September 6, 2008
Stuff I have bookmarked for September 4th:
- paulcanning: How not to do video about recycling - Great notes from Paul on how local gov can make their video go viral (ie get people to actually watch it)
September 4, 2008
A short while ago, I wrote a little piece about a possible idea to enter into the Building Democracy competition, which was to create a social ‘directory’ of online community groups. I put directory in inverted comments because that isn’t really what it is, but I could think of a better word. Anyway, I’ve come up with a working title for the project: Communicosm - it’s like a microcosm of communities. Or something. I dunno.
Anyway, for the Building Democracy site, I need to answer some questions about the project. Here’s my draft responses, which will hopefully give more detail on how this thing might just work. Once again, all feedback gratefully received! I need to get this up on the site next week really, so chop chop people.
What is your idea’s name?
A short description of your idea (in twenty words or less)
A socially generated directory of online communities, tagged by areas of interest, that organisations can use to find people to talk to. (This is 22 words. Dammit.)
Describe your idea. What will you do?
Create a wiki based site which will contain details of online communities, which organisations such as central and local government can use to find the people they need to get in touch with for consultations, etc. Each community will have a page describing it and its interests, with tags describing it with keywords, which can then be used by organisations to find the right communities quickly whether through a search engine or a tag cloud. Time will be spent at the beginning researching and finding communities and adding them to the site so that when it launches, it is full of content for people to get their teeth into. After this initial burst of activity, it will be a community generated job. Further additions to functionality might be for people to make lists of communities that they have found on the site, which can be emailed to them or shared on the site.
What will the benefits be?
The site will save time for those searching for groups to contact and engage with. Searching online for communities is a time consuming business, not least because some human research element is required to judge activity levels and how relevant the community is to a project.
Who will you target?
Online community groups will be targetted and encouraged to add themselves to the site. Non-online community group could also be added, though if they have no online presence this could be tricky. It will also be publicised amongst government and other organisations to encourage use.
Is your idea linked to a particular town or region? If so, where?
No, it’s a national thing. A local version already kind of exists with GroupsNearYou.
What kind of assistance would you like from others?
Help in identifying, adding and tagging communities on the site once up and running. Encouragement of organisations to make use of the site’s content.
September 4, 2008
The search box on the FireFox toolbar is a pretty useful thing, giving you quick access to various search engines and other sites, like Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia. It’s based on a Mozilla project called Mycroft (that being the name of Sherlock Holmes’ brother) and if you have a browse around, you’ll find plugins to enable you to search loads of different sites using that single box on your browser.
Well, I found out today just how damn easy it is to make one of these for yourself. You don’t even need to know any XML - the format used to code the plugins - just fill a form in on the Mycroft site. I did this to create a search box for DavePress, which you can install by visiting this page.
The form is simplicity itself to complete, with only one tricky field, which is where you specify the URL to use when carrying out searches. Here’s a tip for WordPress users, you need to input:
For a less-than-five minute job, you’d be mad not to. Might be a useful thing for local councils, government departments etc to do to make their stuff that bit more simple to find.
September 4, 2008
Stuff I have bookmarked for September 2nd through September 3rd:
- Mantis Bug Tracker - Bug tracker built in PHP
- Beanstalk — Version Control with a Human Face - Hosted subversion, via @lesteph
- Website Improvements and New Features - Your Archives - The national archives in the uk has put up a wiki. Please help suggest web projects they should undertake on this page… via @mysociety on twitter
- Consultation Institute on online only consultation | Delib Blog - "The time to see new technologies in consultation as a supplemental has long since passed."
September 2, 2008
Stuff I have bookmarked for September 2nd:
- Obama’s Secret Weapon: Geeks. Lots of Them | Linux Journal - "The man has means for e-governance already in place. And geeks are the ones who put it there. And will continue to put it there, whether Obama wins or not in November."
September 1, 2008
There are plenty of events you can go to to find out about the social web, and how it can help public sector organisations, but they can be rather expensive, and pretty formal too. Another issue is that they are invariably in London, or one of the other major cities. What about those people who are a bit unsure about this stuff, and who don’t feel they can justify a £450 for a conference, or who don’t want to spend two days out of the office just to attend a one day event?
ReadWriteGov is an attempt to get around this issue by organising informal, day long events around the country at a very affordable price. The first event is being held at Peterborough City Council, where I have been helped out by Fran Paterson in organising things. I met Fran through the Social Media Community of Practice, which shows the value of this kind of networking. It’s happening on the 29th October between 1.30 and 4.30pm and is open to anyone who is interested, though I would seriously encourage people from local government to attend, along with folk from other parts of government and the public sector. You can sign up for the event at the Eventbrite page - it’s £25 for public sector folk and £50 for others.
It’s going to be a fun afternoon - I’ve lined up pals such as Dom Campbell and Steph Gray to come and talk about the exciting stuff they are doing with Barnet Council and DIUS, respectively. In addition to these luminaries, I’ll be running a social media game style workshop, which will hopefully help attendees identify how they can use social media in their organisations.
Of course, this is just the first of what will hopefully be many such events, which could be held all over the country. So if anyone is reading who fancies hosting a ReadWriteGov event, please do drop me a line.
One last note about the Peterborough event. Because Fran is heavily involved with the British Computer Society, especially the women’s wing of the organisation, we are holding another event in the evening, again at the City Council, for BCS members and other interested people, such as the local college, to raise awareness of the tools that are out there and how they might be used. Booking for this event, which will run between 6 and 9pm, will, I believe, be through the BCS website in due course.
August 31, 2008
Great post by Neil Williams on how civil servants can approach blogging in a way that means they will get readers but won’t lose their jobs:
Starting up your own personal blog is dead easy. Unless you’re a civil servant and want to talk about your work.
If you are, then you face this choice: play it safe and say nothing interesting ever, or do some homework to learn where the boundaries lie. As ‘Mr Newest Blogging Civil Servant UK’, I’ve been doing the latter: reading up on what I can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) say.
August 30, 2008
Stuff I have bookmarked for August 29th:
- UK Central government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies with rss feeds - Er… just what it says. Useful list, hat tip to Tom Steinberg on the MySociety list
- Municipalist: Q & A: Jeremy Gould, U.K. Ministry of Justice - Everyone's favourite gov webby gets asked some questions and gives mostly coherent answers
- MySQL GUI Tools Downloads - Helpful MySQL management apps
August 29, 2008
I just had a request from someone asking what the best community sites are for a certain - fairly specific - group of people. A little digging, partly Google, partly ‘I know I’ve seen something like this somewhere…’, soon produced some good results. I emailed them off and my contact was a happy chappy (hopefully).
This set me off thinking, that some kind of online resource for government, both central and local, and other organisations, could use to identify where the places are that people are talking about certain topics. It could be community maintained and updated, but would need some seriously work in the first place to firstly identify key target groups that would be good places to start, and secondly do the grunt work to track down the most popular communities and forums, and then list them on the site.
A further development could then be to add other communities which aren’t necessarily online based - though if they have no web presence at all, that might be tricky.
So, some time is required to get it up and running, which if I were to do it (and why not?) I’d probably like to be paid for. Which made me think of Building Democracy, the competition to identify projects which help ’stimulate public discussion’. I reckon this idea suits that remit pretty well. I need to do some maths around how much time it would take to scope and do the initial work, but I doubt it will use up very much of the available £150,000 at all.
Before I post it up to the site, though, I’d like some initial feedback:
- Is it a good idea?
- Does something like this already exist?
- Can you see any problems at this early stage of the idea’s development?
Any thoughts welcomed! Oh, and please don’t steal my idea!
August 29, 2008
Palimpsest is a site I am really rather proud of. It was my first attempt at building a really social web community, launching in April 2003, and is still going strong. It’s a forum, pure and simple, where people talk about books, mainly, but also films and music and theatre and TV and art… basically anything. What keeps it together as a community is the culture of the place, it has managed to stay polite and coherent throughout.
This has largely been the result of a reasonably strict regime of facilitation - new members are generally given time to settle in, but if their posts continue to be witless, annoying or boring, then they tend to be asked to leave or banned after a while. Occasionally this causes ruptions - it certainly did recently - but then if you can’t act like an omnipotent dictator on your own forum, where can you? I am helped out on the site by three other admin people, one who helped me begin the site in the first place, and two who were members who clearly understood what the site was all about. Having people you can trust to keep things ticking over in invaluable - I owe these guys a lot.
As all good online communities do, we have also had some real life get togethers. These meets, dubbed the ‘Big Day Out’, started in May 2005 in London, and in that month every year since. We’ve also visited Oxford, York and Cambridge and in May 2009 it will be Edinburgh’s turn. People have travelled remarkable distances to attend these days out, and getting to meet folk really does elp foter the community spirit and to build up trust between members.
Tech wise, the site currently runs on a rather ancient version of VBulletin, which I have to pay an annual sub for, and which isn’t, sadly, open source. Originally phpBB was used for a couple of years but security was an issue, as was a bug which meant that search engine bots could very rapidly fill up the sessions table in the database, bringing the whole site down. There has since been a new version of phpBB released, which I am sure has fixed a lot of these problems, but VBulletin works and I am loathe to change for the sake of it.
Still, the time has come for some changes. Largely driven by three factors:
- the web hosting plan Palimpsest is currently on isn’t terribly cost effective for how the site has developed (it gets quite a lot of traffic and has a huge database). I can get better service cheaper elsewhere
- the version of VBulletin running is hideously out of date and needs upgrading, as mentioned above
- Behind the scenes, various bits of organisation of the forum have become hopelessly muddled and need sorting out, such as permissions, user groups and the files the forum runs from
So, a change of hosts means I can clean various bits up. The bit I am most nervous about is moving the forum itself. The MySQL database that drives the site is over 225mb in size, which will need downloading from the current hosts and importing into the new ones. Before I do this though, I will need to upgrade the current Palimpsest site to the latest VBulletin to ensure the import works properly on the new one! Plenty of opportunities for disaster…
I tweeted about the issues of the database download because I didn’t really trust phpMyAdmin to do it without dropping a connection - what with the size of the database in question. Most of the advice was to use terminal access to the server with the sqldump command. Sadly, my hosting arrangements don’t provide me with this service, so I had to try something else. Simon at Stratford District Council recommended CocoaMySQL, a desktop client for MySQL for the Mac. I’m currently downloading the database for testing purposes - when it’s time to actually make the switch, I’ll shut the forum down in order that no posts get missed out. CocoaMySQL is very easy to use, and assuming the download works properly, I can heartily recommend it.
With the current site, visiting www.palimpsest.org.uk forwards people straight to www.palimpsest.org.uk/forum/ - there is no ‘home page’ other than the forum itself. Also, for various reasons, there are a couple of WordPress installs where I host blogs for some forum members. The obvious thing to do seems to me to install WordPressMU which can drive the site’s homepage as well as host the couple of blogs that are already established, and maybe some new ones too if people are up for it. The homeage would then be made up of four distinct sections: some kind of header, with a big logo and a link to the forums, a column of aggregated content from the hosted blogs and the Palimpsest Flickr group, a column of aggregated book news from various sources, and a column of the latest forum activity.
While I am it, I’ll switch all the email accounts to Google Apps, too. Much more storage, and much nicer to use that most webmail interfaces.
I’m rather looking forward to all this. Let’s hope it all works…