Gone But Not Forgotten

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Web Wars, Max Headroom and toronto.ca

NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

Just before I sign off as TOwebRebrand (stay tuned for a wrap up post), I want to get to a few "external forces at play" thoughts. Although these don't impact on a re-branded toronto.ca, they do impact on web users and expectations that are relevant to what we could do for and with users in the future.

Two articles of note:
Not on Facebook? Facebook still knows you


Google halts Facebook data usage – so Facebook pole vaults

On the first, it's a bit of a surprise to me that facebook would have some insight on people who have ignored it and never signed up.

It reminds me a bit of that Kevin Bacon game - 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon - and reveals how incestuous the web can be.  Ponder this: if you have friends or colleagues engaged in facebook, and they happen to mention you in passing or import their address books with your mail address in it to facebook, you will find you are no longer an "unknown" in the mighty facebook data bank!

It's like facebook can play the 6 degree game with your name and make some suggested connections for you.

So, it would seem that it is true - even if you don't know facebook, facebook knows you.

Does that cause you concern? What if you were registering for something on toronto.ca and the same thing happened? Do you view government differently than a facebook?

The reason I ask is that we have had ongoing discussions around enabling a "myAccount" concept for toronto.ca users. This would mean providing an ability for users to conduct City business via the website using a one entrance-way portal.

You could purchase a pet license or pay a ticket or register for a recreation program all in one place. The idea is reasonable but we are also considering matching content from the rest of toronto.ca to users.

This would come based on information provided by users when they sign up and also from how users engage with the website.  A quick example of what I mean is, if you purchased an animal license, we would be able to know when you would need to renew the license and send an alert.  We could also send content to your account page reflecting animal care and other associated content - perhaps notice of events in your neighbourhood related to animal care.

There's been no decision to do this yet, just a lot of conceptual discussion on what might be desirable for users. Would that be something you would accept from the City?

In the second article it's pretty clear players like Google and facebook aren't necessarily "friends" (both in the facebook sense and literally). And now, Google is upset that facebook isn't allowing users to export data out of facebook to other places.

When you hear about tiffs and turf wars, it also gives you pause.  Let's extrapolate where it could lead:

If you want to use Google, you couldn't use facebook, or vice versa.  Or, perhaps you have to pay for certain access.  Maybe facebook partners with a Google rival and enables all kinds of things unique to the rivals' offerings and not Google's.

Suddenly you are faced with some decisions and it's no longer as easy to do what it is you want to do using what it is you want to use. This is happening in lots of places already.

I recently bought the Max Headroom DVDs and was amazed at how some of the "Max envisioned future" is in place today.  If you've seen or remember the show, you will know what I mean.

A key component of the series is the intense rivalry between "networks" and trending topics - up and down in an instant!  Sounds a bit like what happens on twitter.

What about us?
We can take from this and relate it to toronto.ca.  Although we have the capacity to introduce some cause and effect structure and perhaps stronger links and integrations with social media, is it something we should do?

I've wrestled with this for two years now and it is not yet clear how citizens regard such "interplay" from government. Citizens have made it clear that they like social media and they've made it clear they will interact with a government social media page. But that's only one part of what we need to know.  What is yet to come is more definitive proof that users want to have their local government interact back like a facebook..

Do you know what I'm getting at?

The best way I can put it is to ask if you want us to bring to your attention useful information about yourself and your interests every time you come to a toronto.ca webpage?

I'm also wondering if you think about how it is facebook can make recommendations for you in the first place?

If Max headroom took place "20 minutes into the future", I'm worried about the next 10 minutes.

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