Monthly Archives: February 2009

It isn’t just government…

…that is struggling with some of this stuff.

Take a look at Phil Bradley’s marvellous post, railing against the attitudes of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals):

The next section really did make my jaw drop. “In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like (sic) – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.” This is a classic ‘ownership’ issue – if we say it’s real then it’s real, and if we say it isn’t real, then it’s not. If I’m in a CILIP sanctioned space (whatever that is!) do my words and arguments take on more meaning than if I’m not? Or perhaps I need to have an official CILIP representative to add some gravitas to my comments? We don’t live in a world when the organization or PR department can control the message any longer – things have moved on, and the webpage/site, while important, is no longer the sole place in which activity can take place.

Looks like another good example for David’s (and others) membership project.

Remind us of your views, again?

I wrote a little while back about a fairly terrible website being used by Cambridgeshire’s Transport Commission to consult people on their views.

Cambridge News now reports:

A PROBE into Cambridgeshire’s transport crisis – including the idea of a congestion charge for Cambridge – has been hit by a technical blunder.

The chairman of the Cambridgeshire Transport Commission, Sir Brian Briscoe, has revealed the commission’s website has been affected by “initial teething problems”.

The result is that some of the responses to the commission’s request for people’s views on how to tackle the traffic issue have been lost.

People are now being contacted to resubmit their views. Let’s hope they can be bothered.

Oh dear oh dear. I found out that this website cost the sum of ÂŁ2,990 to produce. Now, that might not sound like a huge amount, but for a microsite like this it’s a sizable budget. What the Transport Commission got for their money was – frankly – piss poor, and it now turns out that it doesn’t even work properly.

DavePress redux

I’m currently having a good sort out of this blog – and will be relaunching it with quite a few changes in the near future.

I have found that running a self-hosted blog is a bit like running a PC, in that it gets clogged up with stuff that you install and then don’t use any more, you end up with files all over the place which aren’t very well managed, and then there is the look and feel of the thing, which I’ve never felt I have got just right.

You don’t need to worry about things going wobbly on the site though, as I am working on a local copy, running on my MacBook. This is through the joy of a brilliant little app called MAMP, which covers all the difficult stuff of getting Apache, PHP and MySQL running on the Mac.

With MAMP, all you have to do is download and install it, then start it up. It gives you instant and easy access to turning local servers on and off, creating and editing databases and all sorts. It really makes the whole process ridiculously easy.

For Windows users, there are equivalent apps like XAMPP, though not having used it I couldn’t vouch for how good it is!

So, for my local development of DavePress, I have locally installed a fresh WordPress 2.7.1, and then used the import function to pull in my posts and pages from the current version.

I did this rather than just import the whole database because there are tables in the current setup for plugins I no longer use, etc, and I want to keep things fresh where I can.

I’ve also installed the base theme I will be using, which will be Thesis, an extremely customisable theme which has had some great reviews from respected WordPress guys like Neville. I’ll be tweaking it to make it a bit more personal to me, and adding in plugins as I need them.

Another big job is to find all the images I have inserted into posts and make sure they are either a part of WordPress’ media manager or on Flickr. At the moment, files are all over the place: in different folders on the DavePress server, on Skitch, other image hosting services, on other websites where I have pinched them from… Having all photos on Flickr and other images inside my WordPress file structure will make managing my images and backing them up an awful lot easier.

Finally I want to take another look at the various static pages of content here – like About, Services, Resources etc – and give them a rewrite and make the whole site a bit more useful and professional.

This all means it may be a little while before I can relaunch this site, not least because it all has to be fitted round my proper work. Hopefully it will be worth it though!

Simon Wakeman: Local gov shoudn’t be on Facebook

Simon Wakeman has a thought-provoking post on whether Councils should maintain corporate presences in social networking sites like Facebook at all:

People using social networks befriend (or fan, whatever the appropriate phrase is) organisations, movements, clubs etc on Facebook and other social networks because they have an emotional bond of some description with that entity.

They might be fans in the muscial or film sense (eg by signing up to a band’s page), be replicating membership of an offline group (eg by signing up to a sports club’s page) or be part of a shared interest movement (eg by signing up to a campaign or political group’s page).

All of these conscious choices by individuals using social networks are done because they have some empathetic or emotional relationship with the entity to which the page belongs. They become a fan because they want to and because they care in some way.

How does this sit with a local council? In the real world I’m not convinced people have such a bond with their council as a corporate body – yes, they have that emotional or empathetic reaction about many of the services that their local council provides them, but not about the council as a whole. There’s no real world basis for the creation of an online community.

As Liz’s research shows, one can see where Simon is coming from. Councils, at the moment, are not fairing terribly well on social networks.

I’d agree, as I have noted before, that making people become friends or fans of public bodies probably isn’t going to work. I commented on Simon’s piece:

However, there is a convincing argument for me that public bodies should be providing information to people in a format and in a location that suits them. There are many people who wouldn’t ever dream of visiting a council website who none-the-less might find the information available there useful. The trick is to present that information where they are likely to find it.

I think I’ve identified a way in which local authority, indeed any government organisation, can approach Facebook presence in a way that won’t embarrass those that use it. More soon.

Bookmarks for February 9th through February 25th

Stuff I have bookmarked for February 9th through February 25th:

LocalGovCamp update

A few things have been happening behind the scenes, and I think it is about time that LocalGovCamp was ‘officially’ launched in some way. I guess this is it.

Localgovcamp

The event will probably take place in June, probably in Birmingham but definitely on a Saturday.

All the plotting and planning will take place on the blog, so do make sure you subscribe to the RSS or the email alerts.

Once we have a few of the basics sorted out we can start focusing on some of the fun stuff, like what people want to hear, what they want to talk about and who will be ordering the pizzas.

Friendless council

A tweet from the Public Sector Forums Twitter feed alerted me to this story of Stockport Council’s Facebook presence, which, at the time the article was written, wasn’t particularly popular:

A LOCAL authority which reached out to the Facebook generation has suffered an embarrassing snub.

Stockport council set up a page on the social networking site with the aim of spreading the word about its services.

But six months on, the authority has been exposed as an online pariah – after it attracted only six ‘fans’.

I’m delighted to say that as a result of this publicity, the Council now has 46 fans – almost as many as DavePress!

What can be learned from this? That if you build it, they won’t come.

Anything that a council, or any other organisation, does on the web needs to be pushed, promoted and managed. These are the human elements which are so important in engagement excercises. An online project like this will not succeed if you just put it together and then sit back expecting people to join in droves.

This is partly an online marketing issue, and partly one of community management. I doubt there are many in local government who have these skills listed as being required for their jobs, but they are becoming more and more necessary.

There is another issue, peculiar to Facebook, which is one of vocabulary. Does anyone really want to become a ‘fan’ of their local council? Surely there is some more appropriate wording that could be used…

Real Help Now

Simon Dickson reports on the new site from the UK Government which currently aggregates news from around the country on what help is available to help businesses and individuals through the current economic difficulties.

Fundamentally, in this initial build, it’s a news aggregation site – pulling together material not just from national sources, but regional and local too. The aim is to complement the citizen- and business-facing stuff, at Directgov and BusinessLink respectively, by showing what’s actually happening on the ground, well away from Whitehall and the City.

I’m involved in the project from a content point of view, which at the moment is mainly a job of identifying content to be tagged in Delicious to appear on the site. A dashboard has been set up to monitor various news sources around the UK to make sure we pick up  a good range of stories.

Real Help Now

The site came together very quickly and is a great example of agile and flexible development. We’re hoping to be expanding it in the future to produce some original content, but at the moment it presents a nice picture of what’s going on out there.