Archive for July, 2008


I spent an interesting morning last Friday at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, attending a meeting of ‘civil servant bloggers’ - not many of whom, it turned out, actually blogged - to discuss the recent guidelines for online participation. It was organised through the Power of Information Taskforce.

I found it a peculiar experience, not really being sure of what the purpose of the workshop was, nor what would happen to the results, whatever they may have been.

The guidelines themselves are short and sweet, and whilst in many ways their brevity is a strength, they do (out of necessity) simplify an issue which is actually pretty complicated when you think about it. For instance, what do we actually mean when we talk about online participation? Also, how could civil servants participate online? There are several choices:

  • They can do so internally or externally
  • They can use social media to communicate or collaborate
  • They can use their own platform, or get involved with someone else’s
  • They can do so officially, or personally

I doubt whether the guidelines will encourage too many civil servants to start blogging, which is probably a good thing, if we are being honest. Most have neither the neither the time nor the inclination to start their own blogs, and it is a truth universally recognised that there is nothing worse than blogs that run out of steam, or enthusiasm.

Instead, I think there needs to be a focus on participating online in other people’s spaces. This is a quick, easy way for officials to engage without the need for the continuous content generation that comes with setting up a new platform. It’s also something that could develop over time:

  1. Listen to what’s being said - set up simple RSS feeds and subscribe to searches on key terms to monitor the online conversation
  2. Get involved - where appropriate, leave responses where they are required, or acknowledge and link to such conversations from the traditional web presence
  3. Create content - if it is necessary or useful, start a blog to provide a way of providing information and views that work better on a standalone site

To do this though, officials need the resources to be able to do it: time, skills and tools. The recent work at DIUS goes to show just what is possible when roles are created to focus on digital participation issues. Training is required to show civil servants how to do stuff - but it needs to be directly focused on what people in specific jobs need, whether press officers, policy officials, or whoever. Rather than training, ‘mentoring’ or ‘coaching’ is probably the better term for this. In terms of tools, people need to be able to access sites, whether blogs, forums or social networks, without having to request to IT to lift the block on each one. They also need up-to-date browsers which can handle Flash or AJAX type content, and which render pages properly. Far, far too many public institutions use IE6 as their most up to date browser - it isn’t good enough.

Ingrid was at the event too, and posted her thoughts here.

Category : E-Democracy | Blog
CommunitiesUK Twitter Feed

CommunitiesUK Twitter Feed

Interestingly, it looks like the experiment with Twitter that DCLG have been undertaking as part of the Communities in Control digital participation drive might continue beyond the initial period. Great news.

Category : E-Democracy | Twittering | Blog

I was delighted to be a part of the winning pub quiz team at WordCampUK, not least because it meant that I won a wicked cool dark green WordPress tshirt. I asked the now-legendary quiz host Jon Bounds for a large, and a large was what I got.

Only, it’s in the ladies style, which makes it significantly smaller than me.

So, there is a free WP tshirt going spare to any suitably sized female who wants it. Let me know in the comments or by email. See the photo of Automattic dude Sam Bauers below, who is sporting the manly version.

Sam Bauers in Green WP T Shirt

Photo by Benjamin

Category : wordpress | Blog
Category : Bookmarks | Blog

Been busy at WorkCampUK so haven’t been following my feeds that closely, but my eye was caught by a post written by Shane Richmond, Communities Editor of the Telegraph’s web presence:

I’ve been testing Google Apps within the Telegraph for the last few months so I’m delighted that we’re now switching over entirely. The speed, accessibility and flexibility of Google Mail, Google Calendar and Google Docs make them much better to work with than the programs we used before.

Interesting news. After all, if an august institution like the Telegraph can make such a move, why not any other organisation?

I do have a few issues with the Google Apps offering though. For a start, the version of iGoogle that comes as standard is a seriously crippled version which, amongst other things, only lets you have one page of stuff. Also, sharing forms using Google Spreadsheets doesn’t work for people without an account on the Google Apps domain. It also doesn’t make sense to me that Google Reader isn’t a part of the package too.

But just in terms of email, as someone who has used various versions of Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, Lotus Notes and other enterprise email systems, Gmail is better than any.

Category : Online Working | Blog
WordCampUK (photo by Benjamin)

WordCampUK (photo by Benjamin)

I am typing most of this on the train back from Birmingham, where I have been attending WordCampUK, a two day conference on all things to do with the greatest online publishing platform, like, ever. It was great to meet new folk, and friends too and as always, the value for me was in the conversations snatched over a cup of tea rather than the official sessions themselves.

Part of this was because WordCampUK was a curiously formal affair, with a proper agenda and with everyone attending all the same sessions, by and large. It was, I think it is fair to say, a lot more word than camp. One thing I couldn’t really understand was that there was a room available that wasn’t used at all, that would have been perfect as a breakout room for people to have off the cuff discussions and practical sessions.

I suppose it is a rather peculiar thing to try and form an event around a platform - the one thing we all had in common was the tool we use to get lots of wildly different stuff done. Finding common ground was therefore always going to be tricky, which made the lack of an official breakout space more of an issue.

Something that could be improved for next time would definitely be to introduce some flexibility into the agenda - at least to make people feel that they are able to leave a session in the main space if they don’t think it is really for them. There also needs to be enough room for manoeuvre in the sessions themselves, to let them fly off in a different direction than may have been originally intended.

The one session that was clearly missing was a show-and-tell - “Cool Stuff I’ve Done With WordPress” - give everyone who wants it five minutes to show off something they have done. Simon Dickson did a bit of this during his great session - the only one that really had everyone buzzing at the end. Presenting is clearly not as easy as it seems.

Some other positive stuff:

  • The WordPress community in the UK is beginning to shape itself. I picked up several business cards from techie types which could well come in very handy in the future. I don’t see my future as being too much about building stuff, rather enabling people to realise how the social web can help them, and maybe joining the folk up who can get stuff done. Knowing the people with the skills will be vital.
  • There was a very interesting discussion around SEO, on which I made some notes on this blog. The key message was to make sure your content is well written and interesting. There is still a lot for government to learn about this stuff, as Paul Canning often says - maybe we should call it findability or something, though.
  • Jon Bounds is a ludicrously amusing quiz show host. His quiz was pointlessly hard, and yet somehow the team I was on won. Huzzah! One green WordPress tshirt for me - lets hope it fits.
  • There was much twittering going on, and despite the use of the hashtag, the most useful way of monitoring it all was a Summize Twitter Search for the wordcampuk tag. It did descend into snarkiness on a couple of occasions, but that was probably necessary at that particular point in time. Twitter is like passing notes round class for the 21st century, and was laugh out loud funny on occasions
  • Simon’s announcement that the new site for 10 Downing Street will be running on WordPress drew several gasps from the attendees. It’s big news for those trying to sell the use of WP to large organisations: after all, if it’s good enough for Gordon…

Some stuff needs to be done to develop the community, to draw others in that couldn’t make the event and to really make the most of the connections being made.

  • Let’s get a WordPress UK planet of blogs set up, so we can all keep up with what one another is saying
  • Let’s get a community network built, where we can all list ourselves, our interests, skills, knowledge, availability etc
  • Let’s start planning the next event, and make sure it’s flexible, informal and fun

So well done to those who organised the event, but I guess the real work starts now.

Category : Events | wordpress | Blog

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?
Category : wordpress | Blog
Category : Bookmarks | Blog

If you want to get the skinny on what’s going down at WordCampUK, check out the Pageflake thingy.

Category : wordpress | Blog

Here’s some notes from the session at WordCampUK on SEO for WordPress, presented by Nick Garner of Betfair. Will tidy up later with more links and stuff.

  1. you can’t hold your website users’ hands the whole time. SEO can make it easier for them to find what they want
  2. What have you got that others don’t? What do you want on your site? Structure your content for search engines, use analytics and get social with links
  3. Using WordPress with the right plugins helps
  4. Content - useful and entertaining? Can the people writing your content actually write well? Need for enthusiasm. Would you read your content?
  5. Jon Bounds tweets - “ I’d love a discussion about whether or not it’s all a bit vulgar, rather than how to do it.”
  6. Who do you want to visit your site? Motivation: PR, money making or ego? Picture your reader and write for them
  7. Think like a librarian when structuring content: correct titles, categorisation, avoid duplication
  8. When building sites, get metadata in first, then the content. Don’t bury under piles of javascript & navigation stuff
  9. The cost of some sites using ‘traditional’ CMS can make you sob
  10. Security issues with WordPress? Can’t do ‘hard baked’ pages?
  11. Get Google Analytics and webmaster console
  12. If you are getting 90% traffic from search engines, that’s bad. About 60% is probably best.
  13. Gaming search engines gets harder as processor grunt increases. Don’t bother putting your black hat on.
  14. It takes time to get right, but can save a lot of marketing pennies
  15. Journalists are cheap - get them to write your content
  16. Can’t beat good writing
  17. Links: general directories are useless.
  18. Pimp yourself around: comment on related sites with link back to yours, put signposts up on relevant sites, be remarkable/stand out so people want to link to you
  19. Getting pageviews is fine, but to what end? You can generate traffic, but what do these people do when on your site except consume bandwidth
  20. Plenty of content, lots of key phrases
  21. 10% of traffic will have commercial intent
  22. Adsense is horrible (agreed!) If you are going to run ads use affiliate schemes
  23. The fundamental thing is that Google wants to find the sites that people want to see, so it really is just about the content
  24. - find out what keywords a site ranks for
Category : Blogging | wordpress | Blog