Wednesday, January 28, 2004


My spam filter stops pretty much everything that comes through these days - down from 100 a day perhaps to maybe 1 or 2. One of the mails that sneaked through today had this below the main text (which was all about losing weight!) ... buckwheat cookery homunculus babble exclusion grape laura beget antisemite distal jake charta isn't determinate receptor convulsion creosote sharpshoot lulu bedroom brent acronym convex corporal rudolph gilchrist moses conclusive butterfly christensen benthic hemoglobin fields antigen excisable millionaire madhouse machine participant duel erasure cloven mac gangway catkin demise grandpa marinade benevolent circle cry cocklebur auxiliary hackett include lexicography fullerton check formulae karl ponder peccary diety allemand shopworn dilemma auditor fredericton buzzard kidney contentious pearlite belle insignia chromosphere charisma crestview covert contributor havilland form franciscan detoxify bloodshot resemblant schafer house bevel belladonna crusoe archangel hovel humanoid danny bender reimburse ruminant heritage perfect portend draftsperson cattle ammoniac duffel ecosystem cattail monk colombia contrariwise cuddly deliverance adverb cornish exhumation exacerbate haystack dispute latent antithetic brethren freddy inhospitable inveterate compagnie impudent attempt differential gargantuan comprehend excelsior helene parthenon filament quadripartite alexis headwall selfish chicagoan donner exhaustible papal caw butch seek kermit immediacy serf iron alkaloid regret ground pont contempt exclusive middletown abed kelp poll nylon moot automorphic besmirch cheshire sanitary burmese expressway rapier grotesque diagrammatic grease ruinous corinthian keynes salvage checksummed diorama devolve chowder bluebill fillet brooklyn draftsmen crewman falsify concordant idiosyncrasy houghton offshoot houdini facetious collapsible ditty percent born amber infix bluebush cahoot litigant papillary inflow mcdonald pursuit firebreak asexual mayer blast minsk erodible counterproductive boswell crucifix isaac I guess the thinking is that filling a mail up with words that are unlikely to be spam-related gets things past the filter. But what words! Erodible. Automorphic. Homunculus!

Monday, January 26, 2004

Wisdom from Gerry

Some great words from Gerry McGovern A graphic designer complained recently that I didn't understand professional web design. So, I decided to go to his website to see just how a professional does it. I found that: 1) The first paragraph I read was 139 words long. I would recommend 70 words or less. 2) The first sentence of the first paragraph was 39 words long. I would recommend 15-20 words. 3) The font was grey on white. I would recommend black on white. 4) The font size was 8 point. I would recommend a minimum of 10 point for body text. 5) The font size was locked. I once asked a graphic designer why he had locked the font size on his website. "If users were able to change the size, it would ruin the look of the page," was his reply. The text comes from his weekly newsletter and is titled "Words come before looks in web design".

Friday, January 23, 2004

Quote of the Day

Wonderful quote in today's FT in regard to the decision of the Ministry of Defence to buy some tanker jets from one company instead of another ... You don't keep employing a plumber who continually floods your house

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

RSS in .gov

As so often, Phil Windley is ahead of the game and has found (sponsored? created?) a website that tracks down who is doing what in RSS in the USA .gov sphere. There's little going on in the UK that I know of, although a couple of local councils are pushing pilots. It's gotta happen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Joining up the unjoinupable

I've just been taking care of my Self Assessment, online as you'd expect. I'm lucky enough to be getting a refund which is a bit of good news for me. But what about all the other government services that I might use? What if I could go somewhere online and find out that not only am I due a refund in tax but that I'm also lax in applying for a certain tax credit that I am owed? Perhaps also I could be reminded that my driving licence address doesn't match the address where I am living now and that I can update it with a couple of clicks. A really joined up service might alert me to the opportunity to apply early for a new benefit that will be available soon that will add a few pounds to my bank account. If it got super smart, maybe there'd be a single account where all of the credits that government owed me were applied and all the debits were taken out - so tax credits, tax refunds and benefits get deposited and passport renewals, TV licences, council tax and so on get debited. At the end of each tax year there's a quick reconcilement that shows whether I am in debit or credit overall and then I settle up or pocket the difference. Pretty simple in concept, hugely challenging in implementation. If I could offer you all of that, would you be interested? Would you sign up tomorrow? Would you worry about the impact of joining up the unjoinupable, of joining up government? Now suppose, in an alternative scenario I visit the same site and it finds something different. This time round, I owe money to the Inland Revenue, I have been overpaid tax credits, I'm late with my council tax and maybe I've for three difference addresses running across three departments and that looks out of place - perhaps an indication of my own incompetence in keeping things up to date or perhaps something more sinister? In this scenario, would you be interested? Would you sign up tomorrow if you thought that this would be the case? Would you worry about the impact of joining up the unjoinupable, of joining up government? Same process, same technology, same business rules, same legislative requirement ... same outcome at a macro level: joined up government. Different outcome at an individual level. Maybe 99% of people fall into something close to the first scenario. Would you stop joining things up for the 1%? Would you never even start joining up for the 1%? Perhaps where you vote depends on which scenario you fall into. Perhaps where you vote on this depends on your fear of what government might find out. Perhaps it depends on whether you are worried that government will somehow find out something that even you don't know. Intrinsically, it makes sense to try and do this - even though it is a staggering challenge - but at some level, is everyone worried about somehow falling into the second scenario and being caught on the hop?

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Green Cross Code rolls on

I was intrigued, whilst catching up on news, to see that the IPPR and Eurim have published a report that advocates a "Green Cross Code" to educate people on the perils of Internet usage. This is nicely aligned with my own thinking published a couple of weeks earlier than this report. The Register's report, that I link to above, in turn links to the truly awful website of the National HiTech Crime Unit. I'm sure that they have to appear to be hitech, but somewhere I think the student that designed this is reading the wrong books on web design. The full text of the IPPR/Eurim study can be found on the Eurim website (although, strangely, not on the IPPR site where there appears to be no mention). The study specifically concentrates on e-crime and protecting the vulnerable, rather than my broader angle about security, virus control, anti-spam and so on. The Eurim website is also unlikely to win any awards for design and ease of use. Wherever the impetus for a Green Cross Code comes from, I believe strongly that we need one. Hopefully, the concept will get picked up more widely and a roll-out will get underway.

Happy New Year

The mountain air was indeed refreshing and I'm back to face the fun that I am sure 2004 will bring. Normal posts will resume as soon as possible.

Friday, January 02, 2004


This month's Edge magazine (not the world's best web site) provided a couple of useful hooks to what's been on my mind recently. Edge also provided an astouding way for me to waste several hours over the New Year holiday too. Anyone who remembers the dim and distant, multi-colour (although not many colours) past of the ZX Spectrum - Manic Miner, say - will appreciate this diversion I am sure. It will, however, make you appear significantly older to anyone that you discuss it with. More relevantly (to e-government anyway), there's an interesting piece on the cost/value of video games. The bulk of today's games cost something like £40 (for consoles) or perhaps a little less if you buy from Amazon (£30 + postage). For that you get perhaps 50-60 hours of fun and immersion in the game's world - provided that you are prepared to stay the course. Fifty hours entertainment for £40 would compare pretty favourably with cinema pricing, be better than DVD pricing and is much better than the average bill for a total night out. But what if you don't spend 50 hours playing? Research by Sony shows that 80% of people never complete a game. So 20% of people get maximum value and 80% play for perhaps just a few hours before either running of of free time, finding another game to play or reaching a point that they can't get past. Or maybe they just get bored with the game. The value equation doesn't work out quite so well now. Perhaps it's 10 hours for £40, or maybe just 5 or 6 hours. All of a sudden, the cost of a game doesn't look quite so interesting - especially as, if you're a regular gamer, you're probably buying a couple of games a month. Which brings me, eventually, to my point. What if the cost of providing an online service - a website say - is not about the cost per page, but is about the cost per page visited? If that were the measure, things start to look ugly. I can imagine that many websites have a heavily skewed distribution curve - left skewed (i.e. most people look at very few pages). The analysis I did last year indicated that the cost per page could be anywhere from £100 to £1,000 to implement - if we look at pages viewed, I would imagine it moves from £1,000 to £10,000 pretty quickly. Like I said, ugly. And all of that should drive people to the lowest possible cost implementation solution, with the features that are absolutely needed. That, in turn, probably means that ASP-type models will come to the fore in 2004 as people strive for an effective web presence delivered efficiently (another time I'll talk about the difference between effective and efficient). The other hook was the cover, entitled "Mainstream". Just right, 2004 is the year that e-government goes mainstream. With that thought, I'll leave you alone for a week. I'm off for some skiing in the wilds of France. Hopefully I'll be back in one piece. Happy New Year. I hope that 2004 brings you all of the loves, living and laughs that I am sure you all so richly deserve.