Ottawa spruces up Web portal

Recent changes to the federal government’s electronic gateway show that users want their information fast and without the flash, say officials.

The Canada Site ( is the primary online access point for information on Government of Canada programs and services. In response to e-mail feedback, surveys and focus groups, government branch Communications Canada announced Wednesday a series of enhancements to the site.

The three key sections of the portal are now easier to navigate, better organized, and have better service for the disabled, Communications Canada said.

“From an IT perspective, people have told us that they want fast download time. They wanted it simple and didn’t expect to have a whole of glitz from the Government of Canada,” said Donna Achimov, director general for public access programs in Ottawa.

Where a lot of Web sites run into trouble is if there’s some of the glitz but only a small percentage of users who have the sophisticated equipment that can access it – alienating a chunk of users, Achimov said. “You do lose a whole lot of people who are not in that boat. And once you lose them, they don’t come back.”

Achimov noted that it was important to receive citizen feedback regularly: “It’s always been our nature to ask people for their feedback. We’ve had an online survey on the Canada site before we officially launched the portal.”

The launch follows last month’s announcement by Toronto-based IT consulting firm Accenture Inc. that Canada’s e-government activities ranked first out of 23 countries for the second year in a row (See: Canada still tops in e-government). The first phase of its News site ( was also launched Wednesday, allowing both media and citizens access to Government of Canada news and background information from various departments and agencies, Communications Canada said.

The biggest factor of the award-winning Web site’s success was keeping the site basic, yet flexible, said Donna Wood, director of citizen information programs in Ottawa. “We haven’t done a lot of changes on the architecture side – it’s a fairly straightforward, link-based strategy,” Wood said, adding that alternatives are always being reviewed.

Wood cited an example of the recent passing of the Queen Mother: “We wanted to very quickly to get some changes up on the main page of the site to give people a spot to send condolences. With a database-driven architecture it’s a little more difficult to do the immediate stuff, because it affects so many other things…we’re learning from our partners and seeing where we take advantage of the different technologies.”

It’s important to remain objective when designing a Web site, Wood noted.

“Anything that’s close to you and dear to you – you don’t necessarily see it as objectively as those who are using the site might,” Wood said.

“The thing that we keep coming back to is (to) understand your audience, listen to your audience, and keep going back and validating.”