The first beta of Gov.uk has gone live, pushing forward the government's attempt to provide a single website for access to and information on public services.
People are being invited to try out the site, launched on Tuesday by the Government Digital Service. The domain, which will eventually replace Directgov, contains links to both local and national services, such as council tax payments and housing benefit applications, as well as data such as bank holiday dates.
While the site lists topic areas such as crime and justice, driving, and education, this is only a fraction of its eventual coverage, the Cabinet Office's Digital Reform Group head Mike Bracken said in a blog post.
"The beta is just the next step on the journey, but it's a significant one. It's a version of the design and coding work we've been doing since the alpha, putting some of those ideas into practise at a significant scale," Bracken said.
"It addresses 667 of the most common and important mainstream user needs, made simpler, clearer and faster for users. So it's not everything, but it's the most important content to start with," he added.
The beta is a continuation of the alpha.gov.uk site developed by a small Cabinet Office team and launched in May. The idea of a single government web portal was inspired by the Race Online 2012 report published last year by Martha Lane Fox, the government's digital adviser.
In addition to catering to needs currently handled by Directgov and hundreds of other public service sites, the Gov.uk site should eventually provide access and information for specialist needs, such as those currently handled by BusinessLink.
"In a few weeks we'll be launching a similar beta of the 'corporate' aspects of Gov.uk (information that government departments publish about their activities) and later in the year we'll be addressing the specific needs of business-related users," Bracken said.
As for privacy, Gov.uk has links to explain the use of tracking programs called 'cookies'. A web page lists the cookies' names, content and expiry times. Under European legislation, users must give their consent to certain types of cookies being uploaded to their computer.
"Some pages on this site provide you with information based on your location," said a note on cookies. "So when you enter your postcode, we save it to a cookie."
The beta also uses Google Analytics to collect information about user interaction with the site.
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