The UK government wants to radically re-invent itself on the web, and it’s just taken the first step on that path with the release of a site called alpha.gov.uk.
Like any alpha, it’s a bit rough around the edges. That’s the point. The team that built it want British citizens to give it hell, and tell them how it copes.
Traditionally, every separate government department has had its own website. Some have several sites.
Last year, the UK government asked a consultant to pinpoint what was wrong, and her response was blunt: it’s a mess, she said. The whole system needs radical, drastic change.
The main problem was that building dozens of websites separated by departmental responsibility made ordinary people have to think before they went online to find government services.
It should work the other way round. A government website should serve its citizens, not the agencies and departments.
And there should be one website, one domain, to rule them all. Alpha.gov.uk is a first attempt to make that happen. The closest US equivalent is probably usa.gov.
There’s another goal in sight, too: saving money. The government hopes that if it can get more people doing business with it online, it can make huge savings elsewhere. The hope is that a future gov.uk site can provide almost everything a Brit might need – from taxes to transport advice – in one place.
The alpha has been built in three months by a team of geeks pulled in from outside. That was another deliberate choice. Such a radical change needed fresh pairs of eyes to look at the problem and suggest new ways of fixing it.