Under construction: behind the scenes of a government website (soft) launch

Under construction animated gif

Website launches aren’t what they used to be. Back in the day, the birth or re-birth of a website would be heralded with a big ‘welcome’ story on the homepage, a press release, a section gushing about its new and improved features (probably none of which anyone had said they wanted) and – if you were really lucky – a scrolling marquee with an animated gif or two.

These days, it’s all a bit more sophisticated. The unified BIS site went live quietly this weekend, without much fanfare either before or after. Our comms plan said:

This plan proposes a soft launch externally, in view of the current political and economic landscape and in line with web users’ attitudes to change. (…) In developing the site, we have deliberately minimised the impact on end users. The site design is an evolution of the current site and all URLs will be redirected. Users have told us in research that they do not want things to ‘keep changing’.

Instead of drawing attention to the features, we hope the site’s visitors will just find it familiar, intuitive and somehow more satisfying to use than the three sites it’s replaced. We don’t want them to notice it’s all that different, particularly, just to feel that it’s better. And if it’s not, to tell us what we’ve got wrong so we can improve.

So we’ve switched it on quietly, added a short reassuring message about what’s happened, asked for feedback via an unobtrusive Get Satisfaction widget, and encouraged our email subscribers and Twitter followers to give us their thoughts.

But while we may not be trumpeting what’s good about it via the official channels, there’s no reason I can’t on this blog. Here are just some of the things I’m most proud of:

There are some creases to iron out, both in the content and code, but fewer than you might expect with a project of this size. I hope you’ll agree it’s a move in the right direction and one the BIS team should be proud of.

Well done and thanks in particular to John Turnbull, Will Callaghan, Kevin Herrmann, Ian Azille and the network of web publishers at BIS; and Julie, Jane, Adam and Robin from Eduserv for all working ridiculously hard on this project, bringing so much creativity and doing such a fantastic job.

[Edit, before they notice:  I forgot to thank the guys at Redweb for their input on the wireframes and creative design. They pulled out all the stops to turn it around exceptionally quickly back in the late summer last year. ]

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Comments

MoG? Machinery of Government?

Animated gifs and scrolling marquee, wow, I remember those days, we thought we were so posh… how times change. Good luck with it all.

Really like the new site – glad to see that Eduserv have got Sitecore kicking out URLs minus the .aspx extension these days – nice.

Very impressed with the level of transparency as well – great stuff. Access to the GA stuff via Stephs latest little project is a nice touch as well.

Congrats – take a moment to enjoy it as I’m sure there will be another big project just over the horizon!

@John – yes, sorry, should have spelled that out. Will edit.

@Matt – how right you are! We’re ready for whatever comes next, or as ready as we can be.

[...] to merge the old DIUS and BERR websites into the new site which launched over the weekend. Neil has the skinny. There’s a huge amount of work and care gone into the site, some really clever technical [...]

I really like the navigation, search, accessibility features and compliancy. These are the obvious areas where your new web site excels.

I have taken the liberty to discuss the “Fantasy CMS for Government” features with our product development team. Also, feel free to contact me directly, should you have other comments, wishes or ideas.

Again, congratulations with your new web site.

Best,
Lars Fløe Nielsen,
Co-Founder, VP Technical Marketing
Sitecore Corporation

Lars, thanks for stopping by! Much appreciated. I’ll be happy to give more Sitecore-specific feedback offline.

I’m thinking that after all this work, it would really suck if the Tories closed down or merged BIS after the general election!

[...] Under construction: behind the scenes of a government website (soft) launch – Great post from Neil on the soft launch of a new site for BIS – which will save money and hopefully be adaptable to any changes ahead. [...]

cyberdoyle , everything has completely changed from that time – everything has became so complicated at present.

yes everything has changed, but if you keep it simple it isn’t that complicated…
you can KISS or you can FLASH, I know which most users prefer…

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