UK government websites and direct.gov.uk

Yesterday, I created my first Wikipedia entry, presumably increasing the total number of English articles to 1,049,001. I’ve dabbled in editing existing articles before, correcting grammar and adding information where I thought it lacking; but this was my first page creation.

If you can’t find a page that you think deserves a place, you simply type in the desired title, complete with spaces, in the browser’s address bar after the http://en.wikipedia.org/. You’re then invited to create your content. Really simple!

The page I added is called UK government websites. There didn’t seem to be a consolidated list out there of all gov.uk domains, so I created one. The e-Government Unit within the Cabinet Office is responsible for administering such domains (over 3,000), but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t publish the exhaustive list. The page I’ve created is not yet exhaustive; it’s a result of searching on Google for the word the within gov.uk domains. (That should pick up most, right?) I then took the first 500 results, de-duped, suppressed local government sites (there are a few sources already out there that list these) and sorted by domain.

There are some that tickled me while manipulating the data. First of all, the DTLR still has a landing page, despite being disbanded five years ago. Then there’s www.darwin.gov.uk (dedicated to bizarre deaths in government?) and www.magic.gov.uk, that presumably gives you untold benefits and tax deductions. Actually, the latter seems to represent a government department created for the purpose of fulfilling an acronym. Then there’s the Farriers Registration Council (I kid you not), NetRegs (its site didn’t seem to tell me what NetRegs is short for), the Office of the Queen’s Printer for Scotland (I can’t find an English equivalent), RedBox (careful, the Back button doesn’t work when you get there!) and the Tanzania Online High Commission, commission spelt incorrectly in the title bar of its site.

I’ve already been told that there’s at least one missing: www.hedgehogs.gov.uk. If you notice anything missing, please feel free to update the page. I’d like this list to become as comprehensive as possible.

Apparently, there’s a big push going on at the moment to promote Directgov. I project managed the site’s technical implementation through Spring 2004, and in the meantime it has steadily increased its draw, attracting over 2m visitors in February.

Its main stumbling block is that it’s competing for traffic against the rest of government, within which branding is all over the place – the above analysis begins to highlight the issues it faces. One thing I didn’t mention is that on visiting these sites, rarely are any two consistent in their look and feel or behaviour. Often, campaign sites are created so that an advertising campaign can be supported by a call to action, further diluting the enormously powerful brand that government could realise.

The list of government websites should serve as an overdue warning to the government’s brand custodians, should these people exist. Directgov offers an ideal opportunity for the government to re-group under a single, orange umbrella, in the process hopefully reducing the length of the list I created. This is one example where less is indeed more.

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