Google complexity

I liked this, from Gerry McGovern this weekend:

What do you see on the Google homepage? A very
big search box. And is this all that Google offers? Of course
not.

Here’s what else Google offers: Alerts, Local, Answers, Maps,
Blog Search, Mobile, Book Search, News, Catalogs, Scholar,
Directory, SMS, Froogle, Special Searches, Groups, University
Search, Images, Labs, Web Search Features, Blogger, Picasa,
Code, Talk, Desktop, Toolbar, Earth, Translate, Gmail.

I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal or not, but I heard a story where someone sent email to Sergey or maybe Larry every day with just a number in the subject – “33” say. I can’t remember where I heard it, maybe I heard it at Google itself. Every day they’d get the same message and had no idea why. Then one day they changed the website, added some text perhaps, and the mail changed “34” or “35” or “36”. Someone was keeping an eye out and saying “less is more”. True? Maybe, maybe not. But simplicity wins.

Oddly, I have no idea how to find that story via google and see how true it might be,

Parking payments offline

My first parking ticket – ever – in the lovely village of Westminster. Returning to my car 4 minutes after my ticket expired, I was greeted by the warden taking photos of the car and posting a ticket under the windscreen wiper. Ho hum.

I imagine one of the busiest times to pay fines is Saturday after a day shopping in town and, judging by how many tickets the guy was handing out in the street I was in, I’d be right.

So when would you schedule a significant upgrade of your online payment service? Not Saturday afternoon surely? From westminster.gov.uk:

This service allows you to pay Westminster City Council parking tickets online.
Online payments is currently unavailable (Saturday 26/11/05).

This is to allow a system upgrade to be put into place.

This upgrade is schedule to take place between 16:00 and 21:00.

Whilst this system is unavailable, please telephone our Parking Contact Centre on 020 7823 4567, who will be happy to assist you in paying your parking ticket.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Great. It’s a shame that they can’t even get the English right in the notice.

Directionless.gov rides again

Tom had the nerve to post that directionlessgov.com produces the correct answer when given the word “think” (as in road safety – see below) to hunt for. The “less” site (which is not to say the other is the “more” site) shows both direct.gov’s search output as well as google’s (which it rebadges and rebrands very nicely).

I hadn’t planned to defend direct.gov here, but it will look like I am. The google output is 9 links to the thinkroadsafety site and one to the hedgehog site (likely winner of the award for most unusual .gov website … www.hedgehogs.gov.uk. If you care to visit, you’ll find you have to “hog in” – I’m sure the bad jokes don’t stop there but I didn’t dare go any further).

Direct.gov demotes road safety to number 7 as I posted before, but it does at least give 10 different sites, just in case when you typed “think” you really did want to visit rethink or RU thinking about it or whatever.

Google probably don’t mind if you hook into their site for the odd search, maybe even a few hundred (although they’d probably be a bit upset if they looked and found that directionless.gov strips out the ads which drive their revenues). But, there were 589,039 searches on direct.gov in October 2005 (from the EDT report) and I can’t imagine google being too happy about that amount of freeloading on their servers. Indeed, when we talked to google (in my old job) about using them directly for government search (we even registered http://www.search.gov.uk I think), they wouldn’t allow a direct hook into them but, instead, wanted to sell a google black box for close to $1mm. Not the best spend of taxpayer money I think – when most users are going to try google first anyway.

Interestingly, if you use google and don’t restrict the search to just .gov sites (which is what directionless does), and you search for “think” – where does the road safety campaign site come out? 7th.

The other point, reinforced by Jason’s comment below, is that there are still just too many domain names. There are probably at least 5,000 maybe 5,500 which reduce down to perhaps 3,500 individual websites (allowing for, say, http://www.ir.gov.uk pointing to hmrc.gov.uk – maybe that’s a plan, we can just rationalise government departments to reduce the domain count?). I think that’s 3,250 too many and if I’m really nasty, it’s probably 3,490 too many. I’ve often stood at conferences and said that the average person has 10 bookmarks for key sites. The odds of one of them being government are pretty low which is perhaps why direct.gov whilst doing well with 1,500,000 visitors isn’t getting anything like the 20% of the population visiting that it probably should get. Not an easy set of problems to solve – but it needs more than strategy, it needs action.

Think? Again?

Watching TV in the hotel last night – ok, I was bored – there was an anti-drink driving ad. At the end, I could have sworn I saw the tag “www.think.dtlr.gov.uk” on the screen. I thought dtlr went the way of the dodo 3 or 4 years ago. But, if you use that URL, you do indeed get to the right place which is actually, http://www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk. If there’s a redirect, why not put the right URL in place given that you’re paying for brand time as much as the campaign? Why use an address that died a long time ago for a brand that no-one remembers or cares about? Why use a double parameter address rather than just the simpler “www.think.gov.uk” – which is a pure 404?

Why not, dare I ask, use www.direct.gov.uk/think? Oddly, that last address provides the message:

We are currently experiencing technical difficulties on the Directgov website but expect normal service to be restored very shortly. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused and try again later.

The rest of directgov is fine, so this must be just a 404-type problem. I went to directgov and, out of interest, put “think” into the search box. It’s a topical campaign, in the run up the Christmas period so you’d imagine it would get attention now. The top items are:

1) Rethink – for an organisation dealing with mental illness
2) RU thinking about IT – which is not about IT, but about safe sex (!)
3) Think u Know – about Internet safety for children
4) Viewing a property you are thinking about buying
5) Benefit cheats told to “think twice”

No. 7 is a link to a newsroom story about the Think! campaign which carries a link to the main site.

Highway 101 – more potholes than Camden Town

Just arrived in San Francisco to find the weather is just like back home. Blue skies, bright sunshine and everyone wearing shorts. Just like London. I wish.

I drove south from the airport, down route 101. I’ve driven better roads in India – and they have fewer cows on the roads there.

There are still empty buildings either side of the highway, but it looks busier than it did when I was last here, a year ago or so. My hotel is right opposite Yahoo, Sun, EMC and a roller-coaster park. Just right for this part of the world.

Virgin looked after me well on the way over. After nearly 15 years of regular travel – and 21 years of Virgin Atlantic – this is the first time I’ve flown with them. They were great. Limo pickup, check in taken care of while I’m sitting in the car, a brisk walk to the lounge through the fast track – and it’s a great lounge. And then the marvellous invention: they have 50 films that you can watch and you can even press the pause button whilst you get a massage, go to the toilet or chat with the stewardess. What an incredible leap forward. After maybe 100 flights across the pond, I’ve finally got on a plane that lets me watch films the way I do at home – stop/start/stop/start. BA – your days are numbered for me. I just need to use up those air miles.

If you’re on a ‘plane soon, I recommend wholeheartedly watching “Crash” (not the David Cronenberg version, although that had its moments).

Comments on Xform

Interesting comment after the last post

‘So does that nett out to say do not expect too much of anything too soon? There is no burning platform to make these public sector folk change their behaviour or methods.

“Transformational Government” to be filed under “Oxymorons of our Time” ‘

That would be a pessimistic view. Making things move in government is hard – for all of Archimedes’ talk of a lever and a place to stand, he wasn’t dealing with the public sector.

Don’t expect too much too soon – that would just set us all up for disappointment, but do watch for the signs of movement. If those green shoots start to appear then it’s likely that enough energy could get behind it to do something. Take OGC’s gateway reviews for instance – they started small and are now embedded everywhere, but it took 3-4 years and that was just peer review where no-one got to see the output by the head of OGC and the SRO for the programme.

“Transformational Government” might be like “World Cup winning England Football team” – something that’s right only once in a generation or two. Maybe it’s our turn this time, for both.

Netnation 2.0, not quite web 2.0

A couple of weeks ago, the nice people at netnation (who host this site) did a big upgrade of all of their servers and software. Everything changed – directory names, passwords, URLs, management tools, etc. Since then I haven’t been able to get anything to work and have been forlornly trekking through their help files and FAQs, corresponding with their technical support people and generally holding my head in my hands trying to get it all to work. I think I’ve cracked it now, although it did involve deleting my entire set of archive blog files (a bold decision if only because I may be the only one who likes to know what I’ve written about before). The previous post, on the Internet Listing Scam, has been in limbo for a fortnight now and that seems to have made it through the gates.