Monday, June 03, 2002

Back on May 7th, Realnames went under. The story was widely reported from at least one side, that of the company head, Keith Teare There's another side to the story reported today (and tracked thanks to Dan Gillmor's site). The Realnames premise was that if you typed in 'coca-cola' in the browser address bar, then that's where you'd want to go. Funnily enough, I just tried that and where did I go? To a Realnames-powered page that takes you to the coca-cola web page. But if you type in "general motors" you go to an MSN-search page, where General Motors (the brand) is not the first entry. Of course, I'm using IE. I expect the results are different with Netscape. Similarly, if you typed in 'inland revenue', then you go to a Realnames-powered page that includes Neat, huh? I wonder if there's evidence that people type brand names direct into the tool bar looking for these pages? Isn't it more likely though that, rather than type in a brand name, you'd type in something more generic? What if you typed in 'pay less tax' ... would you go to a site promoting off-shore bank accounts, one that offered some tax exempt saving schemes or to the inland revenue's feature on ISAs or TESSAs? If you type this into IE 6 it takes you to another MSN-search page, where the first entry takes you to and a book called "loopholes of the rich". Not what I was looking for. Trying this on google takes you, first, to Also not what I was looking for. Typing 'pay less tax' into gives you government's take on what you thought you meant - four or five pages of links to the Inland Revenue, none to Customs, one to National Insurance. The reason I'm thinking about this today has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong in the Realnames case, but to wonder about how people find information on the web that they need. I'm coming from the angle of joined up government. Do people use search engines to help them find what they need, or would they rather a list of things that they can sort through, perhaps grouped by time of life or similar? Or is the ultimate tool a personalised set of topics based on what government already knows about the person, or derived from some information volunteered? Maybe it's a bit of all of them. What I don't think people want is a collection of links to various sites that they then have to sort through to find what applies to them. Personalisation must be the way to go. That requires content aggregation. That requires common taxonomy. And common standards for updating and managing data. And it means that the services offered must be useful enough for people to want to give up some personal data. That's a big step forwards from where we are. We are probably far enough ahead to collate data anonymously and add some data based on what we can assume (e.g. from post code), but certainly not smart enough yet to link that to what government genuinely knows about you as a person. So one size fits all is still our model and we're some way off one size fits one.

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