Monday, June 21, 2010


Over the last few years we have seen use of IT in the voting. We now have e-voting machines. Some people also talk about online voting and then their are tons of debates about security of such mechanisms.

Lets assume for a while that security concerns will be addressed sometime in the future. That just leaves us with the same old democracy just happening online. I think the next level of democracy should not be limited to just "automation" of the voting process. Technology can play a vital role in defining what democracy of the future looks like. Think of why we have to choose our representatives and why only once in five years? It is a technical problem. You can't have a billion people come together and sit under one roof and decide about their future. The machinery was designed to solve this very problem. family, small villages and corporate boardrooms don't have representatives, they don't need as all stake holders can fit in one room.

In next four five years everyone in India will have a mobile phone (if they don't have it already). All reality shows are doing voting using SMS to choose their top stars and making money along the way. If people can vote for their favorite starts every week, why can't they choose their representatives every week. Why can't they suspend their vote for the representative for a week and choose to participate directly in the law making.

Today many people in India will be willing to cast their vote in favor of a candidate for may be Rs 500 - Rs 1000. Since a single winner is elected per constituency, depending upon number of candidates in election, all you need is may be 10%-20% votes to get elected. For a five year term, per day cost of vote is less than a rupee.

What If:
  • Their were no elections
  • You could vote using SMS, any time of the day, week, month, year
  • You could change your vote anytime
  • You could split your vote 
  • You could loan your vote to someone who you think can better decide how you use your vote
  • If their was no parliament, everything happens over Goto-Meeting and as many people who want to participate directly or through their representatives could participate. 
Basically the whole election process becomes flexible in terms of time (duration of being a representative) and in space (number of representatives). Think of it like a stock exchange for politics. A true representative of public's political sentiments.

What do we get:
  • People who sell their vote, get a better price throughout their lives
  • People are always in control, politicians are always on toes
  • Much better participation of people. Everyone can find time to send one SMS (from anywhere)
  • The whole disconnect of "people" and "government" goes away as people are government - all the time. 
  • No need for nominations. Anyone can make anybody else their representative and let them choose their representative or participate themselves. 
  • If you want to do good for the country, convince people first

Friday, June 11, 2010

Taking Input - Program/UI

I went to pay the electricity bill at BDA. The machine refused to read the bar code on the bill, so I choose the manual method. I had to fill about seven or eight fields. I couldn't find three of them on the bill and gave up. I am sure the bar code doesn't encodes all of inputs, but possibly some unique number which can find out all the eight fields that the machine wanted me to enter. If electricity department could print the number represented by bar code in decimal digits on the bill itself, I could have easily paid my bills and had to just enter one number.

Passport form is another example of the same problem. You need to write your address at least 4 times at various places. Simple website would go a long way.

Any website which wants to know your country will invariably show you a dropdown  with more than 200 entries. Auto complete would be so much nice to use.

Car is a great example of good user interface. Steering is large enough to control turn, only five gears, not two and not twenty, just right, clutch, brake and accelerator. Minimal and complete. It takes couple of weeks to get used to it, but after that it works well. The feedback is immediate and speed/fuel/rpm monitoring is right in front. The big horn to shout is right on the steering, along with indicators. Each of the controls are of a certain size and at a certain distance from the driver and I bet that is the metric of importance/frequency of use of the control.

I wish someone writes a UI framework which can use user feedback (not another form but by logging what user does with the UI) to make it easier for the user to use the UI.  It could hide the features which are not used, keep a cache of recently used features, increase/decrease size of the buttons (clickable, touchable area) to make it easy to click or may be allow user to create a shortcut. Microsoft Office does some of these things and I guess others can do it too and probably do a much better job of it.