www.gov.uk has landed: what’s on it?

It’s fantastic to see the gov.uk beta go live. Over the last few months we’ve been fortunate to be able to work with GDS on a different project, and I’ve been given the odd sneaky peak at the beta as it’s been developing. It has been very exciting to watch it grow — it’s come a long way very quickly, which is a real credit to the (awesome) team.

I think the site is great, for much the same reasons as have been discussed already in numerous blog posts about both the alpha and the beta — unrelenting focus on user need, simplicity in design, appropriate formats for different kinds of content, and so on. But I did find some fun things while I was poking about, so I thought I’d write some of that up.

Firstly, and excitingly, the site has structured data baked in. This is the first example I’ve seen of a government website that really lives up to the “Your website is your API” principles of restful design that were all the rage a few years ago, neatly explained by Jeni Tennison in 2009. (Edited to add: Other than Jeni’s work, of course!) You can take just about any page on the beta, append .json to the URL, and get the page’s content in nice, structured, reusable form.

So, if I want to display the current VAT rate on my website, I can grab a JSON file from https://www.gov.uk/vat-rates.json:

"slug": "vat-rates",
"updated_at": "2012-01-31T17:06:00+00:00",
"alternative_title": "",
"body": "{::highlight-answer}\r\nThe standard VAT rate is <em>20%</em>\r\n{:/highlight-answer}\r\n\r\n## VAT rates for goods and services\r\n\r\nRate | % of VAT | What the rate applies to \r\n- | - | - | -\r\nStandard | 20% | Most goods and services\r\nReduced rate | 5% | Some goods and services, eg children's car seats and home energy\r\nZero rate | 0% | Zero-rated goods and services, eg most food and children’s clothes\r\n \r\n^Some things - eg postage stamps, financial and property transactions - are exempt from VAT.^\r\n\r\n*[VAT]: Value Added Tax",
"overview": "Check the current VAT rates for goods and services",
"title": "VAT rates",
"type": "answer"

This could be improved. In the case of VAT, for example, it would be very nice if there were some extra fields that just contained the current rate. Something like this at the bottom of the data given above:

"standard_rate": "20%",
"reduced_rate": "5%",
"zero_rate": "0%"

I’ve put this up on Get Satisfication as an idea, so follow that answer if you want to see what the team think.

I was also curious to see what sorts of content are on the site. I had already scanned most of the site to look for 404s and other errors, so I had the titles of (almost) all the pages on the site already. So I put them through Wordle to get a quick-n-dirty visualisation of the subjects it covers:

Click the image to get a bigger version. For the most part, this is more or less what I’d expect: the most prevalent things are things users will often want to do (apply and pay for stuff, report things) and topics that people will often want to know about (driving, tax, work).

I was interested to see “test” show up so prominently — in fact, almost all of those references do relate to driving tests (theory and practical), with a couple of other references to drugs and alcohol tests. Similarly, almost all the references to licences relate to driving, with a few about alcohol and fishing robs. When you combine driving, test, licence and vehicle into “cars”, the Wordle looks like this:

It’s immediately clear that “cars” overwhelms everything else. This is, obviously, not reliable or meaningful without combining keywords that apply to other topics as well. But at a glance, it might indicate that a great many of the top user needs apply to vehicles — something which might be backed up by the fact that the very first thing on Direct.gov’s list of topics is motoring:

Make of these totally arbitrary wonderings what you will! Curious to know what a wordle for the whole site would look like? Me too. I made this one out of a hacked-together word list from all the .json files I could find: