Skip to main content
After School

So here’s the picture. Charlotte, aged eight returns home from a hard day at school. When she’s finished her homework and eaten her dinner, she and her mother settle down to a family evening, testing government websites for usability and political correctness.

If you think I’m joking then read on. According to the e-Envoy’s 'Quality Framework for UK Government Website Design', Government web managers needing users to make their websites citizen-friendly should consider recruiting public sector staff or their families as a "cheap alternative" to usability consultancies.

Government has two concerns, leaving aside the Hutton Inquiry and the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Not enough people are using government websites and if like me, last weekend, you were trying to work out how to pay your National Insurance and PAYE over the Web, then it’s not exactly the most user-friendly and intuitive experience available on the Internet today.

The good news is that the new framework, stresses the "crucial" role of user feedback and the need for testing, at various stages, by groups of end-users who are representative of the website's target audiences. It gives the 'optimal' size of a testing group for one target audience as six to eight people acknowledges that the budgets allocated to government websites vary greatly and suggests that students, public sector personnel or family members of staff could be used to "approximate target audiences".

What worries me a little about the suggestion is that eGovernment is, in theory, supposed to shrink the size of the public-sector workforce, directly or indirectly but any Guardian reader will know that its getting larger every week, until it reaches the point where everyone who isn’t working for IBM, Capita or EDS is working for the civil service, including Charlotte, aged 8.

Shouldn’t Web sites be usable and friendly from day one or has any sense of quality “What is good and what is not good and how do we know these things” to quote Socrates, flown out of the window. Perhaps it’s a ‘King’s new clothes’ phenomenon, where everyone involved, approves a website which is demonstrably awful, a kind of collective insanity which isn’t confined to the public sector.

It strikes me that taxpayer’s money is being spent on guidelines that attempt to describe the perfect government experience but it’s only a that, a Website and not “A catalyst to embark on a learning journey of trial and error application”.

So instead of recruiting families to assist in usability testing let’s start worrying less about guidelines and more about accessibility and what this really means, in first making government websites attractive and useful enough to encourage people to use them and secondly for government departments to grasp that delivering a website isn’t the end of the process, it’s the beginning of another much more difficult one.


Popular posts from this blog

The Mandate of Heaven

eGov Monitor Version

“Parliament”, said my distinguished friend “has always leaked like a sieve”.

I’m researching the thorny issue of ‘Confidence in Public Sector Computing’ and we were discussing the dangers presented by the Internet. In his opinion, information security is an oxymoron, which has no place being discussed in a Parliament built upon the uninterrupted flow of information of every kind, from the politically sensitive to the most salacious and mundane.

With the threat of war hanging over us, I asked if MPs should be more aware of the risks that surround this new communications medium? More importantly, shouldn’t the same policies and precautions that any business might use to protect itself and its staff, be available to MPs?

What concerns me is that my well-respected friend mostly considers security in terms of guns, gates and guards. He now uses the Internet almost as much as he uses the telephone and the Fax machine and yet the growing collective t…

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.

In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …