Those who have been following my research since my early days at Gartner may remember my note about the irrelevance of government portals (published in January 2001, login required), as well as my rants on the same topic on this blog.
I just read that the city of Takeo in Japan has decided to shut down its official web site and just maintain a presence in Facebook. The web site will be maintained mostly to redirect visitors to the Facebook page.
One could argue that this is a controversial choice and that forces people to join Facebook to get access to city information on-line. Also, there is little evidence that people really like institutional pages on Facebook.
But this is not the point. The point is that it is possible to get rid of the web site, and even more of those government portals that aim at providing a life event view of services and information to citizens and enterprises and almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.
Think about it.
- Citizens who are occasional, infrequent users of a government web site or portal, will most likely search for what they need: whether on an external search engine (more likely) or on the web site itself, they are not looking for a fancy, consistent interface that takes them through the “logical” steps, but just for effective search results.
- Citizens who are more regular users, as they have periodic administrative obligations or have the right to periodic benefits, may either use intermediaries or expect those interactions to be modeled around what they see as the “logical” steps (e.g. integrated with their on-line banking access as well as their social networking connections) rather than what government believes are the logical steps.
- Small business are likely to behave like the citizens above, while larger businesses want to run applications that do integrate with web services provided by the relevant authorities they interact with, so they are not likely to be interested in the web sites either.
- Last but not least, anything that smells “participation” or “engagement” needs to take place on a mainstream social media platform, possibly on the citizens’ own virtual turf (i.e. their groups, their blogs, their Facebook pages) rather than on the governments’ one.
So, as governments are struggling to save money going forward, why don’t they start with pulling the plug on their web sites? And I am not suggesting to just consolidate them into a single portal, like the Brits have been doing for some time. Let’s see if they can pull the plug or, more realistically, dramatically scale those down too.