It’s the time of year for electoral registration. For the last couple of years, my council has offered a rather clunky web service, not designed to inspire confidence – indeed barely designed at all – but fully functional nonetheless.
This year, I can register by text message – just a case of sending a ten digit number. That neatly overcomes the limitations of the web interface by not having an interface at all, but it seems to work.
Curiously, it took seven minutes for the acknowledging text to come back. Perhaps even the speed of light is throttled for public services…
Less curiously but more significantly, despite the fact that my chosen response channel gives a pretty clear signal about how I like to get things done, they seemed to need to send me three sheets of paper plus a reply envelope all tucked into the original envelope just to prompt me to send my simple text message. There’s a neat trick which HMRC is rather good at: once you have demonstrated, by your behaviour, that you are willing to do things online, they simply switch to assuming that that’s how you will continue to do it in future. The user can opt to switch back, but HMRC won’t make that assumption for them. That’s an approach which others could usefully copy (and yes I know there are reasons why it wouldn’t be quite as straightforward as that for electoral registration, but there are undoubtedly ways of making things simpler).