* To begin with, we have various laws, regulations and policies that we must adhere to. For example, any new web technologies must adhere to the Commonwealth’s Web Accessibility Standards. (Can blind users access BMG’s content with screen readers such as JAWS?) We also have strict security requirements, public records laws and privacy rules to contend with. These laws and rules all have obvious benefits — they’re essential! — but they make our job a little more complex.
* On a related note… It’s a long story, but suffice it to say, we have a fairly complex technical environment. We’re excited about having recently implemented RSS feeds, but it was a lot harder than you’d think; I’m sure you’re fairly accustomed to RSS being “out of the box” with most web technologies — not so with our current environment. RE a “my mass.gov” feature: this was part of our original vision, but it has been a long time since it’s been anywhere near the top of our wish list, for a number of reasons. Other states that implemented similar personalization found that almost nobody actually used them, and many have discontinued them because the expense just could not be justified. Lots of things that would have value to lots of people require extensive development work, because most of the back end systems are OLD and using archaic technologies. The primary system used in the legislature, for instance, is over 30 years old. Although the Mass.Gov portal is using current technology that is supposed to make this kind of thing easy, we’re still missing bits in the middle.
* And then there is the “too many cooks” issue that David rightly pointed out. We try to impose a consistent look and feel, and adoption of best practices by all state agencies, but our authority to require this is limited. I am sure you are all familiar with the three branches of government. The Mass.Gov group is part of the Information Technology Division (ITD) which is part of the Administration & Finance secretariat, which is part of the Executive Department, which is the subset of the Exec. Branch reporting to the Governor. The Gov, A&F, ITD and Mass.Gov do not have the authority to require the legislature, judiciary, authorities or independently elected constitutional officers, to use Mass.Gov’s templates (or follow the Web Accessibility Standards). Nevertheless, many of these independent entities are voluntarily adopting Mass.Gov as their publishing platform — including the Treasurer and the Attorney General. We are still in the process of migrating the rest of the Exec. Dept. but I’d say were well beyond the halfway mark; more importantly, we are not migrating 100s of old websites “as is” but consolidating these sites into subject-matter portals. (Note: Just because we don’t control something, doesn’t mean we don’t have influence; if you have feedback for the other branches or constitutionals, don’t hesitate to include that. I know you’re capable of figuring out how to provide such feedback directly of course, but we do carry some sway, we know who some of the players are, etc.)
It is not my intention to provide a string of excuses for not making advances — there are many improvements we can, should and will make in the months and years to come. I just felt that it is important to provide some context for discussing Mass.Gov, in order to have a constructive dialog.
Finally, please check out our new feedback module — as you drill down into Mass.Gov pages, there are feedback modules for our visitors to leave comments about the specific content they’re looking for — see for example this page, lower right corner. We hope to implement this on search results pages soon for people to report difficulty locating what they need via search.
BTW, BMG’ers might also be interested in the Commonwealth’s IT Strategic Plan; we are actively seeking input from all who are interested.
Well, that’s all for now, I look forward to a lively discussion. Tell us what you’d like to see, what are your relative priorities — blogs; a searchable, sortable statewide calendar; improved content; mashable data; other …?