Monthly Archives: March 2007

5 ways wikis will work

As every day goes by, I am becoming a bigger fan of the wiki form. It’s not ideal in every scenario, but I really believe that every organisation should have at least one.

Here’s five ways local gov can use wikis to improve service or staff satisfaction.

1. Procedure Manuals

The wiki is an ideal platform for managing knowledge. Having an online knowledge base of processes and procedures accessed through an intranet would be useful to almost every member of staff. Run it as a wiki, and everyone can keep it up to date and add as much detail as they want.

2. Project Management

Managing projects successfully is all about communication and managing documents effectively. Every project should have a wiki space for discussions and collaborative working to take place. Why email round spreadsheets and word processed documents when you can all work off the same record?

3. Public Consultation

Wikis provide another route into the Council for the views of the community. Now, allowing editing rights to the general public to a Council website might well be a horrifying thought, but various things have to be born in mind. Firstly, a key component of wiki technology is the ability to ‘roll-back’ edits, to remove vandalism and non constructive comments. Secondly, by making it very clear that a site is a wiki, with all that that entails, the information on the site is approached by the reader in a different way. Defra have a wiki and the classic example of a public wiki that works is of course Wikipedia.

4. Improvement and Change Management

Every council has a suggestions box. Nobody ever uses them, and if they do, not a lot happens. But by using a wiki as an open suggestions forum, others can be involved in the development of business cases for improvement opportunities and momentum built up.

5. Knowledge Sharing

Whether lists of useful links, blog posts, or the sharing of home grown knowledge, the wiki can be a useful format for creating a space where people can simply share what they know. Tap into the talent that exists within the council but which you didn’t know about already by empowering people to share what they know on a shared space.

That’s a pretty quick run through, because the potential applications are pretty much limitless. If you’d like to talk more about the possibilities that wikis offer, leave a comment or send me an email!

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10 Tips for Startup Blogs

Here’s a list of good stuff you can do when starting out with a blog. I’ll follow this post up in the future tackling each of them in a little more detail. If you would like to discuss starting a blog in more detail,then do leave a comment or send me an email!

1. Read more blogs

What you get out of your blog depends entirely on what you put in. Good, interesting blogs do not evolve in a vacuum. Read as many blogs as you can. Not only will you pick up on useful tidbits to improve your blogging, you are exposing yourself to new ideas and content you can discuss yourself. There are plenty of blogs-about-blogs. This might smack a little of navel-gazing, but with any new form, evolution comes through discussion and collaboration. Pick up new ideas and put them into practice. Listen to what experienced bloggers have to say.

Subscribe to anything you might think may interest you. Don’t discriminate in the blogs you subscribe to. It won’t take up more than a couple of seconds of your time to scan them, if there’s nothing to interest you. But there might be that one article that pops up in a few month’s time that makes it worthwhile.

2. Use tools you like and trust

A shorter way of putting it would be ‘USE WORDPRESS!!!’, but that would be a little prescriptive. Choose a blog engine you like and trust. Make sure it has the features you want available. make sure its intuitive for you to use. Does it fit in with your methods of working?

Is it worth having a look at an offline blog editor – does it make life easier for you?

3. Make sure your blog has a feed

People who blog without RSS feeds don’t deserve to be read. They probably aren’t even blogs. Blog engines that don’t produce them don’t deserve to be used. No-one has the time to look at individual blog sites, that’s what the aggregators are for. Never presume that your content is so great that people will go out of their way to read it. Make life as easy for your readers as possible. Check out services like FeedBurner and see how it could improve your experience – and that of your readers.

4. Find a niche – and evolve it

There’s no point writing on some esoteric subject from the off. What are the chances of anyone coming by you? Write about a few things that interest you to start with. Focus on the one you have your eye on, by all means, but include other stuff too.

Really importantly, be regular. Keep the posts coming. If you are going to be away, let your readers know. The last thing you want is people thinking the blog is dead and unsubcribing. It’s a commitment to be taken seriously.

Over time, your blog will evolve, and its niche will become clear, if you want one. It’s an organic process. But unless you are a total weirdo, if stuff interests you, the chances are that there are other people on the web who will be interested too. But you have to cast a wide net to begin with.

5. Link, link and comment

Link to everyone you mention in a post – it’s common courtesy and makes your blog infinitely more useful. No-one would want to read a blog, only to have to switch to Google to find what you’re on about. Use trackbacks to let people know you are reading them and commenting on them. Use comments on other blogs to make salient and constructive points. But don’t do it for the sake of it. The more interesting your points, the more likely people are to sit up and take notice, and subscribe to your blog.

Make sure your blog allows comments, otherwise you are just having a conversation with a mirror. Always respond to comments people leave on your blog at the start, when there aren’t too many, so that a relationship can be formed with your readers. If someone comments on your blog, do them the courtesy of commenting on theirs. The key words are reciprocation and collaboration.

6. Keep notes

You never know when they might come in handy. Always keep a simple text editor open, like Notepad on Windows, so you can tap stuff in as it occurs to you. Keep a notebook. Use an email account as an idea store, or a service like BackPack, PBwiki or Stikipad. Ideas for blog posts can come from anywhere, from a conversation, an email, a book, a magazine or newspaper. Keep your eyes open and keep a way of recording what you see handy.

Have a separate link blog, or use a service like del.icio.us, that you can post quick links to interesting articles on. This has a dual advantage – you can save items for later viewing, and you provide your readers with details on what you’re reading, offering them an insight on your perspective and where you are coming from.

7. Make sure your presentation is good

Some people disagree on the need for good spelling or grammar, but I think it’s essential. I find it puts me off reading, as all I can think about is the mutilation of the English language in front of me. It’s true that the brain tends to skip some spelling mistakes, and no-one is error free, but its a good idea to read stuff back to ensure it makes sense. Capitalise sentences. That’s a big one for me. Avoid swearing, it can needlessly put off readers.

Your blog site should look nice too. Regular readers will be subscribers, but to attract new readers it’s a good idea to look like you know what you are doing. Try to avoid the most common templates that are available, make yours distinctive.

Try and make your posts stand out too. If there is a relevant image available, use it. Sign up to Flickr and post your own photos. Set up a random photo generator near the top of your page, it creates interest and makes people stick around.

8. Be interesting, controversial even, but not stupid

Don’t blog about things you shouldn’t. Don’t leave yourself or (even worse) others open to personal criticism because of what you post. If you don’t fully understand an issue, don’t blog on it – yet. Read more, take in other people’s views. Don’t make yourself look an idiot. Don’t flame people. What’s the point? You can disagree with others while remaining polite. It isn’t hard. Don’t deliberately take an extreme stance to provoke reactions. The most likely effect this will have is that people will ignore you.

9. Be funny

Hey, why don’t I take my own advice?! Everything that is good has jokes. Even the most bleak books, TV shows, films have jokes in them to make them classics. Even if it’s a black, dry seam of humour, it keeps the reader interested and coming back. Another way of putting this would be Don’t be boring. Don’t take yourself, your posts or your blog too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Respond positively to criticism.

10. Stick at it

No-one’s leaving comments. No-one is trackbacking to your posts. You don’t register until the 300th page on a Google on your name. Welcome to my world! But don’t give up. Think about why you started your blog. Was it for fame and adulation? Yes. Was it to get an enormous Google PageRank? Yes. Oh. Well, that isn’t going to happen, at least for a long, long time, or until you get a job at Microsoft or Google. Instead, focus on the smaller positives. Maintaining a blog keeps you in touch with friends and family who might read it. And if you only have a small number of readers, well, you owe it to them to keep going. Plus, your blog posts are improving your skills as a writer, which has to be a good thing. But most of all, you are taking part in a collaborative project, the blogosphere, which is on a quite remarkable scale. Someone, somewhere, is listening.

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Homepage change

Those of you who visit this site by the main URL, http://lgnewmedia.net, will have noticed a different layout to the homepage. Rather than jumping straight to the blog, I’ve installed a static home page, with the blog entries a mere mouseclick away. This is all part of WordPress’ inbuilt functionality.

I think this gives the site a more professional feel, and it emphasises the two other sites which provide the actual service benefit to people.

I’d appreciate any views on this!

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BlogJet: why, oh why…

BlogJet

Now, I love BlogJet. But why is it that whenever I load it up, it’s always in a small window, no matter what size it was when I closed it last?

And then, when I click to maximise the window, why ON EARTH does it shoot across the screen, and remain small?

It always takes a second click to get the window to a half decent size…

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How to write an ebook

Seth Godin has put a Squidoo lens together on writing ebooks. It contains some excellent advice:

  • Write something worth reading!
  • Put it into Word or a similar word processor.
  • Change your page layout to wide.
  • Even better, change your page size to eight inches wide and six inches high.
  • Use a legible font for the body copy. Times is fine, but boring. Don’t use something fancy.
  • Use a headline font with bravado!
  • Now, if you have a Mac, just choose, “print to PDF”.
  • If you don’t have a Mac, go buy one and repeat the previous step, or, if you must, figure out how to do that step with a PC or a Commodore 64 or whatever it is you’re using.
  • Your eBook is now basic, but done.
  • If you open it in Adobe Acrobat (not the Reader, but the for sale version) you can add hyperlinks. Recommended.

How to write an ebook

Seth Godin has put a Squidoo lens together on writing ebooks. It contains some excellent advice:

  • Write something worth reading!
  • Put it into Word or a similar word processor.
  • Change your page layout to wide.
  • Even better, change your page size to eight inches wide and six inches high.
  • Use a legible font for the body copy. Times is fine, but boring. Don’t use something fancy.
  • Use a headline font with bravado!
  • Now, if you have a Mac, just choose, “print to PDF”.
  • If you don’t have a Mac, go buy one and repeat the previous step, or, if you must, figure out how to do that step with a PC or a Commodore 64 or whatever it is you’re using.
  • Your eBook is now basic, but done.
  • If you open it in Adobe Acrobat (not the Reader, but the for sale version) you can add hyperlinks. Recommended.

Announcing LGKnowledge

Lgknowledge

I’m pretty excited about this. LGKnowledge is a new site I’ve developed to try and provide a solution to the problems that search engines produce, which I discussed in this post.

In a nutshell, that problem is that search engines – even targetted ones like LGSearch – don’t have any kind of quality control built in. It’s all done by algorithms and sheer computing grunt.

LGKnowledge aims to create a resource of web documents that have been individually selected by local government workers. That is, a link is only included if someone has previously found it useful. You can also vote on links, to ensure that the really good stuff always floats to the top.

Essentially, LGKnowledge is a bit like Digg, and to a lesser extent, del.icio.us. You can submit a link using either the site or a bookmark, add comments and tags to it, and it’s then displayed on the front page. Others can vote on it, and it will be found using the search too.

Metacalfe’s Law applies to LGKnowledge in a big way. This means that the usefulness of something increase with the number of users it has. The more people visit this site and add links, the more there will be to attract others, who then add their own value to it. So please spread the word about LGKnowledge!

What I Use

I thought it might be of use to people as an introduction to social media tools if I produced a list of some of the stuff I use on a regular basis. So here goes.

FeedDemon

I use FeedDemon to read my RSS feeds. It’s a desktop based application, rather than the browser based offerings like Google Reader or Bloglines.

BlogJet

BlogJet is an offline blog editor. It means you don’t have to use the one embedded in your blog engine, whether it be Typepad, WordPress or Blogger. I find the inteface easer to use, and generally find composing blog posts – especially lengthier ones like this – a more comfortable experience offline. Similar tools include Qumana and Zoundry – but I have always found BlogJet the easiest to use.

WordPress

WordPress is the best blog engine there is. Whether installed on your own server or hosted on WordPress.com it offers the best blend of features, speed and ease of use when compared to the others, such as Blogger and Typepad. It’s also very flexible and can be used to generate a standard website – you aren’t confined to the blog format.

FireFox

FireFox made much of social media possible. The open source web browser has countless advantages over the competition, being more secure, extensible and small than, say, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Gmail

Google Mail, or Gmail as it is more commonly known, is the best email service that has ever existed. It does so much more than any of the opposition, and does it better and faster. Just for starters: 2.8gb and rising of space to keep your emails in, tagging emails rather than putting them in folders (so you can have more than one tag per email), being able to pick up emails from other accounts, and reply from that address so the receiver doesn’t know the difference, inbuilt integration with the Google Talk IM client and instant editing of emailed documents with Google Docs and Spreadsheets. There’s more, believe me.

Basecamp

Basecamp is an online project management environment. It’s free for one project (so you just have to open lots of accounts if you don’t want to spend money) and provides shared to do lists, milestones, writeboards (a bit like wikis) and uploading and sharing documents (if you have a paid account). You can also chat live with other people on your project with an online instant messaging type environment It just works really well.

Flickr

Flickr lets you upload your photos, share them with friends, family or everyone and then post them to your blog or other website. You can comment on other people’s photos, respond to their comments to yours and join onlien groups of interest. Also, given that the option is there to publish photos under a Creative Commons licence, it’s a great resource for photos for web and other projects. Just remember to be polite and give credit where it’s due.

YouTube

YouTube is like Flickr, only with videos. You must have heard of this!

WikiSpaces

WikiSpaces is a lovely, simple hosted wiki solution. Let’s you upload files to your wikis, amongst other things. I use this for tonnes of stuff, including the LGNewMedia wiki.

Meebologo200

Lots of people use instant messaging these days, and there are loads of different systems out there: MSN/Live, AOL, Yahoo!, GoogleTalk, ICQ, Jabber… With Meebo you can use them all with one login and one system. Even better, that system runs inside a web browser, meaning you can use it anywhere – assuming you have a decent connection and browser…

Zoho

There are a few different web office applications out there. That’s right, an office application (word processor, spreadsheet, etc) inside your browser. Google is getting there with Docs and Spreadsheets, but at the moment Zoho are streets ahead.

Omnidrive

Omnidrive will let you have 1gb of online storage space for free! Also, as they let you link directly to files on the web, it makes it a perfect service for hosting podcasts and video that isn’t suitable for YouTube. Also, if you store documents on Omnidrive (like spreadsheets or word processed files) you can open them up instantly in Zoho for editing online. Nice one! Honourable mention goes to Box.net in this category.

Technorati

The blog search space is an increasingly crowded one, but for me, Technorati still does the business. A great way to find out who is talking about the issues you are interested in and what they are saying about you.

So, that’s a pretty quick run through of some of the stuff I use. Fellow bloggers, why not let us all know what you use? Tag your post in Technorati with ‘whatiuse’ so we can find out!

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