Bookmarks for April 19th through April 23rd

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Open innovation, why bother? – 100% Open – "…if open innovation is to deliver sustainable business advantage then we need a better understanding of what motivates contributors to these initiatives, else there is a risk of a backlash against them…"
  • Docs.com – MS Office + Facebook beats Google Docs? Am not convinced!
  • TALKI – The easiest way to embed a forum – Embed a forum on your website – just like that! Users can sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts.
  • Government 2.0 Can and Must Save Money – "I think that the current shortage of resources and a sometimes dramatic budgetary situation can be a powerful incentive to make this change happen, to tap into the creativity of employees as well as external resources." YES!!!
  • Red Sweater Blog – Apple Downloads – VERY interesting – is Apple going to go down the App Store route for vetting Mac software now, too?
  • HTML5 presentation – "Slideshow-style presentation on HTML5 made using HTML5."
  • CDC Provides a Great Example of What Social Media Is About – "CDC’s strategy puts them in a better position to identify patterns where trust may be shifting elsewhere early enough to take action: many other agencies worldwide, which just care about publishing data and creating their Facebook pages, will be taken by surprise."
  • data.lincoln.gov.uk (beta) – Lincoln City Council start publishing data publicly – great work, and props to Andrew Beeken who must have driven this through.
  • Simplifying the social web with XAuth – "We think that XAuth can simplify and improve the social web, while keeping your private information safe. This is just one of many steps that Google is taking, along with others in the industry, to make the social web easier and more personalized."
  • Open Government and the Future of Public Sector IT – Great talk from Microsoft's Dave Coplin.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for March 13th through March 15th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

SnapGroups

I don’t seem to write much about new tools very often, which is a shame, as playing with stuff is one of my favourite things in the world. Anyway, here’s one I cam across this morning.

I was alerted to SnapGroups thanks to ReadWriteWeb. It’s a neat little service that mashes up real time status updates – in other words, Twitter – with traditional forums.

So, rather than just posting your message out into the big list of what everyone is writing, instead, you post to specific groups, which either you have created, or where you join one created by others. You can’t, as far as I can tell, post one message to more than one group. Probably good for spammy reasons, but it could get annoying if something you have to say is relevant to several groups of people.

My SnapGroups profile is here, and I created a group called govstuff here to have a play. Feel free to join in!

So SnapGroups is pretty neat, but probably not, to my mind, sufficiently better than what is already out there to disrupt people’s established patterns of behaviour, which is to go to Twitter.

However, the guy behind the service, Mark Fletcher, has some serious background – he built the software that turned into Yahoo! Groups, and was also responsible for Bloglines before Ask bought it a few years ago. So maybe there is more to this – I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it.

Zoho Discussions

You may not have heard of Zoho, but they are one of the leading providers of cloud-based applications on the web. If you are looking for an alternative to the likes of Google Docs, you might not go too far wrong with Zoho.

They have just released a new service, called Discussions which allows you to run internal or external discussion forums, and includes loads of functionality like rating posts, creating idea style forums – a bit like UserVoice or IdeaScale – and a bunch of other stuff.

Well worth looking into, and this video explains more:

Building a new Palimpsest

Palimpsest is a site I am really rather proud of. It was my first attempt at building a really social web community, launching in April 2003, and is still going strong. It’s a forum, pure and simple, where people talk about books, mainly, but also films and music and theatre and TV and art… basically anything. What keeps it together as a community is the culture of the place, it has managed to stay polite and coherent throughout.

This has largely been the result of a reasonably strict regime of facilitation – new members are generally given time to settle in, but if their posts continue to be witless, annoying or boring, then they tend to be asked to leave or banned after a while. Occasionally this causes ruptions – it certainly did recently – but then if you can’t act like an omnipotent dictator on your own forum, where can you? I am helped out on the site by three other admin people, one who helped me begin the site in the first place, and two who were members who clearly understood what the site was all about. Having people you can trust to keep things ticking over in invaluable – I owe these guys a lot.

As all good online communities do, we have also had some real life get togethers. These meets, dubbed the ‘Big Day Out’, started in May 2005 in London, and in that month every year since. We’ve also visited Oxford, York and Cambridge and in May 2009 it will be Edinburgh’s turn. People have travelled remarkable distances to attend these days out, and getting to meet folk really does elp foter the community spirit and to build up trust between members.

Tech wise, the site currently runs on a rather ancient version of VBulletin, which I have to pay an annual sub for, and which isn’t, sadly, open source. Originally phpBB was used for a couple of years but security was an issue, as was a bug which meant that search engine bots could very rapidly fill up the sessions table in the database, bringing the whole site down. There has since been a new version of phpBB released, which I am sure has fixed a lot of these problems, but VBulletin works and I am loathe to change for the sake of it.

Still, the time has come for some changes. Largely driven by three factors:

  • the web hosting plan Palimpsest is currently on isn’t terribly cost effective for how the site has developed (it gets quite a lot of traffic and has a huge database). I can get better service cheaper elsewhere
  • the version of VBulletin running is hideously out of date and needs upgrading, as mentioned above
  • Behind the scenes, various bits of organisation of the forum have become hopelessly muddled and need sorting out, such as permissions, user groups and the files the forum runs from

So, a change of hosts means I can clean various bits up. The bit I am most nervous about is moving the forum itself. The MySQL database that drives the site is over 225mb in size, which will need downloading from the current hosts and importing into the new ones. Before I do this though, I will need to upgrade the current Palimpsest site to the latest VBulletin to ensure the import works properly on the new one! Plenty of opportunities for disaster…

I tweeted about the issues of the database download because I didn’t really trust phpMyAdmin to do it without dropping a connection – what with the size of the database in question. Most of the advice was to use terminal access to the server with the sqldump command. Sadly, my hosting arrangements don’t provide me with this service, so I had to try something else. Simon at Stratford District Council recommended CocoaMySQL, a desktop client for MySQL for the Mac. I’m currently downloading the database for testing purposes – when it’s time to actually make the switch, I’ll shut the forum down in order that no posts get missed out. CocoaMySQL is very easy to use, and assuming the download works properly, I can heartily recommend it.

With the current site, visiting http://www.palimpsest.org.uk forwards people straight to http://www.palimpsest.org.uk/forum/ – there is no ‘home page’ other than the forum itself. Also, for various reasons, there are a couple of WordPress installs where I host blogs for some forum members. The obvious thing to do seems to me to install WordPressMU which can drive the site’s homepage as well as host the couple of blogs that are already established, and maybe some new ones too if people are up for it. The homeage would then be made up of four distinct sections: some kind of header, with a big logo and a link to the forums, a column of aggregated content from the hosted blogs and the Palimpsest Flickr group, a column of aggregated book news from various sources, and a column of the latest forum activity.

While I am it, I’ll switch all the email accounts to Google Apps, too. Much more storage, and much nicer to use that most webmail interfaces.

I’m rather looking forward to all this. Let’s hope it all works…