New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Thursday, February 5

How to drive 'take-up'?

Joke, end of e-newsletter story from Government Computing, but there's a grain in there ...

Public sector IT is often about making government more convenient. In Venice, it's about making conveniences more governable.

The city, which is perpetually battling to save itself from rising seas, has launched an online service allowing visitors to buy discounted access to toilets, if they pay in advance.

Outsiders can buy 10 visits over five days for seven euros in high season online, compared with nine euros for a card bought in person, or the one euro pay as you go tariff.

Locals get a preferential rate, of 25 euro cents for each comfort break.

The city has added the facility to its Venice Connected visitor card, which provides services and online reservations, in an attempt to reduce the number of tourists who use the Unesco world heritage site as an open air urinal. Many restaurants and cafes have "no toilet" signs.

You might call it wee-government.
It's called 'incentivisation'.

New add-ons

Did a tidy of my Firefox add-ons list. Lots just don't seem to be keeping up with Firefox updates, so I've switched to something else.

New ones are:

  • text/plain - converts plain text links to real links
  • Tab Mix Plus - previous tab add-on flunked so switched
  • ReminderFox - neat ping for when you get lost in time online etc
  • gTranslate - as I often check foreign stories, this is very useful
Some more on my list are doomed to deletion if they don't catch up soon ...

Another shameful expulsion by UK Home Office

A gay Iraqi man due for deportation tomorrow has been told by the UK Border Agency to conduct his relationships "in private" on his return to Iraq, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

Campaign group Iraqi LGBT says the asylum seeker will become the seventh gay Iraqi to be returned to the country by the UK, despite the country being one of only nine in the world where homosexual people are executed.

Though a ruling was made in September 2007 allowing two gay Iraqis to remain in the UK, campaigners working on behalf of the man facing deportation tomorrow say his case was held too long ago to benefit from the change in case law achieved in 2007.

Keith Best, the director of the Immigration Advisory Service, told the Guardian that the government ought to give the asylum seeker a fresh hearing.

The United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA) has said that the man's homosexuality did not form the basis of his original asylum application in 2001 and that his subsequent conviction for seeking to stay in the country illegally makes him an untrustworthy defendant, undermining his claim to be gay.

Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrats' housing spokeswoman, who is the Iraqi's MP, is perplexed by a recommendation from the UKBA that the Iraqi conduct his relationships in private.

The document says: "Even if your client's homosexuality were to be established it is viewed that it would be possible for your client to conduct such relationships in private on his return to Iraq. This would allow your client to express his sexuality, albeit in a more limited way than he could do elsewhere."

Teather, the MP for Brent East, said: "Immigration ministers need to show some humanity. If this deportation goes ahead there is a terrible risk that this man will be killed. How can we possibly claim to be a country that values human rights if we are willing to endanger a life in this way?"

Best said: "This is an incredible position. They [the UKBA] cannot say that on the one hand they do not believe him to be homosexual and then recommend ways in which he can cover up his homosexuality."

In September 2007 two gay victims of attempted assassination attempts by Shia Islamist death squads in Iraq were granted asylum in the UK after having their initial applications turned down by the Home Office despite compelling evidence of homophobic persecution.

That case overturned the claim that national governments did not recognise homophobic persecution as a legitimate ground for asylum under the 1951 refugee convention.

Homosexuality has been punishable by death in Iraq since 2001, when Saddam Hussein's government amended the country's penal code. The move was thought to be an overture to the country's Islamic conservatives, whose support Saddam latterly tried to win.
Iraqi LGBT says that more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. Safe houses are reported to operate in Baghdad in which some 40 young gay men hide.

The asylum seeker is scheduled to leave the UK tomorrow on an 8.30am flight but this may be delayed since the government has yet to reply to the representations made on his behalf and he cannot be deported until that point.



Email Jacqui Smith.

Support Iraqi-LGBT

The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to communicate information about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.

Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of honour killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses and food), and assist efforts help them seek asylum abroad. Donations to Iraqi LGBT are not tax-deductible for income tax purposes.

See more about the situation of LGBT in Iraq - watch The Sexual Cleansing of Iraq.

Tuesday, February 3

Old Jews telling jokes

That's what it's called!

Police vs Hoodies

From deepest Surrey. The white stuff brings out the kid in the most surprising people.

The Anti-Mac

Nielsen — In an anniversary review of the Mac ("usability is the only reason Mac survived") comes back to:

The basic Anti-Mac principles [that] focus on:

  • The central role of language
  • A richer internal representation of objects
  • A more expressive interface
  • Expert users
  • Shared control
Certainly, with today's heavily search-dominant users, the central role of language has started to happen. Indeed, the mobile usability studies we're running right now seem to indicate even more search dominance when users access websites through their phones.
As he points out, we're not at the "richer internal representations [which] might be a dream of the semantic Web movement" yet, "in fact, the Web has strengthened the importance of the initial user experience, since most people visit any given Web page only once."

The Anti-Mac ideas "will have their day".

History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it's popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.

The mouse let users own the cursor and thus gave them direct influence over the UI by acting as their personal on-screen representative. Similarly, the touch screen lets users directly manipulate UI elements on the mobile. Our current testing of how mobile users access websites shows how unpleasant it is for people to repeatedly press buttons to move around the screen. Featurephones — and even otherwise nice smartphones that are operated through buttons — offer an indirect user experience that feels less empowering than touchphones.

I just hope we won't repeat all of history: Let's not wait 11 years to embrace better usability for mobile the way we did for PCs. And you shouldn't just copy the Apple design's surface manifestation (the touch screen now, the mouse then). You should also offer:
  • a smooth GUI,
  • an integrated user experience (including a clipboard or other cut/copy/paste mechanism, which Apple paradoxically doesn't offer on the iPhone even though it was one of the Mac's most important features),
  • a platform that uses direct manipulation to give users ubiquitous control, and
  • compliance with usability guidelines.

Sunday, February 1

Salman Rushdie and Irshad Manji

Two of my heroes on stage together. Fabulous.

Irshad Manji: 'Osama bin Ladens worst nightmare'

This women and this stuff is really important.

Barcamp rocks

The BarcampUKGovweb09 event was, first and foremost, fun.

The format of everyone contributing and the 'controlled anarchy' contributed to this feeling.

Barcamp = user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.

I had two ideas. Tying together blog posts I've done on 'How Obama does it' and 'How Labour isn't'. I ended up sticking this with a 'politics 2.0' workshop idea which was far more prepared (and mostly went over/past my head) and just checking in my 2p worth.

  • Yes, UK politics is different but American developments has a wicked way of making their way across the pond. There is definitely nothing but value in looking'n'learning at the mechanics and politics of how this experiment is panning out.
  • Much if not most of the participants were focussing on how social media feeds back to decision making, organising and policy. But if new tools allow decision makers to get metrics from how the UK-wide social media discussion is playing doesn't that trump how certain interests and players attempt to intervene?
  • Yes, we do need a UK version of the Huffington Post.
My second contribution was my old chestnut: discount aka guerilla usability testing. I first presented on this back in 2006 and used the exact same presentation!

It went somewhat against the tide of contributions and, as a mate said, 'ow, something about the web!'

It wasn't a big crowd (grand total, seven) but consisted of some VIPs in this small egov world. It was also almost a collaborative presentation as people chipped in with their ideas and experience. Which was great!

As well, a guy from the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator, Philip McAllister, attached his presentation idea to mine (this is how Barcamps work) so we got some fascinating stuff at the end of the hour about his work on qualitative analysis of his site. This fitted well as it was, again, not a 'black art' but simple to do, with vital results generated for understanding how your website (aka brand) comes across.

  • One thing I've learnt from doing this in practice is the importance of social skills by people trying it.
As I said, the day was lotsa fun. But there are a coupla issues.
  • This format doesn't work so well for the less confident, unless this is managed. I can think of a few people I know with much to contribute (I'm thinking of you, GoogleMaps genius man) but far less skills to allow them to do it.
  • Boystown. Male, male male. Summed up by the changing of the notice above the feeding area from 'Would you expect your mum to clean this up?' to 'Dad'.
  • The great mix of inside/outside/across government was welcomed by everyone I spoke with. Therin lies a nerve to work.
And this note:
And this to-do:
  • Join Twitter. Sigh.

Simon Dickson has a good round up here. (And it was lovely to finally meet you too :} )

He talks about this stuff from DirectGov, which very much interested me. I haven't posted this before, but they have widgets on the way — something I've been carping on about for, owh, two years? Though more from a marketing angle than from the angle BarCamp would take.

Here's all the tagged content.

Women are from Venus

Quite astonishing, and in lots of ways refreshing, report from Davos by Arianna Huffington:

My night started with a really special all-women's dinner on top of the Davos mountain, hosted by Wendi Murdoch and Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, to raise awareness, pledges, and support for improving maternal health and infant mortality around the world.

I walked to take the funicular up to the mountain with Baroness Shriti Vadera, the Business Minister in Gordon Brown's government. I noticed that one of her fingers was bandaged, and asked her what had happened. "I cut it," she said, "and then did nothing about it for ten days, until it got really bad."

"Wasn't it hurting?"

"In what I'm doing," she replied, "I'm dealing with so much pain every day that I didn't notice mine." Maybe because we were going to an all-women's dinner, I wondered if that was a comment that would only be made by a woman business minister! In fact, the whole evening had a confessional air, mixing the personal and the political -- including the CEO of Pepsi tossing her prepared remarks and talking about how haunted she has been by the image she had seen of a hungry child rummaging for food. And that came after she had confessed that after years of always wearing the same suit in different fabrics and colors, she got out of her comfort zone for the first time as she was dressing for the dinner and wore something completely different that she had bought years ago and had left languishing in her closet. To much appreciative applause, she did a turn to show us her sleek black-and-white dress and coat. Then she went on to tell us what Pepsi is doing to alleviate hunger.

Sarah Brown, Britain's first lady, who spoke, called it the "new face of feminism," while Melinda Gates spoke passionately about the fact that "at the end of the day, what matters is not how much money I gave, or how much I cared but what kind of impact I had... how many lives did I lift up?"

The evening, which began on a personal note from Wendi Murdoch, recounting how her grandmother had died while giving birth to her mother, ended on another personal note when Sarah Brown turned to Cheri Blair and, from the podium, lauded the work and example set by the woman she succeeded at Downing Street. There was a hush in the room, as many of those present were aware of how the two women had barely been on speaking terms. So altogether a great evening, demonstrating both the need to take action to help women around the world and the value of setting aside grudges closer to home.
"Institutional sexism"? Whassat?