Vicky Sargent's Blog Watch 6: GOV.UK, GDS, identity management
If you are interested in government or digital, or both, you’ll probably know that GOV.UK, the site replacing Directgov and Business Link, launches on October 17th.
And in contrast to most website launches, there won’t be much about the new site that you won’t already know. In fact, if you are really keen on this sort of thing, you’ll have seen and tried out earlier iterations of the site, and followed the whole GOV.UK developmental journey.
That’s because the Government Digital Service (GDS), the part of the Cabinet Office designing and developing GOV.UK, have been sharing its work, in detail, on its blog.
The most recent entry, on October 5, covers the huge range of work being done by developers in the run up to the launch including a new version of the homepage and browse pages, more content and tools throughout the site, final work on content, and browser testing. Seven other posts, all written in the same working week, describe activity on identity management (of which more later), performance reporting, search and auto-suggest, SEO, homepage design and website accessibility.
The ‘warts and all’ reporting through the GDS blog is part of its ‘agile’ approach to IT development, in which software is designed, implemented, shared, tested, modified according to the testing feedback, re-implemented, shared, tested…..you get the idea. Searching on agile in the GDS blog offers suggestions for further reading on the topic.
The blog is also pretty smart communication. It represents a very different approach from traditional government communications, in which new things are kept strictly under wraps, but once launched are defended rigorously against every comment or criticism, however constructive.
GDS, by contrast, shares its mistakes and reverses: its post this week on why it has dropped ‘auto-suggest’ being a case in point. ‘Auto suggest’ was our attempt to second guess the answer a user wants based on the first few letters they type into a GOV.UK search box’ says post author Tom Loosemore, the deputy director of GDS (that’s another thing – these pieces aren't written by someone in PR...). ‘We’ve had several people ask why we’ve removed [it], so we thought we’d give you a quick answer. In short: it’s gone because it wasn’t good enough – yet.’
The impact on the rest of government of what GDS is doing and how it is doing it, which seems to me to be profound, has not excited a lot of comment in traditional media, think tanks, and other haunts of the chattering classes. It has, however, been mentioned in admiring terms by the now moth-balled Ideal Government blog, which will be remembered (and is still worth visiting) for its acerbic commentary on public services and government IT.
In his closing post a few months ago, William Heath suggested readers follow what he referred to as the ‘real live “ideal government” implementation being done by the Government Digital Service’ adding ‘Stay on their case and help keep them honest. But so far I get the distinctly promising impression they’re even better at doing than we were at thinking.’
What GDS has been able to achieve in just a few months has excited the interest of those toiling away at the coalface of local government web development, where serious investment in digital is lacking and many politicians, and their senior managers, still do not ‘get’ digital.
Carl Haggerty, the Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council, blogged this week about a meeting he’d been to in London (I was there too, representing Socitm) to discuss with a bunch of local government web managers whether a local GDS might be a way to support people in similar roles.
The debate about what local government can learn from the GDS has been aired in a number of blogs, including Carl’s own blog, and digital consultant Ben Proctor’s post A GDS for local government? Really? (see the thoughtful comment from @philrumens on why common standards, rather than a single solution, is what LG needs). Benjamin Welby’s blogpost reporting on the Localgovcamp in July covers the topic well too (skip to the subhead Project Maple).
Of course, not all things GDS says or does go uncriticised. Information about their work on identity assurance was published this week in the GDS blog post Less About Identity More About Trust.
‘We’re helping develop a secure service that lets people log in to online government services more easily’ said the post. ‘There’ll be no big IT programme and no big government database. Instead, users will be able to prove who they are using accounts they already have with a wide range of non-government organisations. Users will be in control of their own information. By offering people a choice of how to login to services people stay in control of how they verify their identity.’
Among the non-government organisations mentioned in the press articles the post referred readers to for more information, were Facebook and Twitter.
Alan Mather, former CEO of the Cabinet Office e-Delivery Team (2000-04), and the person that delivered the Government Gateway pounced on this, in his post The Facebook Identity Fallacy / Fiasco. ‘Identity is very complicated’ he said ‘and whilst there are some simple steps to be taken, GDS needs to get a far, far better handle on what it is telling the media lest the wrong expectations are set.’ His other posts on identity, including Making an Identity Market, are well worth reading.
Simon Dickson’s Puffbox blog On logging in via Facebook referenced the experience of mailing service MailChimp, which had added the option to login via social media to correct the high failure rate of its user base when attempting to log in.
If you have any interest in this topic at all, it really is worth reading the whole of the MailChimp post, Social login buttons aren’t worth it. There are two key points.
First, although failure rates declined by a dramatic 66% after the social login buttons were added, it turns out that just 3.4% of those visiting the login page were using them. MailChimp discovered that it was other improvements to the user experience introduced at the same time, like improved copywriting and better error handling, that were responsible for the improved performance.
Second, the whole episode caused MailChimp to consider carefully the implications of using social logins and they’ve decided against. Potential downsides include being tainted by the bad press around Facebook and Twitter, risks or putting security in third party hands, and for a variety of reasons, social logins do not always work for the user either.
Vicky Sargent’s Blog Watch is published on Mondays, covering blogs on government, digital technology, the public sector, health & social care and a few random things. Recommend a blog for Vicky to follow or take part in the conversation using the comments function below. Vicky Sargent (@vickysargent) is a director of Boilerhouse Media.