individual, specific disabilities, have the kind of percentages that Welsh language speakers have). I'm all for protecting languages that are at risk of disappearing - Welsh has seen a real resurgence recently, probably in part because of the change in the law. It wouldn't me my first choice of language to translate government websites into though. It was Dan's leap to talking about Burial At Sea that most interested me. I used to joke about the problem of "100% online" and whether it included such things as this, or even exhuming your grandparents so that you could emigrate with them and rebury them where you moved to (it happens apparently, although not as often as people are buried at sea). Google helpfully tells me that there are 18,800 mentions of Burial At Sea in the .gov.uk domain. In typical public sector fashion, rather than have everyone link to the definitive source, everyone wants to write their own content about this "service". There's even an ad at the top of the list, to "cremainatsea", where you can be "affordably" scattered across the waves, after you've been cremated. The top link is for Bath and North East Somerset's page on burial at sea which is weird, because you can't be buried there, or at least not at sea. You can, it seems, only have that done at 3 places: * Near Newhaven, Sussex * The Needles Spoil Ground, to the west of the Isle of Wight * In the Tynemouth off the Northumberland coast They do. helpfully, give you a task list: * Register the death with the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages * Prepare the correct documentation * Obtain a FEPA Licence for burial at sea * Prepare the body * Get the right coffin * Organise the burial/ceremony And, whilst you can't get the process kicked off online, there are extensive guides. And they all tell you that you really don't want to be buried at sea (because you might pop up, or be caught in fishing nets, or pollute the marine environment or whatever). By the by, there are only 973 mentions of exhumation in .gov.uk and Tameside has the top link. And, of course, there's the inevitable paid for ad at the side Exhumation Whatever you're looking for you can get it on eBay. www.eBay.com You've got to wonder what eBay is doing buying up every word that shows up in a search box. I'm pretty sure that this is one thing that eBay can't help anyone with and if there are any Jeffry Dahmers out there , I imaginen they won't be looking on eBay. 244 people looked at the Welsh version of direct.gov's homepage in January and 1,146 looked at the directories page. So we have 18,800 pages that talk about a service that government actively doesn't want you to take advantage of, a few hundred pages of content that has been rewritten in Welsh that will almost certainly never be looked at by more than a handful of people (most of whom will be the editorial staff checking its published properly) and several thousand public sector websites that aren't accessible at even a basic level. Is this the legacy of e-government?

8 comments:

  1. Odd. Since the time of writing, the amount of sea burial content has surged from 18,800 to 41,500 pages (although I think a more accurate count is 141 - including quotes around "burial at sea").

    Meanwhile, I'm getting 56,500 exhumation hits: http://tinyurl.com/lta4x

    eBay is doing the same with keywords as Amazon did in the '90s - renting any old keyword in the hope of a click-through. Surely online marketing can do better than this.

    The accessibility vs. Welsh argument is a strong one. Maybe the government could invest in a single initiative to automate the translation of content from English to Welsh (it's not currently supported by Babelfish), offering usres a "click to translate" button on every page. Or more sensibly, set up a Welsh content agency where people have access to all of the relevant CMSs and just translate content across the whole of government. It would save the piecemeal approach currently being taken.

    The government will always be a step (or two) behind the private sector, because the private sector strives to do what is right from a business perspective, looking at the value being added. The government tries to do this, but is so much more constrained by hoops through which it has to jump in doing so. I've not seen the long-term Amazon roadmap, but I'm pretty confident that "launch Amazon Wales" doesn't feature.

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  2. Anonymous3:10 pm

    (Genuinely) co-incidentally:

    - Directgov Central Ops is run by a Welshman
    - The most sophisticated transactions on the site are from... DVLA which is based in... Swansea.

    It is crazy, but then Welsh language protection is a question of politics, not VFM.

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  3. I wholeheartedly disagree with both inferences.

    1. I know the Welsh guy in question, and this would not be something that would cross his mind

    2. DVLA was one of the first departments to step forward.

    Welsh protection is a question of law, not VFM, would be a more accurate statement.

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  4. Ah, well... the accessibility issue is easily overcome, even after the fact if using a well thought out product which accommodates for this. Certainly PIMS falls into this category. Most people are hamstrung by the technology they're using which doesn't make things easy for them, but the rest... well, it seems they just don't bother.

    Hope all's well, Alan...

    Jerome

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