Beefy and Lamby anyone?

Comment on the Government’s proposals to close 550 plus government websites has provoked a range of comment from “about time too” to “a bit of a sick joke“, with numerous geeks chipping in that this is all unnecessary because [Web 2.0 reason here].

One needs to dig a little deeper than the government press release and related news stories to the Report itself and the earlier Varney Review of Service Transformation which is at the heart of it.

The move is giving effect to Varney’s proposal that:

by 2011, almost all citizen and business e-services migrate to Directgov and and all e-transactions are provided through these two primary websites. This means that all departments will have one corporate website, utilising shared infrastructure and all other sites will be closed.

Note that Varney specifically refers to cititizen- and business-facing transactions going to Directgov and Businesslink: the PSI goes to the Department website.

It does sound, on the face of it that “At a time when government says it is encouraging frontline innovation and devolution, this is centralisation gone mad.”

The current report covers only sites maintained directly by ministerial government departments, so these are not, at present, devolved sites or services, just sites (or in some cases already sub-sites) with separate identities. The list of websites to close clearly shows that many of these are indeed “vanity sites that do not serve a useful purpose” or are public service ads which hardly deserve a unique URL.

And remember, Web 2.0 works both ways: giving voice both by aggregating distributed and devolved services (think blogging, tagging etc), but also via centralised supersites (think WikiPedia, MySpace etc). It’s not whether but how the government services are centralised that matters.

Websites of executive agencies, non-ministerial departments and other non-departmental public bodies will be considered in a later review. Again, though the bodies themselves have, by definition, separate identities, many of them operate satellite sites that might be rationalised similarly.