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Archive for April, 2008

14
April

Gordon Burn, in Born Yesterday, writing about the erstwhile Eastenders actress Susan Tully:

A colleague had logged her onto YouTube for the first time that very afternoon, and the fact that just tapping the words ‘Michelle Fowler’ into the thing could back so many moment of the past crowding back - a pandemonium of fragments (an aggregation of fragments is the only kind of whole we have now)…

Isn’t this exactly what services like Friendfeed leave us with - just an aggregation of fragments? And how well does this represent us - are we more than the sum of our parts?

Category : web 2.0 | Blog
13
April

Paul Canning - challenged by Tom Watson to do so - has come up with ten things that need to be looked at as part of the government’s web strategy. His number one issue is ‘findability’:

Search is the prime route to content and is followed by links from other websites. How government addresses this is through newspaper ads - see DirectGov - or, slowly, very limited textads and rare banner ads. I’m not aware of any strategy which looks at how people find services or information in the real world online. Most pages are not optimised for search, most top results are by fluke rather than design and most links by legacy. All of that is and will continue to end - there is competition online. If they can’t find you, what’s the point?

Category : E-Democracy | Blog
13
April

John Naughton’s Observer column is required reading. Today he casts his eye on the Asus Eee PC:

Besides, the limitations of Mark I ought not to blind us to its significance - which is the cruel way it highlights the baroque complexity of conventional computing machines with their bloated operating systems, security problems, flaky hard drives, overheating processors and overweight chassis. Some day, our great-grandchildren will marvel that the industry once standardised on software that required its users to press the ‘Start’ button when they wished to stop their machine. Especially when all we really needed was a life-support system for a browser.

Category : Hardware | Journalism | Blog
11
April

The Department for Communities and Local Government have released something called a ‘Community Power Pack‘:

The Community Power Pack has been created to help local groups to organise and facilitate discussions on the topic of empowerment. The pack contains suggestions for the format of the meeting, advice for facilitators and organisers as well as detailed information about key empowerment issues. Your feedback will be used by Communities and Local Government to inform and shape empowerment activities, including the Empowerment White Paper.

It’s been created with Involve, and looks interesting. So what does it look like?

Well, first of all there is a 57 page PDF file. The introduction claims that it is published under a creative commons licence, but it doesn’t look like a CC licence I have ever seen before:

This publication, excluding logos, may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium for research, private study or for internal circulation within an organisation. This is subject to it being reproduced accurately  and not used in a misleading context. The material must be acknowledged as Crown copyright and the title  of the publication specified.

But never mind. It’s actually quite a nice idea, trying to get people to discuss issues around empowerment through their existing groups. The idea is that the results of the discussions will be a part of the eventual white paper on empowerment, and the power pack itself will be updated as feedback on the process itself is returned.

I do wonder why this wasn’t just done as a website, rather than a document, in the first place. For example, the method for returning views is a ‘Recording Sheet’ (in Word format, for goodness’ sake, what’s so hard about saving stuff in RTF?) which could have been simpler by just sticking in online. And if the power pack itself is going to change, why not just keep the most recent content live as a website? Would be much easier for everyone. To be fair, there is an opportunity for individuals to give their feedback at the DCLG forums but why not make an online response - through something other than a forum, preferably - the default?

The main content in the pack is a list of different activities can can be run at a get together to produce some answers as a group. It’s good stuff and nicely presented with plenty of supporting information.

I do just wonder how many people are actually going to be using these things, though! It does just seem an awful lot of work for folk to do. But at least it is an attempt, apparently, of the government trying to listen to people’s views - it just feels a bit controlling and overly processy to me.

Category : collaboration | Blog
11
April

Born YesterdayAm reading Gordon Burns’ Born Yesterday at the moment. Burn is one of my favourite writers, whether he’s producing non-fiction such as his remarkable books about serial killers (Peter Sutcliffe in Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son; Fred and Rose West in Happy Like Murderers) or the recent Best and Edwards about the Manchester United players; or fiction like Alma Cogan and Fullalove.

His writes brilliantly about celebrity, and infamy, and describes rather than explains, leaving you to make your own mind up. In other words, he treats the reader like an intelligent person.

With Born Yesterday, though, he is drifting into more experimental territory, presenting news stories from last summer - the search for Madeleine McCann, Gordon Brown taking over from Tony Blair etc - as a continuous narrative, pointing out the coincidences and connections as he goes. In many ways with this book Burn is delving into the kind of stuff that B.S. Johnson would approve of, effectively writing a non-fiction novel. Johnson famously considered that telling stories was telling lies, and therefore a Bad Thing (for a good introduction to Johnson and his work, Jonathan Coe’s biography Like a Fiery Elephant is superb. He is famous for doing stuff like having a hole cut into the pages of a novel so the reader can see into the future by reading the text a few pages in advance).

Burn is fundamentally right in that the news these days is a novel. Much of the news and the way in which it is presented seems to have more in common with soap opera plots than traditional reporting: the McCann issue being a case in point, with the attitude towards the parents of the missing girl wavering between sympathy, then approbation, mistrust and back to sympathy again.

But the news now is a story in which we can all participate. Being halfway through, I’m not sure if Burn will touch on the role that we all can have now as citizen journalists, or social reporters. But the images that we take on our mobile phones and post to Flickr or Facebook, or the video we capture and stream through services like Qik, or the opinions we report on our blogs and social network profiles all add to the primordial soup of content from which the news will be formed. As traditional media organisations get more and more wise to the role that citizen journalism can play, we will see a preponderance of amateur news reporting, creating a richer tapestry from which the news ‘novel’ can be formed.

Burn has the advantage of looking back at events and seeing them within a wider context. Perhaps this is the role that traditional media will play in the future, pulling together all the threads of the content produced by us, reporting on what is going on around us.

Update: By sheer chance, there was an article on B.S. Johnson on Guardian Online yesterday.

Category : Reading | Blog
11
April

Dimdim

Dimdim looks very interesting. It’s a way of hosting your own online conferences or (ugh) webinars. You can do this yourself by downloading the open source package, or by using the hosted option which is, I think, free. No need for that Webex subscription any more!
Excellent stuff.

Category : Online Working | Blog
10
April

Tim Davies has blogged again about UK Youth Online, the barcamp he is arranging for somewhere in London on 17 May. It reminded me that I have totally failed to post about it yet.

What’s it all about? Well, according to the rather lovely invite Tim has designed:

We are a collection of youth workers, participation workers, youth website managers,  innovators, technology developers, optimists, open minded sceptics, young people,  consultants, practitioners, managers, and many more things.

  • Between us we are interested in topics that include:
  • Online information services for young people
  • Supporting young people’s online interaction and activity
  • Researching young people and the internet/blogging/social networking etc.
  • Developing online tools and platforms for young people
  • Exploring online technologies in education and participation
  • Young people’s civic engagement online
  • School councils, youth councils and local e-democracy
  • On-line video and web radio

And we’re coming together on 17th May 2008 in London for a BarCamp – and informal conference where we set the agenda on the day and have creative, constructive and dynamic demonstrations, discussions and knowledge sharing.

Sounds good to me. I will certainly be popping along, and I would encourage everyone that reads this blog to do so as well. you can sign up using Tim’s nifty Google Docs / Pageflakes mashup wotsit at https://ukyouthonline.org.

Oh, and if anyone knows of a venue, do let Tim know. Thanks.

Category : Events | Blog
10
April

Spotted this outside the Novotel in Milton Keynes this morning.

Ladies' Parking

How odd!

Category : Photo | Blog
10
April

I’m a big fan of RSS, ever since I first discovered it through Bloglines a few years ago. For such a simple bit of technology, though, it’s often hard to explain how it works to those that have never used it before.

Another problem for RSS n00bs is that of where you can kind good quality feeds on the topics you are interested in. Generally speaking, this is an organic process, you subscribe to a couple, which then link to others, which you then subscribe to, and so on…

Could this process be made simpler? I wondered to myself the other day. And lo! Feedbeans was born.

What the site does is this: it makes available small OPML files that can be imported into a feed reader, providing an instant list of subscriptions along subject lines. So far there are two available, on UK News and Knowledge Management. I’m hoping to get some more up over the next couple of days, any suggestions for feedbean topics, and the feeds to go into them, are gratefully received!

I’m also putting some information together about RSS and how it works. Again, this is in constant development, so any comments on that would be great. I need to get the Common Craft RSS video in there somewhere…

I’ve had a bit of feedback from a few folk, and one of the common suggestions is to open this up into a platform, so that people can create their own feedbeans and make them available for download by others. I have no idea how this could be done though, so if anyone has any ideas, please do get in touch!

One day I might reveal the clunking and annoying way I am currently going about creating these things, but for now I will try and retain some pride.

Category : RSS | Blog