School Closures

Congratulations to Direct Gov on launching Launched at govbarcamp with one blog post, and claims of promise. Small steps to start with, but that’s ok.

Then it started snowing, and various public services started to not work very well any more.
Tom Watson MP registered, and called on someone to build a mashup.
Directgov stepped up and took a swing. As an aside, the fact that a Minister of the Crown would make that call shows just how far some have come. More impressively, Directgov did very well.

The intial prototype was greated with adulation on the web. As it should be. Not only was it usable, it was developed fast, and well by an organisation with a reputation for only being able to do the opposite. So there was only one direction it could go from there. Maybe they’re not as directionless as we sometime claim…

On the 5th January, a message appeared that “The alpha prototype is offline at the moment for maintenance.”. Which is fine. it’s an alpha of a prototype. Not a full service. And a second version appeared buried in directgov which forwarded people off to the local authority sites which have that information. But it was still snowing and people had the URL. 6 days later, the “alpha prototype” address is still showing that page.

An update appeared earlier today. There is only one point in bold there, and it shows just how completely the people who seem to have taken it over on day 2 missed the point (that, or the original team got hit by a snowball and had all the clue knocked out of them).

But to recap, we have one site at which has the label “alpha prototype” and is probably permanently closed, and a second, working service which is buried within the directgov monolith. If you can find it (good luck with that), it’s reasonable. Nothing flashy, but once you can figure out where it is (which is quite hard), it does the job.

So why didn’t directgov point schoolclosures at the new page (great URL of;=8&ServiceName;=Find+out+about+emergency+school+closures). They said they did this, but that’s just plain not true. They just didn’t do the simple and obvious step of pointing people who knew of the prototype at the service. Of course, if you follow the directgov groupthink, it doesn’t matter that it’s buried, as people will look through the site for lots of detail. A nice URL doesn’t matter (to them).

As a result, the big bold text shows that they have so far done one thing: learnt the wrong lesson.

Directgov should be happy that people were talking about their service, and if it isn’t wasn’t clearly stated that it’s an alpha prototype jut fix the labelling because the only people who matter are those who look at the site.. As a bit of help with that, the fact that it had a tag of “beta” might have been a source of some of the confusion.

But they got comments and feedback; hopefully they’ll figure out why people made those comments before using them as justification for doing something that follows their own processes and prejudices at the expense of a useful service. While it might be extremely unlikely, so is the fact that the first iteration of existed at all.

This should be considered a large success for directgov. Maybe they’ll just call it a cockup instead of realising what a decent online service they had for their users, then decided to turn off.

Apparently, they’re going to bring it back “imminently” after addressing comments. Good luck with that.

On an unrelated note, it’s exactly 2 years since we lost Chris Lightfoot, I do wonder what he would have said about, well, everything really. RIP Chris. We still miss you.

posted: 11 Feb 2009