5 simple rules for organisational leaders to keep in mind about technology

Commenting on James Herbert’s sensible post about approaching AI in local government, I came up with 5 statements of the bleedin’ obvious that all senior people ought to have in their minds whenever technology is being discussed.

  • If something sounds like a silver bullet, it probably isn’t one
  • You can’t build new things on shaky, or non-existent, foundations
  • There are no short cuts through taking the time to properly learn, understand and plan
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch – investment is always necessary at some point and it’s always best to spend sooner, thoughtfully, rather than later, in a panic
  • Don’t go big early in terms of your expectations: start small, learn what works and scale up from that

Increasingly, I tend to speak about digital being different from previous approaches to technology because it includes a healthy dose of cynicism about the ability of technology to improve anything, ever. Perhaps these points reflect that!

Daily note for 29 August 2023

One of the advantages of daily noting in MarsEdit is… tags!

Setting the ambition for Future Councils – been looking forward to seeing some outcomes from this work. Will write up my thoughts once I have had a proper mull.

Text of Bill Thompson’s recent ‘state of the net’ style talk – “The network and its many applications have had a massive impact on our lives, but the tools they gave us were unable to resist the incursions of predatory capitalism or hold back the worst excesses of human toxicity and hatred.”

Roger Swannell describes his way of subscribing to online content – mostly RSS feeds – using Slack. Eccentric, but interesting.

As part of my switch back to Mac on my desktop, I’ve started using NetNewsWire again as my feed reader of choice. It’s old school, it’s free, and it’s open source. What’s not to like? I’ve also abandoned using (and paying for, more importantly!) Feedly to sync up what I have read and not read across devices. I read my feeds on this desktop, or not at all. It’s weirdly liberating! But also, occasionally, real old feeds come back to life for no reason, and a blog not updated since 2011 suddenly downloads 10 articles from 12 years ago. I’ve no idea why this happens.

The end of the Googleverse – “For two decades, Google Search was the invisible force that determined the ebb and flow of online content. Now, for the first time, its cultural relevance is in question.”

This is insane. I don’t fully understand it, but… blimey:

Improving Bluesky

Bluesky is definitely feeling like the nicest Twitter/X replacement going. But it’s a long way from perfect.

The community feels compact, small but friendly. There’s a sense that people want to be there, and that it isn’t a chore (Mastodon sometimes just feels like hard work). It’s chatty, and whimsical, which is just how early Twitter felt.

It definitely needs more users. Hopefully the invites are dropping regularly enough to keep the flow up.

The main issue for me is that the web interface is really clunky. It’s ludicrously hard to actually clear notifications, so often it looks like there’s something new happening, when there isn’t. I find myself refreshing the browser a lot, which shouldn’t be necessary really.

The app on iOS suffers in the same sort of ways.

There’s also a bit of distraction with Bluesky – all the stuff about servers and things. I guess that important to people who think federation is important, but I suspect those people are limited in number. Most folk just want a usable, stable, Twitter-like experience that isn’t full of horrible behaviour.

Dave Winer would like to see Markdown style editing. Am not totally convinced of that, as I like the plain text approach, and I guess you can still use markup, only the reader has to use their imagination 😆

One thing it lacks, which actually I don’t care about too much, is private direct messages. Twitter/X has those, of course. Sometimes they are useful to drop someone a note to say you’d like to talk to them about something. Maybe though, it would be better to just let people feature their email addresses or other ways to contact them on their profiles. After all, nobody needs yet another place to check for these things.

What they definitely shouldn’t do is copy the way Mastodon does private messaging, which is a proper dog’s dinner. ‘Private mentions’ are almost indistinguishable from public ones, and it terrifies me!

Weekly note for 25 August 2023

One note for the whole week as I haven’t been working. Instead, had a week at home having fun with the family. However, I did occasionally look at a computer, hence the below.

So Twitter/X finally took Tweetdeck away from me, which has made the site a bit less useful. However, I still get way more use from it than any other social site, with the possible exception of LinkedIn, which for people like me is the real winner from the Twitter/X meltdown, I think. Bluesky seems to be picking up members, but it is still very quiet. Mastodon remains Mastodon.

Am back on a Mac now, as my daily driver, and it’s lovely. More on that in a proper post. But one change as a result is that I am now writing these notes in the venerable MarsEdit, which is a great improvement on Simplenote and means I can hit a button to publish them, and not have to faff around copying and pasting.

Fab work by Tewkesbury Council, going live with their new – WordPress powered – website.

Catching up on the weird world of LLMs“. Great resource from Simon Willison.

Alan Wright’s blog is chock full of brilliantly useful articles, like this one on splitting product teams.

How the iMac saved Apple

Daily note for 17 August 2023

Two days in a row out of the house! First time that has happened in a while. Today, I am knackered.

“Digital proof: where one service ends, another begins” https://www.dxw.com/2023/08/digital-proof/

“Team memory, organisational sharing and serendipity in distributed workplaces” https://emilywebber.co.uk/team-memory-organisational-sharing-and-serendipity-in-distributed-workplaces/

Been watching a lot of films at home recently. Finally saw Dunkirk last weekend, and thought it was ok. Seemed very disjointed to me. Then over a few weeknight sittings, got to the end of Heart of Stone, on Netflix. Gal Gadot as Tom Cruise in a Mission:Impossible type thing. Entertaining enough, but hard to care for any of the characters that were still alive at the end.

This looks a great online event about data stuff: https://lu.ma/roots-of-data-for-ngos

Daily note for 14 August 2023

I’ve just ordered myself a new Mac Mini. Having been working on a fairly clunky Windows all-in-one machine for a few years, am looking forward to getting back on the Mac full time.

I just find the apps available on the Mac to be higher quality and more useful than on Windows, where the experience always seems to fall short somehow.

I’ve long been looking for a decent Evernote replacement. Keep It looks like a potential winner, especially now I am returning to the Mac ecosystem: https://reinventedsoftware.com/keepit/

Is there a more consistently brilliant thing than In Our Time? This one’s about the film director Fritz Lang: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0fy7kcp

I heartily approve of this message: https://twitter.com/katebevan/status/1689587674535940096

Daily note for 9 August 2023

“Why I no longer believe in Content Design” https://uxdesign.cc/why-i-no-longer-believe-in-content-design-e71aeb5f060c

I wrote a quick and snarky post about Cipfa’s recent report about blockchain: https://da.vebrig.gs/2023/08/09/cipfa-claims-blockchain-is-a-promising-solution-for-the-public-sector-i-disagree/

“Why does PDF content persist when it sucks so much, and how can you get rid of it?” https://lapope.com/2023/08/07/pdfs-vs-web-pages-whats-better-for-users/

CIPFA claims blockchain is a ‘promising solution’ for the public sector. I disagree.

CIPFA have published a report entitled Exploring blockchain technologies for collaboration and partnerships [PDF warning].

The very first statement of the executive summary is problematic.

Blockchain technology has emerged as a promising solution for collaboration and partnerships, providing a secure and transparent way for multiple parties to interact and transact without intermediaries.

Has it? I’m not sure myself.

Anyway, they include a helpful decision tree to help you decide whether you should use the blockchain or not:

Which I am happy to simplify for everyone:

All snarking aside, I think this is a massive waste of time, money and attention for everyone concerned.

Across the public sector, technology and digital budgets are being salami sliced away, leaving organisations facing critical levels of risk and failing to grasp the opportunities that better investment in these areas would unlock.

What would be really helpful would be some practical advice around fixing that problem, not farting around with blockchain.

Daily note for 8 August 2023

A 17 minute video on web accessibility. Lovely! https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/webinars/digital-accessibility-best-practice-essentials-2/

An explainer from some clever people about AI and public services: https://public.digital/2023/08/08/what-public-digital-thinks-about-ai-the-short-read

“Dear Alt-Twitter Designers: It’s about the network!” http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2023/07/19/dear-alt-twitter-designers-its-about-the-network.html

“How common platforms deliver brilliant digital services” https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2023/08/08/how-common-platforms-deliver-brilliant-digital-services/

Some intresting points on the political side of tech policy – “Manifesto manifestation” https://blangry.medium.com/manifesto-manifestation-877001398ed0

“Wigan Council and residents win from digital deal – a decade on, a focus on residents’ needs backed by digital efficiency is benefiting Wigan’s local authority and citizens” https://diginomica.com/wigan-council-and-residents-win-digital-deal

Daily note for 3 August 2023

How did I not know about this? Emulated Macs going back to the original, all in the browser: https://infinitemac.org/ Fairly pointless, but amazing.

“How to play Mundane Superhero” https://smithery.com/2023/08/03/how-to-play-mundane-superhero/ – looks a fun way to kick off workshops etc.

“Council Spotlight: Stockport’s Family Context tool” https://medium.com/ldcu/council-spotlight-stockports-family-context-tool-5cb0eb3e4e51

“Why Open Source Matters” https://redmonk.com/sogrady/2023/08/03/why-opensource-matters/