Time for an Internet Green Cross Code

Much in the last few months has diverted my thoughts to the inherent lack of education in our computer-using population on the risks inherent in powering up their PC of a morning. The viruses, the spam, the popups, the trojan horses, the ads for viagra (and worse), the files to download that carry out who knows what attaks in the future. I met John Thompson, CEO of Symantec, last week. His job is to frighten people, and he does an amazing job. He quotes stats like, “Blaster infected 90% of its targets in the first 15 minutes”, notes that recent phishing exploits have been replicated from over 8,000 hosts (versus a few dozen or hundred in the previous generation), or that pretty soon he expects a “Day Zero” attack – a piece of code that exploits an unknown vulnerability, bringing us all to our system knees. Simon Moores has been on this page for a while, and reinforced his position with this piece recently. Others are doubtless there too, but what to do?

Well, my vote is that it’s time to take us back to our childhood. To the time when a basic part of our education was the “Green Cross Code” (populated by Dave Prowse, he of Darth Vader (in)fame). People in the office reminded me this week as I waffled on about the idea that I might have to talk about the “Tufty Club” to ensure that some people tuned in to what I was on about. The Green Cross Code is still alive and well in the UK, via the hedgehogs website. Tracking down the Tufty Club is hard, and it’s easier to find stuff like this than to find any real reference.

A Green Cross Code for the Internet age, adopted by equipment vendors, ISPs, government, the broadcasters, key magazines, newspapers and backed by online and offline press would help educate people on what to do. It would bring forward the day when broadband users get firewalls with their equipment, the day when ISPs kill spam on both inbound and outbound services, the day when service providers nail viruses before they have a chance to replicate. It might also bring forward the day when rogue equipment is quarantined, before it has a chance to infect the rest of the world – after all, we treated SARS that way – what’s the difference between that and a Day Zero virus that will plague the Internet?

More soon.


A bit of a bulk post today, to make up for missing pretty much all of the last week. I thought I’d link, with a comment, to the stories I saw that were interesting. I’m still writing up my trip notes and also my Internet Green Cross Code idea and I will post those as soon as I get a chance.

Mike Cross has been on form in the last few weeks, writing about the NHS’ website, which gets a short domain name as it’s spared the need for .gov in its title. NHS.uk has been around for a while, but this is a relaunched version. When I first saw the patient waiting times application on the site, I really though that there was a killer app in hiding. Mike says the site gets 450,000 visitors a month (roughly what each of the largest government websites gets: IR, ukonline etc, depending on peaks and whatnot). What I don’t know, of course, is how many of these visitors are hopping from site to site, or how many we might persuade to hop if we could figure out the path that they were taking through government sites. That’s a problem for another day.

Mike also wrote about Jo Wright and her plans for IT in Criminal Justice. A strange piece that seems to major on the fact that Jo is a she, in the overly male dominated world of CJ. Perhaps the overly “pale, male and stale” world, as Rene Carayol would probably put it. I bumped into Rene this week at Somerset House – he was on fine form as always, delivering a memorable speech on people and process. With the accent on the former.

Finally, nearer to home, Mike wrote two pieces this week – an almost comic piece on True North that made for a good read – I’m still picturing the disk drives whirring in the advent of Whitehall becoming radioactive sludge (and wondering if anyone will want to file their tax return then). News that gets the story out on True North is always good – there’s a lot in there and Mike gets most of it across, even getting DotP into the story. There’s also a story on why True North is called True North and the trouble that occurred because of it, but perhaps for another day.

The second piece from Mike this week covered the difficulty of getting small traders to file VAT online. A recent NAO report considers the issue at some length and votes in favour of some element of compulsion – if anything, perhaps a dangerous place to be. Why? Well, if services are good, people will use them. If people have to use them, there’s no incentive for the service to be good. Ask Lastminute how much of their budget goes on tweaking and updating the site to make sure that it works the way their customer base wants to. Compulsion has already been advocated as a route for small businesses to be encouraged to carry out PAYE online, via the Carter report, and so, over the next few years (all the way to 2010 I think), businesses will gradually file online (doubtless aided by accountants and payroll bureau who can, and should, reduce the load). So if they’re doing PAYE, they can just as easily do VAT, right? Broadly true I imagine. But perhaps not as straightforward as that. Certainly I see no reason why accountants shouldn’t be handling things online now – there are systems in place, websites that will handle it and I am sure that most accountants use PCs to run their own businesses, so why not? For small traders, it may be another thing – and there may have to be more incentives in place to smooth the way. But we’re used to compulsion anyway, aren’t we, whether it’s overt or covert. Who remembers the switch from analogue mobile phones to digital ones? Probably noone – but we were subtly moved from one to the other by the providers. Digital TV is another such example. We’re being slowly moved that way and, when there are just a few analogues left, the move will be made compulsory. Congestion charge? If you want to opt out, don’t travel. But it’s not the only story in town. There is no substitute for devising an easy to use service that is bundled around other services, provides incentives (longer to pay, discounts, faster turnaround times etc – after all, the PM announced this week that we’re no longer a one size fits all business), is easy to find (linked to from all of the places you’d expect, with good PR from associated press) and just plain works. Because if it doesn’t work, noone will want to use it … and then we’re in the place that Mike also wrote about … purgatory.

Kable published a lengthy non-story on e-voting and whether it will or won’t go ahead. Stranger things have been published, but not in the world of e-voting I expect. Lots of quotes from people who say it is 60/40, a quote from ODPM stating commitment … and something about Gibraltar being brought into the South West region. Who knows? As someone says, if we don’t do it, we’ll go backwards. Just like with concorde?

Madder than Mad McMad, the maddest person on the planet Mad, Ian Kearns takes aim at government policy on e-government and intermediaries and says that we should just pay them to take care of it all for us. The crucial line is “Provide the Office of the e-Envoy, or whichever body is subsequently tasked with driving this policy through, with sufficient powers to insist on and enforce departmental collaboration and compliance”. Of course, if that was in place (for this or any other thing), then life would be easier all round …

Seoul was ranked top for e-government recently too. I was invited out there recently for a conference, scheduled for mid-December, but sadly had to turn it down. I really wanted to go too – especially as the email invitation was addressed to “Dear President Mather”. Who would have thought promotion could come so soon?

And finally … there was this piece from the Information Warfare (?!) site … on the new relationship between government and citizen, made possible only by online government. It’s enlivened by quotes like this:

“The federal government has created more than 20,000 Web sites, so information can be hard to find. Some information remains difficult to locate because some agencies remain focused on posting their priorities rather than the services their customers demand.”


“We need more effective leadership and management. We need to develop a stronger “citizen-as-customer” focus. We need more reliable software and hardware. We need more sophisticated technical expertise.”

and this whopper

“Indeed, with the advent of lightning-speed communications enabled by the Internet, the networked world is creating new demands on government services from consumers – demands that require immediate response. With the ability for citizens to e-mail and communicate with federal agencies directly, Congress and the administration must efficiently manage the federal government by providing the resources to make sure the government can deal with new demands”


Enough for now. My head’s full of things I want to talk about, it’s just a problem of finding the time right now. Bear with me.

Content Event – Massive success

Our event this week – “Risks and Rewards of Content Management” – looks to have been a great success. We sized it at 100 people, had 115 register and 114 show up which, with the speakers and the folks from eDt there to make sure it went smoothly meant the auditorium was full to busting. All the speakers were great, but it was clear that Gerry McGovern (of GerryMcGovern.com fame, perhaps even notoriety now) and Pete Clifton (from the BBC) were both incredibly hard acts to follow. I’ve got some notes of the great lines of the day, but my favourites, from Gerry, were:

“Don’t write the Santa Claus RFP (accompanied by a picture of a jolly old man in a Santa suit) … you know, the one that goes “Dear Santa, please, please, please can I have …. (list 1001 “features”) … for Xmas.”

This quote became a bit of a theme through the day, with several people (including the vendor people there) referring to it and, better still, emphatically agreeing with it.


“The hippy period of the web is over. In the 60s we did drugs, in the 90s we did java. Get over it.”

There were also some great quotes from Pete Clifton, but they should perhaps stay unprinted.

I had a great day, I hope that the feedback from the audience will echo that. The event went very smoothly, thanks to a great location (you should all consider the British Museum if you’re looking for an event location), professional staff, great vision (from Steve), great logistics (from DWA media), great organisation (from Ling) and fabulous support from the rest of the team.

Ghostrider … the content event is full

Steve has let me know that the content management event we have scheduled for Wednesday is full … great news given we’re a day or so away. If you really want in, contact Steve directly via his e-envoy mail address and he’ll see what he can, but no promises. I’ll be chairing the day which is wonderful – no lines to learn and I get a front row seat to watch a lot of great speakers in action.

Meanwhile I’ve been away for a week. I used the time to catch up with a lot of very clever people who briefed me on what next, when next, how next and where next for a lot of technology solutions; we also talked a lot about why not for certain things, which was refreshing. I’m getting my ideas together now for an internal briefing and will endeavour to post here later in the week, although I’m out for the next 3 days or so with one conference or another.

Finally, did you catch BillG’s speech at Comdex? After SPOT watches/fridge magnets, tablet PCs and whatnot in the last few years, what did he use this one to launch? A new version of SMS (2003 for some reason) and also a new version of the ISA firewall (2004, which makes more sense)! This is a big deal … Bill launching basic security items that no home/office/corporation should be without.

Clay Shirky

I don’t have time this evening to talk about this site, but you really should take the time to visit and read as many of Clay’s articles as you can. I realise how little a dent I’m making in the world when I come across sites like this. This week’s piece on the Semantic Web is just great.

Content Management – the good, the bad and the ugly, learn here

The Office of the e-Envoy is running an all day seminar on content management on November 26th at the British Museum. It’s open to anyone in the public sector – local, central, agency, NDPB, NHS, MOD and any other TLA or FLA you can come up with. The day is cost free provided that you show up – if you book to come and then no show, we will bill you enough to make you regret not showing (or £99, whichever is the greater).

It promises to be a full and interesting day. I’ll be hosting (but I promise not to talk for long) and we have Andrew Pinder, e-envoy, opening the day, followed by Gerry McGovern on the “State of Content Management”. Gerry is a terrific writer who clearly has a passion for doing it right and is unafraid to say what he means. As his site says, “Content first, technology second”, or as I’ve said more than a few times, “Content management is something that you do, not something that you buy”. I’m looking forward to hearing Gerry speak on this for the first time.

We’ve also got Pete Clifton, the editor of BBC News Online (if anyone knows about how to manage content, it will be him); a couple of Content Management software suppliers will also talk about the issues in migrating to managed content (and not about products, I promise) and there will be other people from in and around government talking about the lessons learnt, including people from the Planning Portal team, UFI and the COI. The day will wrap up with open Q&A with several of the speakers.

This is a big and exciting day for us and I’m very pleased that we’re able to run such an event. If you’ve been reading this site for long, you’ll know that I have some strong personal views about the state of content management in governments and this is the first chance we’ve had to collect enough of the right people in one place to help you plan for the issues that you will certainly come across.

Places will be very limited, so if you want to come, visit this site or contact Steve Lawrence using the email address on the registration page.

I’ve promised Steve I’ll leave this up for a few days so that everyone gets a chance to see it … what I’ll do though is repost it to the top of the page if I write some new posts, so there might be several copies of it on the site.

Content System Mis-Management

I’ve come across a few requests for bids to deliver content management systems recently. It’s a topical thing to look at what people are asking for and understand the rolling needs of the buying community. Many things have struck me as odd or out of place, but one thing particularly perhaps shows the biggest misunderstanding of what such a system is all about.

My thinking on CMSs is that they separate out the “Content” from the “Management” – i.e. editors can freely create information and publish it knowing that once it’s on the web it will work in any browser on any platform because the skilled techies have created style sheets that will correctly format the information (whether text or graphics) no matter on what it’s presented. So, when I visit ukonline.gov.uk using a Mac and Firebird, or a PC running Netscape, or a Sony P800 mobile phone using the inbuilt browser, or an Ipaq, it renders differently each time so as to suit the device and the way it works.

Yet many bids that I have seen recently have requested all of that capability and then, as an extra, the ability to insert home grown HTML into the middle of a page, or many pages. How would that work? Who would do the QA to make sure that the page rendered properly, what would happen when a new browser came out, what about accessibility rules?

It’s just content mis-management to do that.