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(Original post follows):

We’ve moved house.

We think you’d like to get updates on the whole of the GOV.UK product, not just Inside Government bit of it.

And that you’d also like a better search, and better categorisation of past posts.

So we’re off, to a new home on the GOV.UK blogging platform, and a brand new(ish) name: Inside GOV.UK (https://insidegovuk.blog.gov.uk)

We’ve taken some stuff with us - the most recent, useful and popular posts from this blog have been polished up for the new site. 

And we’ve also migrated our email subscription list, so you don’t need to worry about signing up again.

So, this is the last post on this Tumblr blog. See you over on Inside GOV.UK.

Sprint ending 25th June

Despite the best of intentions, we didn’t make as much progress on the transition tool last week as we hoped. Overspill from the previous sprint plus a couple of urgent things that came up during the week pushed the transition tool work down the list. 

So the dominant theme for this week’s sprint is, once again, transition tooling, plus there are a handful of stories we need to deliver to support HM Treasury’s use of the topical events format for the coming spending round. 

You can see all the stories we’ve prioritised for this sprint listed in the Backlog column on Pivotal Tracker.

During the sprint that’s just ended we also: 

  • Fixed all links from detailed guides that still had /specialist-guides/ in their URL
  • Enabled agencies and NDPBs to have organisation profiles for their high profile units  (aka “sub-orgs”). Previously the system only allowed these to be associated to a parent ministerial department. 
  • Added opening hours and access details to the API for worldwide offices’ contact information. This API is used to surface the embassy and consular contact details from Inside Gov on other parts of GOV.UK, like the travel alerts service. Knowing when the office is open is usually helpful to people before they rock up there.
  • Cleaned up a handful of dodgy URLs that had typos or bad slugs in response to requests from departments. Currently there’s a long wait for any such requests, for which we’re sorry. Longer term we hope to provide self-service tools for this so we are not a bottleneck. 

How search works

The improved GOV.UK site search has been up for a few days now.

It makes things better for users of Inside Government by headlining the top 3 search results, then showing the rest under just 2 tabs. ‘Services and information’ shows all the mainstream content and the detailed guides. 

When you click on the ‘Departments and policy’ tab you get results from Inside Government - including all the corporate pages, organisation pages, people, document series, policies, publications and announcements.

You also get a department and agency filter, so that you can cut the results down to 1 organisation’s output.

This is the first time the organisation filter has been shown in the general site search and should offer a big improvement for users who need specific content.

We thought this would be a useful time to recap on how search works, as this too has improved since launch.

The search goes through the document, attaching a weighting in this order:

  1. title
  2. summary
  3. body (including sub-headings) + titles of all attached documents 

Multiple word searches will return results that contain all or at least some of the words, weighting results where the words are grouped together.

Page titles and publication titles

It’s worth emphasising that the titles of attached files are indexed by search. This means that publications and consultation pages can be given titles and summaries in plain English, without penalising users who search by the exact publication title to find the right page.

So there’s absolutely no excuse for page titles that replicate unfriendly document titles, like this one:

Publication
Evaluation of the Joint Financing Arrangement II (JFA II) Support of Pooled Fund Partners to the 2010–2012 ECA Business Plan

Please aim for plain English titles like this:

Publication
Evaluation of joint financing for UN Economic Commission for Africa

We’ll keep updating you as we make more improvements to search.

Foreign language only documents

Translated editions of documents have been a feature of Whitehall for some months now. To date, the only way to have a document in a language other than English was to first have an English document and then create a translated edition. 

But now we have released a feature that permits the publishing of Worldwide location news articles without there having to be an English version.  

The steps involved are:

Create new Worldwide location news article > Select ‘Designate ‘foreign language only’ document’ > Heed warning > Make document > Save 

It is as easy as that. But use sparingly because you can’t add subsequent translations and URLs get a numerical ID rather than a meaningful, human-readable slug.

The product team aren’t keen on this one. Pressures was applied to a replicate a feature of the previous FCO platform but we didn’t think the user need was at all clear. There is definitely a need to translate content but we can’t see why that content shouldn’t also be in English.

We’ll keep a keen eye on its usage and performance.

Sprint ending 18 June is all about transition

Yesterday was the start of a new sprint. (We plan our work in weekly sprints, which run from Wednesday to Tuesday). 

The theme of this week’s sprint is transition prep. Bar a handful of other stories (eg to fix a few bugs and to iterate the topical events design) this sprint’s stories are all about building out a new “transition tool”.  You can view the stories here

The transition tool will automate a lot of the work that was done manually for the 24 departments, by providing a clear view of a transitioning organisation’s DNS status and redirects, and providing self-service tools for fixing broken redirects. 

The tool will be vital to the next phase of the transition programme which will see nearly 300 agency and NDPB websites join us in the space of a year. It’s also something the live departments need now, to repair redirect mappings that are missing or broken. 

So that’s why it’s our top priority. 

As it stands, it looks like this: 

image

Currently this is just a view of the data. The work for this week includes beginning to get data into the tool automatically and enabling organisations to edit it. 

Duplicate titles in site search

There’s been a GDS team diligently working away improving search on GOV.UK. They’ve asked us to relay some important general advice to Whitehall publishers.

They’ve come across several apparent duplicate results while testing site search, which are confusing users.

There are two recurring issues in particular:

1. Actual duplicate publications or forms (identical or older versions), for example:imageThe way to deal with this is to delete the superfluous versions (cue: support form). If there are slight differences between versions of the same publication (eg. an easy-read version or a flyer format) add them together on one page and explain the nuances there. 

2. Items with identical titles but different content, for example:

image

The big request here is to avoid duplicate or vague titles by writing them in the context of the whole GOV.UK site rather than the individual department.

Better titles would expose the substantial content within documents - a quote, for example. Judicious use of metadata is also OK where it is going to help users differentiate search results. For example, another document related to the Woolwich incident published by the Home Office had the title ‘Home Secretary’s statement on Woolwich attack’, which is at least clearer and more distinct without having to read the description to tell the results apart. 

The recently released improvements to search across GOV.UK will help. The Inside Government team will also move forward on stories that will automatically inject helpful metadata. For example, we’ll include minister name into title of speeches and statements in listings and search results and are creating a sub-type of speech for statements that have multiple speakers.

Jun 7

Smart markdown tool for inserting contacts

Inserting contacts into pages just got lots easier. 

Instead of going to the organisation admin and copying the contact reference markdown to your clipboard, you can now just start typing and then pick the relevant contact from a list. 

Here’s how to use it. 

1. While editing any field that supports markdown, begin typing the markdown command to insert a contact, like this: 

[contact:

2. A dialogue box will appear, listing a few contacts, like this: 

3. Continue typing to filter the entire database of organisation contacts and bring up relevant matches. For example, if you type “defra”, it will show all the contacts belonging to Defra:

It will also return matches for the title of the contact itself, for example here is what happens if you type “FOI”: 

4. Click on the contact you want to insert, and your markdown command will be automatically completed using the relevant contact reference number: 

5. Finally, it’s a good idea to click the “preview” toggle to double-check it’s the contact you wanted. 

This is the first step towards making the markdown editor smarter. We intend over time to extend this kind of functionality to make it easier to insert attachments, images and internal links into pages. 

Feedback on how you get on using this is extremely welcome before we roll it out further. 

Jun 5

Good news and bad news about email alerts

First the bad news.

As many of you will have noticed, we experienced a nasty bug today which meant that email alerts were going out with only the format name and change note for each content item, without a title or summary. 

We spotted it yesterday evening, fixed it this morning and deployed the fix to production this afternoon. All content that was published between  those times will have been affected. 

We’re very sorry for the hiccup. It was caused by unforeseen conflicts between apps following an upgrade to the version of Rails we’re using on the main whitehall app. We’ll do a post mortem and make sure we learn from the mistake. 

Now the good news

As of today, email alerts will now be going out at around 4pm each day  to subscribers who have chosen to receive daily alerts, and at around 4pm on Sundays to those who have opted for weekly alerts. (Immediate alerts continue to be immediate, natch). 

Previously the daily digest alerts were hitting inboxes in the morning which meant the information (from the previous 24 hours) was already fairly stale. 

A 4pm delivery time is optimal according to the wisdom and experience of those good folks who ran the former info4local service. Sending the messages at 4pm means information lands in people’s inboxes in time to read it on their commute home, and it includes all of the same day’s updates up until the moment the email went out. 

Jun 5

How to cover rolling news events - Woolwich case study

We wanted to share with others the thoughtful approach that the No10 digital team have taken to covering the recent tragic events in Woolwich on GOV.UK.

As the story unfolded, the team decided to keep a single landing page updated with the latest news. 

This short, jargon-free, page helps add context to - and provide a single user-friendly route into - more detailed information elsewhere. A digest of the most significant news releases from across government appears towards the bottom of the page.

This landing page was consistently promoted from the No10 homepage, helping optimise it in search as a first place for a general audience to start.

The page also successfully puts the government response to this incident into a broader context - it links prominently though to the policy on counter-terrorism work, and to more information on COBRA.

One final tip from us - if you are producing a frequently-updated page such as this, please be sure to publish updates as ‘major changes’ and annotate them in publisher, so users know what’s changed between editions.

Jun 5

Blog discovery: what you told us

We wrote here last week about the plans for the GOV.UK blogs platform and how to get one.

Alongside the technical work being done by dxw, we asked Steph Gray of Helpful Technology  to talk to nine ministerial departments with blog platforms to identify the departmental user needs for blogging and how they are currently using theirs, to help guide the future development of the GOV.UK blogging service.

While it’s not intended to be mandatory in the way that the move of corporate content to Inside Government has been, the platform will hopefully offer a great option to departments looking to start new blogs or re-house existing ones.

Here’s a summary of what Steph found:

  • There are a relatively small set of blogs in operation in most departments interviewed – typically between 5-20 active bloggers per organisation, with exception of the FCO which has around 90 currently
  • Most organisations see their use of blogging continuing fairly steadily, serving a useful niche to tell softer or joined-up stories behind departmental announcements and policy, inviting contributions from external guest bloggers, and promoting engagement alongside the content on Inside Government
  • Getting good content and sustaining enthusiasm from bloggers is a challenge across government
  • Blogging tools are in use in several organisations for purposes other than classic blogging, e.g. to host content for email bulletins or rebuttals of news coverage; as a feed of public notices; or for various consultations and engagement campaigns
  • Departments handle blog management and post workflow differently, from fully devolved publishing (FCO and DH) to fully centralised (UKTI and DFID), with central digital teams managing technical aspects of the platform and approving/setting up new bloggers
  • Most departments run their blog platforms at what they feel is a low cost
  • WordPress is the dominant platform, generally using fairly mainstream configurations, though DFID and FCO curate some of their bloggers into groups/collections and at DECC, some posts are presented together under a campaign identity
  • Looking to the future, everyone interviewed could imagine moving their blogs to GOV.UK’s platform, as long as it supports the equivalent functionality and continues to provide a departmental view of blogs/posts
  • Adopting stronger GOV.UK branding/URLs would not be an obstacle
  • The prospect of being able to tag blog posts with GOV.UK policies, organisations and individuals, and potentially present a feed of recent posts alongside related content on Inside Government was seen as a big opportunity to boost readership of blogs and complement GOV.UK announcements and profiles

Thanks to the departments who took part in the interviews - we’ll keep you posted here on the developments in the platform.

As an external user I come across examples of Govt press releases that announce reports but don't include a link to the report, and there seems to be no obvious other access point for the document. See: New measures build on progress protecting childhood (24.5) Is there a protocol, checklist or whatever that makes contributors link to material they claim to be announcing? If not, can this be considered? Serious researchers / news reporters need to analyse substance, not just repeat pr puff.

Anonymous

Agree with that. It is the expectation that such links should be provided and there are no technical barriers to doing so. We’ll remind publishers and bring their attention to your feedback. You should also report specific instances via https://www.gov.uk/feedback/contact and we can pass them on to the department or agency directly.

Whitehall is getting personal and other new features

Some of the Whitehall team may have been taking a well-deserved holiday but the team has kept plugging away on some cracking new features, performance enhancements and tools to aid the transition of ALBs.

Here are the highlights for publishers:

We can see what you’re doing

We are now tracking the performance of admin using Google Analytics and this is helping us better understand how admin is used and how its performance can be improved.

image

Getting personal

Now when you log in to admin you are presented with a personalised dashboard featuring your draft documents and your organisation’s force published documents that need reviewed.

image

Add this

The admin nav now features a + button which you can click when you want to create a new document.

It’s part of the work to reduce the noise in admin (if you want the old school flavour, it’s still there on the ‘Documents’ page).

Fan-tab-ulous

It had been the case that editorial notes, change history and any fact checking was all mixed in together in one list on the right hand column when previewing a document in admin.

We’ve now introduced tabs for each of these to help differentiate between them. 

image

You’re in the lead

The lead organisation field is automatically populated when you create a document based on your user account.

Topical material

It is now possible to associate publications and consultations to topical events. This association is managed and displayed in the same manner as topics. 

Attention to detail

Departments dealing in a lot of detailed guidance can advertise the fact on their homepages.

Control this by editing your organisation and selecting the categories under which you have guides; these categories then display on the org homepage under topics.

image

Time of delivery

You can specify the exact time a speech was given or a publication was released.

Thanks for your post about using admin links (28 May). Please could you clarify, when we are adding a link to a page that is already live (for example a policy or publication) should we use the "whitehall-admin" URL rather than the live URL of the page? Thanks

Anonymous

Yes, if you are linking from one Whitehall page to another (regardless of status) it is advisable to use the admin url because this protects it against frontend changes.

Just to be clear, you can use admin URLs to link from document to document:

  • Policy
  • Publication
  • News
  • Consultation
  • Speech
  • Detailed guide
  • Priority
  • Location news
  • Case study
  • Statistical data set
  • Fatality

Whereas public URLs should be used when linking from documents to:

  • Document series
  • Organisation
  • Policy team
  • Policy group
  • Role
  • People
  • Topic
  • Topical event
  • Worldwide organisation
  • Worldwide location
  • Field of operation

Instructions on this distinction are also provided in the ‘Formatting help’ when creating a new document.