Making government a bit more digital

Man uses laptop on Parliament Bridge outside Westminster Image copyright iStock

Could your interactions with the government be, how can I put this, a little smoother?

Mine certainly could. I paid my self-assessment tax the other day - it was a clunky business, HMRC did not send me a reminder, and there wasn't even a thank-you afterwards. A car tax reminder did arrive this week - but in the post. An email or a text with a link to where I could pay would have been far better.

Well now the Government Digital Service thinks it has the answer. Later today it will unveil two new services, Notify and Pay, designed to make dealing with the government a little bit more like our relationships with online retailers.

Notify is a service which will allow departments across government to keep in touch with citizens using their services via email, text or even a letter. You might think they already did that - and some do - but there is a piecemeal approach. The idea is that Notify is a platform which any civil servant can plug into and use to improve the way a service communicates, without spending much money on doing that.'s other initiative is Pay, a system to enable government departments to receive payments or to make refunds. Again, at first sight you wonder why it's needed as the government seems perfectly capable of extracting money from us.

Image copyright

Read full article Making government a bit more digital

Should Twitter ignore its users?

Thumb hovers over Twitter app on a smartphone Image copyright Getty Images

For the last 48 hours Twitter has been… well, all of a Twitter.

An article in Buzzfeed suggesting that the social network was about to introduce what is known as an algorithmic timeline - promoting tweets deemed most relevant rather than publishing them in reverse chronological order - sparked a wave of what can only be described as furious panic.

Read full article Should Twitter ignore its users?

Tech Tent: Toys with a tech twist and Apple's difficult week

Scalextric at London Toy Fair, 2016 Image copyright Alamy

Every Friday on Tech Tent on the BBC World Service we bring you the big technology stories of the week. Here's what's in today's very playful show.

The tech of toys

This week we visited the London Toy Fair which has become a great place to spot how tech trends are reflected in the world of play. We found that traditional toymakers are finding ways of grabbing children's attention back from the touch screen devices they all now have. So the best toys combine the physical with the digital - in the latest version of the Scalextric car-racing game a tablet controls the race and tells drivers when to come into the pits. Then there is a toy called Stikbot which, combined with a free app, encourages children to make stop motion animations.

AI passes go

Read full article Tech Tent: Toys with a tech twist and Apple's difficult week

Will you like Facebook's new Reactions?

Media captionSee the new Reaction options

Do you ever "like" something on Facebook? If so, life is about to get a bit more complex.

The social networking giant is about to roll out emoji-style Reactions, which will allow you to express your feelings in a more nuanced fashion.

Read full article Will you like Facebook's new Reactions?

Needed - facts about broadband

Close up of a broadband router and cable Image copyright PA

What's the state of Britain's broadband infrastructure and would it be better if the dominant supplier BT was split up?

That is the big issue for the regulator Ofcom and, as its decision approaches, the political temperature is hotting up. What has been lacking from the debate so far is much independent research with some facts about where we stand now and how we compare internationally.

Read full article Needed - facts about broadband

Tech Tent: Future farmers, Minecraft and Doom

Drone flying over onion field Image copyright iStock

Every Friday we digest the week's technology news on Tech Tent on the BBC World Service. Here's what we are looking at this week.

Big Data on the farm

It's the world's oldest industry and one you might not think was that forward-looking - but farming is undergoing a whole new data-driven revolution. From drones giving aerial surveys of crops, to combine harvesters measuring precisely the output of every square metre, or sensors giving minute-by-minute updates on the health of animals, farmers are handling an ever growing flood of data. We will be hearing from a chicken farmer who is adapting to this new way of working and our special guest is Rob Carter, the co-founder of Field Margin which aims to help farmers navigate their data via a smartphone app. By the way, our colleagues on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today have been covering technology and farming all week and have a special report on Saturday morning's On Your Farm.

Minecraft in the classroom

Read full article Tech Tent: Future farmers, Minecraft and Doom

Zano: The rise and fall of Kickstarter's mini-drone

Zano drone Image copyright Torquing
Image caption More than 12,000 people gave a total of £2,335,119 to fund the Zano drone via Kickstarter

When Europe's biggest Kickstarter project, the Zano mini-drone, crashed to earth last November there was plenty of blame to go round. But many of the 12,000 backers - who had put in £2.3m and ended up with nothing - had angry words for the crowdfunding platform.

Kickstarter responded in a creative way - by commissioning an investigative journalist to find out what went wrong. Now his report has been published.

Read full article Zano: The rise and fall of Kickstarter's mini-drone

The internet - not an equaliser

Young farmer in India using the internet Image copyright iStock
Image caption Access to information is having an impact on the incomes of many groups, notably farmers

Here's the story about the global impact of the internet. In the last 20 years, the digital revolution and its leapfrog technologies have allowed developing countries to close the gap with richer nations, and have brought huge advances in health, education and transparent government.

Well, not quite, according to the World Bank. Its annual World Development Report, this year entitled Digital Dividends, pours some cold water on that utopian view. True, it sees plenty of good things emerging from the advance of technology, but it warns that poor governance and a lack of skills is making it hard for all of those benefits to be realised even once countries do get connected to the internet.

Read full article The internet - not an equaliser

Elon Musk - the driven dreamer

Elon Musk and Rory

It is when our interview is over and we are filming some introductory shots around a Tesla Model S that Elon Musk drops into conversation a prediction that makes my eyes pop.

"Ultimately," he says, "you'll be able to summon the car from New York if you're living in LA and it will drive across the country, charge itself at the various locations and come to you."

Read full article Elon Musk - the driven dreamer

CES 2016: Clouds over Nevada’s solar revolution

Media captionSolarCity is turning its back on Nevada

Las Vegas must be a prime contender for the title of world capital of waste.

Millions come to waste their money in the casinos, and the city in the desert sucks up water and energy on an epic scale. But in recent years Las Vegas has also become a pioneer in solar energy, with casinos and thousands of homes now looking to go green while saving money.

Read full article CES 2016: Clouds over Nevada’s solar revolution