Over the weekend, many a small business owner may have noticed the disappearance of the Business Link and Direct Gov websites, which have swiftly been replaced by a new offering known as Gov.uk.
The reason for the change is primarily known to be financial. According to the Cabinet Office, running one site instead of two will save the taxpayer approximately £70 million – an obviously attractive prospect. On the day of the launch (October 16th) the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, announced the site optimistically: “What singles out Gov.uk as unique in government is the fact that is has been created putting its users’ needs at its heart, not the needs of government. It has been planned, written organised and designed around what users need to get done, not around way government want them to do it. Today marks the start of a new way of delivering public services digitally. Gov.uk is a platform for future innovation.”
So far, so good, it would seem. After all, every site needs a straightforward message, helpful content, and the user at the forefront of its mind; Maude’s statement would lead any discerning reader to believe that Gov.uk has all three.
Indeed, upon first glance, the site is basic and easy to use, with a bold, easy to navigate home page and seemingly useful sub sections. Even eConsultancy gave the site a good write up in terms of design, stating that it “certainly scored points for simplicity” and praising the lack of images: an absence which will inevitably mean quicker loading times for eager browsers.
However, first impressions can be deceiving. It wasn’t long before the cracks began to show – and the internet community began pointing out the problems with the polished new approach.
It seems that Gov.uk, whilst seemingly user friendly, has committed the cardinal sin of content, and has actually posted inaccuracies on topics as important as taxation. Elaine Clarke of CheapAccounting.co.uk quickly noticed a rather obvious financial error, and took to her blog to expose the mistake. “This is basic stuff and it is inexcusable to get this wrong,” she wrote. “This site will be relied on by those operating businesses as an expert source of information. I for one have already lost confidence in the content given the very basic errors spotted.”
Ms. Clarke highlights a principal concern, which seems to have slipped under the user-centric radar that Maude painted in his statement – is the content on the site actually what the user needs to see? If there are errors such as the one she pinpoints scattered across the site, visitors could be getting incorrect information that could actually be rather damaging to their business. And, as a business owner herself, Ms. Clarke asks: “What do I do when a client says to me that I am wrong because that’s not what is says on the Gov.uk website?”
Gov.uk may be “simpler, faster and clearer”, and admittedly comes with an attractively simple design. However, until all of the information it offers is factually accurate, it is very unlikely that business owners will trust it as a reliable source – and isn’t that the entire point of the website in the first place?