Friday, July 22, 2005

Inspiration, reputation and perspiration

A reminder from The Times Career supplement (back-to-back articles, pps 3-4, 21/07/2005) that it takes effort to be inspired as well as to build (or in this case, restore) a reputation. A short article ("Ideas plucked from a blue sky") on innovation strategy pointed out - quoting Saj Parwani, MD of ?What If! - "Innovation is a science," in other words it requires time, study and effort. A similar tack was taken with the ten tips for "Polish a tarnished image". They're both short, simple articles, but well worth a once-over.

London Explosions

I was in London yesterday, and was approaching Angel Tube at 12.45 just as it was being evacuated and the Northern Line shut down - as the bus I needed did not appear to be running at that time, I instead enjoyed the opportunity to take a longish walk through London, walking first to Clerkenwell for an appointment and then on to Borough, then back up to Fleet Street for a drink with my friend, Dan.

It was a fascinating walk as, on foot, I was able to see much of the peripheral Police activity in dealing with the various incidents. This activity continued well into the night, from the sound of the sirens screaming through Islington. The general public - including tourists - appeared generally calm, although there I have noticed a slight mood change in the streets...perhaps a little less bustling, a little less driven and rushed. Someone did say to me earlier in the day that she had stopped using the tube and the bus, and while on Wednesday I noticed the underground was not hugely busy, there were still man people using it - so the majority have not been spooked and are continuing with "business as usual". It pleases me that there is a mood of seeming solidarity, a "no paseran" ("They shall not pass") sentiment.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Page footprints

I am always surprised at how little attention is paid to page footprints (size) on many websites and intranets (especially now that everyone seems to have a fat connection). Page footprints are not just about how fast the page loads for the user, they also offer fantastic savings in bandwidth.

This came to my mind last week - as I went onto the BBC site in search of news about the London Bombing tragedy, I noticed that the homepage had been completely stripped back to basics. At first I wasn't sure if this was deliberate, or if many BBC staff had been caught up in the disruption and that departments were too under-staffed to offer a full service. In fact, as Martin Belam points out on his currybet site, the action was deliberate in order to ensure that the BBC coud cope with the predicted (and in the event, huge) spike in traffic.

On a oragmatic note, you don't even have to be quite so proactive - simply switching to standards-based XHTML/CSS instead of table layout can reduce page sizes dramatically. I seem to remember a hypothetical redesign of a Microsoft page reducing footprint by 80%. Try to keep it lean and mean (where appropriate) seems to be a sensible watchword.


Governance and guidelines are the essentials of a sound website, portal, intranet or extranet, and all too often neglected (nobody appears to enjoy documenting good practices, workflows and checklists in a company, let alone sticking to them) in my experience. Via James Robertson, I read this succinct and interesting article on portal governance, much of which relates to intranets and websites also.

I would take slight issue with the governance model showing a "Technical team" and a "Content and Community Team" as separate - firstly these two teams should be in relatively constant communication, and secondly, if they overlap it allows room for the technically-focused content people, such as information architects, information designers and usability specialists to have a voice and a position also.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Accessibility Testing

I came across this post via the E-consultancy E-business Briefing newsletter: a forum post asking site managers to stop relying on Bobby automated testing for accessibility. I was quite surprised, as I had assumed accessibility had reached a "critical mass" in terms of industry perception.

It's simple: automated tools can point you in the right direction, pick up on issues you might not have noticed and above all else are quick and easy to use, however they do not match a decent expert review and testing with a target audience. Decent alt descriptions, and why "click here" is so bogus, just will not make sense until you observe, for instance, a visually impaired user merrily zipping through your site, but missing the majority of content because it is "inaccessible". Automated tools are great for getting you started, as well as for acceptance testing at the end of a project, but they are not the be-all and end-all - human input is still required, particularly in some of the greyer areas of legislation and guidelines.

Above all else, ensure that your developers learn from the experience, they'll probably appreciate it from an intellectual curiosity and career development perspective, and you'll benefit from more compliant sites henceforward!

UPDATE - 14/07/2005: On this subject, here is an apposite demonstration as to how knowledge of accessibility good practice should be developed (using guidelines, testing with users) as opposed to relying on automated indications - "Accessible Data Tables" from Web Usability.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Kafka Management, the new KM

About a week and a half ago, I read a very small story in a newspaper about the Belgian government's Kafka red-tape cutting initiative (here's the ABC coverage, The Guardian website was timing out while I wrote this). I think this is a great piece of collaborative "knowledge management" that delivered huge savings - about £150mn, I think, just by getting user-focused and asking the populace what pieces of bureaucracy were unnecessarily annoying, and then actually acting upon the results. Shared experience delivering process improvement.
The website is nice too, and I particularly like the little Flash demo of registering a new-born old-style along with the new streamlined data sharing approach.
I'm not sure if this is a humorous touch to mingle with calling the system Kafka, but the guy in charge was "Secretary of State for Administrative Simplification, Vincent Van Quickenborne", nominative determinism if ever I heard it. Anyway, the savings as he put it come from "alleviating some of the administrative burden imposed on citizens and entrepreneurs." Nice.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Make Poverty History

My wife and I marched on the Make Poverty History demonstration through Edinburgh yesterday. What a magnificent site it was to see so many people (over 200,000) - in particular large numbers of the very young and old - gathered together for one message: "Make Poverty History". I do not for one minute expect the march to live up to its slogan - this would be a naive mis-reading of its purpose - but I do hope that it sparks off not only political action among world leaders, but also a greater, constant attention to world issues from the media, and a more concerted coming together at grassroots level of all the charities, NGOs and governmental organisations involved in assisting poorer and developing countries to become self-supporting.