When a country is as large as Australia, it's a big job to connect the nation's estimated 21 million people with public services. To inform its citizens about how their country can help them, the government created Australia.gov.au, a national Web site linking users to services and information to aid them at home, work and elsewhere.
As the go-to site for a nation of six states and 10 territories, Australia.gov.au has much ground to cover -- literally and figuratively. It's a repository of Web links to services and information that all levels of governments -- state, federal, territory and city -- have to offer. The portal features: an internal search engine; more than 800 links to public sites; separate directories of federal, state, territory and city sites and departments; travel information; weather updates; current and historical country information; an alphabetical list of government contact numbers by subject; an e-mail subscription service for news and media releases; and a really simple syndication (RSS) delivery option for news and podcasts. RSS enables people to receive news articles, headlines and other data via XML technology.
The United Nations (U.N.) ranked Australia No. 8 out of the top 35 countries on e-government readiness because of its national portal in the E-Government Survey 2008 -- just four places behind the United States. The U.N. designed the survey to gauge how nations deliver e-services to citizens. Australia.gov.au impressed surveyors with its comprehensiveness, information, links to government resources and how it serves as the gateway to other integrated portals, such as the national job search site, and the Centrelink citizen information and services portal. Although the Australian portal is ranked slightly behind the United States, the Aussies have an edge in the user-input department. The portal's user-feedback mechanism, the 60 Second Survey, is more comprehensive and a tad easier to find than a similar U.S. application. The link, "60 Second Survey," is located on the front page below the heading "Have Your Say," and takes users to a questionnaire loaded with buttons, dropdown menus and two input boxes. Users of USA.gov must click on the "e-mail usa.gov" link that takes them to a smaller feedback form with fewer input opportunities.
Designed to Impress
"The thing that makes it so successful is it's relatively straightforward. It's easy to understand, so it's very accessible," said Peter Alexander, branch manager of the Online Service Point Branch of the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO).
Australia.gov.au is designed for usability and the lynchpin of its appeal is how the links to legions of government programs are arranged on pages. The home page features a menu of subjects to browse and a row of tabbed links for more specific needs. Users who click on the "Info For" tab, can find information and services arranged by user type.
Information obtained by the 60 Second Survey includes users' connection speeds, opinions on various portal aspects and how they think the site could improve.
But even with all of these features, Alexander is modest about the site's offerings and works to improve it.
"What we've got at the moment with Australia.gov, we would phrase it as a Web portal 1.0; it's just a linking site that people can come to as a starting point and then go throughout the federal government agencies and get their services," he said.
He estimates that about 20 percent of Australia.gov.au's content is original. Much of this original content comprises text describing where links will take users.
Enhanced Service Delivery
But if, like Alexander said, Australia.gov.au is merely