Friday, May 14, 2010

Web revolution sweeps Whitehall

"This is the first time we have had a change of government in the internet age. When Labour came to power in 1997, government departments were just beginning to feel their way on the web".

Web revolution sweeps Whitehall | 14 May 2010 | Brian Wheeler, Political reporter, BBC News

Never mind the events in Downing Street. There is a revolution going on in cyberspace too.

DCLG website
Work is under way to update departmental websites

Government web activity was frozen during the general election campaign but now that the new coalition Lib Dem/Conservative government is taking shape it has exploded into frenetic life.

Mouse-wielding civil servants across Whitehall are engaged in a frantic rush to archive old pages full of defunct policies and pen portraits of now departed Labour ministers and to replace them with shiny new web pages that reflect the priorities and personalities of their new political masters.

Many of the main departmental sites are currently carrying this warning on their home page: "Content on this site is under review following the formation of a new government."

Others, such as the Department of Communities and Local Government, are stripped back to the bare essentials.

Brown pictures

The most dramatic change is at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has been rebranded as the Department for Education.

Foreign Office website 1997
The Foreign Office website had few frills in 1997

Out goes the rainbow logo and touchy-feely graphics; in comes a sober blue colour scheme and a stern warning to the casual web browser: "All statutory guidance and legislation linked to from this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise, but may not reflect Government policy."

It only takes a few clicks to find old DCSF-branded material, although again there are ample warnings that the documents may not reflect government policy, and search engines still throw up the old web address.

The Downing Street site has undergone a few changes too.

The Number 10 channel names for Flickr, Twitter and YouTube have all changed to Number10gov.

There are pictures and videos of David Cameron and Nick Clegg everywhere on the Downing Street website. It is difficult to find any images of Gordon Brown and the site's search engine has also been temporarily disabled while old content is archived, to stop people searching for them.

But Mr Brown's biography has been added to the list of "prime ministers in history".

Historic moments

Mr Cameron's "Meet the PM" biography is a work in progress. It has a moody picture of the Conservative leader with wife Samantha but the biographical details are thin, with a statement from the new PM promised shortly.

It says: "Mr Cameron's family has always been the starting point of everything he has wanted to achieve in politics. He is proud of the values that were instilled in him when he was young."

Foreign Office website 2000
The Foreign Office site had moved by 2000 - it had a drop down menu!

Documents singing the praises of Labour's economic policy have been removed from the Treasury site, into the National Archives.

This is the first time we have had a change of government in the internet age. When Labour came to power in 1997, government departments were just beginning to feel their way on the web.

Just how much has changed can be seen from newly released archive pages charting the development of government websites during the 13 years of Labour rule.

Historic moments such as the May 1997 decision to hand control of interest rates to the Bank of England are captured on the Treasury website from that time.

Other historic government websites, including early versions of the Downing Street site, are avaiable to view on the National Archive website.

Downing Street website
The Downing Street site in 2000 - very web 1.0

David Thomas, Director of technology at the National Archives, said: "We are the only government archive in the world regularly capturing and preserving government websites.

"The ephemeral nature of websites means there's a risk that important information could be lost without a comprehensive web archiving programme."

Since 2003, the National Archive has been trawling 1,500 government websites three times a year to take screen shots for its archives, which can be viewed by the public on its website.


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