Skip to main content – from Alpha to Beta

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We're delighted at Francis Maude's announcement that the GDS is now developing a beta version of the single domain...

After digesting feedback from the prototype of a single domain for government, there's now a clear next step towards the 'revolution' recommended by Martha Lane Fox's review and supported by Francis Maude and his fellow Ministers.

Hence we’re delighted at Francis Maude’s announcement that Government Digital Service is now developing a beta version of the single domain. The core objectives of this beta are:

  1. Public beta test of the site delivering the mainstream, citizen-facing aspects of
  2. Private beta test of a shared 'corporate' publishing platform, aimed at replacing most of the activity currently hosted on numerous departmental publishing environments (see for a flavour) [link now archived: the service described is now at]
  3. A first draft of a 'Global Experience Language', to provide clear, consistent design, user-experience and brand clarity for those developing sites for the single domain. (see for an example).

The deadline for delivery of all three objectives is early 2012.

Some points worth noting:

We'll be building on the learnings from, while filling in numerous gaps we left. For example, we want to make the most easy to use, accessible government website there has ever been. Merely ticking a box marked 'accessible' isn't enough. It has to be useful for everyone and usable by everyone.

The citizen-facing beta (objective 1) will be an operational test, in that it will be constantly updated in order to trial the essential behind-the-scenes administrator tools & processes. While this aspect of the beta project will be a public website, will remain the definitive url for citizens' online interactions with central government.

We will continue to base all our product decisions on a ruthlessly understanding and meeting user needs. We need to make it as easy as possible for users to complete tasks, understand information and work out what they need to do next.

We will be developing a flexible, adaptable, scalable, modern technology platform. I barely need mention that we'll be continuing to use open source software, not because it's open source per se, but because, at present, it provides better solutions to our needs. Naturally, where we produce new features & functionality which might be useful to others, we'll release the code back into the public domain.

Before and after its launch, we'll be iterating the beta and its underpinning platform based on analysis of how successfully each aspect of the site - each page, even - is meeting users' needs. Digital product management is a continuous, iterative, adaptive process. We won't get everything right first time, but we'll spot what isn't working and fix it quickly. We will actively encourage as many current users of digital public services to help us spot those issues and recommend how best to fix them.

The private beta of the shared 'corporate' publishing platform (objective 2) does not seek to replace 100% of online publishing currently undertaken by departments, but will focus on the requirement all departments' have to publish clear, accurate and timely information about their own activities  (e.g. a department's policies, publications, consultations, business plans, speeches, announcements etc.). Hence the 'corporate' moniker - the audience for such content tends to be more specialist and already engaged with the work of government than most mainstream users.

GDS is very fortunate in having been loaned Neil Williams from the Department for Business to lead development of this aspect of the beta. He's got a wealth of digital experience across several government departments, and understands the realities of departmental 'corporate' publishing as well as anyone.

I'm also delighted that the external developers & designers who helped make such a success have agreed to continue onto the beta project working for the Government Digital Service. They will be at the core of the development of the beta, complementing other specialists with years of invaluable experience of running sites such as Directgov.

We're still only at the beginning. As GDS's new boss Mike Bracken made clear in his introductory blog post, transforming the experience of transactions will require a federated identity layer across Government services. Not a trivial challenge.

Indeed, radically improving the quality of all transactional services to the extent that citizens and businesses actively prefer to interact with government digitally will be the work of years, not months. At launch the beta will, I'm afraid, still incorporate transactions which we all wish to see improved as soon as possible.

But there are many talented people right across government who are, as Mike wrote, committed to the radical shift towards 'digital by default' public services. We’re delighted that in Francis Maude we have a minister who is as committed to reform as we are. All are doing stuff that matters.

While the shift to digital by default remains a hugely challenging, complex, pan-departmental jigsaw puzzle of reform & reinvention, the commitment to its completion is real.

At the risk of stretching this metaphor to breaking point, if was hunting for the corners of this new digital jigsaw, beta will be about fitting together the edges.

The team will be blogging here regularly, so please do share your comments and suggestions. We really do relish constructive criticism (there's no dartboard!) Or you can follow the single domain team's progress on Twitter .

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  1. Comment by Moving on from GDS | Government Digital Service posted on

    […] team was hired as part of the newly forming GDS. We’d proven ourselves with the Alpha, and we’d been given the green light to join others from across government to replace the existing online services with a more […]

  2. Comment by thepaulcook posted on is now archived so stop linking to it!

    • Replies to thepaulcook>

      Comment by paulclarke posted on

      Thanks Paul - the archived link is still there for completeness, but I've added a link to the current service that corresponds to the alpha functionality described.

  3. Comment by Craig posted on

    Fair points about accessibility, you dealt with the criticism well.

  4. Comment by Introducing the beta of GOV.UK | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] Government. The Government Digital Service (GDS) was formed as a result, and soon launched an experimental prototype of GOV.UK ( - now [...]

  5. Comment by The mobile question: Responsive Design | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] wanted to build responsive design into the ‘Citizen Beta’ when we were in the planning phase back in August, but large scale implementations were very thin on the ground.  We felt it still had some evolving [...]

  6. Comment by Newsflash: Geeks now good at usability, everyone else crap < Francis is posted on

    [...] parts of Government are valiantly trying to fix such problems, but even that has come from the computer geeks. At best though, it’ll be lipstick (really [...]

  7. Comment by Introducing Jordan Hatch | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] is Jordan Hatch, I’m seventeen, and last week I joined the development team working on the beta. It’s great to be working with so many talented developers on such an innovative project. [...]

  8. Comment by K Heath posted on

    I would request that when the new web site is up, it contains the required information on council tax discounts as set out in Regulation 16 of the 92 Administration and Enforcement Regs and as per the Demand Notice Regulations 2010.

    I mention this as it would appear that it is becoming the norm for councils to flout these regulations and to provide legally inaccurate information, which is not just a breach of the law but also unacceptable in terms of public administration generally.

    It is even more important as a recent Dept Of Communities consultation moves towards allowing councils to provide certain information required by law to be provided on line, and given the number of councils currently breaking this requirement then the government itself should get it right.

    For an example of bad (and unlawful practice) see for example Southwarks online 'Guide to Council Tax 2011/2012.

    Indeed, until recently a CIPFA document on housing fraud put on the AG web site by the National Fraud Authority incorrectly stated that 'experience shows' that the electoral register if up to date is a reliable guide in the matter of a 'single person discount'. The law is clear (see Williams and Horsham District Council CA case) that the electoral register, up to date or not cannot even be used to decide the question of sole or main residence, leave alone to decide whether a potential resident does or does not fall to be disregarded and therefore affect entitlement to a discount.

    The National Fraud Authority asserts that it took guidance on this from CIPFA and refuses to undertake its own review of the black and white letter of the law, which the senior person in question said she had not read, to the extent where she was 'not sure' whether Section 11 of the Local Government Finance Act set out the so called 'SPD'. She then started to check her information using.... council web sites...... She is currently working closely with Lambeth whose web site in this respect is a total disgrace as they confuse exemptions with disregard categories and generally mislead anybody consulting it.

    This document disappeared from the AG web site and the NFA denies knowing whether this was the result of complaints about its legal inaccuracies.

    There should be fully open and accountable methods for people to correct legally inaccurate information on any new web site when it appears.

  9. Comment by Word Up Whitehall II « Julia's Blog posted on

    [...] Neil Williams talked about Government  beta project [...]

  10. Comment by John P posted on

    Sorry to join this discussion late. A significant omission are the business facing elements of Bearing in mind the myriad of difficult to use transactions (and poorly written content) can you give us any clue as to the timetable on the future development of into the beta of

  11. Comment by js posted on "such a success"..... i thought the research showed it was somewhat flawed

  12. Comment by The vision for government corporate websites in the Single Domain (with product wireframes) | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] is the third in a series of posts sharing progress on how we are tackling objective two of the single domain ‘beta’ project: specifically the creation and test of a unified [...]

  13. Comment by Mid year review: the state of DH digital | Stephen Hale posted on

    [...] government does with health information online in the future. The second is the work around the single domain for government, and all that goes with it. We’ve been contributing where we can, and everything we’ve [...]

  14. Comment by Towards a Global Experience Language for the Single Domain | Helpful Technology posted on

    [...] the site including the layout, iconography, brand values and so on, described by project director Tom Loosemore in his post announcing the beta. A first draft is due around the same time as the beta of the site, early next year. It is likely [...]

  15. Comment by Consolidation vs. Global Experience | Reading Room UK blog posted on

    [...] And a host of BBC sites now conform to it. The UK government have been so impressed that they’ve commissioned their own as part of the programme (currently in [...]

  16. Comment by Why do people need government department websites? | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] is the second in a series of posts about how I am taking forward objective two of the single domain project: specifically the “private beta test of a shared ‘corporate’ [...]

  17. Comment by Government corporate websites in eye-popping 3D | Government Digital Service posted on

    [...] is the first of a series of posts about how I’m taking forward objective two of the single domain project: the “private beta test of a shared ‘corporate’ [...]

  18. Comment by fberriman » Working for the government posted on

    [...] earlier this year, I was more than happy to get onboard when the offer came up to work on the next phase of the project with a bunch of people I’ve known for years (and still apparently want to work with me), and [...]

  19. Comment by Steve posted on

    That's all good to hear, especially that Léonie is on board. I'm very much looking forward to her contribution.

  20. Comment by Steve posted on

    Looking forward to this. But I'd be be happier if the strawman about "accessibility tickboxes" was abandoned. That angle was only pushed by yourselves after you were criticised for calling accessibility a "detail". It isn't, you seem to recognise that, great. Let's move on.

    • Replies to Steve>

      Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

      Steve, if your take were true I'd be the first to admit it. But we blogged about the alpha's approach to accessibility well before its launch - it was one of our first blog posts. And I'd simply never describe it as a 'detail' - and to be accused of doing so is quite upsetting.

      • Replies to Tom Loosemore>

        Comment by Steve posted on

        Apologies for any misunderstanding. The "you" following on from "yourselves" still referred to the collective "you" that was alphagov, not you personally. And I'm afraid accessibility was described as a detail ( This was followed by communications that talked about not just ticking boxes or going for AAA conformance, none of which had been asked for, as far as I'm aware. Hence my strawman complaint before.

        What I think would be helpful is blogging on the detail of what will be done, how and why; how it worked out and what was done with any problems. There's plenty of interest in the project, as you know, so a good teaching opportunity here I think, and you ("you" singular this time!) have the pedigree for this.


        • Replies to Steve>

          Comment by Paul Annett posted on

          That's a tweet of mine you linked to. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I believe I meant it ironically (other "details" I mentioned were mobile, which is also non-trivial, and non-JavaScript behaviour which is fundamental best-practice), though I may have just badly phrased it — it was one of many tweets on the subject months ago so I can't fully remember. Accessibility is not something that can just be knocked together to an acceptable standard in the short timespan we had, and I hope the following post (about a different, non-government project) on my personal blog can reassure you of my thoughts on the topic: Accessibility: You're Doing it Wrong.

          On the beta Léonie Watson is leading on accessibility, and she has an excellent reputation and a wealth of experience, not to mention that she's a screen-reader user herself. I know she is writing a blog post on our progress so far on the beta and our plans for the future.

  21. Comment by Rachel posted on

    'We will continue to base all our product decisions on a ruthlessly understanding and meeting user needs.'

    'While the shift to digital by default remains a hugely challenging, complex, pan-departmental jigsaw puzzle of reform & reinvention, the commitment to its completion is real.'

    First step - write like a normal person. If you really want to make a site simple for people to use then start with straight forward language.

    • Replies to Rachel>

      Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

      Fair criticism!

  22. Comment by Government moves one-stop website to beta phase for public testing | Journal of Technology and Economic Development | Future Technology | Green Technology | Military Technology | Business | Trading | Finance | Computer | Robots | Entertainmen posted on

    [...] See Tom Loosemore’s full blog post here >> [...]

  23. Comment by Simon Cookson (@simonncookson) posted on

    Delighted to hear this being formally announced, will be very interested to see the progress of the GEL work as this could have a significant positive impact on the government's image and reputation online. i wonder whether it's scope could / should include departmental branding?