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Roadmap update: Friday 16 January

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We publish updates roughly fortnightly to share what the team has been doing and is doing next to improve GOV.UK. 

This is a slightly unusual one, in that our product development teams are mostly working off-roadmap during much of January, taking the opportunity between completing transition and preparing GOV.UK for the election to re-plan and address some of the bigger pain points in our codebase and processes. That means we’re doing lots of disparate things all at once, much of it exploratory.

The next issue of the roadmap proper will be published in early February, including updated priorities from now to the election, and our longer-term goals for 2015-16.

Things we’ve done since 5 December

For end users

Since last time, we’ve:

  • completed transition! All 312 eligible organisations now publish to GOV.UK
  • begun work to develop a better model of government services (how transactions and their supporting guidance and information content fit together) which has the potential to radically improve site navigation. We’re starting by looking at how all the services and information relating to parenting/childcare and driving themes can be brought together logically to meet users’ needs better
  • begun reviewing the post-transition information architecture to identify gaps and anomalies, and plan to make it better
  • begun developing ways to automatically label content with entities (such as named government services and initiatives, people, places, objects) to improve search accuracy
  • introduced sub topics to GOV.UK search results (for example try searching for landfill tax)
  • added metadata to search results for manuals and finder documents
  • changed how the sub topic feed looks up mainstream content ’time/date’ stamp to more accurately show when a content item was updated.
  • completed changes relating to the UK centralisation of the process of registering a birth or death overseas for a further 41 countries

For government publishers

For our users around government, we’ve:

  • continued work with the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service to look at third party publishing, via a new API, of a page on GOV.UK for every court and tribunal
  • progressed work on a ‘downtime manager’ to allow GDS content designers to schedule messages on the start pages of services with scheduled downtime
  • added information to the content and publishing guidance about writing change notes and where they appear on the site, topical event pages and how to ask for one, and new entries to the style guide A to Z
  • made improvements to permissions modelling in our single sign-on application, and allowed administrators review user accounts by role, status and organisation
  • audited all file attachments on GOV.UK to allow us to make informed decisions about how to improve our publishing tools and encourage publishing of open formats

Technical and process improvements

On the process and technology side, in the past few weeks we’ve:

  • started planning ways to involving our many stakeholders around government in planning GOV.UK’s future more collaboratively, with  regular unconferences
  • run a day-long disaster recovery simulation
  • got the Whitehall application running on Ruby 2, moving away from a version which will become unsupported soon
  • implemented tracking for client-side javascript errors so we can monitor and fix them proactively
  • continued work on separating the frontend and backend functions of the Whitehall application so it is less complex to run and develop
  • migrated register a birth to use Smartdown, our new syntax which separates the business logic from the code in the smart answers format so we can maintain them more efficiently in future
  • updated our documentation for apps that were changed whilst building sub topic email alerts
  • started building out an end to end email system check to have complete confidence that email alerts function as expected
  • made improvements to the way we batch update sub topic tag changes

Things we plan to do next

For end users

In the next couple of weeks, we plan to:

  • begin displaying search results grouped by topic, to meet (especially specialist) users’ needs better
  • add HMRC contact pages to site search
  • redirect MHRA users to the new content on GOV.UK, and start sending vital emails regarding drug and medical device safety

For government publishers

We plan to:

  • make the /info/ pages more useful including rolling them out to mainstream guides
  • trial a better version of the ‘report a problem’ link which appears on every page of GOV.UK
  • look at ways to change publishing permissions more efficiently
  • keep supporting HMRC to hook up their manuals publishing tool to test the publishing of manuals onto GOV.UK through our API
  • make it possible to reorder sections of a manual within specialist publisher
  • host our first content conference on 22 January 2015 - it’s fully booked, but we’ll share information from the workshops afterwards

Technical and process improvements

On the tech and process side, we plan to:

  • trial the idea of creating 1-page vision statements per product area to communicate the direction of travel more clearly
  • reduce the font file size, to speed up page loading speeds
  • improve our tools for managing publisher accounts and monitoring usage
  • upgrade the Whitehall application to use Rails 4
  • continue to separate Whitehall frontend and backend functionality
  • continue work towards a single publishing pipeline
  • explore ways to make deployments, and creation of new applications, faster and more repeatable
  • run pop-up surgeries to help people using GOV.UK, so more of our team can get out and see real users trying to use the site

If any of this is unclear, or if you have feedback on whether we’re prioritising the right stuff, please do comment on this post to let us know.

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