China’s central government portal, gov.cn, is billed as the country’s most authoritative citizen-facing web site. But how does it fare in the eyes of a web design agency and a China citizen?
China’s central government portal, gov.cn, is a tool the authorities use to reach the (at last count) 404 million Chinese citizens who use the internet. Launched in January 1st 2006 to great fanfare, the site was designed as a single repository for information on policies, political leaders, and government-related news, and was part of the People’s Republic’s push to be more open, accountable, and in tune with what its citizens think about policy. The site was also positioned as a bridge to local government sites and to citizen-facing departments such as tax and employment services.
A number of new features have been added since launch to make the site more interactive and responsive to citizen needs, and the site now registers 4.52 million page views daily (the simplified Chinese version gets 4.2 million, the traditional Chinese version 230,000 and the English version around 83,000). The English language version, english.gov.cn, is designed to help foreigners understand more about China. Here, visitors can get information on China’s central and local government leaders, learn more about the structure of Chinese government, its history, laws, and policies, get weather reports, travel information and updates on natural disasters, get advice on how to do business in China and apply for a visa, and view photographs and watch videos of cultural ceremonies and visiting dignitaries.
The web design agency’s view
FutureGov spoke to Xu Rui, Regional Director, Asia, of digital communications agency Profero, for her view on gov.cn’s strengths and weaknesses.
Although narrower pages can look cleaner and easier to read, this web page is actually too narrow in width, and does not use enough of the browser’s web page. There is no consistent colour scheme on the web site, making the site appear more complicated and busy than it actually is. However, overall, the site’s design isn’t bad compared to many busy Chinese web pages.
Many of the site’s tabs could be more functional if they were simpler and more specific labeling was used. Nearly every tab opens a new tab in the browser. This is simply not needed and is a bit messy for a government site: it should focus on providing a focused exchange of information to the user, not a scattered mess of web pages. The search functionality is accurate enough when using keyword searches.
The site opens a tab for nearly every click as the user navigates through the site. This creates a confusing journey and a messy browser. Although content appears laid out in a user-friendly way, on closer inspection one can see that the content is not arranged in an obvious hierarchical manner.
Ease of Use
The web page suffers from its limited width, which has the effect of making the front appear smaller. Although you can zoom in manually, the web page will not appeal much to those with poor eyesight. Labeling of categories and tabs is not clear, resulting in a situation where the user needs to click the link to find out what content it leads to. The English language version is written well. But the site would benefit from embracing more web 2.0 technologies allowing the user to share information, comment on information or view information in more innovative ways.
The citizen’s view
Zhang Beibei, Music teacher, Beijing
I find the English version to be easier on the eye and useable than the Chinese version. The home page is very well classified, has many useful functions and isn’t as cluttered with so much information. The Chinese version’s homepage is overloaded and finding things is not easy. But the key thing is speed. The English version is much faster.
As for design, the interface is slightly clunkly, certainly when compared to the White House’s home page. The site is not particularly imposing, and looks a bit humdrum, like a municipal government’s web site. I would expect more from the highest level official web site of government. I would say, however, that the site is relatively straightforward functionally, with the online hall, live webcast and online interviews easy to access and watch.
But in terms of navigation, the site is a little odd in shape, which doesn’t help me find things quickly. I can’t work out why it is so narrow and has so much grey space either side of the site proper.
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