Tasmanian Department Of Education Redesign

“A brave move placing all stylesheets inside @import statements”

The new Tasmanian Department of Education website is finally up (minus skip links I notice) and it would be easy to look at this with its 25 errors on the home page at HTML 4.01 Strict and be more critical than it deserves. The fact is its a major progression over the FrontPage legacy system its replacing and is now a MySource Matrix Content Management System.

First, without any excuses, I did some quick and dirty quality assurance on some parts of the site so I’m more than aware of the failings here. I mentioned no skip links and you’ll notice a number of tables kicking around in the design. A lack of alternate text for images is another issue. And it won’t take long for readers of this blog to uncover the good and the bad of this latest incarnation of our education website. As a government web site I thought it was a brave move placing all stylesheets inside @import statements - imagine a Netscape 4 user, yes they pay taxes, going there the day before and today being delivered plain text. So there are issues. You may notice a bit of FOUC phenonmena kicking around (don’t ask its a long story).

That being said I’d regard this as a major iteration in the emphasis of government web development here. Let’s give credit where credit is due I think - ditching FrontPage deserves a free hat or something. Its not easy to evolve these web solutions in a beaurocracy where every manager is used to being the publishing expert in their department. I don’t envy anyone the task of getting these issues across the beaurocratic tables of the education system at all. How do you convince non-technical managers you need the power to do certain things with the site development? Its a hard slog from within the development team.

That being said also, hopefully in a balanced way, I have some further comment. I believe very strongly that government web sites, especially the education department, needs to be accessible. The beaurocracy needs to listen to its team of professionals and empower them with a mandate to make their site as accessible and usable as possible. Accessibility isn’t just about the blind by the way - but that’s another story. Also I’m led to believe you can output valid code from MySource Matrix so it would be good to see it so from the development team.

As I understand it the site was made live to budget and time constraints with the intention of providing accessibility features as time progresses. I’ll be keeping my eye on it to see if this happens or if beaurocracy simply overlooks the need to cater to their users. I’d suggest if anyone has any comment or advice on this one they should use the site to contact the Web Strategy and Support Unit. I’m sure they’ll be interested in any feedback you could offer, and lets face it we need to keep our government on their toes.

On the whole I think this is a very good thing. A move forward. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m the snobby sort who doesn’t get that progression towards the ultimate goal. Elitism on that level does suck. Anyway its good to see them go live and I’m hoping they follow through and improve the product on an ongoing basis. Touch wood.

Also you might like to check out the Archives Office of Tasmania produced by the same team. I seem to see FOUC wherever I go lol… and multiple H1s cross my eyes a bit… ah like I said its an improvement over FrontPage and its valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional on the home page. Now my question is this - if the public sector are starting to get it then why do 95% of private sector development firms here not get it?

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