Happy Birthday gov.uk

Can it really be a year since gov.uk was officially launched? Yes it can.

October 17 2012 feels like a very long time ago. Goodness knows what it must feel like for the Government Digital Service.

I am grateful every day that I do not have to run a big corporate website anymore. We obviously have to take responsibility for content on gov.uk, but aside from a couple of cheeky campaign sites, there’s no more worries about hosting, security and contracts. None of which makes me want to leap out of bed in the morning.

Instead, digital teams like ours are free to use the rest of the web to better effect: for communicating policy, listening to our audiences and sharing content in different ways.

This, along with a revolution in editorial content, huge consolidation of costs and, most importantly, a much improved user experience, is what gov.uk has delivered in the past 12 months.

There’s also much greater transparency around content. Gone are the days when departments could publish content in odd places. And we have a whole raft of very clever and talented new people to work with and learn from.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. For me, the real story behind GDS’s achievements will be the cultural shift inflicted on the civil service by gov.uk. Unfortunately that story isn’t complete yet, which means that the past 12 months have been spent trying to quickly help colleagues less focussed on user need to understand – and accept – how people use the web. We definitely haven’t got there yet.

In an effort to help people understand and love gov.uk, it feels like there has been the odd compromise along the way, which is understandable but also a bit of a shame. The original vision was so pure, but the home page, certain landing pages, use of video content and so on, have diluted this.

Sometimes I also have a sense of unease about the volume of work gov.uk has created outside of GDS. I guess this is inevitable when an organisation and its product grows, but I feel that as the numbers of gov.uk-related emails, meetings and paperwork goes up, the passion with which I can speak about the site is slightly diminished.

All of which is pretty irrelevant in the context of what has been achieved for the British public. I will be putting my own user needs first on 17 October, and visiting the pub. But I’ll be sure to raise a glass to gov.uk and GDS.

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