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.

LocalGovCamp London

Thursday’s LocalGovCamp in London was superbly organised by Anke Holst and her team.

I was involved in one session, which was to by about internet culture and whether that’s the interesting thing local government ought to be taking on board, rather than stressing about whether or not they should be using Twitter.

The Kulture Show

Flickr credit: Arun Marsh

Rather than just have me drone on for 45 minutes, I thought it would be more interesting to get some views from elsewhere, so I persuaded Huddle’s Kunal Contractor, IDeA’s Ingrid Koehler, and Microsoft’s Dave Coplin to join in for a bit of panel-type session.

It went pretty well, I think it had a different feel to a lot of the other discussions that I’ve been involved in at unconferences. There was plenty of interest and contributions from those in the ‘audience’, which was really nice.

Afterwards, David Wilcox grabbed us all for a chat, in his usual social reportery way:

http://qik.com/video/5272643

There has been a great deal of discussion about the event, on Twitter and on blogs, etc – SocialMention has it all covered.

Clouds and culture

CloudsLloyd Davis is a lovely man, and a very clever one at that. He founded the Tuttle Club, a weekly networkingy sort of meetup for people who like the internet and other people, which is at the same time very simple but also rather ingenious.

He also sports an even more ludicrous job title than mine, for at least a part of his time – he is Social Artist in Residence at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration. What does that mean? Mary has a go at explaining here. I’ve written a bit about social artists, as has David Wilcox.

Lloyd ran a couple of sessions at last week’s Likeminds conference – he facilitated a panel session; and hosted a lunchtime discussion, which I attended, on ‘cloud culture’. This is a topic he has written about on his blog, and which has been the focus of quite a bit of attention from such luminaries as Charles Leadbeater.

I found it a really interesting topic for discussion, and I’m grateful to Lloyd – and the organisers of the conference – for creating a space where I was made to think about it properly. There are, of course, many aspects of our culture that are affected by the internet, and use of the cloud in particular.

There is the issue of cultural ‘stuff’ or products, like stories, music, films, art etc. Traditionally hosted by museums or galleries, or publishers; what effect will be had by this hosting now being performed by Amazon, or Apple, or Google?

The case of the music industry is particularly interesting, of course. People have been making music for thousands of years. Record labels have existed for a handful of decades. You don’t need the latter to make the former possible. Artists don’t need bigorgs to distribute their work any more – get over it.

There are other types of culture too. What about national culture, in the age of the internet and globilisation? If all our culture is online, in the cloud, what effect does that have on who we think we are?

One of my main interests is organisational culture, classically defined as ‘the way we do things around here’. This is an area where the effect of the internet is probably most measurable. It’s also true of course that the internet itself has a culture. What lessons can organisations learn from this internet culture?

This goes back to my constantly repeated point that the interesting thing about the use of online technology is not the technology but the implications of using it. Internet culture is open, it’s cooperative, it’s funny, it’s transparent. These are the things we should be pushing our government to be.

What I like are examples of offline activity that wouldn’t be possible without the internet. Tuttle is one of those. On the face of it, it’s an old school networking meetup. The truth is, though, is that it’s an old school networking meetup that’s been filtered through the internet and its culture. Most of those who attend know each other virtually, introductions tend to go along the lines of “oh, so you’re [insert twitter username]”.

GovCamp is another example. So we met in real life, and the agenda was put together with post its on a big blank bit of paper. But how was it that so many people were convinced to give up their Saturday’s to come and talk about government? It’s because of the internet culture of openness, transparency, collaboration and the democratisation of publishing. Just as anyone can publish online, whether with a blog or whatever, anyone can speak at an unconference.

As I mentioned earlier today, I’m hoping to run a session at this week’s London LocalGovCamp about what lessons internet culture can teach local authorities, and other public sector organisations. Anyone who is coming to the event, please do come along and join in. Those that aren’t, I’d appreciate any comments.

Here’s a video where Lloyd talks about his stuff:

Ten top internet tips for councillors

After a break of a week, the guest posts are back! This time it’s Mark Pack, who has written a handy guide for councillors on how to get to grips with the net.

It is pretty rare these days to find a councillor who doesn’t use the internet, at least occasionally. However, in part because the average age of councillors means that the vast majority are not ‘internet natives’, that often does not amount to much more than frequent use of email, a familiarity with the basics of searching on Google and not that much else. So in an attempt to help close the gap, here are my top ten tips for councillors. Any list like this is bound to exclude some tips which other people think are vital, so by all means post up a comment saying what you think should have been included in the list.

1. Get a feed reader (also known as a news readers or RSS reader)

These days nearly all news sites and blogs, along with many other websites, offer an RSS feed (sometimes called a ‘news feed’, or simply ‘RSS’ or ‘feeds’). You can sign up to the feed with a feed reader, and then, in future, when a new story appears on the site, it will appear in your feed reader, saving you the time otherwise spent checking on sites to see if they have anything new.

Google Reader – www.google.com/reader – is reliable, free and has a wide range of functions. It is by no means the only one available, but it’s a good safe choice.

Once you have set up your feed reader, you can tell it to keep an eye on a website either by inputting the web address into the feed reader software, or by visiting the website and then looking for the ’sign-up to a feed reader’, ’subscribe to RSS’ or similar option on screen (frequently accompanied by an orange square with curves cutting across it).

2. Use Google and Microsoft’s free satellite photos

Whether it is pondering a planning application, wondering about transport proposals or trying to picture a particular community, it is often useful to be able to see what an area looks like from the comfort of your desk.

Both Google – maps.google.co.uk and pick “satellite” in the top right – and Microsoft – http://www.bing.com/maps/?cc=uk and click “bird’s eye” – provide free comprehensive satellite photography of the UK.

Google has the bonus of its Street View for many areas, so you can not just look down on an area but also look at it from street level. Microsoft on the other hand has a slanted bird’s eye view, which can be particularly useful for trying to picture how a new development will look and affect an area.

3. FixMyStreet

This is a free service for the public to report local issues such as potholes and dumped rubbish to their council. Usage varies hugely around the country, but it’s a good way of keeping tabs on what some members of the public are concerned about in your area. Go to http://www.fixmystreet.com/alert and you can sign up to receive automatic notifications of new reports in the area of interest to you.

It is particularly useful for councillors who can use examples from the site as a sanity check against what the council staff and reports say about how the different departments are performing.

4. Planning Alerts

If you are a councillor, the chances are you are inundated with information about planning applications anyway. But make a visit to http://www.planningalerts.com/ and you can sign up to very clear and convenient alerts (including via RSS) which you can then use to spot what to dig out from all your council papers. It is also a very useful tool to highlight to non-councillor colleagues and constituents.

5. Use Google Alerts

Head over to www.google.com/alerts, enter the search term you want (such as Indeterminate Council) along with your email address. You can choose how often you want to receive the alerts, such as ‘once a day’ so that the alerts are reasonably timely but don’t distract you too much from what you should be doing!

These alerts are a very useful supplement to having a feed reader. Feed readers are great where you are regularly wanting news from the same sites; the alerts fit in where you want news on a particular topic, almost regardless of which site it has appeared on.

6. Flickr

Flickr lets you easily store photographs online for all to see, such as photos of local issues or your campaigning work. That then means they are all in one convenient place for future use or reference (no more scratching around for copies of photographs when you need them for a leaflet). It is also somewhere you can point journalists or residents to and it avoids the need to email round huge photos (which then fill up someone’s inbox or bounce).

All those benefits apply even if you don’t do anything else online, but Flickr also works easily with blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook. If you have any mix of those, you can put your photos on Flickr and then reuse them easily.

7. Use communities.idea.gov.uk

I’ve not used this site myself, but it’s been strongly recommended to me (thanks @mariejenkins) and it looks to be a good way of sharing knowledge and gathering information.

8. Install Google Desktop search

Another free tool from Google – http://desktop.google.com/. This is a very quick search program which looks through just the contents of your computer. But it does it fast and goes through emails and documents at the same time. On a decent speed computer it is so quick, you will often find that searching is quickly than remembering where a file was and then clicking through your different folders to get to it.

9. Keep your computer in good shape with CCleaner and Secunia PSI

Given that amount of personal data about other people that is likely to pass through your computer, even if you do only the smallest amount of casework, keeping your computer secure should be taken seriously. Plus getting infected with a nasty can end up taking up huge amounts of time and cause great inconvenience whilst it gets sorted.

You should have an anti-virus program and firewall anyway, and these days it is hard to get a computer without them. Adding these two free programs – http://www.ccleaner.com/ and http://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/ – will give you a lot of extra protection at very little effort.

CCleaner is a program you can run regularly to keep you computer clean and tidy, which helps its performance as well as wrinkling out possible problems. Secunia can scan your computer to spot missing security patches and then point you at the right place to install them. (Both are for Windows computers.)

10. Make use of the previous nine tips

Don’t think that any of these tips are too complicated or too time consuming. You need very little skill with a computer to do them – and there are plenty of people who can help. With a little investment of time you will end up being able to do your job better and saving much more time as the weeks and months go by.

Mark Pack worked for the Liberal Democrats 2000-2009, ending up as their Head of Innovations. During that time he often trained councillors on how to make better use of the internet. He’s now at Mandate Communications (www.YourMandate.com) and blogs about politics, history and technology at www.MarkPack.org.uk. He’s on Twitter at @markpack

Dead tree web 2.0 reading list

There are a number of books out there which are covering a lot of the stuff I am interested in with regard to the web and collaboration. It might be worth coming up with a reading list – how about a challenge to read them all by the end of the year?!

These aren’t necessarily all web 2.0 specific books: some cover background and the history of the technology too.

1. Here Comes Everybody – Clay Shirky

2. We-think: The Power of Mass Creativity – Charles Leadbeater

3. A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet – John Naughton

4. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything – Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

5. Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder – David Weinberger

6. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual – Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, and Doc Searls

7. The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand – Chris Anderson

8. Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can’t Get a Date – Robert X Cringely

9. Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers – Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

10. The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy – Andrew Keen

Are there any classics that I have managed to miss? Or are some of my picks utter dross that shouldn’t be touched with a bargepole?

Disclosure: the links to Amazon are associate links, which provide a bit of money towards Palimpsest, the arts and politics discussion forum I run.