DTI achieves new low

Layout tables galore on the DTI websiteUsually it's accompanied by a feeling of disappointment, resignation and perhaps mild surprise. This week though I'm truly shocked by the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, bile-inducing awfulness of a new UK central government website. I've checked the date on this news release (external link) at least half a dozen times in the hope that it says May 2000 and not May 2006, or will reveal itself to be a sick joke. But no luck, it's a fact, the DTI's newly revamped website (external link) is about as shit as it's possible for a large, corporate website to be.

To make matters worse it's clear that they either don't know how shit it is, or don't care. Take their accessibility page (external link) for example, which boldly claims AA-level standard (sic), and provides a mine of useful information such as how to change the size and colour of text in Netscape. The entire site (thousands of pages at a guess) appears to be devoid of a single heading. It uses a javascript pop-up to provide a printable version of pages.

This time though I'm not just going to whinge about it here, I've been galvanised into action. I'm determined to do some digging to find out just what process was followed to produce this monstrosity, how much it cost and why the eGovernment Unit (external link), whose mission according to the PM is ensuring that IT supports the business transformation of Government itself so that we can provide better, more efficient, public services, are failing so miserably in their responsibility to promote best practice across government.

Comments

Amazing timing,Dan. I've an article nestling on my hard-drive on the inaccessibility of government web sites. I'll just summarise here, saves me proofing and posting.

When www.judiciary.gov.uk was launched, it rendered fine on IE but looked like a bucket of mammoth vomit in anything else. So I did what I've done to other government sites, and contacted them, making a freedom of information request [which legally they must answer within a set timeframe, I thin 20 days]. I ask them to tell me
- who developed the site, and how much it cost
- who in the gvt organisation (not the development company) did accessibility QA
- how they conclude that a page with no headings conforms to WCAG AA [insert your specific beef with the site here]
- which browsers it was tested on, which Assistive Technologies
- to see the process, with timescales, on how they will address deficiencies in their accessibility.

It's interesting reading.

Posted by: bruce at May 18, 2006 10:00 AM

Wow! This site was conceived and built by a very cruel person. Possibly carrying a overly large bunch of keys on their belt hoop whilst plotting the destruction of a neighbours small fury pet. Looking at it in Safari, all the buttons are extremly informative, well completely blank.

I was going to make a few more comments but realise I'd need to write a list to help writing a list of issues. Good luck, Dan.

Posted by: Lee Pilmore at May 18, 2006 10:01 AM

Bruce, did you get responses to your questions? If so are you going to publish them? Those are the sorts of things I'm asking of the DTI, but I'm skeptical I'll get an open answer.

And you're right, under FOI you must receive a response within 20 working days, and in most circumstances that response must contain the information you've requested. There are exceptions, but those aren't likely to apply in this sort of case.

Posted by: Dan at May 18, 2006 11:12 AM

Yes, I did get responses Dan. (I was planning to publish them a month ago, but am in the final laps of a book so the half-finished post languished in a folder, and now you've scooped me!)

Interestingly, judiciary.gov.uk didn't respond for 17 days, so I pinged them again. They then responded that day, with a commendable list of browsers they'd tested against. And, I noticed, everything now miraculously worked in Firefox!

But writing to the DTI could be a valuable public service. Maybe the development company is telling them that it's AA compliant, and the staff at the DTI are taking them at their word. (This happens a lot, I find; non-web businesses don't have the expertise to judge their suppliers' work, or are shown a crappy "Cynthia Says" report and believe it to be definitive.)

You might very well alert them to the fact they're being scammed and save them some money. And, of course, with government, it's acually *our money*.

Posted by: bruce at May 18, 2006 1:00 PM

Holy shit, never mind that HTML Tidy gave up listing the errors in the markup - where do you go to learn CSS imlementations like that hahaha? FoI requests against this sort of rubbish would be a very interesting angle to pursue, I'll be watching this or Bruce's space...

Posted by: Karl at May 18, 2006 1:06 PM

Dan - I get the drift. And good you're raising it. But what are your three top-rated public-service web sites (whether official or indt)? And is it just accessibility you focus on, or content and effectiveness?

William H

Posted by: William heath at May 19, 2006 6:39 PM

William, that's such a good question I've decided to put it in a separate post where others can share their top three sites too. I look forward to reading yours!

Posted by: Dan at May 19, 2006 9:18 PM

I contacted the DTI about the claims of AA level accessibility and the terrible HTML, and the reply I got was that they were under the impression it was compliant. The reply ignored my request for the specification give to the supplier and a contact name for whoever signed it off. They have now removed all references to WAI AA, perhaps wheels are beginning to turn.

Posted by: Doug at May 22, 2006 10:58 AM

Doug, I emailed their FOI email address - foi.requests@dti.gsi.gov.uk - requesting a range of similar information. They can't just ignore bits of your request - at the very least you are entitled to an explanation detailing why they may not be able to provide the information. When I get a response I'll post it here, and hopefully Bruce will get his out soon too.

It is encouraging in a small way that they've dropped reference to AA compliance, hopefully they'll work towards the point where they can legitimately reinstate it.

Posted by: Dan at May 22, 2006 1:03 PM

I hope someone contacts them and asks them to make "reasonable adjustments" to the site!

And it should come out of their pay! Not ours.

Posted by: Shaun Anderson at July 24, 2006 6:35 PM

A sad fact is that honorable companies often don't care about the quality of their web sites. And a web site is their face to so many people.

Posted by: Helen Price at August 22, 2006 11:18 AM

what a horrible website. what a complete waste of money - is it right it cost 175,000.

Posted by: Darren Nicholls at October 4, 2006 10:19 AM

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