Plenty of scope for improving the government's on-line activities

Government services less popular with smartphone users

On 29 November, at our SIDN Connect networking and knowledge-sharing event, we'll be presenting the fifth edition of our research report Trends in Internet Use. The report sheds light on developments in the way the internet is used in the Netherlands. One focus of the underlying research was the role of the government. Who is using the internet now? And what are the implications for the government? In anticipation of the full report's release, we shared our findings about the government's on-line presence at today's ECP Annual Congress.

Young and old

In 2014, PCs and laptops were still the main devices that people used to visit websites. Today, it's a different story. The average internet user visits 287 websites a month, is rarely off line and uses sixty different apps. Although that may sound like a young person's lifestyle, it is actually older people whose internet use -- especially mobile internet use -- is growing most. In 2014, only 32 per cent of over-65s accessed the internet using smartphones; now the figure is 70 per cent.

Government services less popular with smartphone users

In other words, today's internet user is a smartphone user. However, the government hasn't yet aligned its offering with that development. Most people visiting government websites still do so from PCs and laptops. The reason being that smartphone users expect to find what they want within two minutes. And it takes twice as long to get what you want from a government website as from an average site.

Smartphonegebruik overheidswebsite

Following the app trend

That prompts the question: is smartphone delivery of government services actually viable? Can smartphones be used for time-intensive tasks? The answer is 'yes'. However, for tasks like that, users prefer apps. App development has rich potential for government agencies: with smartphone users devoting more and more time to apps, they are the obvious medium for delivering complex services. That's why private-sector organisations are fighting so hard to get their icons on smartphone screens. However, the public sector lags well behind. Numerous individual shopping, banking and marketplace apps have a bigger reach than all government apps put together.

App Reach
All government apps 15.9%
DigID (ID app) 7.9%
Afvalwijzer (waste advice app) 5.2%
Burgernet (neighbourhood security app) 1.8%
For comparison: Bol.com 18%

Websites: use authority

Government agencies would also do well to build on their strengths. By their nature, government websites have an inherent authority. And authority is the key to being found on the internet. Search engine optimisation is therefore vital for government sites. It's not merely a 'nice-to-have'. When disaster strikes or problems arise, citizens turn to the internet for information, for reliable sources of help and support. So the government should be doing all it can to make sure that its sites feature prominently at the top of the search results.

Site % via Google
1 rechtspraak.nl (jurisprudence) 41%
2 rdw.nl (vehicle registration) 34%
3 rivm.nl (environmental research) 32%
4 belastingdienst.nl (tax authority) 30%
5 government internet platform 30%
All government websites (average) 15%

Open standards and security

Finally, there is the issue of security. Security and authority are inseparably linked. The government should be setting a good example to drive the adoption of open security standards. One quick win would be to use EV certificates for applicant ID verification, for instance. By making such security features the norm on official sites, the government would also be helping users to tell them apart from fake sites.

The full Trends in Internet Use report will be published on 29 November. To get a copy, simply mail 'Rapport' to marketing@sidn.nl.

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