5 years of MySociety

I had an enjoyable time at the MySociety shindig last night at The Hub in King’s Cross. There were lots of cool people there, and I got the chance to bend people’s ears about digital mentors, which was fun for me if not for them.

David Wilcox has a great post about MySociety, including a video from Tom Steinberg back in 2003, pushing the idea of a ‘Civic Hacking Fund’. I think I prefer the name they ended up with.

Simon Dickson likewise muses on the impact MySociety has had on the development of government webby stuff in the UK:

You can do a tremendous amount of good with relatively little money, as long as you have good people involved. People who understand the context, who have a feel for the technology, and who have a passion for what they’re doing. That’s been the very basis of MySociety’s success, and (I hope) my own here at Puffbox.

I also got the chance to catch up with Amy Sample Ward, who works with NetSquared in North America helping non-profits get the most out of technology. She’s now based in London and will be doing her best to help UK NFPs catch up. It’s difficult not to be caught up in her enthusiasm to make things better, which is great. Again, David Wilcox has don the interview, which I’ve embedded below.


Email lists still the best?

An interesting point made by Tom Steinberg of MySociety at barcampukgovweb was when he was asked about the best platform to use to operate an online working group. An example of a working group like this could be those who attended the barcamp – how could they manage their interactions online in the future?

Tom’s response was that the mailing list was the best way for a group of people to communicate online, and so for the barcampers, the best thing to do would be to stick with the Google Group already created (by me, heh heh). I chipped in at this point with my theory as to why email lists seem to work well, especially with government types. It’s because email is work, and the web is not work. People are now so used to working through their email, that they are quite happy for it to be used for a number of purposes, whether it be news alerts (more popular than RSS feeds) or community interactions (more popular than social networks).

There are problems with email lists though, especially for community based collaborative efforts. Scalability is a major issue, with only 25-30 regular contributors being feasible on a list. The second is when individual work streams start to develop, which some list subscribers just aren’t interested in. Thirdly, you can’t work collaboratively on documents, and at that point additional services have to start to be used.