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:

Tools I use for learning

Recently, as part of a survey of members of the Social Learning Centre, I put together a list of ten sites or apps I use a lot in my own learning activity. Actually, I thought ten was rather a lot, so to share it here, I thought I’d whittle it down to half that number.

I think it’s useful to always remind yourself of the tools you use regularly in your own activity, particularly if you spend time designing sites, systems and platforms for others to use.

What’s also interesting for me is that everything in this list is pretty old! It turns out I am not exactly on the cutting edge. Who knew?

Google Reader

The source of all knowledge! OK, maybe not, but I’m subscribed to over 500 blogs and sites in Reader and it’s the second place I go to every day, after my email inbox. Maybe 80% of everything I scan through on there is of no use, but that’s ok –  the 20% is what matters.

I do worry about the future of Reader – RSS is not the hippest of technologies and I’m concerned Google might switch it off some day… which would make me very sad.

Everything I find really useful gets starred in Reader, and thanks to IFTTT, gets pinged to Twitter as a link, and dumped into Evernote as an archive.

Evernote

My portable archive of everything. Web pages get copied into Evernote, everything I star in Reader ends up in here, notes in meetings and during phone calls… pretty much everything that passes my eyes online ends up here in case I need it later.

What’s interesting about Evernote is that it has reached that stage of ubiquity in my way of working where I don’t even recognise that it’s there most of the time, I just perform various actions, look stuff up in it, type in notes, clip a web page, without even thinking. Evernote fits right into my workflow, which is a key thing for any technology.

Wikipedia

I was thinking about putting Google search in here, but actually most of the time what Google produces is a link to a Wikipedia page, so I thought I’d disintermediate for you. No matter what I’m doing, I find myself looking stuff up on Wikipedia to find out more – reading a book, watching TV, whatever. It’s one of the things I use my Nexus 7 tablet for – just so handy a form factor for quickly looking stuff up.

Twitter

Not just where I share stuff I found illuminating, but where I get to find things out too. Whether ‘overhearing’ interesting conversations or picking up on links and stories shared by others, Twitter is a hugely important part of my learning network.

Interestingly (perhaps) is that now I have been on Twitter for a little while, and built up a fairly substantial follower/following count, I find it less useful for asking questions myself and getting responses. Perhaps this is because the network is just that much more busy these days – who knows? – but the apparently logical idea that if you have more followers you get more responses doesn’t seem to be true.

Maybe I’m just asking the wrong questions.

WordPress

Blogging is where all the stuff I’ve learned elsewhere gets written up and formulated into something that’s usually even less coherent than it was before. This has gotten increasingly difficult as the various stresses and strains of life, running a business, etc get in the way; but I do try to blog thoughts and ideas as often as I can.

Hopefully this helps others – but the primary benefit is my own. The process of writing for a public audience forces you to critically analyse your ideas and thinking and there is as much value in the countless posts that never get published because of their idiocy as there is in those that are seen and commented by others.

WordPress is a publishing platform that I feel I have grown up with since I started using it back in 2004 and it just gets out of the way for me.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

What I’ve been reading

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

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Some useful BuddyPress plugins

BuddyPress is a plugin for WordPress that turns your site into a simple social network. It’s a remarkable thing, but I think it is fair to say that while it makes creating a social network easy, creating a good social network is still hard.

At Kind of Digital we’ve built a few BuddyPress sites recently, and we’ve found some other plugins that make life a bit easier, so here’s our list.

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to pop them in the comments!

1. BP Group Management

Enables an administrator to manage groups within BuddyPress by banning, unbanning, promoting and demoting current members of any group, adding members to any group, and deleting groups.

2. BP Profile Search

Adds a configurable search form to your BuddyPress Members directory, so visitors can find site members searching their extended profiles.

3. BuddyPress Extend Widgets

Adds a BuddyPress specific element to all widgets you use on the site. You will be able to select on which users profiles or groups pages you want to display a widget on and so on.

4. BuddyPress Group Email Subscription

A really important one this – it allows users to sign up to email notifications of activity within groups, and also to choose between instant updates, or daily or weekly digests.

5. Buddypress Humanity

A downside of BuddyPress is getting non-existent spam member signing up, who just want to post loads of links to your community and generally ruining it. This plugin adds a Turing type test to new member signups to make it harder for this to happen.

6. Buddypress Sitewide activity widget

Adds a widget you can place in a sidebar or other widgetised area on your site that displays a handy list of the recent activity on your network. If you’re struggling for space on your homepage, this is particularly useful.

7. BuddyPress Topic Mover

Another behind the scenes plugin – this lets administrators move discussions from one group to another. Dead handy if a user has started a conversation in the wrong place.

8. Custom Profile Filters for BuddyPress

Out of the box, BuddyPress automatically turns some words and phrases in the fields of a user’s profile into links that, when clicked, search the user’s community for other profiles containing those phrases. When activated, this plugin allows users and administrators to have more control over these links.

I find these really useful for profile fields that link to social networking profiles.

9. oEmbed for BuddyPress

This enables users to easily share rich media content like YouTube videos on their walls.

10. Welcome Pack

Great for community management activities, this plugins sends new users a welcome message when then join, adds them to groups and sends friend requests – making them feel at home right away!

WordPress for local government

wordpressWordPress, the open source content management system that I use here on this blog, is growing in its utilisation across government. It took root a bit quicker in central government, with the Number 10 site, Defra, Wales Office and the Department of Health, amongst others, using WordPress to deliver some or all of their web content.

There’s increasing evidence of its use in local government too, mostly for micro-sites rather than being used as the main content management system for a council’s corporate website. Take the ‘digital press office’ sites at Shropshire or Birmingham, for example.

Carl Haggerty recently blogged about two new WordPress sites Devon County Council have published – a newsroom site and a networking site for social care commissioning.

Some councils have the capacity to run their own servers for hosting WordPress, and to keep the software maintained, templates developed and so on – which is great. But what about those authorities that lack the in-house knowledge, or perhaps just the time?

At Kind of Digital, we are currently supporting one district council to make the most of WordPress by supplying a comprehensively supported platform to run multiple WordPress sites for a small yearly subscription fee.

The platform provides:

  • a dedicated virtual private server hosting a WordPress multisite instance, with no limit on the number of sites hosted
  • maintenance of the software, plugins and themes, with regular upgrades taking place
  • daily backups both locally and to the cloud and an SLA guaranteeing uptime and availability
  • telephone, web and email support, and written and video-based documentation and guidance
  • a number of training and consultancy days every year to help people use the platform to its potential
  • a number of templates to use on sites, including microsites, blogs, commentable documents, consultation sites and much more

The organisation will soon start to see considerable savings as microsites hosted in a number of locations are brought together and re-hosted on the multisite platform.

We’re already talking to a couple of other organisations about supporting them with a similar arrangement. As I mentioned above, many organisations can support WordPress perfectly easily themselves – but for those that need a helping hand, we’ve got a nice system ready and waiting to go.

Interested? Drop me line!

Crowdsourcing Big Society in South Holland

I’ve written a couple of times about the WordPress based ideas crowdsourcing tool we’ve been working on at Kind of Digital, which is called CiviCrowd. We’re delighted that it’s now being used out in the open by South Holland District Council, to find the ideas people have to improve their local community.

Ideas are entered by users using a simple online form, moderated, and then when published others can comment on them, rate them and share them on their own networks.

Part of the driver for this project is that all councillors in South Holland now have a designated ward budget to spend on local projects. This site is seen as being a key way of getting people to share those ideas in a simple and straightforward way.

There are already a bunch of ideas on the site, and that’s before it has been promoted in the Council newsletter and the local paper – that should be happening in the next couple of weeks.

If there’s anyone else out there that could use a site like this – you know where I am!

Houses and clouds

The Government Digital Service blog is essential reading. Two recent posts well worth a look:

What is that beautiful house?

The phrase “not a CMS” has become a bit of a joke around the GovUK office (to the point where more than a few people were humming Once In A Lifetime), but it’s a key part of our approach. The Single Domain will include several components that enable publishing on the web but they’re part of a much broader ecosystem of tools wired together using APIs and designed to be constantly iterated to focus on user need. As we began to unpack what that means it became clear that we were going to need custom software.

Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, attends seminar at No. 10 Downing Street

Dr. Vogels defined cloud computing as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ across the Internet to multiple external customers”. Calling on his experience from across the globe he outlined how the flexibility and resilience offered by clouds has helped to transform some government instances via the idea of software as a service and the advent of reactive charging models. He gave the example of Recovery.gov in the US as just one of over 100 Government sites using cloud hosting.