Google tries social again


Google announced Google+ yesterday, their latest attempt at getting success in the social networking arena.

Techcrunch have a good write up of the details, but for the best coverage, it’s hard to top Steven Levy’s piece in Wired (indeed, Levy’s book on Google is also excellent reading).

Of course, Google have got this wrong before. Their list of misses is at least as long as their list of hits, and especially so in the social space – Buzz and Wave most notably.

Both products, to my mind, would have been more successful had they been marketed as enterprise applications rather than trying to get widespread consumer adoption.

Still, let’s see how Google+ works out. After all, huge numbers of people are using Google several times a day. They ought to be well placed to pick up plenty of users. This ubiquity though could stand in their way, as Tom Coates points out in a tweet:

Fundamentally, Google is a utility. No one wants to hang out at their power company.

However, the team behind this at Google is a strong one. Vic Gundrota and Bradley Horowitz are industry veterans that know their onions, but possibly most important is the role of Andy Hertzfeld.

Hertzfield was on the original team that designed the software for the Apple Macintosh. Several commentators have noted that the Google+ interface seems most un-Google like, full of neat whimsical flourishes and a step away from the traditional Google utilitarian user experience.

Only time will tell if Google+ takes off. The realistic position to take is that it won’t – Facebook is as embedded in this space as Microsoft remains in the office productivity suite area. In both those cases, what will remove the incumbent is not doing something better than them, but doing something entirely different that renders them irrelevant.

I’m not sure that Google+ does that, at least not yet. But I’d advise anyone reading this blog to sign up to the service if you can, have a play and make sure you’re in position in case the market swings in the direction of Google+.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Crowd sourcing ideas with WordPress

For a customer, we at Kind of Digital have been putting together a prototype system using WordPress to crowdsource ideas from the public.

We’ve done plenty of reading about previous attempts at this sort of thing, and hopefully have avoided a few of the traps that other projects of this type have fallen into.

Our system:

  • Is completely configurable and customisable in terms of look and feel, branding etc
  • Can ask for various bits of information in the idea submitting process to help structure the contributions
  • Allows ideas to be rated and commented on by other visitors
  • Displays prominent lists of the most popular and latest ideas to be submitted
  • All content can be pre-moderated before being published
  • As it’s WordPress, you can publish other content like news or blog posts and static pages with help and other information in
  • As it’s all open source, you can pull your data out whenever you like and host it somewhere else

Right now, we’re just tidying up the prototype. I’d share the screenshots, but the branding makes it pretty obvious who the client is, so I probably shouldn’t.

However, if anyone is interested, we’re definitely planning on making it a service we can provide to other organisations, and it’ll be pretty keenly priced.

If you’d like to know more, and maybe get a private demonstration of what we have right now, drop me a line at

Yammer time

One of the most talked about sessions at last weekend’s LocalGovCamp was about Yammer.

(For those who don’t know, Yammer is basically a private version of Twitter with knobs on that works within an organisation.)

Tom Phillips, who led the session, wrote it up on the group blog:

I have a firm view, echoed by some points made by others, that while many threads on Yammer start there, bloom and fade away, a lot of conversations – as is the case on social media generally – start outside, come in, for a variety of reasons/motives, grow, and then fade. Or do they fade? There is evidence in my own work world that they often actually go offline, and often become mainstream topics in “real life”, as it were.

Here’s a video of the session (it’s on YouTube in case you can’t see it below):

Yammer certainly seems popular with a growing number of local authorities. It goes to show the potential in just making it easy for people to publish stuff to their colleagues – no need for workflows or processes.

It’s also popular because it is incredibly simple to deploy and starts out being free.

Yammer is exactly the sort of application that, left to traditional implementation styles, could take years and large amounts of money to make happen in a large organisation.

Instead, with a couple of clicks, it’s up and running. No need for a programme board, a project initiation document or milestones.

It’s an example of the way technology is changing. Anyone now has the power to roll out an enterprise-grade software package, as long as they can use a mouse and a keyboard.

The browser problem

Delib share some interesting stats on browser usage of their products.

Here you can see that IE6 is used by more than a third of our Citizen Space administrators, but only about a tenth of the total visitors. At the moment, there is clearly a need to continue supporting IE6 for our clients, but it does seem a shame when this investment could be put towards improving the user experience of the site’s end users.

What is possibly more worrying is that administrative users of Delib’s stuff (ie the folk in government) operating with IE6 and IE7 combined is 82.9%!

As Steph pointed out to me the other day, from a web designer’s point of view, IE7 isn’t much of an improvement on version 6, and Google are already dropping support for it in their web apps like Docs and Gmail.

I still really don’t understand why it would be so hard for public sector workers to have a second browser available to them, even if it’s hidden away so only the really keen can find it. The support overhead would surely be minimal.

After all, if you want people to do a good job, give them the tools they need to do them!

The Preston Social Media Toolkit

A bit of a flurry on Twitter about Preston City Council’s ‘Social Media Toolkit‘ which describes itself as

a complete guide to joining the social media revolution

It costs £199 (plus VAT).

I wish them luck. I do this stuff for living and it’s very, very hard to make money from content. Apparently newspapers and record labels are finding it tricky too.

My preferred method is to give it away, publish it for free, and gain a reputation for helpfulness and perhaps a little expertise. That reputation, somewhere down the line, turns into paid work. That’s the theory anyway.

So would I advise any councils to buy this document? Probably not. There’s plenty of free content out there – possibly on this blog, if you take the time to hunt for it.

But if it’s easy to read documents you are after, then download Social by Social and Local by Social for free. The latter is a fantastic general document on the practicalities of using social technology, and the former puts it all into the local government context beautifully.

Another read is the 21st century councillor one for that particular group of people – and I understand that it’s being refreshed at the moment.

I did put out the idea of perhaps writing something like this collaboratively, on a wiki, for the benefit of everyone, but that might not even be necessary. Maybe we just need to produce a list of links to public, freely available blog posts written by people like Dan, Carl, Sarah, Sharon, Ingrid and others (sorry if I missed you out) which already have all that info in them.

That way, newcomers have a curated list of great content that will answer most of their questions, and the authors still get the clicks and the page views, which may or may not be important to them.

Telling tales

One of my favourite sessions at LocalGovCamp was Lloyd Davis talking about his trip across the States and his upcoming project to go where the work is in the UK.

Here’s a video (if you can see it):

I speak up with a few minutes to go at the end, making the point that I am going to write about here, that the best bit about lloyd’s adventures are the stories he tells about them, whether at events like LocalGovCamp, his live shows or the blogs and videos he publishes.

Indeed, this is the lesson that public services can learn from folk like Lloyd – that having the ability to tell stories, the platforms on which to do so and the culture where stories are listened to, is really vital for an organisation to be considered healthy.

Consider feedback platforms like Patient Opinion, mentioned in the video above. It’s really a platform for service users to tell their stories and the key is that health service providers listen and act upon those stories.

Just as important though is for people working with public services to tell their stories. There are benefits internally – keeping colleagues up to date and informed; and externally – providing a human face to the world.

Telling stories shouldn’t just be something that we do with our children. Think of the best talks you have heard at conferences and other events – no doubt they will be packed with stories that contain some personal detail or humorous remark that helps you remember them.

In many ways that’s what LocalGovCamp itself should be all about. People getting together and telling stories, leaving those that hear them to take from them what they will.

Do follow Lloyd on Twitter – he is consistently entertaining and occasionally useful – and if you get the chance to offer him some work as he travels around the country, do so. You can find out what he does best here.

Innovating doesn’t mean doing something new

I’ve been a big fan of James Gardner‘s work on innovation for a while now. His blog is a great read and his Little Innovation Book is a fantastic run down of the things you need to know.

His new book is going to be called Sidestep and Twist and it’s main point is that the big, impactful innovations are usually improvements or adaptations of existing ideas.

So you don’t need to be first with an idea, you just need to be able to execute well. Think iPod – not the first MP3 player by a long shot, but it was better than the others and made such devices mainstream.

In this video, James gives a really thought provoking thirty minute-odd talk about this idea. It’s well worth watching:

If you can’t see the video, you’ll find it on YouTube.