I attended my first Tuttle Club on Friday morning, and it was well worth having a day off work and the train fare down to London, not least because I got to meet Neville Hobson in person, finally, after several years on chatting online. We spent a happy time talking mobile devices, video, and Qik, with Tim Davies. Tim had some great thoughts on how this kind of content creation can be used to draw young people into greater levels of participation. It has its risks, of course, but potentially great benefits too.

There was also the chance to introduce myself to Josh March, and I am eternally grateful to him for not punching me 😉 Lloyd Davis was, as always, a great host and good conversational value. Even if the Tuttle Club develops no further, as a weekly gathering of like-minded folk it can’t be beaten, and he deserves our thanks for that. Hopefully, though, things will gain more momentum and it sounds like Lloyd has a number of volunteers ready for action. With Lloyd’s vision and the enthusiasm of this remarkable community, anything is possible.

Most of my time was spent with Tim and David Wilcox, talking through ideas around increasing participation and how roles, worldviews, platforms and processes can be developed. Here Comes Everybody was mentioned, of course, and the Shirky mantra of organising without organisations is becoming central to our thinking about issues. It’s a great concept because the online isn’t necessarily given priority and the blending of offline techniques with social media will probably produce the best results. Discussions around news and journalism were interesting, especially in the light of David rebranding himself as a ‘social reporter’.

The three of us then had a chat with some ladies from Qik, the live video streaming from your Nokia people. We had a great chat recorded onto Qik which I also recorded on my traditional camcorder. I’ll bung the results up on YouTube when I get the chance. Qik is an amazing service technologically, but it also has potentially huge ramifications for citizen journalism and the setting of the news agenda. Every person with a decent Nokia phone now has a TV studio in their pockets. Amazing. I’m sure I will be writing more on this in the near future.

Tuttle Club is fab, therefore, and I’m hoping to get back down there before too long.

Getting things into the open

David Wilcox has taken the bull by the horns and created an open thread on the OpenRSA blog calling for a more collaborative approach to the discussion on jounalism being carried out on the RSA networks platform. This debate is one which takes into account trust in news media, and could also pull in issues around the role of the BBC in civic life.

I’m personally most interested in breaking out of the old media professional boundaries because I think greatest innovation – and citizen empowerment – is likely to take place as old cultures are challenged, openly. It’s time the newspeople stopped seeing those that they write for as “news users”, now we are producing a lot of our own content online.

The issue at the RSA is not one of platform – the Drupal based system used by the Networks is superb – but of worldview. David and I were the most consistent contributors to the discussion, but I felt my time there was up when a message was posted by a project leader confirming that the desire was to keep the debate ‘on topic’ and ‘informed’. As neither a journalist nor a fellow of the RSA, I guess this counted me, and anything I had to add, out.

I’ll be following the debate through the comments to David’s post, and anything else tagged with civicjournalismuk. I have my platform here, which I am happy to use to contribute with – or when the time is right for a dedicated platform to be created, I can use that – as long as it is open!

WordPress 2.5

Went live for download over the weekend. Will be having a look at it over the next day or so. Looks a great release, with some much needed improvements, including:

  • Improved admin dashboard, which can now include widgets
  • Multi-file uploads
  • Search pages as well as posts with default search facility
  • Better tag management
  • Direct plugin upgrades – just click and your plugins will be upgraded for you
  •  Improved rich-text editor
  • Built in image galleries

So, plenty of stuff to get your teeth into. Neville Hobson has some great notes on upgrading.

Why I love web 2.0

Part of the joys of the social web and the community that has built up around it is the sheer informality of the whole thing. Take this, for example: a tweet from Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic this morning:

Loic’s dogshit tweet

Now, how many chief exec’s have you heard of that broadcast messages to the world about how they have just trampled some dog poo barefoot?

Not enough in my view. Thanks for sharing, Loic!

OurPress: websites for the rest of us


OurPress is a project I have been working on for aaaages, which stalled quite badly for a while. Essentially, the idea emerged in a discussion with Nick Booth in the comments of a blog post of his. We were talking about the paucity of options available to community groups to easily create open, social websites. At first I thought of Drupal, but soon moved on from there.
I had the idea of setting something up with the multi-user version of WordPress, called WordPress”, which is what is used to run WordPress.com. Sites could be created either as blogs, or as static sites using WordPress pages. Help and guidance would be provided in getting stuff up and running, and customisation of templates would be possible, with the results being shared among the rest of the users too. I gave the idea the name OurPress, and was shocked to find the .org was still available. I snaffled it right away, as well as a few of the .whatever variants.

Then the project pretty much stalled, for two reasons. One, I forgot about it (probably because of Facebook or Twitter or something equally shiny); and two because I couldn’t find anywhere decent to host it. The trouble was that WordPress” demands that you have something called ‘wildcard DNS’ to be able to create blogs at addresses like myblog.ourpress.org (for example). The other option is to have them at ourpress.org/myblog but problems can be created with static pages having the same name as blogs and the whole thing getting confused.

However, I recently returned to looking at the project, after a chat with Shane McCracken, and in my search for a host, I hit upon gold, or rather orange, in the form of A Small Orange. ASO are a bunch of cool guys in the US who happily host pretty much anything. They were quite happy to set up the wildcard DNS for me and when I asked if I could integrate with Google Apps, someone went ahead and amended all my MX records for me! Ace stuff!

Here’s the deal with the Google Apps: I get to have 200 accounts for free, so I can pretty much offer everyone who has an OurPress blog a free email account which will be blogname@ourpress.org. When I create the email account I will also setup an OurPress branded iGoogle page which will track web responses to the blog in question, so people have that important element set up even if they haven’t heard of RSS themselves before. Also, using Sites, I will give them access to a tonne of documentation about using the OurPress platform and blogging, social media etc.

Essentially, OurPress will be a completely contained and functional online platform to run community websites. And it’ll be free.

So who might want to use OurPress?

  • Community groups, whether based around a club or a village without any resources to put into developing a website
  • Individuals who want to start a site to create a community online
  • People who want to develop a project to help communities or civic life in general
  • Individuals who want to blog about their work within the community
  • Small charitable or not-for-profit organisations or projects that don’t want to invest in their own domain, hosting etc just yet
  • Local politicians, perhaps

The advantages of OurPress over, say, WordPress.com include:

  • Support in setup and running from me and anyone else who fancies getting involved (hint, hint)
  • The Google Apps integration
  • Folk will know that it is a ‘safe’ platform with no content hosted that will possibly reflect badly on them/their organisation
  • The creation of a community around all those on the platform
  • No adverts anywhere (and there are ads on WordPress.com, folks)

So where am I up to? I’ve installed WordPress” and that’s about it. I need to get a look ‘n’ feel sorted for the homepage and arrange how the sign-up process will work for new blogs, but other than that, I am more or less there. Any comments or suggestions gratefully received!

Private and public collaboration

RSA Networks

There is an interesting project underway at RSA Networks, the social network for Royal Society fellows, and, for the moment at least, anyone else who fancies joining in (that’s the category I belong to, by the way). It has been proposed by Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds, and goes by the name of the “RSA Journalism Network”:

The public’s declining trust in the news media is a worrying trend. The RSA and the Reuters Institute of Journalism are looking at how we can support the civic function of news. We’re particularly interested in how professional journalists and Fellows relate to the public’s ideas about news and what it is for.

This is a great idea, and an important and interesting area for discussion. The web is a perfect place for the coversation to be held in, of course, because online developments are a part of both the problem and the cure for the relevance of news to people’s lives.

David Wilcox has commented on his blog about this project – again supportive of it but questioning the closed nature of the discussion on the RSA Networks platform. As anyone not a member of the network will find out, when clicking my link above, you can’t see anything without first logging in.

I can’t see how it is possible to have a useful discussion about media and citizenship in an old-style walled garden. You can link out – but people outside are then forced to come to “your place” to join in. This seems particularly inappropriate on this topic, where issues are so interesting precisely because the Internet has created a public commons.

David has started a similar thread within the project space on the RSA Network too. I’m fully supportive of his stance, having been happily involved in open online collaborative projects such as the Open Innovation Exchange, RuralNetOnline, the Membership Project and the etoolkit.

It’s far better to have these conversations out in the open, where people can read and find out more before they decide to dive in, and where people can add their thoughts whether they are a member of a specific network or not. The civic role of news is something that matters to everyone, not just RSA members, or whatever.

One of the ways that the web can help us to bring conversations together is through the use of tagging. By using tags effectively, people can write about a subject on their own blogs without needing to join another platform. All you need is  way of bringing them together, easily achieved by mixing up Technorati or Google Blog Search with RSS. Services like Pageflakes or Planetaki can then be used to publish the results.

Another way is to create the new platform, but make it open, rather as David does with his Drupal-based group blogs. Anyone can join and have an input, even if it is just to point to what they have written elsewhere. Indeed, David has taken this further by incorporating a Grazr-based widget displaying relevant content from various external blogs within the Membership Project group blog. In this way, those that have a blog can write there, and those that don’t can contribute directly to the group blog.

David is actively facilitating the Membership Project by posting regular updates and transferring the points that are made in the blog posts into a project timeline and associated work packages, thereby creating outputs from the organic content created through the group blogging process. This will be vital to keep the project moving forward, and is a great example of online community facilitation.

Taking this approach would therefore create a far more useful project, or network, than the current arrangements for the  RSA Journalism Network. I think this is too important a topic for discussion to be held behind closed doors, and for the moment I would like to suggest the use of the common tag civicjournalismuk to hold the conversation together for anyone who would like to have a say. We can figure out what to do with it all later. Let’s see how our open approach can feed into and add to what’s happening within the walled garden…

Anonymity part n

I’ve lost track of how many posts I have written on anonymous blogging. It’s like picking a scab: I just can’t leave it alone. There’s a real debate going on in the comments of my last post between me and Joshua March – Josh is coming up with some interesting arguments, but I’m not swaying on this one.

I knew I had read something by Robert Scoble once about anonymity. Turns out he’s written loads. But this one stuck out for me:

…I don’t advise anyone try the anonymous route: either be straight up with your boss and everyone, or stay off the Internet.

Wise words.

How not to blog anonymously

In the wake of the Civil Serf debacle, the issue of anonymous blogging has once more raised its grubby head. I maintain that it is a dumb idea that encourages dickwadery. Most folk agree.

Some don’t however, and – more dangerously – they put this into action and start an anonymous blog themselves. Take, for example, ‘The UK Libertarian‘ which published its first and only post a few days ago. Now, the UK Libertarian isn’t pulling his or her punches. Oh no!

[Quote removed on humanitarian grounds – see the comments]

Now then, that’s not very nice! Not surprising then, with such incendiary views, that the author notes:

I’ve kept this blog anonymous so that I can shout out what I think, and I want you to shout right back at me.

I would be tempted. Only, I think that whole anonymous thing is about to come crashing down.

The thing is that the UK Libertarian is on blogger. Blogger gives you a global profile which lists all your blogs. If you want to keep a blog anonymous, then it’s a good idea to keep that blog off your profile. Bet you know what’s coming now, right?

Josh Cowan’s blogger profile

The image above is a screen grab of the Blogger profile of Josh March, who writes a blog about PR and social media called Social Marketing Strategy by Joshua (and from which his profile is linked, which is how I found it) and runs a company by the name of inetworkmarketing. It turns out Josh’s other blog is none other than…UK Libertarian! Ooerwhatagiveaway.

Let’s hope inetworkmarketing’s business plan isn’t predicated on getting any government or public sector work…

Government news via Twitter

I was musing the other day about a method of aggregating news about government in one place. Justin Kerr-Stevens – government communications consultant, barcamper and general good egg – has combined a job lot of gov news sources into a combined Twitter feed, handily called HMGOV.

I’d never considered using twitter to pull all this together. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to be a twitter user to read it, as each twitter account generates an RSS feed. Also, if people want it in their emai boxes, Justin could cobble something together in no time with FeedBurner, meaning that however people want their news delivered, he has it covered.

Great work. And in the wake of the Civil Serf affair, it’s good to see someone else working in government starting a blog. It isn’t all bad news, folks.