The gov.uk team have released a new version of their home page. It’s now quite a long way from the simplicity of where they started – but kudos to them for respecting the discipline of user focused design.

Most read on GOV.UK listBut looking at the page, one small thing struck me (well, one thing other than the other thing which struck me). There’s an interesting list of links under the heading of “Most read on gov.uk”, and at the top of the list is “Job centre plus job match“. Fair enough and not surprising to find it there – job search has long been one of government’s most popular online services.

So it’s not the fact that it was there which gave me pause. It’s that it came under a heading about reading. At one level, of course, it’s trivially true that the primary action (still) for web pages is reading. Having found suitable job vacancies, you assimilate information about them by reading the words on the screen. Describing it that way, though, skates over the most important part of what has happened.'Directgov jobs and skills search - Job Homepage'

The jobsearch page is not fundamentally about reading, it is about doing. It rewards you for putting search terms in by providing search results back. It doesn’t reward you with anything much if you just lean back and read it. So while I am happy to believe that the job search page is the one which is most viewed, I don’t believe at all that it is the most read.

I also don’t think that’s how people think about it. “I read a job search” would be a much stranger thing to say than “I did a job search” (though admittedly “I searched for a job” is much more natural than either). Doing words are powerful: how we frame the doing matters.

That might be hair splitting of the highest order. But as I have argued before about gov.uk, words have power. GDS is taking huge leaps forward and are doing so with grace and panache. Part of what they are doing is breaking further away from a reading-based paradigm of web design. That paradigm is a strong one though, and its tentacles will keep trying to pull them back.

So I am looking forward to seeing a “Most done on gov.uk” list on their homepage. I hope it will be soon.

Comments

  1. I’d have Most Popular, or just Popular. Or if really necessary, separate lists.

    Popular actions
    Popular pages/guides

    I think the current .gov.uk page is a huge improvement on earlier iterations (my youngest child quite enjoyed the challenge of the carousel). I hope they nail the problems with their Webfont – text still sometimes looks scratchy in Firefox.

  2. Hi @pubstrat – you make a really good point!

    You’re right that one of our objectives is to “get people to the quick do” and we talk a lot about doing, and not so much about reading. That said, there are still a lot of Guides on the site, for people who want to read a bit about what’s involved before getting stuck in with the doing, so I’m not sure we can go all out for “Most done”, but how about “Most active”? That’s the current suggestion at GOV.UK HQ, but what do you think?

    And on other notes… we’re still optimising for mobile, and tuning the font, so those should both be rather more polished by the time we come out of Beta! If you spot anything else that you think needs attention then let us know at govuk-feedback@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk

    1. I agree that ‘Most Done’ isn’t really right either, but thinking about whether ‘Most Active’ would be better makes me wonder what that list is really trying to do in the first place. On a news site, a most read list tells me something about what other people are interested in right now – in effect, it’s a crowdsourced front page – and if lots of other people find those stories interesting, I might well find them interesting too. On a sales site, a top sellers list tells me what the hot products are, the things I am missing out on by not buying this very moment (Amazon has a heading ‘What Other Customers Are Looking At Right Now’).

      Gov.uk isn’t doing either of those things, because the needs it is addressing are primarily external to the site. Either I need a new passport or I do not. Either I have lost my job and need to find a new one or I haven’t. Knowing that student finance login is the second most popular activity is not, alas, going to to make me a student again.

      So I think there is a question which comes before what this list should be called, which is what it is for. I realise that I don’t know the answer, though I am sure that GDS will have thought about it. If you were to have to complete the following sentence, what would you put?

      “The ‘Most Read|Done|Active on GOV.UK’ list earns space on the home page because it…”

  3. So, if we’re quizzing – this would be my answer:

    The ‘Most Read|Done|Active on GOV.UK’ list earns space on the home page because it helps to demonstrate the type of information and tools that are available, and also gives a sense that other people are using the site. These are amongst the objectives of the home page at launch, but this may change over time. The list may also provide a handy short cut to popular items… But with this as with all things on GOV.UK we’ll see if/how/why it gets used, and learn from that. As you rightly put it – any feature on the home page, or any page, needs to earn its place.

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