Publishing stuff

One of the things I love about the internet most is the fact that it puts the power to publish into the hands of pretty much anybody. There are many ways of doing it these days, whether by using a tool like WordPress like I do here – which can be pretty complicated – or perhaps by using Medium, which continues to interest and confuse me in equal measure.

So I was quite excited to come across a really simple thing called publishthis.email which allows anyone to create public webpages by just sending an email.

I immediately got in touch with my friend Lloyd about this, knowing that he shares my enthusiasm for publishing stuff, and also how he really enjoyed using Posterous which did something similar, albeit in a slightly more complicated fashion. Posterous was bought and shut down by Twitter a few years ago.

publishthis.email works in a ridiculously simple fashion. All you do is send an email to page@publishthis.email and a web page is created for you – the link to which sent by return to you. Any formatting in your email is preserved and any pictures you include are uploaded and added to your page.

Here’s my rather boring first effort at a page. Lloyd’s is a little more exciting.

And… that’s it. There’s nothing more to it and it really is that simple. Oh, except for collections. When you send your email, if you add a + and the name of a collection (basically a group of pages) after page and before the @ in the email address (so, for example, send to page+davescollection@publishthis.email) a dynamic list of those pages is then created, with its own URL, giving you a very rudimentary blog.

Here’s my rather boring first effort at a collection.

There’s loads missing, like human readable URLs, navigation links between pages and so forth. However, whether they come or not, publishthis.email is potentially really interesting as a way of very quickly getting text and images onto the web to share with others.

It’d be good to hear what folk think about tools like this, and what uses they could be put to.

Five for Friday (26/5/17)

Five more nourishing morsels I’ve spotted this week:

  1. LocalGovCamp is back this September in Bristol. Find out more and sign up for the ticket lottery here.
  2. The Disappearing Computer – Walt Mossberg’s last column is a great read on the future of computing
  3. Put employee experience at the heart of the digital workplace – interesting presentation on deploying communication and collaboration technology in your workplace
  4. Digital skills in the workplace – I’ve decided to give this rather dormant LinkedIn group a kick to see if there’s any life in it. If you’re interested in digital skills and confidence at your organisation, do jump in.
  5. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying HBO’s Silicon Valley recently. If you have Sky Atlantic, you can binge on it. Here’s the first season trailer to whet your appetite:

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (19/5/17)

Five more nuggets of interest I’ve spotted this week:

  1. Jessica Lessin built a business to prove information doesn’t have to be free – great podcast about the different models emerging for journalism online. The Information is a great site, by the way (I’m a subscriber).
  2. The Department for Health’s fantastic digital team are hiring a Content Editor. You have until 28th May 2017 to apply.
  3. The Weird Thing About Today’s Internet – fantastic piece looking at the last ten years of the web.
  4. Making local authority data work for you – useful looking resource on open data delivered by the ODI and LGA in partnership (I think).
  5. James Governor summarises Microsoft’s Build conference for us in three minutes:

These have all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday

Am going to try and get a quick link roundup post out every Friday if I can, pointing out some interesting stuff I’ve seen during the week.

  1. Management is not about asking people to do stuff – really interesting article on being a better manager. Something that’s really been brought home to me in the last few years is that being successful in stuff like digital transformation or modernising IT relies on your ability to manage well as much as being some kind of epic visionary.
  2. Enterprise-wide Agility: Doing versus Being – I love the “doing versus being” idea and want to explore it more in a future post here.
  3. Council frontline staff lack digital skills competence – not just frontline staff I’d say and a lack of basic understanding of the role of technology and digital operating models is holding back transformation work in lots of organisations, no matter what the sector. I’m tempted to dust down my digital passport work of yesteryear to see if it could be refreshed to help fill this gap.
  4. Head of Technology Services – I’m moving on from my interim job at Horsham soon, and this is the advert for my permanent replacement. It’s a great job.
  5. Mark Thompson on platforms and government:

These have all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Six principles for good local government technology

As part of the work putting together a Technology Strategy (think IT + digital) for my current employer, I came up with six principles of good technology. The idea is that each of these principles must be met by any piece of technology the organisation wishes to buy or to build.

(The purpose of the strategy is to develop what was a fairly traditional IT team into a rebranded ‘Technology Services’ team; and to bring them out of ‘maintenance mode’ and into more proactive space, where technology can be used to drive improvement and efficiency in the way that services are delivered. To my mind, IT in this sense cannot be worked around or ignored in a JFDI sense if you’re serious about transformation in your organisation – it must be tackled head on, otherwise you’re doomed to failure. More on this in a future post.)

Anyway, here are the principles, in case they are useful.

Cloud native – to ensure all the systems we use are designed for the internet age

Core to the Technology Strategy is for the Council to become a ‘cloud native’ organisation, making use of commoditised utility computing wherever possible. A district council has somewhat limited resources, and those resources are best spent where we can add most value, and to my mind, that isn’t in upgrading firmware or patching servers.

Our preferences when investing in systems is as follows:

  • Software as a Service – where possible, we prefer to use a SaaS solution to minimise the responsibility we have to support and maintain a system’s infrastructure
  • Platform as a Service – for bespoke workflows and requirements, we develop using a cloud-hosted, capability-based, off the shelf PaaS
  • Infrastructure as a Service – where the market is yet to deliver an acceptable SaaS solution and the requirement is too complex to deliver via PaaS, then a more traditional application will be hosted within a public cloud environment such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure

Mobile ready – to ensure all the systems we use can be accessed anywhere, from any device

Legacy software was built for desktop based computing and thus doesn’t work well with the new style of devices that have emerged in the last decade.

We want staff to be able to make use of easy to use devices such as smartphones and tablets while working away from the office.

Any software we purchase, renew or develop must be enabled for mobile working out of the box, without the requirement for middleware or extra investment in specialist hardware.

Interoperable – to ensure the data our systems use is easily shared between people and applications

Legacy software makes exchanging data between systems difficult and expensive.

Cloud native systems and software offer freely accessible and publicly document application programming interfaces (APIs) and web services, which can be used to link systems together very simply, often with very limited programming required and use of ‘drag and drop’ style interfaces.

We will insist that all technology we invest in offers this ability to share data across systems.

Flexible – to ensure we make good use of shared platforms and capabilities across our services

Many of the systems we use are made up of the same common capabilities – booking , reporting, managing cases, payments, assessments and so forth – however they are trapped in service specific silos.

We wish to tackle this inflexibility by investing in flexible, generic capabilities that give us the building blocks to design our services, and the systems they run on, in the way we want to, and not be beholden to system suppliers.

Enabling customers – to ensure all the technology we deploy helps our customers enjoy a consistent journey across our services

We want to put our customers at the centre of the way we do things. This means two things:

  1. Any system we purchase or develop must have online self service as a foundational part of its design, to ensure as many as possible choose to take this option
  2. Service and system design should be based upon evidence generated through user research and take a customer-centric approach

Proportionately secure – to ensure that the Council’s and our customer’s data is as safe as it needs to be to enable us to deliver our best work

Information security is extremely important and we must be vigilant in looking after the data we hold, particularly that which belongs to our customers.

However, with our move to internet based technology, we can follow best practice guidance from central government to classify our information assets to enable us to work flexibly when it is appropriate to do so.

We want to encourage colleagues to think for themselves around information security, rather than relying on one size fits all policies that often are not adhered to.

Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations

Michael Coté has written an excellent post describing seven anti-patterns of behaviour in big organisations.

Number six is a particularly egregious crime, in my view:

Pay people to ignore them — BigCo’s love hiring new employees, paying them well, and then rarely listening to them. Instead, you hire outsiders and consultants who say similar things, but are listened to. In fact, the first task of any good management consultant team is to go interview all those bright, but ignored, employees you have and ask them what they’d do. The lesson is to track how many ideas come internally vs. externally and, rather than just blame your people for low internal idea generation, ask yourself if you’re just not listening.

Go read the whole lot – it’s good stuff.