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back to article Alpha.gov.uk – it's nearly a beta

The government has chucked £261,000 at a post-Directgov website that could, if disliked by taxpayers, be ditched before the site hits beta stage. Alpha.gov.uk launched this morning, and like many recent online efforts from the Coalition, it has gone public as an "early draft" to test the reaction of British citizens. If they …

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Mission statement

Given the way Government departments, Local Government areas etc all now seem to have to attach some pseudo-babble "mission statement"/"corporate branding" to their name (my favourite from a few years ago was "Mid Beds District Council - striving for unitary status") then a first glance at this website might seem to reveal the new UK Government branding of

"UK.gov - there may be errors, inconsistencies and inaccuracies"

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Silver badge

'Set Location'

Doncha just love it?

First thing that pops up is a box that says 'Set your location' and "If we know your location we can give you details of services local to you"

Services, services wtf are they? - its all being cut round here.

Anyway, other sites seem to know (sort of) where I am though it does vary by about 50 miles in any direction.

Alpha? are HM.Gove now in to bogus learning courses run by fundamentalsts?

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Unhappy

Wheel

In other news, the coalition have invented a circular device which can be attached to axles to allow vehicles to move along the road quickly.

Its nice to see some new buzzwords being bounced around and it is doubly nice (in a sadly comical way) to see that the Coalition is intent on doing everything the previous government did while simultaneously claiming it was all rubbish.

Bravo.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Not heard of this, so I've just given it a go,

and it directed me back to DirectGov for the information I wanted.

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FAIL

Hmmm...

Well, the first fail is that the site drops several cookies, and, contrary to the ICO's guidelines, there is no explicit opt in that I could see, or any explanation of what the cookies are used for.

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Big Brother

Maybe this time round

They'll implement open digital signatures - I seem to remember that they were using some MS - only closed rubbish before AFAIK. I hope their plans are browser agnostic & use proper web standards throughout, rather than stuff they were told to use by Ballmer

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Gold badge
WTF?

"trusted private sector identity service providers"

I smell a re-purposed Identity and Passport Office bait and switch.

Didn't take long for the data fetishists to come out of their holes, did it?

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FAIL

Ugh

So, on a very brief perusal we have:

Needs javascript enabled before I can enter a location. Oh, and I see that in common with our good friends at the crime site that I also have to enable amazon web services. I will, however, give them plus points for saying that they don't store the location at their end and that it's kept as a cookie.

Absolute pixel sizes in their style sheets. Very accessible. Not.

Unholy mish mash of serif and sans-serif fonts.

Incredibly long front page -- obviously these guys saw the BBC news redesign and actually liked it.

Have these people never actually read wed standards or even the simplest of HCI textbooks?

I'm sure the rest of you will find even more to be horrified about. I just want to know how on earth this piece of crap could ever justify the price tag.

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WTF?

Dont see the point

IT does the same as the direct gov only glossier, Why not sure update direct gov and not have a big hoo haa about it

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Paris Hilton

eeewwwww

I just had a quick look and for some reason, something about it reminds me of Bing. Yuck!

Paris, cos she also reminds me of Bing but for very different reasons.

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Gates Horns

For a second with that graphic and search bar..

..I thought I was looking at Bing.

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Anonymous Coward

Actually looking pretty good

The current site is a confusing shambles - it looks more like a dodgy price comparison site than a Government website.

Going for a task based search with autocomplete as the main interface is a lot friendlier than some vast index - type in 'driving' and the responses that come back are pretty good. Type in "recycling" and it gives me a link to the right part of my local authority site rather than just dumping me on the homepage (and the 'related item' on the right is "arrange a bulky collection" which again goes to the correct LA subpage). I wonder how they'll manage with 433 Local authorities updating their own sites without a mass of broken links?

Location does need to be entered manually - last time I looked Google thought i was just outside the northern M25 rather than in South London (probably where my ISP's server is) and you need a high degree of accuracy to deal with overlapping local authority and MP areas.

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Go

Works well

Search for 'Fish Fingers' on the home page, break to javascript debugger on IE9:

Message: Object expected

Line: 16

Char: 11056

Code: 0

URI: http://assets0.alpha.gov.uk/javascript/jquery-1.5.1.min.js/4a5dc138X.js

Doesn't error when I search for "Tax".

So far so good.

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Anonymous Coward

but not on Chrome...

fine searching for fish fingers on Chrome.

Interstingly "What is my name?" seems to break TrueKnowledge.com

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Thumb Down

alpha.gov.uk wants to track your physical location

If you click "locate me automatically" and you see that "tracking" instead of "locating" message at the top of your browser, I wonder how many people will think "no, I don't want the government to track me."

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Good start

The auto-location thing is working for me (FF4), but it did chuckle at this http://alpha.gov.uk/fail

Also, they've opted not to bother wasting a shedload of time coding around the various neuroses of IE6, which is a smart move

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FAIL

IE6

Is, ironically, the civil service standard for browsers...

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Took a glance...

For maybe 10 seconds and then killed it - you know what - I don't WANT a government website to be full of fluff and zogging great images - I just want it to be really easy to find information (like when the service charge and ground rent are this year for the block of flats I live in).

Just text, maybe a logo or two and a well thought out and implemented menu/category/search system ... that's it thanks.

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FAIL

Hosted in Ireland, by an American Company.

The alpha.gov.uk site is hosted by an American company (Amazon), in Ireland (46.137.84.225 = Amazon Data Services Ireland)...

So much for getting Britain online.

God save the Queen, best of British etc. :o)

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Go

Concept rather than a technical review

(Disclaimer: I run ScraperWiki, which Alpha.gov used for some of this project)

@The Wegie They've deliberately not made the prototype accessible, see Alpha.gov's blog post about that here. http://blog.alpha.gov.uk/blog/accessibility

@CD001, agreed the front page is deliberately flashy with its Olympics photo. But as soon as you dig into particular apps you're supposed to find exactly what you want - completely lack of flashiness, just the stuff that you need.

@Lamont Cranston, yep they haven't migrated all the content yet. It's a prototype. Makes it harder to tell just how good it would be in the end though.

@Bram, wouldn't it! There are lots of machinations going on inside the civil service. See last couple of pages of Simon Dickson's blog with directgov tag for a feel: http://puffbox.com/tag/directgov/

Testing and staff costs of just Direct.gov are 25 million a year http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jul/05/government-websites-costs

They've spent 1% of that on prototyping a radically redone user interface, with better citizen engagement, and cost savings.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Tell us where you live!!!!

Tried two searches that I tried on the direct website recently: "job centre opening times" and "driving test centres".

"we can do a better job ... at the New Horizon Youth Centre ..."

"When you set your location we can give you details of services local to you,

such as Passport offices, driving test centres or police stations, ..."

But I don't want to set a location, I want to browse through a list of test centres so I can see where they are.

Basically, any search requires you to give it a location.

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