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Monday, May 23, 2005

Wales on the web

If there is one thing that I think all of us can unite around it is the sheer awfulness of the website of the National Assembly for Wales. The idea being mooted by Wales' National Librarian, Andrew Green for a Welsh 'virtual embassy', a place on the web where internet users abroad would congregate to find out about Wales, is welcome provided that it involves the complete revamp of that site. Oh yes, and I suggest that we don't have any internet polls either!

I have long argued that Wales loses out because of its inadequate web presence. If, for example, you are an American seeking out Dylan Thomas in the town he made his home, you will be hard-pushed to find any coherent or useful information on Laugharne on the internet.

The top google entry for the township is www.laugharne.co.uk which bears the message "Thanks to everyone who has stayed with us at the Castle House and the numerous kind messages left in our visitors book. We have really enjoyed the last 7 years, met lots of wonderful people. I have promised this site to Laugharne Corporation. I was going to carry on running it, but feel unable due to family committments. Better give them the keys to the door - so this will be my last posting." This is the tourist equivalent of "so long and thanks for all the fish". It has been up there since September 2003!

The Welsh Assembly site has the potential to be the virtual portal that Andrew Green envisages, especially when the WDA and the WTB are absorbed by the Government. The problem is that in its present state it is an embarrassment. One example is that despite the fact that the Assembly has a statutory duty to promote equal opportunities, its own website is not fully compliant with the DDA. I am told that it does not pass level WCAG level 2 guidlelines. This was particularly difficult when we tried to use it for an interactive consultative forum on Special Education Needs.

The Welsh Assembly Government have used the article to announce that their site is undergoing a revamp. It is about time. However, at the present rate of progress I am not holding my breath.
The Assembly's site has changed a bit since I wrote this:


but it's still not fantastic and whoever told you it complies with WCAG level 2 seems to have misunderstood something. Taking the front page alone, it certainly fails 3.2, 11.2, 5.3 (see http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html)

Interestingly, there is a website called 'Wales on the Web', aka 'The All Wales Portal'. I've been puzzled by it for a while - it says 'Wales on the Web does not provide access to websites that exist purely for commercial reasons' without explaining why not but then goes on to index loads of purely commercial sites (Brains Brewery, for one).

At a time when folksonomies and tagging are really taking off in del.icio.us and flickr and technorati, and are hailed by Clay Shirky (http://shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html), what does Wales on the Web do? Classify all web sites by Dewey Decimal. It's what you get when you let a librarian loose on the web - the site's run out of the National Library.

I hope this suggestion isn't an attempt to turn Wales on the Web into this 'virtual' 'portal'. I remember the word 'portal' being bandied about a lot as a substitute for thinking.
I meant to write it does NOT comply with WCAG level 2. I have now corrected it.
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