Friday, November 21, 2008

Victorian Government Meets Web 2.0

On Monday, November 17, Chris Sampson from Parisfirst Partners and Ian Stewart from the Office of the Premier of Victoria spoke about the current Premier of Victoria's website. The event was organised by the Web Standards Group (WSG) with the audience being a mix of developers, corporate delegates and other government agencies.

Chris Sampson was the consultant responsible for the implementation of the new site. The new Premier, John Brumby, who assumed office on the resignation of Steve Bracks wanted to do something contemporary to reflect the change of leadership. Chris looked to the Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Kevin07’s websites for direction.

A decision was made to utilise open source as they needed to get the site up and running in a short timeframe and deliver within 4 months. Given the timeframe they decided to host on the State Library of Victoria’s ‘VicNet’ and use whatever CMS software they needed to get the job done. The consultant had a background in Lotus Notes and little knowledge of open source or web 2.0, so she decided to contact the web developers of Kevin 07 to find out how they did the site. The development company; Webplace, were using Joomla and given the timeframe, a lack of knowledge and no avenues to resource the development, Chris decided to engage them with the intention of using the existing Kevin07 templates for the Premiers site.

The consultant went out to tender for the design and engaged Next Digital for the creative treatment. Accessibility was an issue as they needed to transcribe the Premiers videos to achieve a WCAG Level A standard which took a considerable portion of project time. She decided to use You Tube as the video player as it quickly gave them the video embedding code, format standards and player controls. Originally You Tube quoted a cost of $250,000 placement of a banner on the Premiers user account channel, however after considerable negotiation via email they managed to have the price removed altogether for Government and other Not for Profit organisations.

The new site featured a feedback section called ‘Your Voice’ which enabled the community to Ask the Premier a question or share ideas using a submission form, and voice their opinion in a moderated forum section. Chris said it felt like they were pioneers in the implementation of rich media into a government site.

Ian Stewart said open source was a preference of the government and he came into the website project after it had already been launched. Ian said the ‘Office of the Premier’ was a political office and wasn’t subject to the procurement rigours of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and subsequently they were independent to make their own decisions on the development. There were numerous concerns about the security of using YouTube and they decided to remove the comments feature from the You Tube Channel and close the forums as professional lobby groups were using them in ways they hadn’t been intended.

Ian also mentioned there were some problems with the limited capabilities of advanced search within Joomla, especially in relation to Media Releases which was a issue given the Press look to government websites for comment on issues. Ian looked to the UK Prime Minister's website which was based on Wordpress for direction.

He spoke about improvements he made to the original Premier’s site including the implementation of a Joomla Javascript extension called Lightbox for the homepage which defaulted to text if Javascript wasn’t enabled on the browser, He used Flickr for the photo gallery, installed RSS which to date hasn’t been very popular, and Twitter. Due to cost constraints they only occasionally operate a live parliament webcast for high profile issues. Ian said the site was still a work in progress and he was looking at ways to improve it so other agencies would continue to adopt Web 2.0 technology.

No comments: