Five for Friday (30/6/17)

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Quite a mixture of stuff this week – plenty to dig into over the weekend.

  1. Interesting job at GDS, promoting the use of gov.uk Verify in local government. You have until the end of Sunday 2nd July to apply – so better get cracking if you fancy it. If you’re on the lookout for a digital-ish job, then I’d thoroughly recommend Matt Jukes’ weekly listing.
  2. Startup SaaS Stack – this is a nice way of looking at the small number of software as a service tools that a new organisation might need to have. Not just relevant to startups but any organisations – certainly community, voluntary and charity groups could look at this and get a cutting edge tech stack in place in minutes and almost no cash. It also is an effective introduction to thinking about capabilities rather than systems in planning what technology you need.
  3. User-centred digital strategy – a really nice set of slides from Sophie Dennis that explains why strategy is helpful and what good and bad strategy looks like. While you’re there, why not check out her other deck on ‘Adventures in policy land’ which looks at service design in government, and is equally excellent (both via Strategic Reading).
  4. Paul Maltby followed up the crowd sourced reading list that I shared last week with three posts on how digital teams and policy teams can work better together, titled ‘A short guide to policy for government digital professionals‘, ‘What digital and policy can learn from each other‘ and ‘Prototyping a One Team Government manifesto‘. All are worth reading and mulling over.
  5. Who is responsible for effective, efficient and secure digital government? – watch the video of a wide ranging discussion of the progress made in digitising government. There’s more on the Institute for Government’s work in this area in this blog post, including a link to their report on the topic. I think it’s pretty clear to most people that the wave of enthusiasm for the work of the GDS in particular seems to be waning, not least following the departure of a number of leaders from that team, but also as they start to get stuck into some of the more intractable problems around culture and the back office IT stack. I’d argue that what is needed is not so much management, or even leadership (whatever the hell that is) but authority – someone or some people with the mandate to make change happen and the ability to force it through when bureaucratic (on the government side) and kleptocratic (on the vendor side) intertia starts kicking in.

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

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

How in-the-browser software should work

I wrote recently about my growing unease with the addiction we have with ever greater convenience with our computing over the necessity of control. A lot of this is driven by cloud, and software-as-a-service (SaaS).

The convenience of SaaS is difficult to argue with. No installing software. No upgrades. Files accessible wherever you want them. The ability to share documents and collaborate on them with others in real time.

The downsides are all to do with control of your data. If it’s a paid service, and you stop paying, can you still access and open your files? Or if the company behind the system goes belly up? Is all your data locked up inside a system, or in a format you can’t reuse?

It is possible for those behind cloud based software to get it right though. Take a look at Dave Winer‘s new tool, Fargo. It’s an outliner (and outliners are cool, remember) and based in the browser. However, it also:

  • uses Dropbox for storage, so you have access to your files via Dropbox’s website, or downloaded locally to your computer, whenever you want. It’s not locked into Fargo’s own filesystem
  • uses the open standard OPML for the file format, so if you stop using Fargo for whatever reason, you can still load your files into any outliner that uses the OPML standard (which they all do, if they’re worth their salt)

This is how in-the-browser software ought to work. All the advantages of cloud based applications without giving up the control over our data that traditional desktop apps give.

Living on a cloud

While despatched on a mission of digital mercy a few weeks ago Mr Briggs (of this parish) and I fell to comparing our computers. Or rather he fell to ridiculing my rather ancient Samsung laptop (seven years old I think, it doesn’t like to process video, original power supply fell apart and it now boasts a rather lovely Maplin back up device). Apple fans do tend to look upon me with fear tinged with pity when I unpack the machine.

I explained to Dave that all I really need is an OS to show me a browser because I live in the cloud. He’s become slightly cloud obsessed lately with visions of Chromebooks floating before his eyes. When he challenged me to write a blog post about my online working I realised that that I’m still not quite there.

The Basics

I do rely heavily on those lovely people at Google. They handle my mail for a start. A huge variety of email addresses are sent into my email account (or collected by GMail from mailboxes) and the system handles them smoothly. I virtually never see any spam and it is rare (though not unheard of) for real mail to get caught in the spam filter. I have a couple of Android devices that sync happily with the big G’s servers and lo: mail wherever I need it.

And I make a lot of use of Google Docs. Or Google Drive as we must now call it (what are they going to call the self-directed cars then?). The word processor meets my day to day needs.

Google Spreadsheets meet my fairly simple requirements perfectly well. There was a time when I demanded much of my spreadsheets but those days are mostly behind me. And for the days when they aren’t I have Google Fusion Tables.

Paying for stuff

Mountain View doesn’t seem to be able to deliver a decent task manager. For this I must turn to the excellent Remember The Milk. It’s idiosyncratic but it is fast, in the cloud and it has a cow logo which is nice.

For presentations I am inexorably drawn to SlideRocket. This is NOT cheap but it does make slideshows look good and its library system is easy to understand and flexible. If, like me, you create a lot of slideshows and then embed them all over the place it is probably worth the money. I guess it must be worth the money or I wouldn’t pay. I wish it cost less money though.

I use Hootsuite to help me manage my extensive social media real estate. I even pay them a little.

Other toys

I do use Dropbox but I haven’t fallen in love with it.

I’m more enthusiastic about Evernote. Especially since its Android app has got so good.

Google Reader is quite annoying but I haven’t found anything better for subscribing to blogs and other sites via their RSS feeds. And it handles my podcasts quite well.

What I still don’t do in the cloud.

Serious document prep. When I have a big report to prepare I will do the grunt work in Google Drive but I’ll apply the final formatting offline in Libre Office because it packs a lot more formatting oomph. And Scribus and InkScape are still my go-to guys for what we used to call DTP.

Stills and video editing. Actually simple edits are now pretty easy to do on things like Picnik (now integrated into Google+ of course). For stills there’s the GIMP for video there’s Kdenlive and for sound Audacity, natch.

When the rain comes

There are two big risks with leaving your stuff lying on random servers scattered around the world:

  • other people might see the data without my permission
  • the data might vanish or be locked away from me

So I fret a quite a bit about security. Google has good tools and I try to keep an eye on account activity, change passwords and use 2-factor authentication and so on. As to people being allowed in without my knowledge. I try not to think about that. This does make moving between machines less than frictionless but it seems to be sensible.

And I regularly take copies of my data and documents out of the internet and hide them in a lovely little Buffalo Terastation where they nestle quietly on a RAID. Google’s Data Liberation Front is a bit marvellous in this regard.

Luckily no-one asks me to do any heavy coding, design or other things that require a sooper-dooper machine. I suppose I could do that on a virtual box but that’s hardly the same.

But the crucial question is, when the old laptop finally gives up the ghost should I buy a shiny Chromebook or just shove Linux on a passing laptop?

Yammer time

One of the most talked about sessions at last weekend’s LocalGovCamp was about Yammer.

(For those who don’t know, Yammer is basically a private version of Twitter with knobs on that works within an organisation.)

Tom Phillips, who led the session, wrote it up on the group blog:

I have a firm view, echoed by some points made by others, that while many threads on Yammer start there, bloom and fade away, a lot of conversations – as is the case on social media generally – start outside, come in, for a variety of reasons/motives, grow, and then fade. Or do they fade? There is evidence in my own work world that they often actually go offline, and often become mainstream topics in “real life”, as it were.

Here’s a video of the session (it’s on YouTube in case you can’t see it below):

Yammer certainly seems popular with a growing number of local authorities. It goes to show the potential in just making it easy for people to publish stuff to their colleagues – no need for workflows or processes.

It’s also popular because it is incredibly simple to deploy and starts out being free.

Yammer is exactly the sort of application that, left to traditional implementation styles, could take years and large amounts of money to make happen in a large organisation.

Instead, with a couple of clicks, it’s up and running. No need for a programme board, a project initiation document or milestones.

It’s an example of the way technology is changing. Anyone now has the power to roll out an enterprise-grade software package, as long as they can use a mouse and a keyboard.

Bookmarks for August 11th through August 18th

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.