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Posts Tagged ‘publications’

Last week I posted on how making it easy for visitors to GoC websites to get at publications made sense both in terms of how people use federal govt sites and in terms of policy requirements.

I poked around a bit and found a variety of approaches to this on a variety of GoC sites. Here’s the catalogue from Agriculture and the order page from the Canada Revenue Agency, as well as one from Environment Canada.

But what about taking it up a level? Every federal department and agency undertakes publishing. Warehousing and order fulfillment for publications is a pretty standardized business. This to me is a situation that cries out for some level of centralization.

The basic pieces are already in place for this – Public Works has a central publishing database which is publicly accessible at publications.gc.ca. It has a well developed order processing functionality and is supported by solid warehousing and fulfillment facilities. (I know this from my day job.)

Right now, publications.gc.ca is mostly aimed at fulfilling orders for priced pubs, but it also works well for free* publications, which are by far the most common type of government publication – again this is something I know well, since I was involved in getting Industry Canada to use PWGSC as its fulfillment provider.

But here’s the rub – there’s no way currently to integrate the publications database from publications.gc.ca with other government sites.

I suppose one solution would be simply to transform the “publications” navigation item on each GoC site into a link to the central catalogue, but while this might be the quickest and most efficient way to handle it, I’m not convinced it’s best in terms of user experience. What if there was other stuff I wanted to accomplish on a departmental website as well as ordering a pub? & If I was a Departmental webmaster, I’d want ways to encourage users to stay on my site.

So what’s a better solution? How about an API that would let departments and agencies display the PWGSC’s catalogue data on their sites? Or a widget? Users would be able to browse, place orders, etc., no matter which GoC site they are on, and the departments and agencies could take advantage of good ol’ economies of scale. All they’d have to do is provide accurate info and a quantity of each publication to this central system to see the benefits.

Actually, I could see the advantage of allowing this to spread beyond federal government sites – booksellers or other sites might be interested also in providing such a service – and that kind of seeding the web would allow PWGSC to really say that it’s getting government publications into citizens’ hands.

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* ok so not really free since at the end of the day it’s taxpayer funded — but at least you don’t have to pay twice for “free” govt pubs. Unlike if you want copies of the GoC’s annual reports — they may be freely available online in XHTML and PDF formats, but if you want a paper copy you need to pony up.

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I’ve been looking at why people bother to visit government websites.

Interestingly, in the case of the federal government in Canada at least, one of the main reasons they visit is to obtain publications. This really appeals to the publisher in me — I used to manage publishing projects – the paper kind, and I still regularly advise on publishing and production. It also serves as a good reminder that web comms doesn’t exist in isolation. Yes there is life outside the interwebs — these days I sometimes forget…

I’ve mentioned this particular research before, and I’m turning to it again. It was a sweeping study released last spring that looks at Canadians’ internet use and expectactions for the GoC’s web presence. Here’s the bit from the phone survey that shows what users tend to do on GoC websites.

Going online to order a publication is #2 in this list

24% of respondents visited GC sites to obtain information, a form or a publication (click image to see full size)

OK, so about 1/4 of telephone respondents recalled going to GoC sites to get a form or a publication – this was more common even than looking for government jobs.

I would have liked to see a bit more fine grained info here – “obtained a publication” could just as easily refer to downloading a PDF as it could to ordering a print copy. But the mechanics of posting PDFs for download is totally different than what’s involved with maintaining an order fulfillment webapp (not to mention bricks and mortar part – warehousing print pubs and doing the pick-and-pack and all that).

But in the online portion of the survey, even more respondents – like 3/4 of them – went to GoC sites to get forms or publications. I imagine that the online respondents would be more web savvy and interested in using their computers to get government info and transact their business with us, so it’s kinda cute that lots of them were interested in old-school content formats like pubs… or maybe that just points to how outmoded government thinking is when it comes to creating and distributing content.

woot

74% of respondents visited GC sites to obtain information, a form or a publication (click image to see full size)

Anyhow, what all this says to me is that government websites must make it easy for visitors to get at publications and forms. I might be biased, but I’d argue for making a “publications” link very prominent in your site’s nav template. And then make your catalogue easy to work with — will blog more about this next week.

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