[Update 2008-05-08 @ 23:40, the new stockolm.se have unfortunately had severe technical problems until late afternoon today. For some reason the webmaster have removed the ”Version 0.8” declaration that I mention below].

[Update 2008-05-09 @ 19:01, the project leader for stockholm explains that ”Version 0.8” was removed because many people believed it connoted a dysfunctional, rather than in-development, Web site].

imageToday is the official launch of the City of Stockholm’s new web site stockholm.se (also in english). The old site was the result of the project Web portal Stockholm 2001. I was invited to the launch event which was held at the Stockholm cultural house. As I write this, the new site carries the tag line ”Version 0.8, var med och påverka”. Translated into English it means something like ”join us and make an impact”. Behind that challenge is a link to dialog.stockholm.se, which leads to a development blog (powered by WordPress). The blog, which has been highly interactive, was launched in January 2008 with the bold statement (my translations, unless otherwise noted):

We say, it will be easy to find the way
(”Nu blir det lätt att hitta rätt”)

The first post has of today received 53 comments and 238 votes (averaging 2.96 on the 1 to 5 scale). Sten Nordin, Stockholm’s new Mayor cut the virtual opening ribbon. He also told us that the blog have had more than 20,000 unique visitors and received 500 proposals. And Mr. Nordin continued: ”nothing is ready yet, this is a beta and the development continues”.

image Unfortunately I have not had the time to participate in, or analyze, the blog’s conversations. But the quick looks I have taken has on the one hand impressed me. For example commentors have been very active regarding the structuring of the web site’s top menu. Here illustrated by a ”before and after” comparison.  Other things have been voted upon, like whether a link should open in the same window or not.  To stimulate interactions the team initiated competitions, like prizes to those who find really bad language or take the best pictures for the site’s home/start page Other issues include colors, typefaces, functionality, and the choice and placing of icons. The bloggers have made great efforts to keep the discussions on a personal level, for example by addressing contributors in an informal way like ”Thanks for the idea Krille!”.  But for some reasons the posts are not signed with the authors name.

On the other hand, given the relatively small community of active commentors/voters, I wonder how far ranging a development strategy like this can – and should go. I truly hope that the lessons learned, and experiences gained, within the project will be shared. Another reflection concerns the strategy to organize the participation by managing the citizen interaction within Stockolm’s domain, that is in the City’s web premises. An alternative/supplement would be to have us do it at our places, like here in weconverse, and provide us with a convenient way to explicitly inform the project about our concerns and issues. For example by tagging and pingback services.

As a backgrounder the aims of the project were:

  • create a clear and user friendly web site for the different target groups
  • allow increased levels of interaction and support e-service tasks within the web site
  • create functions that allows service and quality comparisons, e.g. when choosing a school
  • design a new graphical form that is aesthetic and modern, yet sustainable
  • as much as possible support accessability, e.g. for visually impaired visitors

image Johannes Söderlund, project leader fo the new stockholm.se, gave us a quick demo of what is available right now. When he said ”we have divided the site into a number of sections”, I interpreted ”we” as the project team as well as participating citizens. Everyone can comment indivudual web pages, many of the city’s services can be located on integrated maps (e.g. swimming halls, schools, etc), citizens can choose for and apply to services like kindergarten (including comparing results from parent surveys and quality audits).  I also noted that the site is full of RSS-support. A sort of my.stockholm.se is in the works (if I got it right). Techies might find it useful to know that the web site is built with the newest CMS platform from Episerver, although functions and services from other providers, including Microsoft, will follow.

I feel inclined to mention that it has been virtually impossible to use stockholm.se today. That will probably generate a lot of citizen frustration and bad publicity. In my view the 15:56 development blog post ”Lansering och Tekniska problem” (Launch and technical problems, due to server issues) was too late and lacked information that would help engaged and supportive citizens (like me) explain what was going on.

On a personal level this was a really awarding event. About a year ago I did a gig for PR and information managers working with Stockholm’s organizations and companies. My contribution was but a small part within the huge 650 million SEK (approx 65M Euro)  project of modernizing Stockholm’s e-services. The web site launched today is only one of the pieces (so far less than 10 MSEK). During my gig I was kind of critical, because I could see neither clear visions nor tacticts with respect to social media and Web 2.0. As I entered today’s press conference I was immediately greeted by Johannes Söderlund. He remembered me from last year, and appearantly was proud of what is unfolding. In any measure it is far from the one-post blog he created immediately after my gig. The other people I met,, including Hanna Broggren, newly appointed Chief Communications Officer for Stockholm, was also happy to be a part of this interesting conversations initiative. By coincidence (?) she attended my gig for The Government offices last December.

Perhaps I stimulated some of the ideas Stockholm.se showed for real today. Still I see very little with respect to wikis, widgets, apps, open API:s, mashups, and most of all – distributed services. That is, playing with the idea that web initiatives of the future is more of supporting functions and services hosted by stakeholders rather than the producer (here Stockholm). In other words, interaction in the Cloud.

Of course Stockholm is not alone in trying new ways for government web site development. For example Gothenburg initiated last year a public  competition for the best new design (press information in Swedish); Skatteverket and Kronofogden (tax related governments) published a pre-study blog; and Vårdguiden’s (find health services) is still active with their Vårdguiden Labs. Special thanks to 24timmarsbloggen (who also blogged about today’s launch) for those examples

In any case, to my and the development team’s best knowledge, Stockholm is the first capital engaging its citizens to such a high degree when building a new web site. Or do you perhaps know of any other one(s)?

Bonus: Via Bambuser I did a live video streaming from the event. That was easy, cheap and fast. Maybe Stockolm’s own web cast provided better video quality (have not been able to see it afterwards), but offer no support for sharing.