Today we launched the new ONS website. While the site has been available as a ‘Beta’ for several months the change will likely have been a surprise for a number of people so this blogpost seeks to introduce the new website and some of its features.
First and foremost the site has been built and designed in consultation with our users. More than 600 individuals representing more than 80 organisations have provided detailed feedback throughout the process, testing functionality and suggesting features.
There is no doubt that the wider exposure to the new site that the launch will bring will lead to considerably more feedback and feature requests — we are ready for that. A permanent team dedicated to continuous improvement is in place and processes and technology has been put in place that allows us to deploy changes quickly and safely. This will mean the site will continue to evolve. To misquote Martha Lane-Fox — the launch is the revolution, now we move to the evolution.
One of the biggest complaints about the previous website was the site search capability, or rather the lack of capability. Tim Harford, bestselling author and FT columnist, once referred to it as;
“It’s like Google on an acid trip”
We have spent considerable time working on this and believe it will provide a much improved experience. The technology behind the search service is the best the open source community has to offer and we have spent months tuning it to provide sensible results. This is just the first step though and the more feedback we receive about problems with search then the better we can make it. If you do not believe the results are correct or are poorly ordered please do let us know and we will make the necessary adjustments.
Talking of search, more than 60% of traffic to the ONS website comes from Google — not an unusual number these days. As such we have worked hard to ensure that the site design has been optimised to ensure that we get the best possible results on search engines in general but Google in particular. It is clear that ‘Google is our homepage’ and that we need to react accordingly.
The new site surfaces 35,000 time series with customisable charts and a tool for selecting and downloading up to 50 of them to create your own datasets (we know this isn’t enough for some users so are already working on increasing this.) For the more technical amongst you appending /data to any URL will reveal the underlying JSON which can be utilised in your own tools or applications.
We know that when sites re-launch people worry that content and data will be lost. The team has worked very closely with the web archive team at the National Archives to ensure that an up to date copy of the ONS site is available there and we have put in place nearly 150,000 redirects to ensure that no link is left behind. If you do follow a link that no longer works please let us know and we will sort it out.
The previous website was designed before the rise of the mobile internet and as such never worked well on mobile devices. Despite this by the time it was replaced 20% (and rising) of visits to the site came from tablets or phones. As such the new site has been built with this in mind from day one — it has a responsive design that should work well on any device.
We have worked hard to make the site accessible both via assisted technology browsers like JAWS or Dragon and on older browsers. This will be a continuous process and one where we will need to remain diligent but it is a priority and will continue to remain so.
So that is a quick, whistle-stop tour of the new ONS website — please do let us know what you think either via the feedback facility on the site, the comments on this blogpost or on Twitter to @ONSdigital