Sunday, 8 August 2010

Sunday ramble about Thanet District Council’s website.


This is a long old ramble and not much recommended as it is rather depressing, as soon as I can I will get some folk week pictures up on the top of the blog, just a case of it needs saying and I hope that the council will take some notice of it.

This is about the shortcomings of the councils, something I would far rather not be spending my time on, I much prefer the local history and frankly would rather be spending time on that.

The problem with the council is that it is only the bits I see as citizen that I can judge what they are doing from, for all I know the bits that I can’t see may be functioning perfectly ok, however from some of the bits that I do see it is obvious that a lot of our money is going into something and what is coming out is just poor.

Something that I see all to often is their website and frankly despite trying very hard to get them to mend the some of the most basic broken bits it still seems to be something that doesn’t get fixed.

I am still trying on the absolute front end of this, getting them to get the homepage reasonably functional, much of the problem is I think that they just don’t seem to understand what is wrong.

There homepage is http://www.thanet.gov.uk/ I am not going to take it all apart here but just a bit starting at the top.

The search box, you have to try this to believe it, the first time I did I thought it was some sort of temporary glitch, I am sorry to say that it isn’t.

Here are some search words to try in this search box: “Ramsgate” “Margate” “Broadstairs” “Thanet” All these words return the following result: Sorry, no pages found containing your search terms.

Quite simply this most basic website function just doesn’t work and hasn’t worked properly for over a year see http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2009/05/search-thanet-district-council-website.html

Back in May of last year I pointed this out to the council, found and sent them the script for a search facility that does work, engaged in a long and time consuming dialogue with them and at the same time added the facility to search their website to the sidebar of this blog. This facility returns 370 results for the search term “Ramsgate” from the council’s website.

I do wonder though just how much of our money has been pumped into the councils attempts to write a better web search script than Google can, which from the correspondence I received from them seemed to be the way they have been going for the last year.

Next we come to their Adobe Flash Player header banner, this is promoting some major Thanet events but not the main one this week, once again this is something I tried to sort out with the council last year.

I have tried a slightly different approach this year, this started with my blog post http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2010/08/thanet-district-council-snub.html I am afraid that I deliberately couched this in terms that the council wouldn’t like hoping to attract some anonymous comment a member of the council. For one reason on or another they don’t usually comment under their own names about this sort of thing, certainly there is very little blogging on councillors own blogs recently.

This was mainly because I knew that if I approached the councillors directly or made some sort of official complaint one way they would use to avoid this issue would be to misunderstand what I was talking about. I would say to most people of reasonable intelligence promoting one major local event on their website while ignoring another is an indefensible position.

Well I did this and got what I needed and sent off the complaint on Friday, here is a link to what I sent http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/laptop810a/id5.htm needless to say they didn’t actually do anything about the problem.

What I did get was an email telling me that I would receive a response within ten working days from customer services and nothing from the cabinet members who I had copied it to.

Coming down the council’s homepage we now come to, news, as I publish the Thanet press releases blog http://thanetpress.blogspot.com/ this interests me, since I started communications with the council about this some aspects of this part of their website have improved.

The solution that I suggested was that the council’s IT department set up a way that the council’s press officers could publish the press releases and associated pictures directly to the internet.

Many of the problems that have occurred during period (over a year now) that I have taken an interest in their press release publication, have been because the IT officer publishing the press release hasn’t written it and doesn’t understand properly what it relates to. These problems are often compounded because of the time they take to put right, that is if they are ever put right.

One way that I suggested that they could resolve this issue was to embed a blog into the council’s website and make all of the officers team members, I really don’t think that they liked this idea as it would have cost absolutely nothing from an IT point of view. Free solutions to otherwise expensive problems seem to be very difficult for councils to comprehend, with the current economic situation, somehow they are going to have to grasp this nettle.

I think the problem here is that it took some time for local government to catch up with the internet, and regulation of what internet facilities they can use seems to have started at some totally random point. As far as I can see the council use Youtube and Twitter but draw the line at Google and Blogger, hence the search facility.

Their approach seems to be putting money into trying to produce in house solutions, instead of using free facilities that already exist, they have got some way with this.

Feeds, these are the mysteries internet codes that allow updated content to be noticed, simply a way of letting people know when something new has appeared on a website, most of us use this on blogger almost without thinking about it as it is built in. the most common use of this is the recent posts on other blogs thingy on most of the local blogs sidebars. This is something that they have now mastered for part of their website, when they put up something new on that part of their website it now appears on the sidebar of this blog. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen when they put up a new document, like the notice of a meeting or some major planning application that effects a lot of local people. This does happen for the press releases though.

The next thing is pictures, sometimes they manage to get one of their very good pictures up with their press release see http://www.thanet.gov.uk/news/latest-press-releases/rainham-school-visit.aspx as an example, for the most part though they only manage a thumbnail that you can’t expand, that is if the photo ever sees the light of day.

This raises the obvious question about the cost i.e. why are we paying for photographs that don’t ever seem to reach the light of day?

Another problem is the amount of time press releases take to appear, on occasions a press release promoting some local event has actually take so long to appear that when it does the event is over. On the whole they seem to be getting better at this although still some of the press releases that I put on my press release blog take ages to appear on the council’s website, the latest one http://thanetpress.blogspot.com/2010/08/changes-made-to-asset-disposal-plans.html appears to fall into this bracket.

There is also of course the business of actually attempting to communicate with local people, by this I mean some sort of moderated comments, the only place the council do this is on their planning site, there they have chosen to set the site so that any public comments are not visible to the public.

What comes next, well there are all their links down the left side and I may get to some of them if I get time, on to the right side of the page is “do it online” I will have a go at this some other time as it seems to be about paying things and joining things, something that would make it difficult, the first link precludes my participation as I don’t owe the council any money.

Have your say is something I have had a go at before and I will endeavour to have a go now.

The first link is called “asset management consultation update” it takes you to a page that starts:

“Cabinet meeting
Decisions on the future of 11 sites proposed for disposal as part of the 2010-11 asset management process will be made at a meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday 5 August at 7.00pm.”

It would seem that the update needs updating.

What I can’t find is the results of the consultation, by this I mean what the people who took part in it said, I will try the next links just don’t apply to me so I can’t really test them.

I don’t live in community housing, am not young, couldn’t get to the big event and so on.

Then we come to a section called events, this one is truly bizarre, partly because they already have the visit Thanet site that I believe lists these already and partly because each of these links to events takes you to part of the councils main website where the information is just odd.

Here we go:

1 Millmead Childrens Centre Surestart Summer Fete - 17 August 2010
17 August 2010 Tuesday 17th Aug 11-3

2 Lions Fete at Victoria Gardens 29 August 2010 Fete, stalls selling craft, bric a brac etc Also games such as coconut shy & trap the rat. Refreshments.

I won’t go on from here as you see the second event tells you where it is but not what time, you can follow the rest of these through if you like, why the council should be using their homepage to promote what are mostly relatively minor events arrange in some sort of random time scale, some are not even in this month, while at the same time ignoring this weeks main event, is just beyond me.

Back to the middle and focus on Thanet:

The first link is called “Great events for young people” this takes you to a page that has a graphic on it saying “Why not do something less boring instead read more” I immediately clicked on, read more. This takes you to an error page explaining that the page it points at doesn’t exist. It wasn’t that bad as there was another link on the page that worked.
Next is a link about next years census, I will look at that next year.

The next one seems to be the one about social housing.

Then there is one about council procurement from local businesses, the council used to buy local history books from me for their tourist information offices, this stopped when it became to difficult for the people working in them.

Then there is shop local first, I haven’t got involved in this one as it involves giving discounts, I decided long ago that I would aim to have the best and most keenly priced book stock in the area and a simple problem then comes up which is if you are going to take money off you have to put it on in the first place.
Next is Margate’s Big Event, this is promoting an event held in June it even had a video of the 2009 event, not this years.

3 comments:

  1. Michael,

    TDC bringing you yesterday's IT tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  2. John it is just incredible, the search box half worked for a few hours yesterday, returning about a quarter of the results that the Google one returned for the Phrase Pleasurama and now they have added a link to “An evening with World Tree Music
    27 August 2010” this event has no Time or location.

    I get the impression that they are trying to do something as they have mended the link “why not do something less boring read more” so it actually goes somewhere.

    I have changed my approach on this one as I used to send my comments a council chap who is supposed to be involved in this, to give them time to sort things out before I published them online, but essentially he told me not to bother him, now I am afraid things like this are going straight on the blog.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is indicative of the leadership of tdc from the ch ex directors and cabinet members. all smoke and mirrors and no substance. what is really concerning is that we are paying £500000 + just for the ch ex and directors.

    ReplyDelete

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