How to create a self-healing website

What is a self-healing website?

I mean a website,  sorry a digital engagement platform, that generates its own information/data/feedback that allows improvements to kept being made. It might not be possible to automate everything but the principles are as follows:

User feedback

We have added a short feedback form to each report landing page and flat web page. This means that we can find out if the content was useful or not – at the moment 75% of people think that it is. It also allows users to categorise themselves into some standard user groups which is handy to check that we are getting the ‘right’ type of visitors.

We are going to add something similar on the publications filter to check that users found what they wanted – yes/no – and if not what were they looking for. This might show up if they were on the wrong site, looking for the wrong title etc.

A similar form will go on the 404 page so we can check what went wrong if a page was not found.

What would be great if we could a similar box to the on site search box (Google custom search) to ask if users found what they wanted?

Automatic feedback

Of course the ‘page not found’ is feedback and we have been doing a lot of work fixing broken links.

I have been looking at Clicktale and it is very powerful particularly where there are clickable events such as a filter or contact form to see where users drop out and do not complete tasks. As it also records mouse clicks and cursor movements we can see how and where content is being read. It might lead to shorter text on landing pages for example.

Sitemorse and similar tools also help pick up broken links onsite and to others sites which we then need to fix.

The Digital Accessibility Forum also have a neat tool that allows users to report issues with Accessibility on a website which can help pick up issues to be fixed.

What’s next?

As we think about this further there are no doubt other touch points where we can easily collect data and feed it back into the improvement cycle. A short form which is completely viewable on the same page really works best.

A next step might be to set up an internal Feedback forum, look at all these metrics once a month, and start to make improvements which of course we should feedback to our users.

How to hack Parliament

Hacking Parliament might sound a bit drastic so I had better explain.

I mean hacking in the software sense (good) of making a new application from existing bits and pieces. Ah. In fact I am referring to the Parlyhack of a few weeks ago that I attended over the weekend of 16-17 November.

Hack events have been around a long time and there are when a group of software developers get together to ‘hack’ existing code, data and whatever they can find create new potentially valuable applications. It’s a kind of creative brainstorming for developers.

For example there is an annual event called Devfort where a group of developers spend a week of their own time (yes, they pay for themselves) locked away on an island creating a new website or application like this site of Nasa transcripts (spacelog) which is rather fab – take a look at Apollo 13 and see what was really said to Huston.

So what is Parlyhack then?

For the last three years the head of online services at Parliament has arranged a hack weekend where developers either work with either existing Parliamentary data or some new data is made available for the weekend.

The developers then hunker down for a day and a half to see what they can build. The results can be wacky, weird and wonderful. Here is a bit of background from Rewired state who often run these events.

So for example one of the best hacks was called Metabill which linked together data from Hansard and to show as much information as possible on a particular piece of legislation. Another app would send a daily email with a short profile of an MP, the messages being send in alphabetical order. Again all the data was copied ‘scraped’ from the Parliament website. And there were many others inventive hacks.

Ok so what is the point?

Well the point is that the event is used by Parliament to get ideas as to what kind of content and in what format the outside world might find useful. It can help highlight uses for content that had not orginally be considered by its creators. Its a hypercharged review of Parliament’s online content. Often developers say, if only you had formatted x differently we could have done something much better; or y was missing; you have too many pdfs. Etc.

So what happens after Parlyhack?

The head of online goes back to her colleagues who produce content and can suggest potential improvements to how they produce it. She also has a innovation fund to try and kickstart some of these useful changes which in the longer run will probably help all their users.

So this is how ‘hacking’ Parliament can be a force for the good and who would have thought that?