Personal blogging by Steph Gray, former digital agency founder and erstwhile bureaucrat

Update: who blocks?

Note (July 2017)

I’ve fixed a couple of links affected by link-rot. The survey tool doesn’t survive modern anti-iframe defences and https mixed-content warnings, but the results are still historically amusing.

Thanks all for a great response to the Social Media Test Suite survey – in just over a week, 55 people helped out sharing data about the internet access policies of 35 different UK publicly-funded organisations. I’ve excluded duplicate responses from organisations for analysis purposes here; it’s worth bearing in mind the caveat that different users in the same organisation may have different experiences.

First, the good news: apart from social networking sites and webmail, over 80% of respondents are able to access the rest of the social media sites in the test, including 100% able to see LinkedIn, forums like NetMums and 97% confirming they could see Wikipedia and perhaps surprisingly, the social bookmarking service Digg:

Google 100%
LinkedIn 100%
NetMums 100%
Wikipedia 97%
Digg 97%
Google Reader 91% 89%
Yahoo account 86%
Flickr 83%
Twitter 83%
Bebo 69%
YouTube (able to see well) 63%
Gmail 60%
Facebook 54%

The key problem areas then seem to be:

  • Online video: more than a third are unable to view YouTube videos correctly
  • Social networking: nearly half are unable to access Facebook
  • Webmail: two fifths have access to Gmail blocked, perhaps for justifiable security reasons

In terms of technology, Javascript access seems universal, Flash versions are perhaps surprisingly up to date but the ability to view streamed video is low:

Javascript 100%
Flash 86%, virtually all version 9 or better
Java 80%
Quicktime streaming 31%

But these numbers belie a more complex picture, as some of the comments highlighted:

“Although we can access most sites well enough, we can’t interact with them… The issue here is to do with blocked (or just not actively permitted) technologies, not blocked domains. Anything AJAXy is pretty much non functional. We can get sites whitelisted but it’s a case of asking for them one at a time, and being prepared to wait a while – CLG”

“We have just been informed that access to social media sites has been restricted further on the grounds of time wasting – Home Office”

“Worth also checking blockage of short URLs in govt. They are invaluable, and increasing in prevalence. DWP block tinyurl, but let through”

“I was asked to carry out a quick analysis of the reactions in the ‘blogosphere’ to the Gaza crisis- because I can’t use any aggregation or feed reading tools or use any web-based automated analytics tools it made this a very laborious task… We do have a standalone PC and this is on my desk, but the other 36 people in the unit have to use it too and its not really a viable or acceptable alternative.”

One of the emails I received (anonymised, since that seems only fair), demonstrates the limitations even of the test suite approach:

“Our IT system deliberately crashes the browser when getting to an outlawed website (such as your second test – Facebook) and won’t proceed further, so I can’t tell you which other sites we can (and can’t) view!”

From a quick scan of the results, it looks like the main blockers (in no particular order) seemed to be:

  • DWP
  • Directgov (DWP)
  • Surrey County Council
  • ‘A north east council’
  • Environment Agency
  • MOD
  • FCO
  • Home Office

Does DIUS or Cabinet Office have staff any more or less likely to waste time than the Home Office or DWP? Is ‘security’ more important in Surrey than Devon? Might the good burghers of Directgov benefit from a bit more exposure to the social web? Would people at FCO tasked with engaging around the world be helped by being able to view more of the World Wide Web?

You decide. Or you could always pop your CV on LinkedIn to find an opening somewhere that actually lets you do your job?

UPDATE 18-Mar-09

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12 comments on “Update: who blocks?

  1. […] Update: who blocks? at Helpful Technology. […]

  2. […] Steph’s results are up! Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)from an xbox to an atariRacist E-Mails About […]

  3. […] Steph has released some details of his short survey of the blocking of useful websites within the public sector. The following figures show the percentages of organisations which allow access to each type of site: Google 100% LinkedIn 100% NetMums 100% Wikipedia 97% Digg 97% Google Reader 91% 89% Yahoo account 86% Flickr 83% Twitter 83% Bebo 69% YouTube (able to see well) 63% Gmail 60% Facebook 54% […]

  4. […] Gray’s (@lesteph on Twitter) blog, Helpul Technology. He has provided some very interesting results to his ‘Who Blocks – Social Media Test Suite‘ survey of Local […]

  5. Well done on the idea and pulling it together. Thanks for the data access. You should do a visualisation too.

  6. […] addition to this, Steph Gray has posted the results of his experiment into social media blockers in the public […]

  7. […] of which social media sites government can and cannot access. The detailed results can be found here whilst the The key problem areas then seem to […]

  8. Mo says:

    And therein lies the rub: even though the people tasked with “connecting” with the public may be perfectly capable of it in terms of skills, the organisations that want it to happen in the first place put every obstacle in the way that they can.

    Sounds like a fairly typical public sector gig, to me.

  9. Would be good to compare this to previous work by PSF:

    Maybe a yearly audit is in order? Name and shame until we get a common(ish) usage policy.

  10. Mike says:

    Add NMSI (that includes the Science Museum (London), National Railway Museum (York), National Media Museum (Bradford)) to the “who knows, but probably blocked” list. I emailed their IT department asking them to take part but they refused. In my experience as Head of Web there, this kind of blocking is a consistent and ridiculous problem

  11. Karen says:

    Gmail can often be accessed through the basic version without activex enabled. So no chat but access to email.