Archive for August, 2008

WordPress Logo

I notice that the famous London home of our Supreme Leader has a new website, oddly referred to as a “Beta” – software speak for “not finished yet”. In these days of financial hardship maybe the reported £100,000 price tag wasn’t sufficient to test it properly before going live. It certainly still needs some attention because their HTML code currently fails the W3C validation test and the site doesn’t yet contain the most basic hidden <META> description and keyword tags.

10 Downing Street Website Screenshot

I wonder if the developers New Media Maze were asked to read Guidelines for UK Government websites – an excellent series of documents published 8 years ago. Sadly (especially given the deluge of money wasted on other IT projects) they are no longer maintained but the “best practice” they contain is still as relevant today.

At the time the guidelines were being put together I was maintaining the website for the Welsh European Funding Office and I remember attending a meeting with a very informed and focussed Neil Pawley, an “E-Envoy” from Westminster who was putting together the guidelines. Neil stressed the importance of government websites setting quality and accessibility standards. What has happened in the intervening years which has made it acceptable to release this Number 10 “Beta” live to the public?

One missing feature of the site could save tens of thousands of sheets of paper and loads of ink and energy. A print style sheet allows a rendering of a web page specifically for printing purposes. It can be designed easily to exclude unwanted navigation and shrink images and fonts. Go to File > Print Preview on this page and see how it can be printed on 2 sheets of A4. Think of the ink and paper you would use to print this page, yet using a print style sheet it uses a single page of A4. The Home Page of Number 10 uses 5 pages of A4!

Despite the many shortcomings of this site I am excited by the fact that www.number10.gov.uk is using my favourite Content Management / Blogging platform – WordPress. WordPress is Open Source, which means that the software powering is free, which should make Gordon Brown’s ‘Prudence’ very happy. The developers have even based their layout on a free template “theme” – “Networker” by Anthony Baggett of www.antbag.com. How do I know this? Well just look at Number 10’s CSS style sheet and all is revealed. – www.number10.gov.uk/wp-content/themes/networker-10/style.css

Confirmation of the WordPress theme’s origins can be found by looking at its screenshot file. I wouldn’t call this a rip-off as some commentators have done. All the developers have done is to base their screen layout on someone else’s CSS code. Had they used AntBag’s graphics and colour scheme that would be different. With all such adaptations, there comes a point when so little of the original code and design remains, that it becomes in effect a new theme. Should Anthony Bagett have been given credit for the theme? I’m not sure. At least New Media Maze haven’t tried to hide the origins of their theme, which you could either regard as honest or foolish, given the attention it has received. NMM certainly can’t be unaware of the protocol on these matters, as they have used WordPress for their own website for at least a couple of years.

I have been a WordPress enthusiast since 2005 after a long search for the ideal Content Management System for the small businesses and organisations I work for in West Wales. WordPress makes it simple for the owner maintain their own content and is flexible and customizable for the web developer. It is updated regularly and there are hundreds of “plugins” to extend its functionality.

I’m delighted that our Supreme Leader agrees that WordPress rocks, However I can’t help but be disappointed by the way he has allowed it to go live prematurely. It gives the impression that WordPress is difficult to do correctly, when it isn’t. But then again, I suppose if I were getting £100,000 for a website and using free software, maybe I would need to give the impression that it’s harder work than it really is ;-)

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