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e-democ / e-gov

Microsoft’s diplomatic troubles

A fascinating piece on CNET News.com explores the various ways Microsoft have irritated Saudi, Indian and Chinese governments. They've also mistranslated 'female' to 'bitch' in Spanish, aye carumba! What's interesting though is how the Saudi government's displeasure with some Microsoft games actually resulted in two games being pulled… How must the developers of those games felt after spending years working on them?

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e-democ / e-gov

UK Government pays for clicks

A strange development, the UK Government is using Google, Overture and Espotting to drive users to the new Directgov site. Probably very cost effective marketing compared to printing leaflets or a TV spot. But is it really appropriate for a government to be placing itself in search engine listings? Not sure, it all depends on what they're promoting I suppose.

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e-democ / e-gov

MPs’ Websites Ten Years On

VoxPolitics' James Crabtree has a new article discussing MPs' use of the Internet over the last ten years. Like many James had high hopes for the Internet's role in politics. But most politicians just aren't getting it. The article notes the relatively low levels of resources MPs have when compared to their US equivalents. True enough and Parliament's actual modes of working are antiquated: Richard Allan MP often complains that his days are structured in a way to prevent him doing the things he wants to!

Still the article ends on a hopeful note… A new generation of MPs might be more open to using the Internet to its full potential. I certainly hope so. In the mean time we can work on fine tuning the tools and the online political environment. We'll be ready when the MPs are!

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e-democ / e-gov

E-democracy links

I’m currently in Austria at the e-voting in Europe workshop, so to balance my days of e-voting here are some recent links on e-democracy issues.

Firstly the Modernisation of the House of Commons Select Committee has released an excellent report, summarised on the Public Technology site. The committee’s first report has suggested major upgrades to Parliament’s website (which seems to be run on an astonishingly small budget – only £100,000 for the redesign in 2002). The report also encourages a greater use of online consultations along with considering allowing journalists to have their laptops in the gallery. All in all the report is very positive making sensible recommendations such as for improved communication through creating a visitor centre and instituting a weekly newsletter (in paper and online) of parliamentary happenings.

In a similar vein ePolitix.com reports the success of online forums in enabling communications between MPs and their constituents. The report is light on details so any more information would be welcome.

Finally, for the moment, BBC News has a decent e-democracy round-up on their site. The story works off John Kerry’s email pre-announcement of Edwards being his running-mate to a million online supporters. The article naturally harks back to the Dean campaign while also talking to a few academics. Pre-announcing via email is a small gesture, but it’s meaningful in an information age. I think his supporters would have appreciated it thus reinforcing their support for him. However such gestures do not directly win him any extra votes.

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e-democ / e-gov

Positive words on Open Source in e-gov

As I begin to catch up with things after having moved (apologies for the lack of posts) the two links at the top of the pile are:

  • SOCITM, the professional association for IT manager in government, has released a helpful comment to the UK Government's consultation on its Open Source policy (via egovmonitor). In essence the response asks – why not use Open Source more aggressively, it's cheap and it works? The submission reminds the government to focus on total cost of ownership instead of just up-front costs. Also they insist that all publicly funded software should be Open Source, too right!

  • KableNET reports that the French government wants to dramatically reduce their software licensing costs through the use of Open Source. 900,000 licenses are up for re-negotiation so this is probably more the opening salvo in the bargaining with Microsoft, but who knows?

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e-democ / e-gov

Major Cities of Europe IT Users Group conference

The conference in Gothenburg (or Goteborg as they write in Sweden) has come to an end. Highlights included a fantastic presentation about m-parking in Zagreb, Croatia. They’re using SMS, GPS and GPRS for an integrated parking solution which lets people pay for parking with a single SMS, no registration, nothing. Then tow trucks and parking attendants are all connected to the system in real time along with a police database of stolen/interesting vehicles. Very impressive. Shame it only works for people with Croatian mobiles!

The final day was on e-democracy and apart from my presentation we had some really interesting presentations on applications in the UK (e-voting!), Spain, Finland and Denmark. None were getting massive numbers participating but they were trying hard. We really don’t know what does and doesn’t work in e-democracy yet which is why we need to keep experimenting. And as I said in my piece, Open Source can really help provide low cost ways of doing those experiments.

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e-democ / e-gov

theyworkforyou.com goes live

I'm about to jump on a plane to Sweden for my presentation at the Major Cities of Europe IT Users' Group conference. But I've just noticed (thanks to a T-Mobile hotspot – great aren't they?) that those cheeky chaps behind FaxYourMP.com have launched their new wonder TheyWorkForYou.com.

It's really superb. I don't have time to go into it in detail at the moment but do go take a look. I had a peek during the private beta phase and this is a very powerful new tool for activists. It won't help engage the disengaged, but it will empower those who already care. More later…

Categories
e-democ / e-gov

Links

The irrepressible Ian Brown has pointed me to another great link, this time a wonderful Guardian comment piece by David Clark. He's singing from the same hymn book as me, technocratic changes won't change the fundamental malaise in politics. He just says it better! Definitely worth a read, it's a great essay which romps through the issue of declining participation in modern liberal democracies.

Here's a link which shows that some people are thinking about how to be tactical with their use of existing technologies for e-democracy. Barnsley council have the simple, but brilliant, idea of emailing people the results of elections as soon as they're known. You can signup here. It's not far from the idea I had a few days back where I suggested people could get emailed to remind them of upcoming elections. Hopefully Barnsley will be smart in how they use this list of emails and leverage it to other users (once having asked the people's permission of course!).

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e-democ / e-gov

Taking the time to get things right

Despite the widely reported Accenture survey which showed the UK government slipping down the e-government performance league table, I say let the government departments take their time to get things right.

The original government gateway was horribly rushed (PDF) resulting in all sorts of problems including the exclusion of non-Microsoft browsers and some wacky PKI implementations. The methodology of these surveys is open to suspicion but that doesn’t prevent them exerting some pressure on departments. I wish they wouldn’t… just slowing down a little would help immensely in making good design decisions which we’ll probably have to live with for a long time. That isn’t to say that like many long time Internet users I’m impatient for the government to be a bit more like Amazon.com!

My current favourite example of a British e-government transactional service has to be the Court Service’s Money Claim Online which is simple and easy to understand. I was owed some small sums of money and probably would never have found the time or inclination to file a Small Claims Court case. Too much hassle, I’d need to find a court to file in, probably involve a solicitor and so on. With Money Claim Online I pay a small fee (£30) and type everything in online then bang off the claim goes. Fantastic.

There’s one small niggle in that your claim details explaining the situation have to be typed in a box which states that no more than 24 line are allowed. But it seems that when the box wraps a line of text this counts as an additional line of text, instead of just when I enter a line-break as one would expect. So I had some fun re-formatting my claim to get past the error messages. Other than that it worked wonderfully… well I haven’t got the money yet, but I’m hopeful.

The Money Claim Online service reduces the transaction costs of individuals wanting to get some justice but have previously felt that it wasn’t possible due to the cost and complexity. Making litigation easier may not be that desirable in the end, but making access to government services in general is highly desirable.

Categories
e-democ / e-gov

More ‘reassuring’ news on ID cards

Just in case you felt jumpy about the UK government implementing a national database of biometric and personal data accessible from a vast range of locations… here's a reassuring report on how technical problems in the ID card trial has delayed its launch, shortened the trial from 6 to 3 months (surely problems should extend a trial!) and even resulted in the system being returned to the supplier once.

Choice quote from the story: NEC, which is providing the fingerprint-recognition technology for the project, said the Home Office will not allow it to comment.

Full News.com story based, it seems, on a story from Silicon.com here.