[This fragment is available in an audio version.]

It’s six months since my second Covid shot (team AZ/Moderna) and thus booster time. Which I found out this morning via SMS from my local (BC, Canada) Centre for Disease Control. The registration process was fast and painless. This is exactly the sort of thing we thought we were building the Internet for, and has lessons to teach.

SMS invitation for Covid booster

On my phone, I tapped the link in the SMS, which took me (more or less instantly) to a bone-simple browser form with two fields, my reference number (pre-filled-in) and my Personal Health Number (had to open my wallet to look at the card). Helpfully, that field switched to numeric-input mode.

One more tap took me (instantly, once again) to a list of vaccination facilities. I picked the one closest to my house and (without delay) saw that dates were available the day after tomorrow. Another tap popped up an appointment-time chooser, and the last one yielded “confirmation on the way by SMS and email”; they arrived within seconds.

Each achievement in the following list is modest but above the bar for typical public-facing systems both from government and the private sector:

  1. A single tap on my phone screen took me to the right place.

  2. I accomplished the task without failures or errors.

  3. The service requested minimal information.

  4. That information was made easy to enter.

  5. Interactions were fast and smooth, with no waiting.

Things that were not observed:

  1. Graphical decoration.

  2. Popups.

  3. Animations.

  4. Marketing.

What is shocking isn’t that a level of government managed to deliver an essential service with this level of graceful attention to detail. It’s that so many of them fail to do so.

This kind of thing couldn’t be accomplished without the Internet. It’s more important than any dozen Bay-Aryan unicorns and social-media MegaCorps put together.

[Of course, it also helps that in Canada, healthcare is provided for free as a consequence of citizenship.]



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From: Loren Kohnfelder (Dec 29 2021, at 07:44)

Hi Tim, I'm also semi(?)retired from a long software career and have been following your writing and enjoying it. (I wrote a book myself, and think we need more software people writing for broad audiences, not just other software folks, but I digress.)

Your points about the great experience being tied to it just working and the absence of those other things you list.

Some following ideas occur to me that I think are worth mentioning (here at least):

1. For complex reasons, it's hard for me to imagine that a hot new startup would deliver such a simple experience (they would have those other things in there making it a mess), and that's a significant problem.

2. While I have no reason to suspect this SMS is not fully legit, many many people could have easily been spoofed with a lookalike URL to disclose their PHN. Most people won't check for HTTPS in the URL and that it's GOV.BC.CA domain.

3. That people don't check makes them vulnerable to phishing and in a sense these legitimate apps train us that this is OK, setting up scammers to mimic it. Far as I know this is an unsolved problem with real negative consequences.

4. To wit, in looking for guidance on PHN use I found the FAQ with a non-HTTPS URL extremely disappointing. http://www.healthinfoprivacybc.ca/files/forms/privacy_faq_brochure.pdf

Aloha,

/Loren

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From: J. King (Dec 29 2021, at 15:55)

Small correction to the postscript: it is residence, not citizenship, which entitles one to provincial health insurance. Permanent residents and those with study or work permits are usually eligible, once residence has been established. Non-resident citizens are not.

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