Number 10′s e-petitions can be better

We all know and love the Number 10 petitions site. The technology works and the experience is well thought through, as one would expect given that it’s a mySociety project. It’s not perfect, though, and as usual, it’s the human element that’s problematic. It’s the responses to petitions that don’t hit the mark, and don’t give any opportunity for people to engage further. It’s the top-down, message-driven, one-way broadcasting at people, instead of the collaborative, mutually respectful conversation that we should be having with Government. Having real, two-way conversations is hard. It requires time, patience, money, and a wholesale change in attitude — but Government say they’re up for it. Digital Engagement is the mantra du jour. And things are definitely moving in the right direction. So — given this background of steady and positive change — why are Number 10 still stuck in the mud? Why do we get ...(Read More)

Amusing graph fail from the Government’s draft IT Strategy

What on earth does it mean?

Cripplingly, apallingly stupid

We're banning parents from playground now?

Ernest Marples: the first month

Well, it’s nearly been a month since Richard Pope and I launched ErnestMarples.com at OpenTech 2009. The site offers a free API to convert postcodes into latitude and longitude coordinates. This is an important thing to be able to do: the postcode is a de facto standard for specifying locations on the web. Any site that needs to know your location will ask for your postcode — from mapping, to political engagement, to useful local services. Unfortunately, the Royal Mail owns the postcode database, and maintains a stranglehold on it. They won’t let you use it for a website unless you pay them exorbitant fees (£1000+). This might be ok if you’re a big company, but lots of the most useful services aren’t. Those people have no choice but to use whatever data they can find on the web — something which, among other things, is very inconvenient. We decided ...(Read More)

Mobile phone companies are crap

After posting about the iPhone yesterday, I thought I should mention that figuring out what service was best for me was a real pain. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. Because I had unusual plans — buying a Pay & Go phone and then switching to a 1-month rolling contract — I rang O2 twice before buying anything. I wanted to make sure that Visual Voicemail, unlimited wifi and tethering would work on a non-iPhone contract, and was assured that they would be. After getting the phone, I found that Visual Voicemail didn’t work, and called O2, assuming it was a configuration problem… but no. They said Visual Voicemail and tethering are unavailable on anything other than an iPhone contract, which is not what they said before. I suggested some possible solutions to this: Could you turn on these features without using an iPhone contract? Answer: No. Apparently ...(Read More)

Do we need identity cards, and soon?

We need to be able to authenticate ourselves online. The Government’s Identity Card scheme is in part an attempt to do this, and it’s really bad, but we do need some sort of system that offers more than traditional proofs of identity.