I have been preaching for a while that investments in government portals need to be critically reassessed, as citizens look for different and more convenient ways to access. My position on this, dating back to 2001, well before anybody would even spell “Web 2.0” was based on the simple observation that governments cannot easily provide a compelling value proposition either offline or online. This position, suggesting that government portals risk being irrelevant, has been fought by several clients, most vendors and even some of my colleagues.
As I’ve always said, government can be relevant in areas where their is no other easier or more natural way to get to its services and information, as well as in cases where government has a consistent tradition of high customer service and intimacy, as it happens in places like Singapore or some of the Scandinavian countries. Even there, though, the emergence of peer-to-peer networks, where information can be socialized before or while interacting with government, is going to have a disruptive impact.
I was not surprised then when I read about an initiative by the citizens of Birmingham in the UK to develop their own web site and to ditch the expensive official one. The council has not been lucky, since their web site went over budget and behind schedule, but this is just a sign of the times.
As citizens have increasing access to technologies, most of which are designed for consumer use, they will be more and more able to self-organize and turn into legacy also the most recent government channels.
One of the (unintended?) consequences of the open government movement and of web sites like data.gov could be to accelerate the irrelevance of many government web sites and portals. Those who do not believe this may be the case yet, better take a look at the Birmingham Do-It-Yourself site.