Time certainly flies when you’re having fun

It hadn’t really dawned on me before now but a year ago today I arrived in Ireland.

Fresh from tearful goodbyes at work, another successful government barcamp, and a fourteen hour journey through terrible snow storms to get here and be reunited with my family.

My initial plan was to take three months out from thinking about work to reconnect with what’s most important to me, and then start taking on projects. Well, so far I’ve managed to pretty much stretch that three months into a whole year and who knows how much longer I’ll be able to get away with it for?!

Its not all be play and fun (but a lot of it has been if I’m completely honest) and I’ve enjoyed dabbling in projects both here and back in the UK, some paid and some favors. I’ve built websites, helped organize grassroots digital engagement, helped to record a literary festival with some great bloggers, done digital strategy consultancy for a few different types of business, and am working at the moment on what could be a really huge, great project (but I can’t say too much about that just yet).

One thing though I have deliberately avoided getting involved with is central government projects. I really wanted to try and shake all of that out of my system. By the time I left, I had pretty much given all the energy I had to my work at the Ministry of Justice and needed to get some distance from it. At the same time that meant that a lot of the stuff I did, and the people I worked with, was (and is) close to my heart.

But of course the beauty of the connected world is that I have stayed in almost as close contact with many of my former colleagues and friends in Whitehall as I had when I worked there. I’ve also indulged in regular flying visits to London to catch up with people (and sneak up to the Apple Store for technolust injections).

Two weeks ago I was back for the third barcamp and a chance to hear from those still at the forefront of government online. Still loads of energy, enthusiasm and optimism. But also still lots of the same frustrations and blockages that got in the way of my job (and despite all the great strides forward that have occurred over the last year). Amazing how much, and how little, has changed.

Its a funny old thing and I find that, despite myself, I still care a lot about what happens in that world.

And I still have opinions.

And I realise that I can voice those opinions more freely now than before.

So, I might do that.

And I might start doing some more work back there (if anyone will still have me. And lets be honest, a few people were glad to see the back of me).


This parrot is not dead, its just sleeping

If you’re still reading this, its possible that I might do some more shortly. Things seem to be happening that I want to talk about.

I know, I’m as surprised as you.

John Naughton on the White House’s use of Drupal

John Naughton follows up Tim O’Reilly’s post that the White House website is now powered by Drupal with the following comment:

Particularly interesting is the fact that the team cites greater security as one of the reasons for moving. this suggests a pretty sophisticated — for policymakers, anyway — understanding of the argument that proprietary software is, paradoxically, likely to be less secure than open software.

Somehow, I can’t see the UK government getting that. Brown & Co still think Microsoft is cutting edge.

They may well do John. But its the geeks, not the politicians, that push these things on. Have you not noticed all the WordPress love around Whitehall over the last two years?

Playing around with WordPress themes

Nothing to see here, I’m just taking the opportunity to refresh this site a little. I’ve had it in mind to update the site for a while since I noticed how many templates wordpress.com now offers.

I’ve also just finished building a hosted wordpress site (of which more shortly) so I thought it was time to pay some attention to my own site.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Does this represent a thaw in the lack of activity here?


But I’ve said that before haven’t I….

John Suffolk blogging – does he need webby design help?

Props to Ian Cuddy at PSF for spotting that John Suffolk, the UK government CIO, has recently taken up blogging. Its great to see this level of openness from a very senior official (he even has a link for his work email account at the bottom of the page) and also his decision not to follow the crowd and get WordPressing (might upset one or two people…)

But am I being a bit of a webbie pedant when I see that he’s using Comic Sans as his main content font? I mean, its not comic its criminal.

Come on John, smarten up a bit please if only to satisfy the eyes of web developers across Whitehall (if you need the number of one of them for a bit of design advice I’d be only too happy to help). But please, please keep up the blogging.

Craig Newmark on the challenges to transformational government

Craig Newmark, founder of the awesome Craigslist, was in London a recently as part of the Travelling Geeks visit to the UK. I was lucky enough to meet him (briefly) at Reboot Britain. Its not often you get to meet a god of the web…..(Incidentally, Craig gave an interesting talk at Reboot Britain on how the internet aids democracy. Worth checking out – its the sixth vid clip down).

On his blog, and back home in the US, he reflects on the challenges to transformational government in the UK and US (hint, its not rationalising websites). He says something that I am hearing (and agreeing with) increasingly often:

“the tech is the easy part, the real challenge involves professional and emotional buy-in and commitment…”

Though he refers to government tech workers, I think the challenge lies beyond them and points more towards the non-tech literates (or tech illiterates?). In particular, the senior decision makers who have the power to enable change.

If you hadn’t already seen his piece, its well worth a read.

Playing around with Posterous – and finding that it might just work for me

If you haven’t checked out Posterous yet, you should. Inspired by Steve Rubel’s move to this service, I’ve been playing around with it and loving the functionality. In essence its a very simple blogging platform that allows you to post via email, beautifully presents your media content and allows you to syndicate it easily to your other online presences.
I’ve always been a casual blogger (though 150 posts in two years isn’t too shabby, especially as I haven’t really spent much time writing here for the last six months) and before Whitehall Webby I had a few different blogging sites set up that allowed me space to blog about non-government stuff.
Now that I am no longer a civil servant, I’ve been rethinking how I might use this site. I’ve been working on a refresh of the design that is almost complete (guess what webbies. Its the content thats not quiet finished – sound familiar?).
There are a lot of things I want to highlight that aren’t about my work, but Whitehall Webby has always been a space for me to talk about work stuff and I’m not sure that I want to expand that focus just yet (though of course, I’m not working at the moment). Whilst Posterous is incredibly flexible, it doesn’t quite give me enough in terms of customisation that would persuade me to move my main domain there.
But I still want to capture stuff, comment on things, or highlight items of interest to me. So I’m going to give Posterous a go for that kind of content.
I’m cross-posting this but I’m not planning to regularly re-post stuff on Whitehall Webby from my Posterous site.
Whitehall Webby is/ will remain my work thoughts / portfolio / site for the time being. Jezzag.com (an old nickname if you want to know) is for the other stuff. You can subscribe to a feed there too if you are so inclined but if you are in any way connected to me online you probably don’t need to.
S’all for now….

Back to blogging

Well kinda, sorta, not quite yet…..

Its been almost four months since I left Whitehall – at the same time its both flown by and feels like a lifetime ago. Now I’m pretty settled I’m starting to think about gov things again and taking keener notice of what’s going on (and there’s been quite a bit…..). But that can wait for just a little longer.

In the meantime, there’s a fantastic literary festival taking place just down the road from me next week and a couple of intrepid irish bloggers are doing their best to provide online coverage for the events. It seemed churlish of me not to offer to give them a hand given how much free time I have at the moment.

Listowel Writers Week is in its 39th year and has an amazing line up of authors and workshops.  I can’t believe that such a brilliant cast list is assembling a couple of miles from me, and I can’t wait to help Paul and Patrick capture some of the flavour of the festival. Its quite a while since I’ve done anything resembling social reporting and I’m quite excited about it.

As well as the fringe blog, we’ll be using the usual array of tools and channels to push out the content far and wide across the web. Now all I have to do is try and locate my Flip camera which has mysteriously disappeared somewhere into the depths of my house 😦

Its a bit short notice but if you’re reading this and want to come along, drop me a line and I’ll do my best to help you out.

New Ministry of Justice site goes live

Its been a long time in the gestation, but the latest iteration of the Ministry of Justice website just went live.

Ministry of Justice website mark 2

It looks fantastic, well done the team.