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UK Gov't To Review Hundreds of Websites, Axe Many of Them 92

Posted by timothy
from the scarce-resources-infinite-desires dept.
krou writes "The UK government is to review all of its 820 websites after the Central Office of Information revealed that for 2009-2010, the government spent '£94m on website development and running costs and £32m on web staff,' which each site visitor representing a cost of £11.78 to the government. 'The UK Trade and Investment website averaged 28,000 users per month but cost over £4m ... 16% of government departments did not know how their own websites were being used by tax payers, and almost a quarter were not aware of the running costs.' There was also anecdotal evidence of departments bidding against each other for search terms on Google. The review is to be carried out by Cabinet Minister Francis Maude, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox."
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UK Gov't To Review Hundreds of Websites, Axe Many of Them

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  • YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MessedRocker (1273148) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:46PM (#32698750)

    I'm not sure what this has to do with my rights online. This pertains to an internal governmental review of *its own* websites, not other people's.

    • Re:YRO? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:50PM (#32698786)

      Slashdot is mindless libertarian central. Any story that can be twisted to make it sound like the government is incompetent gets an immediate green light. Naturally, the fact that *every fucking private corporation on earth has the same kind of problems* never comes into it. The next time you see a story on slashdot where there is some obvious corporate incompetence, ask yourself why there is no tag labelling it "corporations" as there is always a "government" tag added to these kinds of stories.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JansenVT (1235638)

        While /, may be considered "libertarian" by some, this story is still useful. The actual monetary costs of web technology on the taxpayers is an interesting figure. The story is not necessarily saying that the money is wasted or that the government is evil for spending it on web2.0 twitter-enabled blogosphere enhancements to their local police station website.

        (that's just what we collectively imply)

        • Re:YRO? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by value_added (719364) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:32PM (#32699074)

          The actual monetary costs of web technology on the taxpayers is an interesting figure. The story is not necessarily saying that the money is wasted or that the government is evil for spending it on web2.0 twitter-enabled blogosphere enhancements to their local police station website.

          The story does suggest, however, that the number of users per month is a valid enough metric. I'm not sure I agree with that. The Trade and Investment website certainly isn't geared toward Joe Public, so if it's used primarily by trade or business groups, popularity with anyone but a meaningful few (those who make deals) is meaningless. The same would apply to a site that provides detailed or complex economic data. If only a handful of researchers visit the website, but each provides summary analysis to thousands of people (the news media, for example), should the website be considered "unpopular"?

          Transparency is generally a good thing when it comes to government. So the more websites the better. Compared to other government expenditures, I'd suggest the cost of website development is equivalent to a few red staplers. Besides, I think we'd all agree that the employment of developers and IT staff is preferrable to hiring more counter clerks.

          • by JansenVT (1235638)
            I certainly agree!
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by cynyr (703126)
            i think "site" and "server cluster + infrastructure + bandwidth" are getting a bit mixed up here. I see no issue with have large numbers of sites as you suggest, but does a site that gets 28k people per month need a whole data center? could it be combined with a few other low traffice sites and save on costs?
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by mindwhip (894744)

              It's not even that simple... some sites directly compete and have contradictory information....

              The example they were using on the BBC News channel...

              http://www.lovechips.co.uk/ [lovechips.co.uk] - (chips = French fries to you odd Americans that can't call anything by its correct name... French fries are a specific type of chip and what you call chips are in fact crisps) run by the Potato Council which is a division of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (a government entity) encourages you to eat MORE chip

              • by mangu (126918)

                some sites directly compete and have contradictory information

                And that's the way I like it!

                The kind of country where contradiction is not welcome is not the country where I'd want to live. There may be pros and cons to eating chips or fries, and I think the government should release all that data and let the public decide.

                Think of your mini-rant on how that food is called. What would you say if some "Royal Council on Nutrition Terminology" decided that "chips" should be called "fries"? Geroge Gershwin said

              • promoting chips? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by pbhj (607776) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @07:37AM (#32701700) Homepage Journal

                It's not the contradiction that gets me - it's that anyone in gov thinks that it's necessary to promote eating chips.

                Every town has several chip shops, most pubs and restaurants serve them, all the supermarkets sell them surveys show that people are eating them several times a week and some people at every (non-breakfast) meal time. They are considerably less healthy than other options ... so government are spending money promoting them and hiring (C-list) celebs to do videos and such.

                There can be no one in Britain that lacks knowledge of chips.

                The other more general issue I have is that the gov do individual tendering and have individual web departments to manage all those sites - they should just use a standard couple of CMSs across gov. They don't need to brand everything or have bespoke sites all the time. They should be providing information not marketing things to us.

          • by Shimbo (100005)

            Compared to other government expenditures, I'd suggest the cost of website development is equivalent to a few red staplers. Besides, I think we'd all agree that the employment of developers and IT staff is preferrable to hiring more counter clerks.

            Well, yes, but this is a "news for nerds" site. If you want to know about the other cost-cutting measures, try a real news site.

            The counter clerk argument is misleading, I think. Firstly, because, as others have said, most of your in-person interactions with government in the UK are likely to be at a Post Office. Secondly, a central government site that is actually useful (online tax returns, for example), will have millions of visitors. Those aren't the ones that are in danger.

          • by DaveGod (703167)

            Transparency is generally a good thing when it comes to government. So the more websites the better.

            I think you mean the more information the better. That is not the same as more websites.

            Consider this [stopbenefi...dni.gov.uk] government website, for example, which is devoted to benefit fraud and proclaims it costs £12.6m, while a rather more useful website from another government department contains a report that gives the rather more plausable figure as £2.7b (I suspect still a big understatement, but seeing as these

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kitkoan (1719118)

      I'm not sure what this has to do with my rights online. This pertains to an internal governmental review of *its own* websites, not other people's.

      Well in one way this has to do with your rights online is when a government removes information (web sites) from the public, it makes the public a little less informed of what their government is doing and what services it provides the people. The article isn't very clear of which sites are going to be removed and the more that are removed with information that might be useful/vital to the public, the more this effects your rights online. While the cost might not be worth the added expense of the hosting, s

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Well in one way this has to do with your rights online is when a government removes information (web sites) from the public

        Who says there was any information on them?

      • by pbhj (607776)

        >A less informed public is a public with less rights and say in it's government.

        I'm pretty sure that they won't be depleting the information available - lovechips.co.uk is hardly a dissertation on chips as a food option.

  • by JansenVT (1235638) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:50PM (#32698784)

    As a web designer / developer I am always bewildered by the obscene costs I hear for government websites, especially given their terribly below level of quality and usefulness.

    People with government contracts must really milk it for all it's worth.

    • > People with government contracts must really milk it for all it's worth.

      In the USA complying with procurement regulations can be insanely expensive.

      • by JansenVT (1235638)

        >complying with procurement regulations can be insanely expensive.

        Aren't costs from regulations created by the government?

        • by suky (59722) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:19PM (#32698986)

          It's a two way street. Governments are slow to adopt streamlined purchasing systems because they're spending tax dollars and so everything has to be accounted for and purchases authorized in various different and often complex ways. Many vendors are more then happy to put up with all the inane purchasing requirements BS the government will throw at them in exchange for a high-volume and usually exclusive contract with higher prices then retail consumers would pay.

          • "Governments are slow to adopt streamlined purchasing systems because they're spending tax dollars and so everything has to be accounted for..."

            That's the plan, anyway... the reality... not so sure.

        • by Kitkoan (1719118)

          >complying with procurement regulations can be insanely expensive.

          Aren't costs from regulations created by the government?

          Yes and no. Different regulations are created by different branches of the government. While one branch may say 'such-n-such must be done in xyz way', it is done based on the concepts and idea/l's of that branch with often little to no regard of how it will effect the other government branches. This of course can cause costs of other branches to just jump much higher even though they had nothing to do with it.

          • by JansenVT (1235638)
            So still yes :) just because they are disorganized and beurocratic doesn't make them less at fault for causing the costs :P
    • by sco08y (615665) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:10PM (#32698930)

      As a web designer / developer I am always bewildered by the obscene costs I hear for government websites, especially given their terribly below level of quality and usefulness.

      People with government contracts must really milk it for all it's worth.

      I worked for a small company that did a website for a local government agency years ago, around '97 I think. They wanted all kinds of bells and whistles so they could go to their bosses and show them what an awesome web site they had. It was designed far more to please government insiders than to be useful to taxpayers.

      I don't think we were milking them, rather, they didn't know what they wanted or needed, and it certainly wasn't our job to figure it out. They also didn't have any plan, really, to maintain it or scale it up or have it go anywhere. From going on to six years working in or around the government, that's just how they do stuff.

      • by hedwards (940851) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:16PM (#32698972)
        It's a good idea that they're paring things back and hopefully reducing the number of sites that are necessary. Here in the US, WA to be more specific, our state government did that some years back. They cut it back to just one website, with sub domains for various parts of the government. The basic idea was that pretty much any idea should be no more than a handful of clicks away from the front page of the site. And if you couldn't do that you should be able to click on a unified search engine that could find any state resource in minimal time.

        Admittedly, it's not perfect, but I've found it to be an efficient way of finding information on state government. And it actually does a better job than many corporate sites do in terms of accessibility.
      • by Chelmet (1273754) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:26PM (#32699038)

        they didn't know what they wanted or needed, and it certainly wasn't our job to figure it out.

        Erm, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly your job. Its what a requirements capture is for. I feel quite offended by this attitude of yours - you're the expert. If I went to an architect and asked for a floating house, it would be his job to tell me that that's not what I really want, and to work with me on something more appropriate, rather taking the money and running away before my wife gets home.

        I hope you enjoyed the coke you snorted off hooker's cracks with my tax money.

        • by JansenVT (1235638)

          If only it worked that way. Potential clients often come to us with demands and whacky ideas, There is often no talking them down from them, either.

          They just don't seem to understand that their gas station doesn't need an interactive photo gallery with 940 photos and a library of virtual tours of the bathroom, all in 1080p streamed to their brand new iPhone app

          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            I don't know about your jurisdiction, but in the UK, the government can't force you to accept a contract for work. So, if the government offered you, say, £1,000,000,000 to look after 650 real dancing poodles for their new Interactive Web2.0 Houses of Parliament Simulator, the moral thing to do would be to refuse. Otherwise you're just receiving stolen goods from a fence.

            Actually, I'd go further to say that a government should be employing its own permanent staff of web designers and never need to con

        • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:45PM (#32699152) Homepage Journal

          they didn't know what they wanted or needed, and it certainly wasn't our job to figure it out.

          Erm, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly your job. Its what a requirements capture is for. I feel quite offended by this attitude of yours - you're the expert. If I went to an architect and asked for a floating house, it would be his job to tell me that that's not what I really want, and to work with me on something more appropriate, rather taking the money and running away before my wife gets home.

          I hope you enjoyed the coke you snorted off hooker's cracks with my tax money.

          The Government employees paid to design projects like this are themselves on the take in a different way. They want to use the project as enhance their reputation. Key to this is having lots of bells and whistles. Flashing lights help too. If you can get the Minister a media opportunity then your career is looking up.

          The customer is always right, and frequently corrupt.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It is the architect's job to get you to give up on technically impossible ideas. It most certainly is not his job to tell you that you do not, in fact, want those huge and expensive skylights or granite walls.

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            But it is his job to figure out WHY you want massive skylights and granite and to find out whether there would be a better way of doing it that would satisfy the same underlying wants and needs.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          You can't blame only the contractor. Many times the greatest ideas are turned down by the client, no matter how well you explain it. That's what makes government a necessary evil at best, and an enemy at worst.

          I work for the government. We were just chatting once, and I casually expressed my disappointment at waste and this seasoned veteran [literally a military veteran] said something along the lines of, "You can't think of it that way. The military is a devouring animal and nothing more. We do try to prev
        • Erm, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly your job. Its what a requirements capture is for.

          That's for getting the requirements from the users to the developers. You can't capture what isn't there. Even if you can get requirements, often they're expressed as a suggested technical solution (written by a non-technical person, don't forget) rather than a statement of the problem or goal.

          Finally, even if you do get good requirements, they'll change. Do you think anybody will tell you?

          If I went to an archi

        • by sco08y (615665)

          they didn't know what they wanted or needed, and it certainly wasn't our job to figure it out.

          Erm, as far as I'm concerned, that's exactly your job. Its what a requirements capture is for.

          Heheh, local government, small business... there was no requirements process or any of that. I has done about a year of college, and was the only person who vaguely understood those crazy computers.

          I feel quite offended by this attitude of yours - you're the expert. If I went to an architect and asked for a floating house, it would be his job to tell me that that's not what I really want, and to work with me on something more appropriate, rather taking the money and running away before my wife gets home.

          What's wrong with a floating house? There are entire cities that are built on floating foundations due to lack of decent bedrock.

          It's not like this stuff is obviously a bad idea. All of it makes sense in the short term. But these agencies have no bottom line, so they don't have a basis with which to plan for the

      • by JansenVT (1235638)

        They wanted all kinds of bells and whistles so they could go to their bosses and show them what an awesome web site they had

        That I understand - but it seems true with most of my non-government clients too! :)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by psych0munky (1673632)

        They wanted all kinds of bells and whistles so they could go to their bosses and show them what an awesome web site they had. It was designed far more to please government insiders than to be useful to taxpayers.

        Here, here!! I work as an IT architect for a provincial crown-affiliated corporation here in the great white north (Canada...and no, I don't drive a polar bear to work), and although we are not "fully" government, I see the same damn thing day in and day out from our business people. It is a shame...and when I remind them of taxpayer money going to support this and the fact that simple is better (we cater to non-techy crowds that live predominately in rural areas, so we need to keep things light enough f

        • Forgive my ignorance, but does a crown-affiliated corporation get government funding?
        • by sco08y (615665)

          and it certainly wasn't our job to figure it out.

          Seriously? And is this company you worked for still in existence? If so, do you still work as a consultant, or are you now internal IT somewhere? I don't mean to be attacking, but most of the time we go to market simply because we lack the experience in-house to help the business figure out what they need.

          I should expand on that: I was talking about long term wants and needs. They would present us with some short term requirements, and we made them a good website, but there was no follow-up.

          No, they're not in existence. I went back to college a few months later and they were liquidated not long after that. This was '97, the whole Interwebs thing was pretty new, and the company owner decided it was the wave of the future. She poured money into it and neglected the best paying accounts, the combination of whic

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      especially given their terribly below level of quality and usefulness.

      Aww, come on, tell me this [direct.gov.uk] isn't the best thing you've ever seen.

  • by icebike (68054) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:00PM (#32698856)

    As a Google advertiser, I've yet to find a way to prevent bidding against any other specific site.

    I don't believe Google allows that level of detail. I'm also not aware that you even know the other bidders.

    • by cynyr (703126)
      if branch X said i'm bidding on term "FOOBAR", then branch Y would have known about it, or better yet, they could jointly buy it and another simmilar term and point to both sites.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LostCluster (625375) *
      There's a way... have the home office that owns both divisions control the Google AdWords account and let them declare redundancy when there's two divisions doing the same. (What "declared redundant" is British for what us Americans call "laid-off"? I guess that's the point...)
      • by jimicus (737525)

        (What "declared redundant" is British for what us Americans call "laid-off"? I guess that's the point...)

        "Redundant" in employment terms means "your job doesn't need to exist any more, so we're getting rid of it". That might be because you have two people doing much the same thing but the workloads dropped, it might be because you're outsourcing a function or it might be because the employee works for a subsidiary company that's being closed down. There are all sorts of legal hoops that have to be gone through, though - the concept of at-will employment simply doesn't exist in Europe (and frankly, some of t

  • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:22PM (#32699006) Homepage

    Is £11.78 inherently too much to spend for a web site visitor? When I need to renew my vehicle registration, a web site visit that let's me do it online is certainly worth more than that to me rather than spending half a day at the DMV. For some business-oriented sites that deal with licenses, £11.78 per visitor could certainly be worth bringing in a few more £1,000,000 per year businesses to town.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Well, considering this is a tax payer funded venture, the answer is as little as possible without making things ridiculous. Meaning that there should be an eye to keeping things as simple as possible, while still being convenient. The whole thing ought to be collapsed down to a small number of subsites within a larger site. The navigational schemes ought to largely be homogenized so that folks don't have to move there mouse all over the screen to find a menu. And there should be a convenient search tool.
      • by cynyr (703126)
        I'm not sure that the number of sites is the problem, simple that they are each being bought and paid for and run sepperatly, why not keep most(that are useful) and host them jointly?
    • by JansenVT (1235638)
      Price per visitor does not equal price per useful interaction. Many of those visitors probably looked at the website, failed to obtain any useful information, and then drove to the DMV:)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by digitig (1056110)
      Nobody in the UK ever has to spend half a day at the UK equivalent of the DMV unless they work there. Vehicle registrations are dealt with by main post offices (or online, of course) and by post. Do it when you're in town, 20 minutes tops if you pick a busy time, more likely 5.
      • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @03:03AM (#32700724)

        Oh yes, the "joys" of the good old UK Post Office... ...a place where there are always as many closed counters as there open ones... ...a place where there is never any attempt made to stagger employee lunch breaks to take into account the fact that they are busiest during lunchtime periods... ...a place where the staff will openly moan at you if you drop in a parcel for which you have previously purchased postage online simply to try and help lessen the queues at the counters because it turns out that the actual Post Office gets no revenue from those types of parcel.

        These days I go into a Post Office only when there is absolutely no alternative.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by 91degrees (207121)
      The thing is, while there are a few websites that will have a handful of visitors but relate to multi-million pound businesses, most government websites are targeted at individuals. Thousands of people will visit the DfT website to renew their road tax every day.

      On the other hand, does the food standards agency really need its own website, updated daily with separate pages for Scotland and Wales? Couldn't this be combined with several others into a single government information site? Does Ofsted real
    • by pbhj (607776)

      >Is £11.78 inherently too much to spend for a web site visitor? When I need to renew my vehicle registration, a web site visit that let's me do it online is certainly worth more than that to me rather than spending half a day at the DMV.

      The comparison should be with you doing the same by phone - will it cost the DMV less via the website than if you ring their call centre for 5 minutes. If it costs more (with high uptake and after settling in) then the website should be reverted to displaying the co

  • Yes, well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by djupedal (584558) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:48PM (#32699172)
    This 'revelation' is simply another illustration of how bureaucracy works.

    No one should be surprised to find competing layers of effort, working from silos, oblivious to duplication of effort when they look at this.

    It's a symptom, not the issue. It's how govt. works.

    Good luck making any effective changes at the delivery level...
  • by mysidia (191772) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:49PM (#32699176)

    I regret to inform you, that the UK government has recently begun conducting a review of 820 websites, and your web site is to be terminated immediately, due to excessive costs to the taxpayers.

    The UK Central Office of Information recently revealed the high cost per visitor of £11.78 to our websites.

    Your recent article linked to the BBC, making your web site part of ours. The BBC.CO.UK received nearly 100 million page views, referred by the slashdot.org page, costing the taxpayer £1 billion.

    Therefore the Central Information Office has issued an order that slashdot.org be shut down immediately, as a cost saving measure. Please comply, or the ramifications could be dire.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    nice girl and all, but you sure this is the person to fix any of this?
  • Seriously if they are doing £12 per visitor, it really makes me wonder how much they pay for physical office space per visitor. Since it is the government there is probably a building or office that relates the physical presence of each one of these websites. If overall traffic to the websites are that low just imagine how much is wasted as foot traffic is probably significantly less.

    • The budget/visitors metric is a meaningless financial one. If they don't sort websites according to the problems their lack will cause, they'll certainly need an army of clerks, mainly good ole telephone centres, to deal with all the minor requests a citizen might pose, like:
      - looking up legislation or organisational details of an institution (e.g. addresses, phone numbers)
      - finding white papers and other govt publications
      - tracking the correct person to address in order to find relevant information
      - findin

      • by jimicus (737525)

        True, but in this context my guess is they're websites for relatively obscure government services which only get a few hundred people requesting information per annum anyway. It makes far more sense for such obscure services to either be axed altogether or for their websites to be all lumped together in one big portal - it honestly wouldn't surprise me if these websites are so expensive because each and every one of them is hosted on a dedicated box complete with separate backend database server, some sort

  • When will she digivolve to Ultimate? And what will her new powers be?
  • Axe them? (Score:3, Funny)

    by rudy_wayne (414635) on Friday June 25, 2010 @11:15PM (#32699914)

    " UK Gov't To Review Hundreds of Websites, Axe Many of Them"

    Axe them? Axe them what?

  • It's about time... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I worked in local government from 2005 to 2009 where I was involved with the 'Priority Service Outcomes' basically a list of targets with a value attached; if you do x number of these you'll get to keep a boat-load of money from central government. We were quite a small council and I built a website and CMS which met the targets of guidelines; I used all open-source tools and implemented things in a very standards compliant way. Other councils I met with (we all had the same targets) were spending £10

    • by Shimbo (100005)

      We were quite a small council and I built a website and CMS which met the targets of guidelines; I used all open-source tools and implemented things in a very standards compliant way...It's pretty criminal really; ~450 councils in the UK all going off in different directions and spending the same amount of money.

      "She [MLF] will also look at sharing resources and facilities and using low-cost open source products to reduce running costs."

      Fewer expensive CMS systems in the future, it appears.

  • by pbhj (607776) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @07:55AM (#32701758) Homepage Journal

    My blog had 280357 visits in the last year - that means if it were a gov site it would have cost £3.3 Million GBP to upkeep.

    Actual costs assuming I'm paid £20 per hour, so est. £40 per hour employer costs, would be less than £2k for sure. If you assume those costs include all background research and what have you then maybe it would be as much £4k.

    • by arkenian (1560563)

      Actual costs assuming I'm paid £20 per hour, so est. £40 per hour employer costs, would be less than £2k for sure. If you assume those costs include all background research and what have you then maybe it would be as much £4k.

      The 'actual costs' are probably tied up more in the infrastructure and IT support than in the actual website development.

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