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GDS sets out to sharpen GOV.UK

27/10/15

Project team aims to rebuild publishing tools and improve navigation for central government’s website

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is working on a number of changes to the GOV.UK publishing platform, in an effort to resolve what is sees as shortcomings in the existing version.

GOV.UK_screenshotIt has launched projects to rebuild the publishing tools – notably application programme interfaces (APIs) – and improve navigation of the central government website as its priorities for the rest of the financial year.

Brad Wright, head of technology for GOV.UK, says in a blogpost that the work has been rising up the agenda after GDS met the final of the four original deadlines in preparing the site for this year’s election.

This followed three other demanding deadlines to replace existing sites over the previous three years, and led to an accumulation of technical debt – compromises in the software development. It also led to the use of three disconnected publishing systems and 70 applications, each with their own versions of common features and variable user experiences.

Difficulties

“The impact of all this accumulated complexity and variance is that the system is now becoming difficult to maintain and improve, as developers are forced to context-switch between multiple, different ways of making things,” Wright says. “It also makes it more costly than it should be to build new tools to meet new needs, as we need to keep duplicating rather than re-using our own functionality.

“So it’s vital that we increase how much effort we’re investing in repaying our debt, to bring it back to manageable levels, and to get more value from the things we have built.”

This has prompted the beginning of a rebuild of the core architecture of GOV.UK to provide more consistency for civil servants publishing content. It is also aimed at making it easier for government users to build their own applications and re-use canonical information – which fits a design pattern for communication between formats – from the platform.

The work will involve building a new API for serving citizens, which will include a single system for previewing content and a universal tagging system; then APIs for publishing that will include consistent features across the tools.

Wright says the project should provide better features for publishers in Whitehall and provide benefits the public.

Navigation weakness

A separate blogpost by Ben Andrews says that GOV.UK suffers from a problem of users having to make too many navigation choices, along with weaknesses in its internal search and publishers failing to understand its tagging systems. Also, users often do not know where they are on the site when entering from search engines.

GDS is aiming to solve the problems by building a topic hierarchy to which all the content on the website will be tagged and using it to support navigation, orientation and search.

“Our end goal is to make GOV.UK joined up and really easy to understand,” Andrews says.” We want it to be easy for users to find the content that is most relevant to their needs irrespective of how they entered the site or their current understanding of the subject they are interested in.”

Image under Open Government Licence v3.0

 

 

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