Bookmarks for October 3rd through October 19th

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.

Real Help Now

Simon Dickson reports on the new site from the UK Government which currently aggregates news from around the country on what help is available to help businesses and individuals through the current economic difficulties.

Fundamentally, in this initial build, it’s a news aggregation site – pulling together material not just from national sources, but regional and local too. The aim is to complement the citizen- and business-facing stuff, at Directgov and BusinessLink respectively, by showing what’s actually happening on the ground, well away from Whitehall and the City.

I’m involved in the project from a content point of view, which at the moment is mainly a job of identifying content to be tagged in Delicious to appear on the site. A dashboard has been set up to monitor various news sources around the UK to make sure we pick up  a good range of stories.

Real Help Now

The site came together very quickly and is a great example of agile and flexible development. We’re hoping to be expanding it in the future to produce some original content, but at the moment it presents a nice picture of what’s going on out there.

5 Different uses for RSS

RSS is a great technology, one of those that underpins the new usefulness of the web. It’s a simple way of keeping in touch with what is happening in lots of different places, without having to keep visiting lots of sites every day.

Here’s a video from those wonderful Common Craft folk explaining RSS better than I ever could:

One of the really fab things about RSS are the different uses to which it can be put. Here’s five off the top of my head – have you any others?

1. Keeping up with bloggers

I don’t think blogging would have taken off nearly as fast as it did without its very early adoption of RSS as a method of syndicating content. Blogs by their nature are updated on a regular basis, and in a lot of cases a lot more often than other more traditional sites. Keeping up with all that content would be impossible without a way of bringing all those updated into one place.

2. News to you

News site soon cottoned onto the potential of RSS, to the point where now any news organisation worth its salt provides content in this way. Other organisations are starting to adopt it as well, and government is getting there. The need to keep eyeballs on adverts has resulted in some feeds containing only teaser content, to force the reader to go to the originating site anyway. This is a Bad Thing, in my view, and the one positive thing that will come out of RSS feeds that include adverts in them is that it might mean we get rid of partial feeds.

3. Monitoring what’s being said

Now that search engines such as Google are providing RSS feeds for their alerts service – as well as Blogsearches – it makes it all the more easy to set up monitoring dashboards, rather like the ones developed by Steph Gray and others at DIUS. Scanning the web for mentions of key names and topics means that nothing on the web needs to be missed, no matter how small the source.

4. Chchchchchanges

Collaborating on wikis, and forums etc is a wonderful way to experience how the web can help bring people together to share and develop content together. But how to know when people have made updates to pages, or projects, or conversations? One way has always been to get email alerts, but that can lead to having a very full inbox. Any web service worth its salt these days provides RSS for updates, meaning you can keep yourself in the know, and well organised at the same time.

5. Republish, repurpose

This is the most exciting, for me. Because RSS is an open standard it means other services can make use of it to republish material in new ways. Take Steph’s digitalgovuk site – all built using the RSS feeds that Delicious spits out – or Simon Dickson’s OnePolitics – which makes following political blogs both easy and easy on the eye. When you start getting into the territory of combining RSS with other technology like maps and so on, the possibilities seem limitless.

What other uses for RSS are there that are important to you?

DFID starts blogging

DFID have launched a new blogging platform, with various members of the department who are based abroad telling their stories through a group blog.

The site looks beautiful, which is perhaps to be expected when you consider that it was put together by arch government wordpresser Simon Dickson. Simon writes about the site:

I can’t say how pleased I am with the results. I’ve been collaborating with a couple of new contacts – my near-neighbour Tony Parsons on the design side, and Simon Wheatley (who I met at WordCamp) on the technical stuff that was beyond me. Both have been truly brilliant. And I have to say, the DFID guys have been fabulous too – giving me all the freedom I could ask for. It’s been a perfect combination, and I think it shows in the site.

It’s not just about the tech side though. Shane McCracken has been working with DFID to provide training to the bloggers, in collaboration with Griff Wigley. I helped out too, taking a bit of time out to show the DIFD web team in London how the WordPress administration interface works. This combination of training and support, should mean the quality of the content will match that of the site. Top marks to DFID for identifying and committing resource to this side of things.

Shane writes:

We’re very lucky in that our blogging volunteers are superb writers with extremely interesting lives and situations with enormous scope for great photography. They are going to provide a fine insight into the work that DFID do and the effect they have on the people of the countries in which and with which they work.

The coaching programme has had its challenges. As you can imagine the budget to fly us to Tanzania was not made available, so coaching is happening online is the same manner as we did with CivicSurf. The DFID bloggers are in full-time positions working seven days a week and in time zones and work patterns that don’t necessarily coincide with our 9 – 5 UK life. Thankfully Griff, who has been leading the coaching, works flexible hours.

Finally, Owen Barder, who used to work at DFID, notes approvingly:

DfID has a very good reputation abroad, but hardly anybody in the UK knows anything about it, or appreciates how much DfID contributes to positive perceptions of Britain. I hope this blog will help tell the story in a very direct and personal way.

Good work, all.

Simon Dickson at WordCampUK

Quick notes on Simon Dickson‘s presentation at WordCampUK:

  1. Make big change happen in a small way
  2. Didn’t intend to be a WP fanboy, but it just turned out to be the best way of doing things
  3. Need for a WP ecosystem – WP now mature enough to require/support a real community
  4. PHP geeks not enough – need to understand the simplicity of the platform
  5. Simon not a developer, or designer. Can get by, but could do with some help!
  6. Three threats: procurement teams, IT people and
  7. Big web projects cost far too much – hundreds of thousands, millions even. Not just the systems, but the project management etc
  8. Free platforms has benefits, including longevity and ongoing support
  9. Simon started using typepad mainly, as seemed easier. No need for IT depts to know about what people were doing. takes that to a new level.
  10. Typepad has limitations – too blog focused. Need WP’s flexibility especially that which you get from self-hosted
  11. Up to 30% of blogs now are custom domained / CSS etc
  12. Appeals of WP – zero cost (can send the wrong message), skills base (lots of local talent to draw on)
  13. Designed for use by the individual – no need for support, it’s so easy to use. Upgrade cycle the only glitch
  14. Focus on content – it’s NOT about the tech – also don’t have to wade through metadata fields before writing content. Make it like writing something in Word (sad but true)
  15. Power of RSS – category based, tag based, integrated wordpress mini sites into the big ugly corporate CMS. Use SimplePie and Google API
  16. Do you mention the word ‘blog’ in relation to WP? Initially no, but maybe mention it early then move on. Blog not as dirty a word as it was. Ingrained in culture. BBC news journalists are known by their blogs as much as anything
  17. ourNHS site – built 3 times in 12 months, but so what? Quick, easy and cheap. Lord Darzi’s blog – discussion at time about referring to it as that
  18. Incredible power in themes
  19. “can WordPress do X?” YES! It’s just HTML and PHP folks.
  20. Automate as much as possible through the WP loop
  21. With WP sites, build it then walk. Very very few support requests
  22. WordPress in Welsh with the Wales Office site
  23. New number 10 website is running on wordpress. Round of applause for Simon
  24. Number 10 – what they do is news. News is blogs. Hence, blogging the right medium.
  25. Blogging and political journalism are merging
  26. When dealing with big orgs, form a precedent quickly. No. 10 started using youtube first in uk gov, now everyone is at it!
  27. No. 10 Twitter feed – c3,500 followers – people wanting to be a part of the conversation re: uk gov. Amazing!
  28. No, 10 uses Brightcove for video hosting etc
  29. Key message: acceptance of lightweight, social tools
  30. Security testing of No. 10 – heavyweight testing going on. Will be fed back to Automattic
  31. Micro sites, sites within sites…Can be thrown together fast, run as long as you need them, then close
  32. Theme switching – WP allows one-click change of template. Have some themes developed for certain incidents, can turn on when needed
  33. WordPress as crisis site when required. Have sitting in the background til when needed.
  34. What’s needed in WordPress to get into enterprise environment: page ordering (need rag and drop built in), slicker workflow (better pending/drafts handling), new long term support version (like ubuntu, don’t call it legacy branch!) ie better upgrades, the ecosystem/community (we need people that understand WP available and on call!)
  35. Developers – need to understand content and designers need to understand the WP machinery
  36. WP generalists?

WordCamp UK

WordCamps are fairly unorganised events for lovers of the best blogging platform, like, eva: WordPress. The first one in the UK is taking place in Birmingham next month, and it’s going to be great. Get a ticket here.

Even better news is that Simon Dickson‘s going to be there, and running a session on non-blogging with WordPress. Simon’s also sponsoring the event, in his words:

It’s maybe unusual for a one-man company to sponsor a fairly large conference like this. But virtually everything Puffbox does at the moment is WordPress-based. It’s the content management platform I always dreamed of… and it’s free of charge. It’s time I gave something back.

Besides, it’s in Puffbox’s interests for this gathering to take place. It’ll be an enjoyable weekend of unashamed geekery. I’m hoping to meet some interesting people, learn some interesting things, and help create a support infrastructure for WordPress in the UK. A T-shirt with a big W on the front would be a bonus.

Well done him, a brilliant gesture, not least because Simon has already done more than anyone to progress the use of lightweight, low cost solutions like WordPress in UK government. I last saw Simon at the UK Gov barcamp aaaaaages ago, so will look forward to catching up with him – and a whole host of other top WordPress folk – at the WordCamp.

New Wales Office Website

Thanks to Simon Dickson, the Welsh Wales Office website has had a real facelift. It looks really good, nice and clean layout and a smart news layout. Simon covers it all in more detail on his blog.

And the best bit? It’s running on WordPress. Great work, Simon!

(And if any other government departments would like a WordPress site of their own, you know where I am 😉 )