Content so good you’d pay for it

Picture of a typewriter.

I’m a massive fan of the writing of Ben Thompson – and so should you be. The analysis he provides on his blog is superb – and it’s free!

Interestingly, he also provides extra content for a fee – a daily email with even more in depth analysis of the technology topics of the day. Just $10 a month, or $100 for the whole year. Members also get access to a forum where you can chat to Ben and others who are interested in his work.

I subscribe – the extra content is great, the forum helpful, but more than anything, I want to support this guy to keep doing great work.

Ben posted recently that he has broken through the magic barrier of 1,000 paying subscribers. 1,000 True Fans is the title of a post by Kevin Kelly outlining how the long tail of the internet means that focused, high quality niche communities can be financially sustainable.

So, 1,000 members doesn’t sound like a lot, relative to all the people on the Internet, or the memberships of supersites like Facebook or Twitter. But 1,000 people paying $100 a year is $100,000 a year! To do a thing you love doing! Add in a few consulting days a month and there’s a good living to be made.

I’ve written before about how I would love to find a way to be able to just live off content creation. After all, I have this blog, with thousands of readers, an email newsletter with over 700 people subscribed, a reasonably popular podcast, and my webinars seem to go down well too.

Of course, it’s hard work. I’d imagine the pressure can build up when you have to produce really great content every single day. Figuring out what people might pay for and what they would expect for free isn’t easy either.

But it is super-interesting to know that to make a living as an independent is achievable and that you don’t need to have Buzzfeed levels of traffic to do it.

Do we want everyone to get online?

I had a very interesting time at the Digital Evolution unconference and networking evening this week – wonderfully hosted by the Tinder Foundation and Google and with the irrepressible Will Perrin at the helm.

Sadly I couldn’t make it to the proper conference the next day, but the buzz around the event was amazing and Helen Milner and her team can take credit for reinvigorating the conversation around digital inclusion.

Anyway, back to the unconference.

The first discussion I took part in focused on digital policy, particularly from the government side of things, and the question was that posed in the title of this post: do we want everyone to get online?

I’m not sure that we do, at least, not when the question is framed in that way.

Who is ‘we’? Who is ‘everyone’? What is meant by ‘online’?

For me, getting everyone online is not a sensible policy objective. It doesn’t really make an awful lot of sense. Where are the outcomes?

Speaking for myself, I’d like us to have a society where nobody is disadvantaged because they lack the ability to access information or services – whatever the platform.

So for me the emphasis must be on human beings and making their lives better, more fulfilling, and ensuring their interactions with government and businesses are as stress and hassle free as they can be.

The internet is a ever more important platform for the delivery of information and services. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone should be using it for everything. Even if you have great internet access and skills, for some things a non-digital approach might be most appropriate.

The approach I think must always therefore be human-focused, not technology- or organisation-focused, and it should be prioritised so that those with most need are considered first, with all their complexity.

This will mean in future that the role which those currently working in digital inclusion have may shift in future, as access becomes ever closer to universal. There are some really meaty issues to be stuck into particularly around the agendas of wearables and the internet of things.

On the latter point, in the near future might we be in the position where folk are online whether they like it or not, because the paving slab they are stood on is connected to the internet, or the supermarket scans their faces before they even step into the store?

So as well as human-focused, the approach must also be constructively critical. The internet is very good at lots of things. It also brings with it challenges, particularly around privacy, but also around our relationships with organisations, which may come from cultures that do not share many values with our own (Silicon Valley, I’m looking at you).

Digital inclusion folk, by keeping laser focused on the needs of people, and by being healthily sceptical about the potential of technology can, I think, help individuals come to their own decisions about the best way they can make the most of digital and the net.

We don’t want everyone to be online. We want people to be able to make informed choices about how they live their lives, to use the net when they want to, and only when they want to, so that they may act in their own best interests, and of those they care for.

Episode 6 – Esko Reinikainen

The podcast is back, BACK, BAAAAAAAAAAACK!

I’m joined in this episode by Esko Reinikainen, of the Satori Lab.


Here’s a link to download the original mp3 file if you would like to do that.

If you would like to subscribe to the podcast in your favourite podcasting app, the feed is or you can find the podcast on iTunes.

Show notes and related links (in a slightly jumbled order):

Hope you enjoy it!

What do we need to be telling councillors about digital?

I’ve done a fair bit of councillor training on digital in the past. Every time it focuses on social media, digital engagement and how members can use the web to interact with the public.

It usually goes away, people have an interesting time and one or two actually start doing new stuff as a result.


Right now I am not convinced that this is the most helpful thing we could be doing with councillors when it comes to digital, the internet, and technology in general.

Just as the work I have been doing recently on capability with civil servants emphasises the importance of understanding the mindset and approaches of digital ways of working, the same is also true of elected members.

After all, members – particularly those with a role on the executive in their authorities – are making decisions with digital implications all the time. They are asked to signed off digital and IT strategies. They might be asked to give their OK to a big spend on the implementation of a new system. They might be signed up to a big transformation programme with a heavy emphasis on digital ways of working.

Do they really have the capability to be making these decisions? Are they asking the right questions of officers? Can they really be held accountable for decisions made which – in al truthfulness – they possibly don’t understand?

I think this is something that needs to be looked at.

The trouble is, as anyone who has been involved in member development knows, providing ‘training’ to councillors is really hard. They are very busy people who operate in a political environment. This means they have little time, and little appetite to admitting weakness or ignorance.

So I think there is something to learn here from the top of the office coaching programme that Stephen and Jason run at DH.

This is where the eight (I think) people right at the top of the organisation get one to one coaching with digital experts once a month – an opportunity to ask questions without fear of looking silly in front of colleagues, and to really dig into what relevance digital has for them and their bit of the organisation.

I’m pretty sure something like this could work very well with councillors – matching them up with digital coaches who could give up an hour a month for (say) six months to provide answers to questions, coaching and mentoring on specific topics and being a sounding board when needed.

It would be great to get people’s thoughts on whether this is a problem that needs a solution, and whether a lightweight volunteer coaching programme would work.

Lessons learned from web chatting

So yesterday I ran the ‘what next for digital engagement’ web chat.

It went ok. You can find out for yourself by checking out the archive of the chat.

In the end not that many folk turned up – but that’s not a problem, after all, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts!

However, we ran into problems with the software I used, which was CoverItLive.

CiL allows the person running the chat to moderate what people are saying. Moderating every single message can be tiresome and adds lag to the process, so I tend to just whitelist people once they have said one, sensible thing.

However, one participant decided to be mischievous and realised that they could change the name they used within the chat, and started spoofing other chatsters and posting a couple of unpleasant images.

I must admit, it’s probably the first time such a thing has happened to one of my activities.

Anyway, so what would I do next time?

1) I’ve have a look for alternatives to CoverItLive

2) I’d seriously consider moderating every message to retain control

3) I’d make sure I knew exactly how to boot people from the chat before it started. During yesterday’s chat, I didn’t know how this was done.

4) These things might work better in less open spaces with more trust, like my community.

Building my own community

Apologies for the light blogging of late. I’ve just been super busy and – if I am honest – a bit lacking in inspiration.


I’m starting a new online community based around people like you: folk who read this blog, get my newsletter and take part in my webinars.

I’m guessing that we all have quite a lot in common – problems, solutions, stories, knowledge – and that it makes sense to share what we have as a group.

Also I will be creating special content to go into this community that won’t be on my blog or other online spaces – all of which will be created based on what you, the community, ask for.

Right now for example, there’s a video tutorial explaining how digital capability is being approached at the Department of Health, where I am working at the moment.

I’m not building something huge here. My aim is to have a nice, small, manageable group of people who all contribute and help each other out. I’ll leave the empire building to others 🙂

If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, just head over to the community where you can sign up for an account.

I look forward to chatting with you!