Interesting elsewhere – 3 June 2011

3 June 2011

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

  • How Alphagov might change UK government for the better – The Dextrous Web Addressing 80% of users’ needs compellingly and ignoring the rest is a sound principle of design, but government can’t do that. So, if we’re to use Apha.gov for the 80% –which we should –we need another solution for the 20% of people who have strange or complicated needs. My solution would be a call centre full of wonderful, informed people who care and can make decisions. But that’s a whole other blog post.
  • Jimmy Leach: Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a brand? I’m not sure that concepts of authority a a couple of rampant mammals around a portcullis is what a brand is made up of. There’s a lot more hinterland to a bran than a logo and a sense of expertise.
  • Thinking more about Twitter, Chatter and knowledge worker pheromones – confused of calcutta If everyone tweeted and everything tweeted, soon all would be noise and no signal. As Clay Shirky said, there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure. In other words, information overload is not a production problem but one of consumption.

    This is important. Too often, whenever there is a sense of overload, people start trying to filter at the production point. In a publish-subscribe environment, this translates to asking the publisher to take action to solve the problem. My instinct goes completely against this. I think we should always allow publishing to carry on unfettered, unhampered, and that all filtering should take place at the edge, at the subscriber level. There’s something very freedom-of-expression and freedom-of-speech about it. But it goes further: the more we try and concentrate on building filters at publisher level, the more we build systems open to bullying and misuse by creating central bottlenecks. Choke points are dangerous in such environments.

  • McKinsey and Co – Simon Caulkin Today’s iconic example of the wrong thing consultancies are doing is the mass production of services. The ubiquitous front- and back-office service design, with its inevitable accompaniments of outsourcing/offshoring, shared services and central call centres for dealing with customers, is pure Fordism, with the assembly line replaced by computers. Despite the IT, such white-collar factories are just as obsolescent as Henry Ford’s auto plants, offering no incentives for system improvement and increasingly alienating customers. The Web 2.0 ‘solutions’ where the ‘leading-edge conventional wisdom’ now resides and to which (no coincidence) the big consultants are now transferring their sales hopes, suffer from exactly the same drawbacks and are no more the ‘answer’ to performance issues than was Web 1.0.
  • Product Management and the public sector.. « Digital by Default
  • Designing for illiteracy – a mass market accessibility challenge | disambiguity Think about mission critical tasks. Things that, if not done right, could hurt people or have significant negative impact on people or business. Don’t give people a blank box to fill in when you’re designing these tasks. Give options (in words, not icons). Let people recognise and select, don’t make them remember how to spell stuff.
  • Agile as the process – Digital Optimist I think of UCD and Agile as working together on a sliding scale. To the left we have the known, where UCD and Agile are in the trenches together solving problems as they go and adding incremental functionality. On the right side of the scale we have UCD and Agile working in a different configuration where Requirements and UCD provide more shape and detail before the development process begins and Agile delivers the output once everyone understands the shape and function of the application. The fact that this doesn’t often occur doesn’t mean it isn’t the right process to follow.
  • Opportunities lost – AlphaGov | disambiguity It is certainly true that historically, Agile and UX have had a fairly vexed relationship but these days many practitioners are experienced and adept at including both user research and ux design into the most demanding agile iterations. We have a toolkit of lightweight qualitative research approaches that work beautifully in this kind of fast paced and responsive environment. UX does not have to be a laggard either at the outset or in the throes of an agile project.
  • 10 things Alpha.gov.uk gets wrong (Part 2) | Helpful Technology It’s not Alphagov’s fault, of course. But there are limitations on what you can do as a skunkworks team, owning the user experience but not the process which gives rise to it. To deliver on the promise, Alphagov needs to cultivate a sort of orbit of ?product managers who successfully impose great UX on unpleasant reality; part crusader, part human shield around the Alphagov principles.
  • Identity Assurance: 18 May 2011: Written answers and statements (TheyWorkForYou.com) Online services have the potential to make life more convenient for service users as well as delivering cost savings. However, currently customers have to enter multiple log-in details and passwords to access different public services, sometimes on the same website. This involves significant duplication, is expensive to operate and is highly inconvenient for users. It acts as a deterrent to people switching to digital channels, hampers the vision of digital being the primary channel for accessing Government information and transactions, and provides an opportunity for fraudsters.
  • Economies of scale There is an alternative. Short contracts provide a natural pressure on service that contracts never can. Instead of choosing a single “best of breed” imagine if they set a quality threshold and a maximum price, but allowed more than one supplier (as Tescos ensures many yoghurts are available) –ensuring the pressure of competition. But I don’t expect any government department to try this more sensible approach any time soon.
  • Alphagov in Action « Digital by Default In fact my biggest worry about the project is its sustainability. I think a brilliant ‘demo’ has been built by very talented and experienced team. However they are not a team who are going to stick around for the long haul of turning things into a production service. If things are going to move forward who is going to replace this great team? Is government going to need a proper in-house multi-disciplanary web team (like say the BBC or the Guardian)? If that was to happen given the current limitations on recruitment would you get people of anywhere near the same caliber?