Monthly Archives: December 2010

Themes for 2011

2010 has been an interesting year for the internet. Where will 2011 take us? Here’s a slightly apocalyptic set of thoughts.

Wikileaks, privacy and security

Anybody who has thought for even a moment about the implications of the internet and the web will have known that something like Wikileaks was always going to happen. It was a case of when, not if.

What Wikileaks tells us is that the internet makes information free – as in speech, not necessarily as in beer. When the tools for publishing content to a worldwide audience are free, and the channels for promoting it as fast and efficient as the likes of Twitter and Facebook, it becomes pretty clear that something significant has changed.

As John Naughton wrote recently,

The only rational attitude to online systems is cautious scepticism about their security.

It forces us to question how we define security and privacy online. My take is to assume you have none, and proceed on that basis.

Culture

A further theme, in addition to questions about security, privacy and identity will be culture and the sociological effects of the information revolution.

There are a couple of elements to this. One is the idea of cloud culture, which Charles Leadbeater explored in his pamphlet. The other is along the lines of Nick Carr’s book The Shallows, based on his idea that Google is making us stupid.

I already outsource an awful lot of my memory to the internet. My dad asked me the other day if I was ok with some plans we’d arranged. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “But I emailed you about it the other day!” he exclaimed. Because I had an email, I’d forgotten all the detail within it.

Is this any different to outsourcing arithmetic to pocket calculators? I’m not sure. But when the cloud could disappear at any time, it’s good to have a backup of your online memory somewhere.

Cloud culture will continue to have an increasing role in our lives, whether we notice or not. Books are moving to the cloud, whether we read them on Kindles, phones or tablets. Services like Spotify mean we don’t even bother downloading music tracks any more.

Where next? Particular set in focus next to the cuts, where do libraries and museums fit into all of this? Can they be moved into the cloud? Sure, seeing a painting or a sculpture in real life is a better experience than seeing it on a screen, but is it so much better that people will pay for it? How do we feel about our cultural heritage being managed and curated by Amazon, Google and Apple rather than governments or charities?

It ties in neatly with one of my favourite, if very short, bits of writing about the internet and culture by the late Gordon Burn, in his book Born Yesterday:

…an aggregation of fragments is the only kind of whole we have now.

(This post gives a little more context.) Are we really only collections of shards of personality and culture? Does it matter? Even if it doesn’t, it’s good to be aware of what is happening to us.

Relevance

The cuts brings me onto my third and final theme. What do the cuts and the internet have in common? They question relevance. In a world of instant publishing, limitless availability of content and always-on connectivity, and where budgets will be cut wherever not cutting them cannot be justified, how do you stay relevant?

The circle closes here, because the Wikileaks story is a great example of how the internet reduces the cost of the distribution of information to zero, which has a significant impact on those organisations which depend on information distribution as their raison d’être.

Think of newspapers, television, and record labels. They thought they made news, programmes and music. Actually, they were in the logistics business.

The same is true of a number of roles and functions within public services, who will see a twinned and overlapping attack as a result of both the internet and the cuts. If the internet can do what you do cheaper, why are you needed?

To stay relevant, in 2011 public servants will need to reassess what they do and why they do it. Learning and Development people, for example, might currently spend a proportion of their time training people – but why, when all the information anyone needs is online? Why do we need communications professionals, when, with the tools at our fingertips, we are all communicators now?

The same could be said for an awful lot of roles within councils and other organisations. It’s going to be up to individuals to start defining their relevance over the next few months, to become facilitators and enablers, not merely doers.

Those that successfully figure this one out will come out on top, I think.

Where does social media belong?

Well done Ingrid, whose post has caused a number of interesting discussions to kick off. One is around where social media activity belongs within an organisation. She writes (on her newish personal blog, which you really ought to subscribe to)

2. Social media in local gov become the domain of Comms

A lot of comms people in local government have been resistant to social media, but 2011 marks the end of that. Hurray, you say. Danger! I say. Social media works best where it’s a conversation between real people. Comms teams work under a model of communication that facilitated messages going between monolithic entities – the council and the local newspaper. Or where it was a more disperse model, it’s the council and broadcast only mechanisms like advertising and newsletters to a passive public. This is the year that councils comms catches on to the free to use (but labour intensive) social media scene, but attempts to control the messages even more tightly.

Of course central communications must play a role, but the benefits of social media can only really be achieved when there’s a more federated model of communications. Councillors communicating more easily with their constituents. Local people sharing information among themselves and council officers sharing matters of fact and pointers to more information with local people.

Ingrid is broadly right here, and I don’t mean to be, well, mean to any of the loyal DavePress readers who work within communications teams.

The thing is, the value of social media isn’t just about communicating – it’s also about sharing, collaborating and being open. The danger in putting responsibility for all this activity in one department is that it threatens to make it a silo, something that isn’t the job for anyone else in the organisation.

This is another reason why I think the occasional appointments of ‘social media officers’ is probably misguided.

A handy analogy would be from my work in local government as a risk manager (yes, really). What I found was that an awful lot of people thought my job was to manage their risk. In fact, it was supposed to be about enabling them to manage their own risks, by providing tools and training.

The same I suspect would happen with a social media officer, or where people within a specific department (comms or elsewhere) control social media activity.

It’s vital to have champions of this activity, but try to have several, and for them to belong to different parts of the organisation to ensure no one department is seen to be in control.

There is an awful lot of good that can be done by communications teams with social media, but the opportunities in emerging web technology go far beyond marketing, PR and the like. For an organisation to get the most out of it, a more holistic approach is needed.

Top posts in 2010

As is customary at this time of year, a list of the most popular posts I’ve published here is probably in order.

  1. Oh dear, Andrew Marr…
  2. Adventures in open source land
  3. Why chief executives should blog
  4. Where next for digital engagement?
  5. That was the ukgc10 that was
  6. Social media resources for Local Government
  7. Councillors! Here’s how not to do Twitter
  8. See, local gov *can* do Facebook
  9. Google jokes
  10. Google goes for Twitter

Not a particularly interesting list, if I’m honest. The list is by the number of hits the post got, and I suspect that skews things rather.

What is interesting is that by a mile, Twitter was the biggest source of traffic here over the year, more than six times the referrals than I got from the second largest, Google Reader.

Parliamentary online petitions

So, online petitions for Parliament?

In an attempt to reduce what is seen as a disconnection between the public and parliament, ministers will ensure that the most popular petition on the government website Direct.gov.uk will be drafted as a bill. It is also planning to guarantee that petitions which reach a fixed level of support – most likely 100,000 signatures – will be guaranteed a Commons debate.

I haven’t read much online that is particularly in favour of this idea. I suspect it’s one that can be filed in the ‘doing the wrong things righter’ cupboard.

Glen Newey on the LRB blog is particularly scathing:

Now the coalition plans to outsource law-making as well. On Tuesday it signalled that it meant to bring in ‘X Factor-style’ online petitioning for new laws. This latest wheeze hails from the same stable of Mutt and Jeff populism as John Major’s cones hotline and Tony Blair’s ‘Big Conversation’. The Gould-era Blair government was hexed by the popularity of Big Brother and saw political dividends in pretending to smile on government by mouse-click. So, after the focus-pocus of the early years, in 2006 Blair launched interactive petitioning on the Number Ten website. Not much happened, apart from a little ministerial consternation when petitioners gave Douglas Alexander’s road-toll scheme a mass thumbs-down. But in general the demos itself seems to doubt whether it needs more chances to vote. John Prescott’s proposal for a North East regional assembly in 2004 drew an impressive 78 per cent ‘No’ vote.

This time, 100,000 online signatures will win a debate on the floor of the House. A new era of democracy beckons: you name it, we’ll go through the motions of considering it. Safeguards will be installed to stop the virtual parthenogenesis that, for example, allowed Christian zealots to inflate their numbers when browbeating the BBC over its screening of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Petitioners won’t be able to clone themselves, impersonate the dead, or give the dog a vote. But this won’t be enough to insulate the process from fruitcakes and jokers in the population at large, let alone in the blogosphere. Adherents of the Jewish religion registered by the 2001 UK census were easily outnumbered by some 390,000 self-confessed Jedis, a figure bloated by online gerrymandering. Hartlepudlians repeatedly elected H’Angus the monkey as mayor after he had committed an act of indecency with a blow-up doll in Blackpool.

Paul Clarke covers some of the issues around identity with his customary élan.

I’ve noticed that a few councils are now starting to go live with their own online petitioning systems, including my local council, South Holland District, with what looks like the MySociety system.

Not sure if any readers have experience of either using or administering such a system, and are keen to share them?

I spent many an unhappy hour moderating petitions on the Number 10 system, which was a generally very depressing experience, with the petitions submitted bearing a very direct correlation with the headline in the dailies Mail or Express that morning.

Whither open government in 2011?

Ingrid has published a set of five rather grim predictions for next year. Go and take a look, and make one of your new year resolutions to stop them from happening.

Here are some thoughts from me on what might happen next year. These certainly aren’t predictions, and are more hopes really.

1. Collaboration grows up

Big changes within organisations, lots of layoffs, knowledge retention becoming a big issue, a growth in partnership working and shared services, greater involvement of the civil sector in service delivery and a focus on making the most of existing talent should all point government organisations towards making better use of social technology as part of operations, through social intranets, collaborative extranets and the like.

It’s certainly something we at Learning Pool are hoping to support people with in the new year. We’re working with the Improvement Service in Scotland, supporting a project to promote agile and flexible working in councils north of the border and will be contributing to a knowledge management seminar in Scotland in February, amongst other events.

I’m also in the process of writing a guide to the use of social technology within the organisation, which I am hoping to have finished in early January!

2. Online communities are taken seriously

I’m increasingly convinced by the arguments put forward by Catherine Howe on her blog about the idea of online civic spaces. There needs to be some structure around online conversations in democracy and public service delivery – albeit not too much.

Where a number of government organisations in an area want to engage with people on a reasonably regular basis, I’d like to see them either getting involved with an existing online communities, or developing one platform for all such interactions to take place. Keep it informal, barriers to entry low, but enable a community to be built up, relationships to be formed and a body of evidence to be developed.

Rather like Let’s Talk Central, the project we worked on this year with Central Bedfordshire Council. I’d love to work on one of these on a local or regional basis, with councils, health, police, fire and rescue and other organisations on board and contributing.

3. Technology and innovation works its way up the food chain

I’m getting more requests to talk about social media and related technology to groups of senior managers and chief executives. It seems like if Ingrid’s fear that this stuff is going to get siloed into communications departments is to be prevented, it is by ensuring interest at the top of the organisation.

Language is a vital thing here. People at the top are going to be less interested in means and far more engaged by the talk of ends. Focus on benefits rather than operational details. It’s easy (but wrong) to label this activity as a frippery that’s inappropriate for these austere times – convince those at the top that it is necessary and hopefully stuff will get done.

4. A much needed focus on public sector employees

There’s much that one can disagree with Andrew DiMaio about, but one thing he has consistently got right is the need for those with an interest in reforming government to focus on the role and needs of the people who work for government, or at least those that will be left after the cuts.

A much maligned group, especially in certain sections of the media, public servants do an incredible job in increasingly difficult circumstances. They aren’t perfect, and it’s fair to say that some are much more able than others, but nonetheless they all require support and credit.

5. A revolution in local democracy

A real one from the left field from me here. This isn’t going to happen next year, or any year soon, but it’s something I have been increasingly thinking about during the last few years. The way our local leaders are selected and operate is broken and I don’t think real change can be effected until a new way of running democracy at this level is found.

It strikes me that the way things are currently done is profoundly exclusionary both in terms of the requirements of the role of councillor and the way that they do business.

Firstly, the workload of a councillor is far too great, and means that the only people with the time to do it justice are those who are retired or who for some other reason do not have to work. In other words, people are getting elected because they have the time to do the job, not because they would be good at doing it.

Another aspect of this is that councillors are expected to have an interest and knowledge across a huge range of different policy areas, which is, I think, somewhat unrealistic.

So, right now we have too few people doing too much. We need more people doing less each. So, more councillors please, who each cover fewer issues, concentrating on the stuff they are good at.

Whilst we’re at it, let’s change the way the whole thing works, with fewer meetings, more online decision making and conferencing. Fine, there are gazillions of points of process and procedure that would need working out, but it strikes me at the moment that local democracy and governance isn’t terribly strong, nor interesting, and it could do with a thorough overhaul.

OK, so this really isn’t going to happen in 2011. But I can dream…

Bookmarks for December 12th through December 30th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

GovCamp 2011 update

So another 50 tickets were released for January’s Govcamp this morning, and they went within twenty minutes. Remarkable.

There is still space, but very limited. If you want to come along, please leave your name on the waiting list. There’s only the one list, so if you email me, all I’ll do is ask you to visit that link!

Don’t panic though, as there is often churn on the list, as with any free event, so you’ll probably be able to get a space.

Steph, my main man on the GovCamp organisation, has written up a post on sponsorship of the event, and how we are hoping to use this lolly to fund all the regional and local govcamps that happen during the rest of the year. Go and check it out, and if you have some marketing spend, please give it to us. Everyone will think you’re really cool if you do.

Steph writes:

The idea behind MoreOpen is frankly somewhat ill-defined, probably because Dave and I are the people behind it. But in our vagueness, we’ve got a plan that by using some of the platforms available including the January event, this online community, and the govcamp chat in social media, we can help commercial organisations large and small to get involved in supporting the community and showing us what they can offer, without turning UKGovcamp into a cheesy, sponsor-packed conference.

In return, we’re aiming to build up some cash that we can use to help self-organised local govcamps or thematic events which aim to promote public sector collaboration, participation or transparency. We’re aiming to be able to offer some seed funds to help these events get off the ground, pay for food, venues and AV stuff, as belts continue to tighten within public sector organisations.

To answer some questions: no, it’s not a for-profit enterprise (at the moment it’s nothing at all legally-speaking, so we’re collecting sponsorship monies for UKGC11 via my limited company). No, we don’t have cash to help you run events yet, but we hope to in the New Year. Yes, it does sound a bit dodge, doesn’t it – hence our plan to recruit a small independent Board of Advisors from the Govcamp community to keep an eye on it, and us. By all means leave a comment or question below and we’ll do our best to answer it.

This slidedeck (PDF warning) explains what is in it for sponsors.

Also, as with last year, Learning Pool will be hosting some drinks on the Friday night before the big day. More soon.

When clouds don’t taste so delicious

There appears to be a considerable amount of uncertainty about the future of Delicious, the web’s preeminent social bookmarking service.

Not sure what social bookmarking is? Here’s a video:

It seems a shame that Yahoo! have been unable to find a way to make a service with plenty of active and dedicated users pay for itself. I know I would pay a few quid a month to keep it going.

Either way, the service will be sold on or shut down in the nearish future. Users are looking for alternatives, with the likelihood being that if everyone leaves, who cares what happens? It’s easy enough to export your data from Delicious, and I would recommend you do it right away.

The two options at the moment seem to be Diigo or Pinboard. The former is much more polished than the latter, so it’s a case of choosing what matters to you. There are other options discussed in this post on SearchEngineLand.

Personally, I use Delicious mainly as a publishing tool – to get the links posts published every so often here on DavePress. Most things that I save to read later go into Evernote.

Flickr?

The potentially more worrying issue here is that Yahoo! also own Flickr, the photo sharing site. Bookmarks and links are one thing, but photos entirely another. I’d always advise users of cloud services to back up your stuff locally just in case something goes wrong – it’s good practice anyway.

That’s fine for those of us who have PCs or laptops at home where you can store media locally. But what of the future of low-cost computing – like the ChromeOS netbooks I wrote about the other day, where the machines themselves have virtually no storage and everything is held on the servers of companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and, er, Yahoo!.

This is one of the implications of cloud culture, where increasingly our cultural artefacts – books, music, films, photos, art – are being stored and curated by tech companies rather than traditional publishers, museums, libraries etc. The medium is also changing of course, from physical objects to digital ones.

The book won’t disappear anytime soon, of course, nor will painting on canvas. But the everyday access and storage of this stuff will be moving online, and we all need to have a proper think about how we deal with that.

Guide to Facebook Pages for Government Organisations

My partner in crime at Learning Pool, Breda Doherty, has written an awesome guide to using Facebook pages. She introduces it below – do have a read and then download the guide!

Facebook is now used as an everyday means of communication and information source for most people, well if you agree that over 500Million active users worldwide is a fair summary of most people… The fact that the Social Networking site has continued to grow and develop since its launch in 2004 shows that it’s not likely to join lapsed Social Networking sites in the sky such as Bebo or My-Space who simply haven’t been able to compete with Facebook’s constant innovative ways to keep people talking on their platform. Whilst friends use Facebook’s Personal Profiles; bands, businesses and those with a cause to promote often use Facebook Pages to market themselves to its millions of users.

What is a Facebook Page?

A Facebook Page is a public profile that enables groups like this to share their organisation with Facebook users. It is similar in layout and functionality to a personal Facebook profile but Facebook Pages have been created with the intention that it will be used for brand promotion and discussion between those with something to sell or promote and those Facebook users interested in showing their support of these.

Facebook Users show their support for Facebook Pages through Liking their page and adding the pages they like to their own personal Facebook profile, which in turn will be seen by friends who visit their profiles

The reason all these groups  use Facebook pages is because  it’s free, easy to use and offers the opportunity to connect with large numbers of people. If Facebook didn’t work, people would simply stop using it.

Facebook Pages and Government Organisations

Government Organisations are slowly seeing the benefits offered by Facebook Pages with effective use of this seen in the page maintained by Coventry City Council. However many are still unsure of how it can fit in with their wider communication strategies and are fearful that those staff assigned to maintain their Facebook Pages will take advantage of this and spend the time chatting to friends rather than the community members the organisation is eager to engage with. There is also the same fear which many Government Organisations have about Twitter in that with one status up-date on Facebook or one Tweet on Twitter the organisation will be called into irrefutable dispute!

Facebook: A Quick Guide for People in and Around Government

To try and rely some of the worries mentioned above and which we’ve heard about first-hand through our Learning Community, Learning Pool decided to create Facebook: A Quick Guide for People In and Around Government.  The guide provides a quick overview of how to set-up a Facebook Page, useful things to bear in mind as a Government Organisation when doing so and to highlight some of the legitimate ways in which Facebook, despite being labelled as a Social Networking site can be effectively used as an engagement site between Government Organisations and the public they are finding it increasingly difficult to connect with.

The Facebook Guide complements the Twitter Guide for Government written by Dave earlier this year and also looks at how the two can be used in conjunction. Download our Facebook Guide for free here.

101 cool tools: Doodle

I haven’t done one of these for a while, sorry! Here’s the third in my series of 101 cool social media tools, it’s Doodle!

Doodle

Doodle is a neat little tool for organising when to meet groups of people. Someone starts up a Doodle poll, and lists the dates and times that are possible. They then invite everyone who needs to attend to vote by clicking on the slots they can make.

doodle-example

Doodle then highlights the date and time that the majority of people can make, and that’s your decision made.

So much easier than pinging emails back and forth with suggestions!

Don’t forget, you can follow these tips in the future on Twitter