The COI have established, via a report entitled "Naming and registering websites"originally issued in July 2007 by Alex Butler, some ground rules for Government departments that create and maintain websites. Along with the rules about who can have a .gov.uk domain are some very interesting guidelines about quality. BUT what makes this really interesting is that these guidelines have been given some teeth. A deadline of the end of December 2008 has been set for .gov.uk sites to meet these guidelines otherwise the right to use .gov.uk may be withdrawn from the organisation for the offending site.
So what do these guidelines cover.
The sections that cover the quality of a website are dotted around paragraphs 77 through 91. The bit that covers the circumstances where withdrawal would occur is
- Non-conformance with any of the above principles and practice of the rules and conditions. (you need to look at the report for more on these)
- Persistent failure to maintain an accessible and functional website. For example, obsolete and de-commissioned domains - where there is persistent delivery of, for example, a code 404 page.
- Persistent failure to meet the minimum technical standards for government websites, including accessibility and coding standards.
- Failure to renew the name.
- Change of status of the organisation or project that the domain name represents or change of status of the domain name owner. If you inform us at email@example.com a suitable time scale for withdrawal can be negotiated
From a Sitemorse viewpoint these seem very positive. It's just a shame they can't impose these Standards and quality tests to other sectors. As it happens the Government sector comes out way ahead of other sectors in our surveys (http://www.sitemorse.com/survey/) on all counts - functionality, standards compliance and accessibility.
How much benefit might the retail sector gain if they were under threat of having their domain name removed ? I've discussed the role of carrots and sticks in encouraging website owners to smarten up their acts with particular reference to the DRC and accessibility. Unless there is a tangible, negative consequence if people do nothing then that's exactly what they'll do. We're all busy with an endless list of priorities. Something needs to raise website quality, compliance and accessibility up those lists.
Once again a Government initiative will improve things in the public sector. Shame about the commercial sector. But then any initiatives on this front would raise outcries regarding increasing red tape, the nanny state, competitiveness in a global economy. These feel like excuses to me. Perhaps we could have a quality Kite Mark - perhaps there already is such a thing but sites can match up to the standard so we never see it. Either way watch out for Central and Local Gov. surveys showing an ever widening gap from their commercial counterparts.