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Web revolution sweeps Whitehall

Never mind the events in Downing Street - there is a revolution going on in cyberspace too. Government web activity was frozen during the general election campaign but now that the new coalition Lib Dem/Conservative government is taking shape it has exploded into frenetic life. Mouse-wielding civil servants across Whitehall are engaged in a frantic rush to archive old pages full of defunct policies and pen portraits of now departed Labour ministers and to replace them with shiny new web pages that reflect the priorities and personalities of their new political masters. Many of the main departmental sites are currently carrying this warning on their home page: "Content on this site is under review following the formation of a new government." Others, such as the Department of Communities and Local Government, are stripped back to the bare essentials. History The most dramatic change is at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which has been rebranded as the Department for Education. Out goes the rainbow logo and touchy-feely graphics; in comes a sober blue colour scheme and a stern warning to the casual web browser: "All statutory guidance and legislation linked to from this site continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise, but may not reflect Government policy." It only takes a few clicks to find old DCSF-branded material, although again there are ample warnings that the documents may not reflect government policy, and search engines still throw up the old web address. The Downing Street site has undergone a few changes too. The Number 10 channel names for Flickr, Twitter and YouTube have all changed to Number10gov. There are pictures and videos of David Cameron and Nick Clegg everywhere on the Downing Street website. It is difficult to find any images of Gordon Brown and the site's search engine has also been temporarily disabled while old content is archived, to stop people searching for them. But Mr Brown's biography has been added to the list of "prime ministers in history". ID cards Mr Cameron's "Meet the PM" biography is a work in progress. It has a moody picture of the Conservative leader with wife Samantha but the biographical details are thin, with a statement from the new PM promised shortly. It says: "Mr Cameron's family has always been the starting point of everything he has wanted to achieve in politics. He is proud of the values that were instilled in him when he was young." Documents singing the praises of Labour's economic policy have been removed from the Treasury site, into the National Archives. This is the first time we have had a change of government in the internet age. When Labour came to power in 1997, government departments were just beginning to feel their way on the web. Just how much has changed can be seen from newly released archive pages charting the development of government websites during the 13 years of Labour rule. Historic moments such as the May 1997 decision to hand control of interest rates to the Bank of England are captured on the Treasury website from that time. Other historic government websites, including early versions of the Downing Street site, are avaiable to view on the National Archive website. David Thomas, Director of technology at the National Archives, said: "We are the only government archive in the world regularly capturing and preserving government websites. "The ephemeral nature of websites means there's a risk that important information could be lost without a comprehensive web archiving programme." Since 2003, the National Archive has been trawling 1,500 government websites three times a year to take screen shots for its archives, which can be viewed by the public on its website. Hidden gems But in a special project it has taken screen shots of government websites four weeks before, one week before and one week after the general election in order to capture the transition period. One of the most revealing transitions is on the Identity and Passport Service website. All promotion of identity cards has disappeared from the front page, although the slogan on the masthead "Everyone's unique. Let's Keep It That Way" suggests there is further work to come. In place of the pre-election front page banner, which read "Identity cards have arrived - find out if you are eligible to apply" is the more sober strapline "information on identity cards" link which takes visitors through to a starkly worded disclaimer. It says: "The Government has stated in the Coalition Agreement that it will cancel Identity Cards and the National Identity Register. We will announce in due course how this will be achieved. Applications can continue to be made for ID cards but we would advise anyone thinking of applying to wait for further announcements. "Until Parliament agrees otherwise, identity cards remain valid and as such can still be used as an identity document and for travel within Europe. We will update you with further information as soon as we have it." There are no doubt plenty of other gems hidden away in the archives.

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