Time to make Indian government websites more engaging

I read Sonia Gandhi’s speech in the two-day Chintan Shivir held in Jaipur with interest. Especially, her observation on the need to engage with new media,  as reported on India Today website.

The report quotes her saying: “People are expecting much more from their political parties. Aided by the tools of the modern world – television, social media, mobile phones and the Internet – today’s India is better informed and better equipped to communicate.”

A webshot of pm's website

A webshot of pm’s website

However, it would seem, having failed to come up with an appropriate and timely response to Anna Hazare movement and the movement against Delhi rape case, the Congress party and the Government Of India would wake up to the need of engaging with new media tools and the new generation more effectively and will realize the need to use the new media extensively.

Words, however, take a long time in our country to get translated into actions. Not much is visible on the ground as far as efforts to connect with the people is concerned.

The Indian establishment’s complete disregard to the emergence of new media and its new generation users continues in the same old manner.

Take, for example, the PM’s website (pmindia.nic .in). The website looks good. It shows the PM’s profile and his messages and appeals.

It shows important interviews, reports, details. It even tells you a lot about PM’s Relief Fund. It has links to UPA Government’s Agenda, Planning Commission as well as National Advisory Council.

If you are an Indian, you will feel good on visiting your Prime Minister’s website.  You will learn a great deal about  your prime minister and what he does and how he does.

However, if a keen citizen wants to submit a petition or entreaty to his PM through his website, he would have to use the contact page given at the top and click the email link. There is no link for submitting a petition or entreaty online.

Moreover, I cannot give a link to the PM’s website (http : // pmindia.nic.in)  in this post. Why? Because the hyperlink policy of the website states: “Prior permission is required before hyperlinks are directed from any website/portal to this site. Permission for the same, stating the nature of the content on the pages from where the link has to be given and the exact language of the Hyperlink should be obtained by sending a request to Name AT nic dot in.”

I don’t understand the reasons for such a linking policy. User’s ability to click and link and navigate through the internet is what makes the internet what it is. Anyone who does not understand this may not be in a position to appreciate the working and potentials of new media.

At most, the linking by offensive sites with offensive content should have been barred. But by prohibiting linking in general, the baby has been thrown away with bathwater.

Compare this with the US government’s whitehouse. gov website.  I am not linking to this either because I am yet to find out whether I am permitted to link to this website directly or not. I was unable to find a clear answer searching on the net. But, other websites do have links to this site.

This site looks more engaging. There is Google+, there is Twitter and there is Facebook.

Moreover, you will find here a separate website for the people to submit online petitions and for signing those petitions.

The website We the People  is a place where Americans can submit entreaties to their President.

And any petition that is signed by more than 25,000 online signatures in its first month is supposed to get an official response from the President’s administration.

For example, there is a petition urging the US President to – “Fire Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann”. It states that : “Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann’s overzealous prosecution of an allegedly minor and non-violent electronic crime led to the suicide of Aaron Swartz.”

At the time of writing this post, the petition had been signed by 9,315 people and to reach the goal of 25,000, at least 15,685 more signatures were required.

Any person can create a petition on the website.

In fact, a petition has also been created to “Ignore ridiculous, publicity-baiting petitions (like this one) created to get media and tweeters’ attention”

On the other hand, the Indian government’s websites lack engagement with the people. The websites managed by NIC are fast but not very appealing or engaging.

They don’t seem to reflect the urge to tap into the potentials of new media or engage with people.

Compared to the PM’s website, the Presidentofindia (presidentofindia . nic.in) website looks far better and more engaging.

It has a Helpline section (www.helpline.rb. nic. in) too, where anyone can lodge a request or complaint and even view status of the request.

A webshot of President's secretariat helpline

A webshot of President’s secretariat helpline

It may be the time for a rethink and redesign of the official Indian government websites.

After all, Internet and websites are tools not only for one-way information dissemination, but also for two-way engagement with the readers and masses.

I would love to see a Helpline section on PM’s website too. So that any citizen, or a group of citizens, can submit a petition directly to the Prime Minister and get an appropriate response within a reasonable period of time.

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