Ning is a great platform for creating individual social networks or communities of practice. It allows you to have your own site to which people can sign up and leave blog posts, have forum discussions, upload photos and videos and publish RSS feeds. I had a play here.

It’s another example of being able to get a social site up and running quickly and freely. The only ads are Google text ones, so they aren’t really intrusive.

Another reason to pay attention to Ning is that it is backed by Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame – a man who knows his stuff.

To find out more, Scoble has a couple of videos up.

What is Social Media?

Robert Scoble asks ‘What is social media?’ Stowe Boyd answers:

  1. Social Media Is Not A Broadcast Medium: unlike traditional publishing — either online or off — social media are not organized around a one-to-many communications model.
  2. Social Media Is Many-To-Many: All social media experiments worthy of the name are conversational, and involve an open-ended discussion between author(s) and other participants, who may range from very active to relatively passive in their involvement. However, the sense of a discussion among a group of interested participants is quite distinct from the broadcast feel of the New York Times, CNN, or a corporate website circa 1995. Likewise, the cross linking that happens in the blogosphere is quite unlike what happens in conventional media.
  3. Social Media Is Open: The barriers to becoming a web publisher are amazingly low, and therefore anyone can become a publisher. And if you have something worth listening to, you can attract a large community of likeminded people who will join in the conversation you are having. [Although it is just as interesting in principle to converse with a small group of likeminded people. Social media doesn’t need to scale up to large communities to be viable or productive. The long tail is at work here.]
  4. Social Media Is Disruptive: The-people-formerly-known-as-the-audience (thank you, Jay Rosen!) are rapidly migrating away from the old-school mainstream media, away from the centrally controlled and managed model of broadcast media. They are crafting new connections between themselves, out at the edge, and are increasingly ignoring the metered and manipulated messages that centroid organizations — large media companies, multi national organizations, national governments — are pushing at them. We, the edglings, are having a conversation amongst ourselves, now; and if CNN, CEOs, or the presidential candidates want to participate they will have to put down the megaphone and sit down at the cracker barrel to have a chat. Now that millions are gathering their principal intelligence about the world and their place in it from the web, everything is going to change. And for the better.

Digital Dialogues

Simon Dickson reports on Digital Dialogues, of which the DD website explains:

The purpose of Digital Dialogues is to assess the capacity of ICT to support central government’s communication and consultation activity (principally with the public but also with internal stakeholders).

Digital Dialogues takes technology as its focus and seeks to build the capacity within central government for setting up, managing and evaluating digital technology’s contribution to promoting public participation in the policy process. Digital Dialogues has the additional objective of promoting collaboration and exchange between departments.

Just before Christmas, the Hansard Society released a report, which you can read here.

Dickson notes that:

The good news is that, perhaps predictably, the online world comes out of it pretty well. Public engagement is a good thing, and the majority of those drawn to online channels were not previously ‘engaged’; but it should be seen as a complement rather than a replacement for conventional offline methods. There’s also a fair bit on the importance of appropriate planning and ongoing management / moderation.

It all makes interesting reading.

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CoPping Off

I’ve recently started my own Community of Practice over on the I&DeA communities platform, entitled ‘Social Media and Online Collaboration’. It will be a good way of getting the message across to people who work in local government that the internet isn’t just a distraction, it’s a tool that can have tremendous benefits in terms of sharing information, experience and best practice.

The CoP is a pretty nice platform. Using a bespoke system built by a firm called Conseq, it provides simple wikis, forums and blogs as well as a calendar and a space for uploading documents for sharing.

Of course, the issue is getting people involved. With a pretty minimal amount of effort, the Social Media CoP is one of the most active. I’ve created a few wiki pages detailing some of the stuff the CoP can do, my top ten blogging tips and a few other things on starting blogging and a Web2.0 site directory. It will be interesting to see how many others jump in.

The CoP platform is pretty similar to the site I have been working on, expanding the remit of my original LGSearch site, which is called LGNewMedia. It too has a blog, a wiki and a forum, along with LGSearch and the latest effort, which is a clone called LGKnowledge. Again, will anyone ever use this stuff? I don’t know. I know that they are already using LGSearch, which is cool, if unsurprising as it doesn’t need much effort to do so. The wiki serves a purpose as a documentation library, if nothing else, and the blog has a few subscribers, probably for news on LGSearch.

But I do think that LGKnowledge could be hugely helpful to people as a kind of simple knowledge management system, with appropriate tagging people could point stuff out to people in a really useful way. But it needs the committment from users to actually put the content in there in the first place, and I am not sure how they can be convinced that it’s worth it.

[tags]idea, communities of practice, social media, local government, lgsearch, lgnewmedia[/tags]


Simon Dickson, a consultant ‘bringing new media thinking to UK news and government’, has launched Findless (pronounced Find-less, rather than Findluss, which was my original reading!):

a new editorialised search engine network. Why ‘findless’? Well, aside from hopefully being memorable, it sums up our philosophy that ‘less is more’ when it comes to search results. We’ve all seen the heatmaps: startling numbers of people instinctively click on the first search result in the list. All the more important, then, to strip out all the sites whose SEO may be great, but whose content may be lacking. Most people we’ve asked immediately think it’s an odd choice of name… but pretty soon, they get it.

We’re starting with two areas, chosen because we (my wife and I) have worked in the fields in question, and know the good sites without having to think too hard. One is health and safety, the other is education. Coincidentally, in both cases, the quality information is spread very widely, and you may not instinctively know where to look.

Very similar, then, to LGSearch. I’ve left a comment on Simon’s blog for him to get in touch. It’d be cool to figure out a way to link all this stuff up.

[tags]Google Coop, CSE, Simon Dickson, Findless, LGSearch[/tags]

More LGSearch

LGSearch, my local government Google Coop effort, has proven pretty popular amongst people working in the sector – on the blog I’ve stuck up some of the nice things people have been saying.

I’ve had some interesting discussions with Steve Dale, who works as a knowledge management consultant for I&DeA. Sounds like some of the plans I’ve got for the site link up with some of the work he is doing. It’ll be interesting to see how things work out.

Here’s an extract from an email I sent to Steve:

I’ll quickly jot down my plans for where I think LGSearch might be headed. My first task is to integrate a search for other authorities (Police, Fire, Health), then to have national government departments and agencies in there too. Google Coop does allow you to filter searches down by tagging the sites being searched – so it will be easy enough for people to drill down into results to find what they are after.

I initially started the LGSearch blog literally as a way of getting information on the web without having to code much HTML. However, I have found myself having to resist the urge to post on non-LGSearch related matters, largely on topics of social media and local government. This has made me consider the prospect of starting a new site (LGNewMedia?) of which the search would just be a part, with the aim of the site being to promote the use of social media, with guides and how-tos, lists of resources etc, running from a blog.

I’ve also been developing a wiki, which is currently hosted alongside, and branded as, LGSearch. Feel free to have a look, though it isn’t public yet – it runs on PMWiki, which seems pretty good. This was to be in answer to those people who wanted to set up their own searches. So, I’d have some wiki pages on how to use Google Coop, as well as an updated list of what sites were being used within LGSearch. Another possibility would be to use the wiki to house a list of sites and resources identified as being useful – so providing a directory approach as well as the search based one, if that makes sense.

Of course, the more I thought about the wiki, the more applications I have thought of for it, i.e. providing space for social media projects, sharing best practice etc, the more it became clear that it belonged under the putative umbrella of LGNewMedia.

Other ideas for LGNewMedia included the ubiquitous forum – though these can become barren wastelands of inactivity, of course – and even a Digg style system of people sharing useful links. Again, the lack of traffic might be an issue here. But the main parts of the site will be the blog for communicating and the wiki for collaboration.

The other key aim for the LGNewMedia site would be that it runs on freely available and easily obtainable open source software: WordPress for the main blog, PMWiki for the wiki, probably phpBB for the forum and Pligg for the Digg-link thing.

Rather than using several different systems, I’ve been thinking about using Drupal, which is pretty extensible, as the CMS for the whole thing. But, in conversation with Ben, it sounds like Drupal is not wiki-friendly, and the wiki will hopefully be the most important part of the whole arrangment. So it looks like I need to learn some better CSS to get a common template sorted out.

[tags]lgsearch, pmwiki, wordpress, drupal, pligg, phpbb, wiki, social media[/tags]