With so much innovative work going on at PDS, it can be easy to take our live services for granted.
The work behind the scenes to build our new website is challenging our whole way of thinking, especially our approach to content management.
Taking a flexible approach
Many organisations are ditching the traditional 'one-size-fits-all' content management system (CMS). They often fail to meet the needs of organisations and we want to explore other options. If we develop custom applications for different groups of content, or data sets, we'll have much more flexibility in how we manage different types of content.
We need to do more work to find out how we might benefit from this new approach. We may build some applications in-house and also use off-the-shelf software packages. Our research for each content group will help us decide which is the best route.
In the meantime though, we've been doing plenty of work on parliament.uk.
We took out the trash
It seems simple but we needed to delete a lot of pages. There were a total of 35,000 pages in our CMS that had been created but never published. To put that in context, War and Peace is 1,440 pages. That's 24 copies of War and Peace causing unnecessary strain our system. They had to go.
We held 2 linkathons
There were thousands of redirects that were not needed as pages had moved or merged. We removed them where possible. For example, if they were broken or made it difficult for users to find pages.
This was a time consuming job and, to keep us motivated, we held 2 linkathons (fuelled by chocolate). Six content designers reviewed all redirects across the website, checking that users were being taken to the correct pages. In the end the team checked more than 3,000 individual redirects, and recommended 1,896 for removal.
We deleted inactive accounts
When we started the audit, 389 people across Parliament were able to edit the website. That's a lot of editors. The Content Team trains every editor in best practice when writing for the web and PDS does a session on how to use the CMS before an editor is given access.
We all know that practice makes perfect. In our experience, if people are not using the CMS, their skills are getting rusty. We decided to delete any account that had been inactive for more than six months. If those editors need access in future, they'll be retrained to make sure the content they create is as good as it can be.
We were able to delete 200 inactive CMS accounts. We then emailed all remaining editors asking if they were using their accounts regularly. From those, 87 people said they no longer needed their account.
Coming up next
Our work so far has highlighted areas of the website that need further investigation.
There's a lot of possible duplicate pages, based on page titles and meta fields within our CMS, which isn't good for online search.
One of the additional benefits of looking for duplication across the website is that it's highlighted areas where we can consolidate information. For example, we found a vast amount of information on Brexit. We've only scratched the surface of our work with the House of Commons Library on their Brexit content. Eventually we want to be able to bring similar pages together under a single topic page.
We estimate that we're about halfway through the audit process. It takes time because we want to make sure that we're not removing pages that our users find valuable. Once we're done, we'll keep reviewing the website content until we get it right. These changes will not only make parliament.uk easier to manage and run, but will also help the move to the new website.
Take a look around beta.parliament.uk and let us know what you think by clicking on 'give feedback' link on the website, or by leaving a comment below.