Category Archives: blogs

Why writing helps

One of the things that I love about being a blogger is the encouragement it gives me to write.

Writing helps.

It’s fair to say, I think, that if you want to get good at something, then writing about it is a key part of the learning process.

You don’t even have to do it online, or even on a computer. Having a notebook you can put thoughts and reflections down in on a regular basis will do wonders for you in terms of thinking through problems and assessing what you are doing.

If you have an idea for something, making yourself write it down, think about the words you use and how you articulate it, will help you spot what’s good and what’s not so good about it.

As I said, you don’t have to do this on a blog. But there’s an advantage to sharing your writing online.

It adds another level of thinking critically about your writing. Knowing that other people could well be reading makes you think a bit more about each phrase and each sentence. It sanity checks your ideas – if you’re embarrassed to be blogging about it, maybe it’s not such a great solution to your problem.

This obviously works for individuals, but it works for teams too, and organisations. Share with people what you are thinking and what you are doing. Force yourself to articulate it in terms that will be clear to those that are reading them.

It will help improve your work and your understanding – even if nobody else ever reads it.

WorkSmart!

worksmartJust to let Kind of Digital readers know about a new blog I’ve launched, called WorkSmart.

It’s all about how we work in organisations and will cover stuff like use of technology for personal productivity and better team working, and also other non-techy tools and tips and thoughts on organisational culture.

You can follow WorkSmart in a number of ways:

I’m also trying something a bit different with the site itself. I’m offering a free membership system on the blog, which gets you the email newsletter but also access to member only resources which I will be adding over time. If there’s demand I might also add some kind of community forum – but we’ll see.

In the meantime though, do check the blog out – there’s a few interesting posts up there already – and subscribe using whichever is your preferred method.

Government Digital Service blog, and e-petitions

The new Government Digital Service, the part of the Cabinet Office tasked with taking forward various elements of the digital agenda in Whitehall (and beyond) has a new blog.

Very nice it is too, and anyone with an interest in online innovation in public services really ought to subscribe. Simon has some background on the blog’s setup.

Simon also refers to the first project coming out of the GDS, with involvement from the Government skunkworks team of under the radar innovators, headed up by Mark O’Neill, is the return of e-petitions to central government.

E-petitions were originally on the Number 10 website, where I used to have an awful lot of fun moderating the damn things during my stint there. Now they are on the DirectGov domain.

Interestingly, the e-petitions system is using a new system, developed in the Ruby on Rails framework, rather than using an existing project like the MySociety system, or indeed WordPress which was used by Kind of Digital’s WP guru Andrew Beeken to build a petitioning system for Lincoln Council.

One issue with the e-petitions system I picked up quickly, as did others was the fact that it now requires the user to select which is the relevant government department to deal with the petition. As Stefan writes:

An eager e-petitioner clicks the button to start the process and finds themselves with a simple form to complete. The first task is to give the petition a title. Pretty straightforward. The second is to identify the ‘Department that looks after your issue’. That’s a poser. There is a drop down list. There is a link to a page which explains which department does what. But the list is of ministerial departments and the help page gives little more than mission statements. Many of the bits of government which people have at least some understanding of don’t appear at all – there is no HMRC, no DVLA, no NHS, no Jobcentre Plus. Might a petition be appropriately directed to the Scotland Office, or should it go to the Scottish Government instead?

It sounds like this is being worked on to fix – but I’d argue this is a major barrier to participation and probably needs to be fixed if e-petitions are to have a significant impact.

I’ve written before about my view of e-petitions – they’re a blunt object and the process questions they raise are far trickier than the technological issues. One of the first petitions to be submitted was by the blogger Guido Fawkes, demanding the return of capital punishment for certain crimes.

As Anthony writes:

What will it tell us, and tell the Parliamentarians who have to then debate the issue?

That lots of people support the death penalty? We know that – most polls (though not all polls, as Guido claims) show that a little over half of people still support the death penalty, though the number has declined over the years.

That a hundred thousand people want hanging back enough to fill in an online form? What does that add to the knowledge that twenty-five million or so want it across the country?

And what if Parliament debates the issue and rejects it by a large margin (as happened in the ’80s and ’90s)? Will signers, and Guido, go away happy that the issue has been given a good airing in the democratic forum of the nation? Or will it just be used as another example of the perfidy of elected politicians in refusing to do what fifteen-hundredths of one percent of the Great British People tell them to do?

In which case, what’s the point?

Workblogging

Euan Semple wrote a short post the other day that really caught my eye. Here it is in full (hopefully he doesn’t mind!):

A business where everyone blogs. Everyone thinks about what they are doing and writes about what they are doing. From the top to the bottom, the edges to the middle. Everyone awake and bouncing off each other intellectually as they get more and more effective at whatever they do.

Now, Euan is a great thinker, writer, speaker and doer in the world of deploying social technology in organisations to make them work better. He was one of my first inspirations when I first started getting into this stuff seven years ago or so. He’s still writing great challenging stuff and sparking new ideas.

Because, of course, while blogging – one of the oldest forms of social media – may have been overtaken by social networking, status updating and location services in the fashion stakes, it remains one of the most powerful and useful methods of online interaction that exists.

After all, there’s no way I would be sat here, running my own business, doing what I love, were it not for the fact that I started blogging however many years ago it was.

Indeed, given that we seem to have a knowledge economy these days, how does an individual promote what it is that they know to the outside world? I’m not sure there’s a better vehicle than a blog, to be honest.

But it’s not just about personal gain and career enhancement. Having employees blog, as Euan states, has a great impact on organisations. Whether the blogs are out there on the web or just run internally, having people thinking and writing about their work means they get better at their jobs, and with everyone knowing what everyone else does, collaboration, knowledge sharing and silo-busting becomes a reality.

A perfect blog post

Evan Davis

Evan Davis, BBC News’ economics guy, has a pretty good blog called Evanomics (nice). Yesterday he posted on the hot topic of the moment, private equity. And as a blog post, for me it is pretty close to perfect.

For those that do not feel they know what private equity is all about, let me offer a few arguments on both sides.

First an explanation. Private equity is quite simple. Investors borrow money (from banks); they usually add a little of their own and use the cash to buy companies. Often the companies they buy were publicly-owned – in the sense that a large number of relatively anonymous shareholders buy and sell shares in them on the stock market – and once bought, they become privately-owned, in that their shares are no longer traded.

Davis provides explanation and opinion, facts and commentary. Despite reading articles every day in the papers about private equity, I never understood as fully as I do know after reading this post.

It’s a great template for new bloggers in terms of style and content.

Hospital Waiting Room Blogging?

Iain Dale points to something which I thought would be very interesting:

If you want to know why the NHS is in an administrative mess read THIS post on the 2020health.org site. It is a live ‘waiting room’ blog.

Although, it’s not quite that, rather a what appears to be a static news article at 2020health.org.

It certainly brings home the utter hopelessness of hanging around, waiting in hospitals:

It seems that in order not to breach the waiting time target, clinics like these are quadruple booked. 200 patients were booked in this afternoon with no increase in the four doctors usually on duty as when there are 50 patients. I’ve been handed a copy of the complaint form to fill in – they have a ready supply. Yet most people around me declined the form, preferring to moan rather than write.

Now here’s a thought, though. Rather than feedback or complaint forms, what if hospitals, and other public sector service deliverers, provided a platform for views to be provided, whether through a blog or some other medium, allowing for instant airing of views but also the opportunity for others to respond in real time?

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Movable Type now Open Source

Movable Type

Movable Type is the blogging engine used by TypePad blogs, and is available for download and installation on your own server. Think of the relationship between the two being like WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

Movable Type and TypePad (as well as LiveJournal and Vox) are owned by Six Apart, which was a pioneer in blogging platforms – TypePad was for a long time the ‘serious’ bloggers’ choice of system. That was until Six Apart introduced a licensing agreement which turned many bloggers off (check out some of the comments to this post) – and helped WordPress become the major player it is now.

Anyhow, Six Apart have now backtracked a little bit on this, and are opening up the Movable Type platform for version 4 of the software, launching a new site in the process. Their claim is that the position of the other Six Apart products means that this is now a viable proposition:

Six Apart

It will still be possible to buy Movable Type – a professionally supported version can be purchased.

MT4 has some extremely interesting features, including social networking elements, as discussed at TechCrunch:

MT4 as social media platform allows users to turn their readers into communities through Movable Type’s new community management features, with the ability to give users the right to post, add and share rich text and media posts with photos, videos, and audio. MT4 also includes a new ratings framework that enables a variety of recommendation features.

These are interesting times, and while I have never been tempted by MT (it runs on PERL, which I don’t understand) it opens up the possibilities for either individual bloggers, or those wanting to create blog communities.

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Is Public Sector Blogging Possible?

There has been a mini-storm this weekend in the UK public sector blogosphere about whether or not it’s actually possible for people working for the government can actually blog in any meaningful way without fear of reprisals, whether from their employer or in the press.

The issue in question is about a post written by one Owen Barder, a Whitehall civil servant who wrote a post that has been picked up by the Mail on Sunday in, one might say, typically hysterical fashion. You can read some views on the debate here, here and here.

My personal view is that Barder’s post, which compared George Bush to Hitler, was ill-advised for a number of reasons. One is that comparing anyone to Hitler outside a 6th form debating society is pretty daft; another that when one is blogging about an issue close to one’s day job, it’s important to be careful with the way one words things. This links into the eighth blogging tip I wrote about here:

Don’t blog about things you shouldn’t. Don’t leave yourself or (even worse) others open to personal criticism because of what you post. If you don’t fully understand an issue, don’t blog on it – yet. Read more, take in other people’s views. Don’t make yourself look an idiot. Don’t flame people. What’s the point? You can disagree with others while remaining polite. It isn’t hard. Don’t deliberately take an extreme stance to provoke reactions. The most likely effect this will have is that people will ignore you.

It’s important that people working within the public sector have the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience through blogging, if they choose to. But, just as with any employee, they have to ensure that what they blog about, and the tone in which they do it, won’t impact negatively on their employer.

There’s possibly an issue here about whether public sector blogs work better behind a password, like those on IDeA’s CoPs. Of course, this means the general public misses out.

I’m planning a local government blogging platform, and in it blogs can be set to be private or public on a post by post basis. But at the end of the day, the best method of ensuring that blog posts don’t cause an unwanted publicity storm is simple common sense.

Update: A couple of comments have revealed the truth of what was in Owen’s post – which I haven’t had the chance to see because his blog is down. It turns out that all he did was quote a Guardian article, where the offending comparison was made. Given this turn of events, it’s clear that the Mail had a particular axe to grind with this particular blogger.

Would such a blatent and inaccurate smear have been made against someone writing within the mainstream media? I guess not. The question in my post is still valid – but takes a different tone, I think. Is it possible for public sector workers to blog when their words are twisted in such a fashion by those who have an interest in discrediting them?

WordPress 2.2

WordPress

There’s a new version of WordPress out for those who host their own blogs. The main change seems to be the incorporation of the widgets plugin as a part of the base code. Dougal Campbell lists the main changes:

  • Atom feeds updated to Atom 1.0
  • Preliminary support for Atom Publishing Protocol
  • Widgets are now supported in core
  • Protection against activating broken plugins
  • “Deactivate All Plugins” button. Sadly, my “Reactivate All Plugins” patch didn’t make it into this release. Hopefully you’ll see it in WP 2.3.
  • Improvements to comment management
  • Code optimizations and speedups
  • Future WYSIWYG support for the Safari browser
  • Post Preview moved into a popup window, rather than an iframe on the Write page
  • WordPress-specific XMLRPC API
  • JQuery support

This is a great advance for WordPress, as drag and rop layout editing is a feature of other blogging systems. Am nervous about upgrading though – as I already use the widgts plugin – will this just override everything I have already set up?

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