Digital mentor update

Just a quick post for those who are interested in the digital mentor role which was mooted in the Communities in Control white paper. There has been a terrific response in the comments on my post on the subject, from people in the third sector, local government, education and a few interested individuals too. Thanks to all for those.

The questions that are being asked go right to the core of the issues:

  • Who are the digital mentors supposed to be? Volunteers? Local government officers? Paid individuals? Charity groups?
  • What are they meant to do? Is it just around upskilling people in digital media – or is there a role to connecting people to local services and democratic engagement online too?
  • How are they meant to achieve this – through online training, workshops, or printed stuff? How will it be paid for?
  • When are the digital mentors to start working?
  • Where will the pilots be?

I have started making a few enquiries to find out who knows what about the development of the role, and to see if there is some way we can all have an input into the process. If anybody has any ideas, do leave them in the comments here.

Stratford Bin Calendar

Not the most enticing of titles, possibly, but Stratford-on-Avon Council have launched a neat new service allowing people to easily look up when their bins should be collected (strikes permitting, of course) without the need for scanning long tables of towns, roads and dates. They announced it on their twitter feed.

You simple tell the system whereabouts in the district you live, and it tells you when your waste is collected. Easy.

My iPhone Apps

Since the iPhone has allowed the installation of third party apps, the utility of the device has increased massively. It just does so much! Here are the ones I find myself using most often:

  • Twitterific – The best twitter client I have used on the iPhone so far. I am still a Twhirl fan on the mac itself, but that isn’t mobile just yet. Still using the ad-supported one, think they made a mistake when they designed the ads to be so easy to ignore!
  • Facebook – the only way I really use Facebook these days. Speeds things up a treat compared to the web version, and the inbuilt messaging service works really well
  • WordPress – only posted once (last night’s test message) using this so far, but it’s great for writing little drafts or notes for potential posts and getting them started
  • EndEvernote – the iPhone app helped me ‘get’ what Evernote could be used for. It allows me to take photos, record snatches of audio or type notes all of which get synced to the EndEvernote desktop app where they can then be exported and used for stuff. I can see myself ditching my Moleskeine for this soon.
  • Google – makes search quicker and easier, and also allows access to other apps, even allowing me to use my Google Apps stuff.
  • Super Monkey Ball – brilliant for quick games here and there, even though I am HOPELESS at it

What other great apps are there I should be using?

Quick and easy consultation with PBwiki

I was presented with a little challenge last week at work. There was a requirement to change the information provided on various pieces of data, and to do this around 100 forms had been produced with the new information on, one for each field, and the aim was to get these forms in front of a selection of people so we could get their feedback on them.

This presented a number of challenges:

  • Emailing out all the forms to people would probably bring down the mail server, and would make it confusing for consultees to manage, and very difficult for us to organise the responses
  • Putting the forms on a network drive would undoubtedly have issues around access, and again responses would need to be emailed which would be a pain
  • Printing all the forms out multiple times would be rather wasteful, and once more collating responses would be nightmarish

So, the solution was devised to put all the forms on a wiki, one per page, and allow consultees to be able to edit the page to leave their feedback. This means that there is only one copy of each form online, and everyone reads the same one, and all the responses will be on the same page, so the collation will be done for us. Of course, the word ‘wiki’ wasn’t actually mentioned – it was just referred to as ‘a website’…

There are of course quite a few different wikis available. The short term nature of this exercise meant that a hosted solution would be best in terms of the speed at which it could be put together, and usually at this point I would be reaching straight for WikiSpaces. Instead, though, I went for PBwiki.

The main reason for this is the way people access the wiki. With WikiSpaces, consultees would have to first create an account with the site, then request to join the wiki and only once allowed in could they edit the pages. Not having any access control was out of the question. But PBwiki has a cool access restriction, which makes it possible for anyone who knows a common password to be able to edit the wiki. This was perfect to us, as we could email all the consultees with instructions and the password. Perfect.

This proves quite an interesting point – that even once you have identified the precise tool, it takes some serious consideration to decide precisely which platform you want to use. Also, while it’s good to have favourites, don’t let familiarity blind you to what other services have to offer.


MobileMe is a new version of pretty established service from Apple, called .Mac. Essentially, it puts bits of information that are stored on your computer or iPhone, and stores them online for you. This works, because it means that both your computer and iPhone can sync themselves using the online version, meaning they are both up to date pretty much all the time.

At the moment I am doing this just with my calendar and contacts, and just with these services, it’s really useful. Say I put a new entry in my calendar on my MacBook: within 15 minutes it will be on my iPhone too, without having to plug the two together, or having to press any buttons. Excellent!

There’s more, though, which I am going to explore – including hosting files online, thus making them accessible from anywhere. This is through the web interface, which allows you to see your files, calendar, contacts and email (if you use the email address supplied with MobileMe – I don’t bother, personally). I am having a few problems with the website at the moment – it isn’t letting me log in, which is a shame. But the fact that the syncing works is great for me.

MobileMe isn’t free, and if I can’t log into the website soon, I am going to be pretty annoyed. The cost is about £60 a year, which I think is worth it just for the syncing alone.