[LINK] Re: Australian Government Web Accessibility Audit Findings, Canberra, 18 January 2007

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Sun Jan 21 16:13:43 AEDT 2007

At 04:40 PM 1/8/2007, I wrote:
>>Seventh Canberra WSG meeting ... 18 January ...

This was an excellent meeting, as is usual for the Web Standard 
Group. These are some notes taken during the presentations:

>>First speaker: Alexi Paschalidis, Oxide Interactive Topic 1: Navy 
>>web site redevelopment ...

Alex gave a passionate exposition on how to redevelop a web site 
using web standards, the battle against those who just see the web as 
a form of graphic design and the wishes of "corporate" for something 
flashy and fleeting.

The Royal Australian Navy were one of the pioneers of web development 
in the Australian Government. They had developed a web site of their 
own <http://www.navy.gov.au/> before I initiated the project to 
create the Defence Home Page 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/papers/bpt.html>. The Navy seem to have 
maintained their independent tradition with their own web site, 
working alongside Defence's central site and Defence Recruiting.

A feature of the Navy site redevelopment is semantic consistency. 
They are using Semantic XHTML with structural consistency; for 
example a second level heading <h2> always has a first level heading 
above it <h1>.

Images are important for the Navy, as might be expected with photos 
of ships. But Alexi pointed out that photos of people are actually 
more popular than those of equipment.

The Navy web site is relatively modest, with 2,500 static web pages 
and 4,000 visitors a day (my web site gets about 1,000). Because of 
the use of centralized maintenance there is no need for a CMS and the 
staff code directly in HTML without the use of a web layout package.

Alexi argues that using Semantic XHTML (as emphasized in XHTML 2.0 ) 
cuts out many day to day design decisions is creating web pages. 
Clearly he saw this as a positive feature (whereas some of the 
creative types might see it as a negative). Some of the metadata for 
the web pages can be inserted automatically from the content (for 
example the TITLE from the H2 heading). There is minimal layout in 
the HTML code, with this done in the CSS.

In place of the usual web development tools, the open-source revision 
control system is used <http://subversion.tigris.org/>. This is 
usually used by computer program developers to maintain multiple 
versions of complex systems, but has been used for document editing, 
but is also used in the ICE educational document creation system 
This allows for smart change control of the web site with detection 
of conflicts between different updates.

Because the Navy have an emphasis on photography, the Navy site has a 
special system for collecting the professional take photos and 
uploading them to the web site. The system creates versions in 
multiple resolutions and maintains the metadata from the originals.

Interestingly the Navy use Google, rather than their own search 
software. They use the Google Public Service Search program 
<https://services.google.com/pss_faq.html#1>. This provides the 
Google search engine, tailored to the organisation's needs but 
without ads. Given the importance of Google to Australian web sites 
(discussed in a later talk below), this is a reasonable decision. But 
it might be disappointing to Australian web search companies, such as 
Public Service Search program enterprise search companies, such as 
Funnelback <http://funnelback.com/>.

A little AI on the site's feedback form had allowed 80% of queries to 
be answered automatically.

Alexi emphasized the need to educate the customers about the benefits 
of using standards on web sites and the need to be vigilant about the 
danger of  graphic designers being brought in to design web sites. 
This and the frustration with senior executives wanting to make quick 
changes are problems familiar to IT developers.

The Navy has to position its web site with the others of the Defence 
portfolio, principally the central Defence site 
<http://www.defence.gov.au/> and Defence Recruiting 
<http://www.defencejobs.gov.au>. Some might ask why the Navy needs a 
web site at all. However, having one large amorphous web site will 
confuse the clients and lead to expensive extra layers of 
coordination (as the UK Government is likely to find out in the next 
year with its centralist push). An emphasis of Defence's at present 
is recruiting (the Defence department advertise jobs on my web site 
using Google AdSense <http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/adsense.shtml>).

The next version of the Navy web site will have the text rewritten 
for the web (rather than just whatever was take from an existing 
source). Consideration will be given to adding commonly used business 
transactions and support for reserve personnel without access to the 
Defence secure network (this was an issue ten years ago when I was at 
Defence HQ).

Some items on the wish list were blog style pages (with moderation) 
for a more personal view of the organisation, tags 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tags> and wiki style text based cross 

Google Analytic is used for analysis of web site use. I have used 
this myself, but with a small site the novelty wears off quickly. If 
you do want Analytics (which is free) it might be quicker to get it 
by singing up for Google AdWords 

Unfortunately some of Alexi's credibility as a web worker was undone 
when I went to his own web site and found a message saying "... our 
website will be offline from Friday 19 January to Sunday 21 January 
for a complete overhaul ..."<http://www.oxideinteractive.com.au/>. 
Why give a presentation on web site design one day to hundreds of 
potential customers and take your web site off-line the next?

>>Second speaker: Gavin Dispain, Department of the Environment and 
>>Heritage ... 2006 web standards audit of Australian Government home pages ...

During December 2006, Gavin  arranged for 105 Australian Government 
web sites (from AAD to WEA) to be tested for accessibility, 
compliance with web standards, and Australian Government guidelines. 
The results deserved a whole day presentation, not the few minutes available.

Gavan used tools such as the W3C HTML and CSS Validators, Xact's 
Bobby tool to test the sites. In 2001 I did a similar analysis but 
only did one page per agency 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/2001/govtest.html>, whereas Gavan has done up 
to 5,000 pages per agency.

The results showed government web pages are good orverall, but with 
room for improvement:

* 69% had the correct government logo on them. Most used the 48 pixel 
size version. But I wonder what percentage of web traffic is being 
wasted transporting duplicate copies of the Australian Arms 

* Only 28% of home pages had an accessibility link (but this is not 
required by the guidelines).

Some hot topics on government web sites were "connected water" 4% and 
"access card" 14.2%, while 28% of all the traffic to government web 
sites was coming from Google. 55% of the Government web pages are in 
HTML, 18% PDF and 1% Microsoft word. Annual reports have 55% PDF 
documents and the Budget 84%.

Home pages contain an average of 17 images and other pages 12 images. 
This is much lower than the industry average of 53 images per page. 
77% of HTML web pages have DTD references. 48% of the HTML is XHTML 
level 1 transitional. Only 27% of the pages are valid HTML, but with 
Gavin commenting most of the errors were only minor.

One site which rated badly was that of CrimTrac 
<http://www.crimtrac.gov.au/>. So I ran a few tests myself. The W3C 
Markup Validation Service reported 120 errors in the CrimTrac home 
The page has 42 images, which is a little high. There is dublin core 
metadata on the page but not an ordinary author, description or 
keywords. The page failed an automated accessibility test 
<http://webxact.watchfire.com/> with: 66 level one, 31 level two and 
12 level three problems <http://webxact.watchfire.com/>. Also the 
favorites icon <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favicon> seems to be 
In addition CrimTrac's use of the Australian Arms does not appear to 
comply with government guidelines.

In terms of web site accessibility for the disabled, the sites rated 
relatively well on the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines:

- 78% A
- 10% AA
- 6% AAA

The "A" rating could be improved with simple additions of ALT text on 
images <http://www.tomw.net.au/2003/bws.html>.

71% of home ages were less than 100kbytes (which is good). There were 
100,616 broken internal links on government web pages (which is not 
so good). There were 404 misspellings of "Australia" (which is odd).

Some hot topics were "community water grants", "e-strategy guide". 
Highly rating web sites were BOM, ATO, Job Search and Center Link.

Gavin got a show of hands at the end to indicate that a similar 
survey should be run next year by AGIMO. But I doubt that a more 
official audit will be so entertainingly reported.

>>Third speaker: Karl Hayes, Hitwise Topic 3: Best practice tactics 
>>for government web sites ...
>>... www.webstandardsgroup.org ...

Hitwise provides statistics on who is looking at what web page 
<http://www.hitwise.com/products-services/how-we-do-it.php>. Karl 
provided some fascinating statistics and insights. Hitwise combines 
traditional market research with on-line monitoring of what people 
are looking at on the web with information obtained from ISPs.

A very surprise to find the Online Opinion web site 
<http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/> tops the "political" category, 
greatly outperforming any of the web sites of political parties. On 
Line Opinion is a non-profit academic style e-journal. I am on the 
advisory board for the site and have suggested we up our advertising 
charges as a result <http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/display.asp?page=eab>. ;-)

As noted in Gavin's talk, BOM dominates government web sites in terms 
of page views (56%) and Google dominates in terms of searching (86%). 
One surprise is that Google is also a significant web site in its own 
right (16%).

Karl had some interesting speculations about the future of web sites 
with consumer generated media, MySpace,YouTube, Podcasts and Wikipedia.

Hot topics: "water crisis", "water saving".

Karl argued that Australian advertisers were overspending on 
advertising in tradition radio, TV and print media, given the Web's 
increasing influence. He quickly skipped over some of the demographic 
categories which market researchers divide the population into. Some 
of the categories I saw were "Australia: Raising Expectations: 
comfortable outer suburban families in affordable homes", and "US: 
Cracker Barrel Cheese: Satellite dish, field and stream magazine, 
NASCAR Wilson Cup, Ford F250 Pickup".

One point he made was that commercial advertisers were buying 
government related keywords from Google and directing viewers to 
their commercial sites. This seems to be legal and largely ethical. 
About all the Government agencies can do is to bid for the keywords 
themselves (my web site gets ads for Defence recruiting).

One thought which occurs to me is that web sites featuring the 
whether and disaster information might rate very well. Government's 
may not wish to have paid commercial advertising on their web sites, 
but perhaps they could have internal government advertising. Each 
government web page could have a space reserved for advertising. 
Normally this would be used to promote government initiatives and 
publicize web sites (in effect the Government's own Google AdWords). 
The reserved space would also be used to advise the public of 
emergency information (emergency information is an area where Federal 
and State Australian governments do poorly online and as a result are 
placing the lives of citizens at risk).

Unfortunately Karl's excellent content was let down by slides with 
largely unreadable text. Hitwise need to study up on the 
accessibility standards the other two speakers were talking about.

This was very much a user group with a comfortable camaraderie 
amongst the speakers and audience, without the usual phony 
pretentiousness of many corporate IT events. One surprise is that 
AGIMO came in for light hearted banter, unlike the usual cold resect 
(or loathing) that central coordination agencies usual get.

I attended to hear of the audit of web sites, but both of the other 
presentations were worth attending for on their own. WSG meeting 
usually have two talks and they should return to that format. While 
it was all good, there was just too much content to absorb in one session.

It was a little cramped, with every seat taken in the "bunker 
theatre" under the Department of Environment 
<http://www.tomw.net.au/travel/gallery.shtml#jgb>. And yes, my phone 
didn't;work in the radiation shielded former cold war nuclear shelter.

The WSG is providing an excellent forum for government web developers 
in Canberra.

One use of such meetings is to chat with other web workers.

Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                http://www.tomw.net.au/
Visiting Fellow, ANU      Blog: http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/atom.xml  

More information about the Link mailing list