Going hyperlocal

I had an enjoyable time on Saturday at the Talk About Local unconference, where lots of people involved in hyperlocal websites get together to share stories and experiences and to figure out answers to tricky questions.

There tends to be two angles with hyperlocal – the future of local journalism stuff which I tend to find rather dull; and then the community activist side, which is a bit more interesting.

I enjoyed the session organised by Vicky Sargent on neighbourhood planning and hyperlocals. We’re supporting a local neighbourhood plan initiative with web stuff – see A Plan for Holbeach – and of course there is our site for NALC too.

Vicky has a web tool coming out soon to support local groups in putting together neighbourhood plans – which ought to be pretty useful and I’m looking forward to seeing more on that.

Philip John – a Kind of Digital team member – ran a session proposing the Hyperlocal Alliance, which sounds like a great initiative and you can find out more about that here.

I didn’t run any sessions – I’m not really a hyperlocalist myself and was mainly in listening mode – but I have kicked off a project to openly collaborate on a hyperlocal handbook. Do join in!

Tools for writing

I use a ridiculous number of apps for writing stuff down digitally. It all depends on the context!

Rough notes, ideas and that sort of thing tend to be stored in Evernote. It’s easy, and ubiquitous and everything gets kept in one place.

Blog posts are written in MarsEdit, an offline editor. My local drafts folder is full of half-written, half-baked posts which occasionally get resurrected later on.

Any coding I have to do usually happens in BBEdit, or occasionally something like Nano in a terminal window.

Proposals and other documents which I’m the only person likely to ever edit are done in Pages, and then exported to PDF for distribution. I just like the way Pages works in terms of laying things out and so on.

Documents and reports that I need to share in an editable format with colleagues or customers have to be written in Word. Since upgrading to the 2011 version on the Mac I have found myself getting angry much less!

Longer documents, such as various guides and handbooks I am working on tend to be planned using an outliner tool. My favourite at the moment is OmniOutliner.

I sometimes use a mind mapping tool to plan a document though, which is a bit more visual. My favourite mind mapping app is MindNode.

(As well as for documents, an outliner or mind mapper is really useful for planning presentations.)

For the actual writing of bigger documents, I use Scrivener. This lets you break down the document into smaller bits, which can then be dragged around and re-ordered. Scrivener then sticks it all together into one document for you when you’re ready to publish. It’s great!

Whether using OmniOutliner or MindNode, I can import my outlines into Scrivener by exporting them to an OPML file, which then loads into Scrivener, giving me all the headings under which I need to bash text.

One type of editor that I don’t find myself using are the stripped down, distraction free apps like Writeroom or Byword.

What apps do you use for writing?

Planning for Councillors

A nice little project this, that we developed for our friends at NALC. It’s a site introducing some of the issues around planning, particularly aimed at parish councillors.

We did the design and built the WordPress template, while the guys at NALC provided the content for us to build the pages.

The purpose of the site is really to drive traffic to NALC’s e-learning platform (provided by my good chums at Learning Pool) as well as to other online learning resources about planning.

We wanted the site to have a nice and bright, informal feel that perhaps not many websites in this particular sector tend to feature, and are pretty pleased with the results!

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Share your own knowledge, bring your own app

Interesting post from Steve Dale – taking a slightly different approach to the use of social tools within the workplace (see ‘social business’ or ‘enterprise 2.0’ ad nauseam) where he focuses instead on the concept of ‘personal knowledge management’.

In order to develop a true learning organisation, staff need to be given much more freedom to use the tools, facilities, applications and networks that they have chosen. After all they are far closer to the issues, problems and potential solutions associated with their work than a CIO, a CFO or head of L&D. It is my firm belief that social learning and personal development requires a shift from hierarchies to networks, and empowerment of the workforce to choose the tools they need to do the job. Organisation that can’t or won’t grasp this paradigm shift will struggle to attract and retain talent, and will struggle to survive against more agile and adaptable businesses that do.

It’s interesting that it’s Steve saying this – because he was the guy who did such great work designing and promoting the LGID’s Communities of Practice platform – and it’s such a shame to see the momentum that project created being lost in the transition to the supposedly superior Knowledge Hub.

Steve’s thinking in this latest post seems to be that perhaps the community based approach to learning doesn’t work so well in an age of smaller and more personal technology. I agree.

How do I know which community I should join to share a certain bit of knowledge? Better surely to just share it, using the tool I am most comfortable with, and let people find it who need to.

This ties into what I said in a post a little while back on why internal use of social hasn’t really kicked off:

Much is made of the fact that due to the consumerisation of technology, workers are more likely to expect that social tools are available to them at work. I’d agree with this, but I think it is more likely that they expect and desire to use tools of their own choosing and not some corporately imposed knowledge management solution.

In other words, I suspect in this area employees would want to use the tools they like using, for their own purposes. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’m not suggesting that people just want to waste time, or spend their working day expanding their LinkedIn network – but I do think it more important that organisations allow staff access to the tools they want to do their jobs, and then find a way of managing it all – as opposed to procuring a big system to do ‘social’ and assuming people will want to use it.

I can’t help but think that it is a shame that so few organisations within the sectors I hold dear have taken up the baton of using new technology to foster knowledge sharing, more effective management of projects and generally smarter working.

Perhaps in an age of ‘bring your own device‘, bring your own apps isn’t far behind.

iPads and apps

I’ve been playing with a new iPad recently – and I love it. The screen resolution on these things literally has to be seen to be believed.

I had an original iPad before – the one without a camera – and it was also a wifi only one, without a mobile data plan. The result of this was that I rarely took it out of the house. My new one has a 3G connection, which means it’ll get online anywhere with a decent mobile signal.

This latter fact means I’m more likely to break Briggs’ Law – which states that it’s impossible to use a tablet computer in public without looking like a twerp.

Anyway, here’s my home screen with my most used apps. Let’s have a look at what I’ve been using, going through the rows from top to bottom and left to right.

WordPress – mainly for managing this blog, and if I’m honest for moderating comments and so on, rather than writing posts.

Calendar – I occasionally look at this, it seems to sync reasonably with my Google calendar.

Maps – handy for planning trips and so on.

Basecamp – not a native app but a web app whose bookmark I’ve saved to the home screen. Helps keep on track of projects.

Evernote – my favourite note keeping app which syncs nicely with the website and the app on my laptop.

Articles – a client for WikiPedia which seems to work quicker and formats more nicely than the website.

Remote – I can control my stereo in the lounge using this app.

WriteRoom – a lovely distraction free text editor. great for bashing in text, but if I’m honest I tend to just use Evernote.

Photos – for, you know, looking at photos.

RTM – Remember the Milk is a dead simple app for managing and syncing to do lists.

Camera – takes photos.

Draft – very simple app for drawing things with your finger, particularly outlines for website wireframes and so on.

iPlayer – it’s brilliant being able to watch BBC shows on this. It upsets me sometimes that my son doesn’t realise how magical it is!

iAnnotate PDF – I tried a few apps for annotating PDFs and this seems the best. Great for meetings – no printing required! I can type notes, highlight bits, scribble and doodle to my heart’s content.

Instapaper – if I see something online I want to read later, I can save it to Instapaper and pick it up later on, formatted beautifully for the iPad.

Mindnode – simple way of drawing mind maps.

Dropbox – the easiest way of getting documents to and from an iPad in my experience.

Reeder – my RSS reader of choice. Beautiful design and easy to use – and syncs with Google Reader.

OmniOutliner – I don’t tend to type too much on the iPad but I do like to plan documents using it, and an outliner is a great tool for that.

OmniFocus – the Rolls Royce of iPad todo list apps. Having played with it, it’s too much for me and RTM suits me better. To be replaced on my home screen by something new, soon, I’m sure!

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Every government project should be a Project WIP

I love Project WIP – Shropshire Council’s blog about their efforts to redesign their website.

It’s got a great tone and style, is useful and interactive and gives people a chance to know what is going on behind the scenes, and to get involved too.

It’s also really helpful – take their latest post about responsive design and DPI as an example.

Camden Council did something similar with their web rebuild too.

Why just website projects though? Why aren’t all government projects reported on in the open, via a blog?

It would increase transparency, allow for interested folk to contribute from the outside and open up the teams involved to all kinds of goodwill.

Avoiding hyperlocal tragedy

From Rich Millington, in his post “The Tragic Story Of Hyperlocal Communities“:

If we want to build hyperlocal communities, we have to change the way we think about them. This isn’t a technology problem to solve (Facebook-style). Enabling everyone to start a hyperlocal community wont make it happen. This isn’t a content problem to solve (local news style). Pulling in RSS feeds and encouraging user generated content wont solve the problem.

What we need is a genuine community building approach. You identify your first members, initiate discussions, invite members to participate in those discussions, write content about what’s happening in the community, and repeat as you grow.