Well firstly, nothing happened. We didn't die and stuff, but surprisingly the bug2000.gov.uk website, set up to provide information on dealing with this problem, sat dormant and unnoticed for the past 16 years, with hosting and registration costs continuing to be paid. I realised that this was just one redundant gov.uk domain out of many and that I needed to carry out a good clean-up of the gov.uk estate.
I know the words ‘domain’ and ‘audit’ make you think 'boring'! But please stick with me here as I want to show you some long lost gems that I found when I did an audit of gov.uk domains.
Let's do an audit!
It’s grown to around 4000 gov.uk domains, with approximately 200 new applications (made mainly by local authorities wishing to have their own website) approved annually by the Naming and Approvals Committee (NAC). However, in all that time, no one's ever audited this growing list to see if domains are working the way they ought to. This is very important, because a gov.uk URL used in the correct way says to users that it is a trusted and reliable source.
Into the breach...
I soon realised that gov.uk domains weren’t in great shape, and we needed to get our house in order. This meant looking through all 4000 gov.uk domains!
From that list, I found over 1000 breaches of our guidance including:
- inaccessible domains with error pages (e.g. 403,404 errors)
- Pages leading to the host/registrar page instead of the correct gov.uk home page
- Pages redirecting to a non-government domain (e.g. co.uk or .com)
- domain owners not eligible to retain a gov.uk domain (e.g. owner had since become a company or organisation registered by Companies House)
Having done all that, I spread the word through blogs (It's all about trust - auditing local government domains and Your friendly neighbourhood GOV.UK), got support from colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and Jisc (who administer gov.uk on behalf of the Cabinet Office) and started by getting domain owners to fix the problems and consider shutting down unused and legacy domains to save on costs.
Lost in time
I found many domains belonging to departments, organisations or campaigns that had long since been closed and forgotten. Here are some of my top picks (which are now archived on the UK Government Web Archive):
- Digital television
- G7 Finance Ministers summit in Feb 2005
- Quiet Roads
- Postal Services Commission
- Consumption of Alcohol Campaign
Some departments or local authorities had stockpiled domains over many years and now realised they were no longer required (because defensive registration is not necessary for a .gov.uk domain), so they decided to close them.
What did we achieve?
- 947 gov.uk domains closed in total, of which;
- 393 were central government
- 471 were local government
- 80 were devolved government
- 196 were corrected
Where do we go from here?
Although we've dealt with the majority of breaches, this was only the beginning. We now need to maintain trust in the gov.uk name, but from a position of strength. This means we’ll continue carrying out annual checks, ensuring all gov.uk domains are working the way we expect them to and still relevant.
So, whether you’re an IT manager in central government or a local authority, you should familiarise yourselves with the relevant naming and registering government websites guidelines, to be confident you still fulfil its requirements.