Freesteel Blog » What the UN thinks about the web

What the UN thinks about the web

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007 at 10:00 pm Written by:

I’ve been doing a lot of digging for reports of what the UN thinks it’s doing on the web. This has required pulling down documents whose code I can guess, but which are too painful to obtain through their website via the usual channels. And I am not kidding you about how bad it is. The UK Model United Nations, which had a “hugely successful week” last month, is just as shoddy with its web information. I have been through every link on their site and I still don’t know where it was or what gives with it.

The following links show you what you can do with sensible URLs, which the UN goes out of its way to prevent you from having.

Document 5 each session usually has some kind of Audit report. If you are lucky you might find what special Add.11 (Vol.IV) you need to put in there to get the different sections. I found them out by visiting the document dump in the Liverpool Central Library on the weekend.

I went through the documents by number. Document 1 is the Secretary-General’s report. Document 2 is the Security Council report. Yeah, those guys.

Document 7 of Session 60 happened to be from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Table VII.1 on page 149 of the PDF file outlined the Current staffing of the Web Services Section, News and Media Division. They have to get stuff out in at least 6 different languages with non-ASCII alphabets, which is quite hard, so if you factor out the 18 staff in language units, and three chiefs and their secretary, and just count the Website Coordinator, Website Designer, Database Developer, Website Programmer, Webcast Assistant, and Web Development Assistant, that gives you only six people who have the potential for doing core work (as opposed to managing content or just talking about it).

This explains a lot about the quality of what they are doing — very good, given the lack of resources. Meanwhile, the UK mission to the United Nations lists 36 named staff, including one military adviser, three financial staff, three third secretaries, and nine second secretaries. I have no idea what any of these guys have to do. I do know what web-teams need to do. I also know that our nation’s finest performance at the UN had nothing to do with the web-team, and was described in the annual Report of the Security Council covering the time of March 2003 thus:

Iraq figured prominently in the agenda from the summer and autumn of 2002 until the end of the period covered by the present report. The Security Council found a path of unanimity with the adoption of resolution 1441 (2002) and, in spite of divisions that emerged later over the course of action to be taken on Iraq, it managed to find that path again with the adoption of resolutions 1472 (2003), 1476 (2003) and 1483 (2003) [which legitimized the US and UK squatters rights], and was thus able to work with a unity of purpose for the future of Iraq.

You see, friends, a thousand American cruise missiles bombarding a heavily populated city for no justified reason as part of a wholly unprovoked and aggressive military operation known as “Shock and Awe” Never Happened. It stays off the record. Referred to only as exceptional circumstances.

Anyways, moving swiftly back to the record, such as it is on what is known as the web, we see that there’s this supporting document for the coming meeting, supplied by the Secretary General, which is worth taking a look at. There’s a long discussion of the figures for numbers of page views and visits, which seems to settle on a figure at something like 135,000 visitors on average per day, seeing about ten pages each.

This is interesting, but not great. What they don’t investigate is whether it’s the same 135,000 people visiting the site the next day and in fact that, since the grand total of UN staff total about 50,000 and have had more of their communication services moving on-line, this number could be entirely due to people being there on business because they’re either employees of the organization, or involved in diplomatic missions. How many actual members of the public get through it’s sheer awfulness to an actual document? I’d be kind of interested. I was poking around the FAQs and came across this amazing howler:

Q: How many countries are there in the world?

A: We are not an authority on this topic. We suggest you visit a public library in your area, consult an encyclopedia or a world almanac. The United Nations, however, has 192 Member Countries.


You know, my local library is pretty good… But I’ll bet that the UN has a one where international affairs section is about a thousand times bigger.

Anyway, back to the report, Section VII:

The search facility

In 2005, one aspect of the Department’s annual programme impact review focused on improving the user experience of finding information on the United Nations website. After an analysis of the top 100 search queries over a one-year period, findings revealed that overall search requests are highly generic in nature, such as “United Nations”, “jobs” and news specific, e.g., “tsunami” and “Darfur”. Other popular queries include United Nations agencies, “Charter of the United Nations”, country names and peacekeeping missions. Full analysis of search logs was constrained by limitations in the search appliance, most specifically on queries done in Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Search logs currently do not provide non-roman alphabet characters and these reports now are unable to separate by language. Research is continuing for better search analysis tools…

[T]he full use and further development of the search system to fulfil the demands from other content-providing offices for customized search pages and collections to limit search results to their sites continues. From a management perspective, a much-needed analysis of user search patterns continues to present a challenge. In order to provide this type of follow-up action effectively and efficiently, dedicated resources need to be assigned to it, which means that this task can be achieved only at the cost of limiting progress in other areas.

The Department continues to work with the Information Technology Services Division on an enterprise search solution. The Division has issued a request for proposals for an enterprise search solution and the Department has been closely involved in the process.

It has not been possible to index the United Nations system websites despite at least a six-month effort of fine tuning, owing to limitations of the current search appliance. The Organization had procured the largest appliance available to the commercial market.

The search engine market had matured prior to the creation of the request for proposals and there were other offerings that were server-based and did not have the limitations of the appliance approach and that could operate in a federated fashion giving more flexibility in the mode of operation. The technical evaluation was completed in November 2006 and by mid-February 2007 the Procurement Service was undertaking a financial evaluation.

The Information Technology Services Division has funded the current search appliance and has also requested funds in the current biennium to replace the appliance to address the requirements of the Secretariat. The possible implementation of indexing the United Nations system is under discussion, but the funding mechanism has not been addressed at this early stage.

Discussions with the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) will be necessary to fully explore what the approach will be from a funding perspective for the search solution as well as for the enterprise content management system and the United Nations portal to encompass the United Nations system. The hardware in a highly available architecture, the software licences and the resources to coordinate this effort will need to be found.

You know, there’s a really simple answer to all this: Stop Blocking Google! You get everything for free.

After that, we can talk about why you should stop using PDF files for everything, and especially get rid of those scanned pages.

I mean, really. It’s been 40 years since UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is one of the seminal moments in the Israel Palestine occupation question. It’s only a page long. You’d think someone would have had time to have typed it in by now.

Meanwhile, I’ve found a project for Sym to do once he ever gets anywhere with this website. It’s a five week job to Develop Community Tec. Centre web site with DRUPAL in the Dominican Republic. It’s available from the Online Volunteers portal, part of the UN Volunteers service. If you pass the seven pages of guidelines, you too could do something which is wanted, as opposed to that which is not.

1 Comment

  • 1. Freesteel » Blog Ar&hellip replies at 22nd July 2007, 3:14 pm :

    […] agination, there are no borders, comes from the fact that they can’t be counted. As already noted, the United Nations can’t say how many there are. […]

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