Incredible stories about content

I spent some time this week with someone from a big government department who has been working on sorting out the mass (or is it mess?) of content on his Intranet. There aren’t many case studies in government on this kind of thing so I was delighted to compare notes. I thought I’d seen some big content numbers, but these are just incredible.

The team started a year or so ago with a total content base of 640,000 pages of content. After one full year of work they had deleted 680,000 pages (not a typo) because of duplication, redundancy or whatever …. and they still had 550,000! How’s that work you wonder? A growth rate of close to 100% a year is how. A few months later they now have 800,000 pages.

It’s easy to see why there’s duplication in a world like that – the odds of you finding what you want are so low that you’d likely create it again just to help the next person along.

I admire the team tremendously for sticking with the programme as they watched content spring up all around them. Getting control of something like that is an awesome job. Is it under control now? I think the jury is probably out, but at least there’s been progress (after all … there’d be 1.5 million pages if they hadn’t started the clean up!).

It reminds me a little of a guy I met a while ago who told me about his job which was to rewrite some old laws into plain English. He had a small team and every morning they’d come in, take a page and rewrite it. Then they’d rewrite all of the pages that were affected by the changes to that first page. And then start on the next page, often iterating back over the pages previously changed. They were 5 years into the project with maybe another 5 years to go. When I asked how he knew that there were 5 years left, he admitted that he wasn’t sure, but that felt about the right amount of time … a 10 year project to rewrite laws … that you know will change under your feet pretty regularly. I couldn’t get up in the morning to do that job, but these guys were going at it every single day and had been doing so for the previous 1,000 working days!

Domain name envy … or is envyofbigdomainnameswhereverused.gov.uk

I did a conference with Dan Jellinek of Headstar last week. It was all a bit of a rush with a slide deck done at the crack of dawn just before I went on … fortunately, the venue was about 50 feet from my front door. I must get more people to book conferences there, it’s a much easier journey. Anyone who wants to book me and is planning on using Shakespeare’s Globe- you have much better odds of getting me.

One of the slides I put up followed on from my point the other day about equal and opposite practices to policies – accidental ones mostly I am sure. The policy concerns the requirement not to have two letter domain names. There are exceptions to that … http://www.pm.gov.uk for instance. But then you don’t have http://www.dh.gov.uk, but http://www.doh.gov.uk and by contrast not dowp.gov.uk, but dwp.gov.uk.

Anyway, the equal and opposite practice is pretty obvious …

So I’ve come up with what may have to be a new policy, in response to seeing that one of these domain names would score 58 at scrabble (I am, of course, indebted to Dan for that useful bit of information), and it is that no government domain name should score more than 14 (gets rid of http://www.x.gov.uk – which doesn’t exist before you check).

My point of course is (still!) that few people use domain names, fewer still when looking for government – because the names relate to government,not the individual. Search engines find things that people want. So the domain name is irrelevant. I honestly believe we could go back 50 years and give every department numbers and letters and get rid of names altogether and probably get more traffic.

Get a job by text … Or is that get a date by text

Delighted to see that Job Centres will be sending out text messages alerting people to job matches pretty soon, as reported by Kable (and also by the National Press) today.

Last March when I first floated using mobiles for notifications/alerts and whatnot, there was a flurry of coverage around the idea (my primary points then were blood donors and exam results by text, not necessarily at the same time). When I was doing presentations on mobile government late last year and earlier this year … this was one of the slides that I put up.

I’m really pleased to see someone getting to the same place independently (after all, I can only imagine that this has been worked on for a while).#

But I wonder whether anyone is looking at the what next of that? By what next I mean, literally, “ok, so you’ve got a job, what next?”. Maybe that affects your employment benefits, maybe it affects tax credits or some other allowances. It might even put you into a whole new world of tax, like Self Assessment or who knows what. The follow up for those services should also be electronic – via a kiosk or a PC – so that everything gets setup right away, reducing the risk of delay, making sure payments are adjusted (up or down) and taking the pain away. It can all be confirmed by text of course.

Progress on wider government text services is slower than I would like. A few folks are putting their toes in the water – including the people we are working with at a hospital in Norwich where they’re trying to reduce “did not attends”. There is huge scope here, but also risk – government spam, trusted numbers and so on. Needs more work, but looks like it’s breaking new ground and that’s always worth some points.

One of the other issues that this begs is at what point do you pay for a government service. If you get a text that says “here’s a job for you” (and then describes the job in 168 characters or less, books the interview and tells you the time of the appointment), you must, at some point, reply and say “ok … I want that job” or “that time’s ok” or “no, i want a different time” or similar. And you do, in most cases, have to pay for that – only a small amount still (I don’t think we’re going for premium numbers yet, but government may do that one day for certain services). Is the trade fair enough? I think it is. I’ll be very interested in seeing how it pans out.

Wireless

Weirder and weirder stuff goes on. So now my other PCs aren’t working properly on my local Wifi network. Rather than spend hours like I did this weekend, I took the smarter decision to back out recent changes. The changes? Microsoft patches! I used the system restore function on one of the other PCs to roll back 2 days worth of system updates and, lo and behold, everything works fine. My guess is one particular path that relates to corporate network security (made available late last week i think). I use Dell laptops and a Dell desktop with a Belkin WiFi access point.

The symptoms are an apparently fully functional WiFi network that seems to be connected, but that doesn’t actually work. If you get that and you know you’ve updated your system recently, go back a couple of days (or longer, until it works) – use the system restore function off the accessories/system tools menu. For someone who counts himself as utterly not technical, I’m proud that I cracked that!

So far, it’s affected two laptops and one desktop, so it might hit you ….

I wasted so much time on this. Enough to make me consider a Mac. Not quite Linux, but a Mac at least.

Films

Talking of films, if you’re looking to see a wildly improbable film in the next few days, you have two clear choices: The Hulk or Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Out of the two, go see the latter – vastly funnier, more elegant, better fast cars, better stunts and altogether utterly and completely more improbably than the former. Although, the opening credits for Hulk are the best I’ve seen in a long time.