Posts Tagged ‘ BarcampUKGovweb ’

How appropriate or helpful are anonymous comments?

Amongst other things recently, I’ve been involved in developing some moderation guidelines for a project. A vexing issue is what do with anonymous comments in an online conversation. When are they appropriate and how do we handle them in the context of public sector debate?

I don’t know the answer. Clearly there are online communities where anonymity is one of the central planks they are built on. But what about debates where the other participants are identified? Is it appropriate for unknown individuals to join in?

My personal feeling is I prefer people to identify themselves, at least to the moderator, to establish their genuineness. Otherwise I wonder why they won’t declare themselves – are they agitators? Do they want cause trouble? What is their agenda?

I was thinking about this last week when I came across a new blog by a civil servant who chooses not declare their identity. Its entertaining and a pretty accurate description of life inside a Whitehall department. But two problems come to mind:

  1. It will be too easy to say something inappropriate on the basis that no one knows who you are, and
  2. If the blog gains traction you can bet your bottom dollar that people will do their best to work out who it is – and eventually they will, causing problems for the author.

Most of the good corporate blogging policies that exist are pretty flexible and forgiving, provided the author doesn’t contravene rules around inappropriate comments about the company or other people. ‘Inappropriate’ of course is interpreted differently by different organisations, and I’m not suggesting that the civil service would be the most liberal.

But if you identify yourself as working in a particular place, but don’t reveal your own identity, the clock is probably ticking. Or am I just being too cautious?

I’ve got an unmoderated comment sitting to be approved for my blog about the recent barcamp at the moment. It raises some good points and is a useful part of the debate. Its not controversial but constructively critical.

But for some reason the commenter has chosen to anonymise their response. Can’t for the life of me think why, unless they are embarrased to say what they’re saying in public. Don’t know what to do with it. Will chew it over. My instinct is, no anonymous comments, but does that unintentionally censor the debate? After all, stuff written here is hardly life or death.

Just over a week to the barcamp…

…and things are beginning to hot up, which is one of the reasons why this blog has been so quiet over the last week or so.

A group of volunteers are frantically trying to tie up all the arrangements – including trying to find a benevolent sponsor to pay for the lunch on the day. If you have a particularly friendly and generous corporate IT provider who’d like to support the event, please do let me know quickly.

Over the last week or so debate has been building up on the Google group about the format of the day and kinds of things people want to lead sessions on, or hear about. If you’re planning on coming to the barcamp and you’ve not visited the group, please join in the conversations and help to influence the day.

Most important: only those who signed up on the barcamp wiki page before we closed registrations are currently down to attend. If you only joined the Facebook group or the Google group then I’m sorry, at the moment you’re not on the list. You can apply to join the reserve list but I cannot at this stage guarantee you’ll get a place

If you ARE on the wiki list, then you need to check the page. A special email account has been set up that you need to send a message to. In return, we’ll check your name against our list and send you a ticket that will get you through the door at Google on the day. If you are on the wiki but you don’t email us by close of play next Wednesday (23rd) then we will give your place to someone on the reserve list. We’ve been forced to do this because we don’t have everyone’s email addresses.

That pretty wraps up this message. Hoping to post over the next few days one of the other reasons why I haven’t been updating this blog much over the last few weeks….

Gov Barcamp is coming together at last

BarcampUKGovweb logo

After much running around, fingers crossed, and baited breath, the barcamp is finally starting to look like a proper event. I’ve had quite a few messages recently asking for updates on the organisational details for barcamp, I’m sorry I’ve not been able to confirm things before now.

So, let me tell you that:

  1. The event is going to run on one day only – Saturday 26th January from about 9.15am until 5pm (and maybe afterwards for a drink or two)
  2. Google has kindly agreed to host the event (small company, you may have heard of them… 🙂 ). This is particularly excellent news given many public sector organisations’ involvement with them to improve searchability of their content, use of YouTube to publish video etc. Its a great fit.
  3. To help the many barcamp virgins across government (me included), and based on the areas of interest indicated plus subsequent conversations I and others have had leading up to the event, we are suggesting a structure for the day based on five rough ‘streams’ of interest. These are:
  • Creating web strategy – government-wide, organisational, channel/initative etc – a vision for future government web
  • New platforms and technologies – e.g. use of data, semantic web etc
  • New channels – how to use blogging platforms, YouTube etc, case studies of usage across government
  • Using social media tools in your organisation – practical stuff around requirements, guidelines, engagement, governance, getting approval
  • Government vs the private sector – lessons we can share, approaches to collaboration, what is good and bad about our sector etc

These streams are not meant to be prescriptive but designed to give a framework around which you can decide where and how you can contribute to the days’ success.

There are currently around 75-80 participants signed up to the event. With 25 slots in the day, it means that at least three individuals can be involved in the running of each session. Hopefully this reduces the pressure on some of the participants to contribute and will encourage collaboration amongst everyone attending.

If you are planning to attend, and you haven’t yet joined the Google group (thanks Dave) set up for the event, I encourage you to do so now.  What you need to do now over the next week is indicate what you plan to contribute to the day and identify others via the Google group who you could share a session with.

The nature of the discussion forum means that we can all peer review each other’s ideas and between all of us we should be able to collaboratively create and shape a schedule for the whole event fairly easily.

The number of people who have already indicated they wish to participate is now quite large (but what a cast!) and we may have to limit entry to the event to those  who are actively contributing to the day. So please begin the conversation as soon as possible.

As we get closer to the day, please update the schedule on the barcamp wiki page with your proposed session(s). Ideally we’d like to get that all finalised before Friday 18th January.

If you are a government webby, and still haven’t decided whether to come, hopefully the details above are enough to convince you. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have a good mix of those working inside the government web sector, as well as all the great people around and outside our work.

BarcampUKGovweb links

If you are a government webbie, and you got the information sheet sent round about the upcoming barcamp, here is the collection of links the sheet refers to:

What is barcamp?

Why are we running a barcamp?

How does it work?

When and where?

Wow! Blogging platforms are so good, for everything…

[I was going to title this post ‘blogging platforms are for life, not just for blogging’ – but thought better of it 😦 ].

I’ve been playing with blogging platforms quite a lot recently, specifically WordPress. Its a great tool and as well as its most obvious application, it is flexible enough for a variety of uses. Don’t want to go into too much detail for obvious reasons, but these are some of the things I have been involved in (not all originating at my end, or for my work):

  • A simple campaign microsite, using tags and feeds to aggregate views on a range of related subjects
  • An organisational news and information site, designed to be managed by non-web and non-communications people – they can publish to the site via email
  • A staff engagement channel drawing in multimedia content
  • A small, closed consultation group
  • A market research focus group, led by a facilitator
  • A team blog, to share insights, links and clippings

Some of these projects will see the light of day shortly and I’ll let you know when they do.

I can in no way be described as a ‘techie’, and I have no web development skills to speak of. But I am able to build sites in WordPress with reasonable ease. What’s more, if can live with a little inflexibility, the hosted WordPress solution allows you to create a blog/site / tool at zero cost other than your time and skills. I’d definitely recommend you having a play with the functionality if you haven’t yet tried. Of course, if you want the result to be more professional then its certainly worth considering finding someone to help you..

Two other implementations of blogs worth noting as well. I’ve previously referenced the Darzi review blog built by Simon Dickson (using Typepad). Version two is now live, in WordPress. Take a look – it doesn’t look like a blog does it!? Just look at the design and functionality, thats the kind of sophistication you can achieve if you know what you are doing. But at the same time it retains the great features and functionality of a blogging platform: automatic syndication, tagging, archiving, easy integration with rich media sources (Flickr, YouTube etc).

Another one: Defra using a blogging platform (WordPress again) as a campaign diary to allow ministers to update stakeholders on preparations for, and progress on, the UN climate change conference – I’m guessing for all the reasons mentioned above. Deployed as a sub-domain off the corporate website

Although many of these examples are still testing the waters, they show a growing maturity in the use of these tools. They are quick and easy to set up, and sometimes put expensive ‘enterprise’ CMS applications to shame in their ease of use and functionality.  By the way, I’m no apologist for WordPress. I’m sure the others are just as good, its just I don’t know how to use them (yet). I’ll demonstrate just how bad my blog building skills are at the barcamp if nobody better comes forward (come on, I know you’re out there…).

Talking of the barcamp, hope to be able to announce the location in the next few days. Watch this space…

What can I do at the barcamp?

The initial reaction to my announcement of the government web barcamp has been great, and not so great – 56 people signed up to date, but I can only identify around a quarter of them as being government webbies 😦

Whilst its excellent that so many experts in our field have indicated support for the event, it won’t really work unless more people ‘on the inside’ contribute – it would be a real wasted opportunity if we all put the government web world to rights but the people that actually do this stuff aren’t there to influence it! In case anyone is unsure, the barcamp is being organised with the approval and support of the transformational government team. If you are interested in the future of government web, you should be there….

Several people have contacted me saying that they’d like to come, but they don’t know what to offer. A few that have signed up have realised in conversation that they misunderstood what they might be doing. So let me offer a few thoughts about how I think the event might work, and what you might be able to do.

  • I’m trying to finalise the location for the event, so that we can announce it shortly. If it takes place where I think it will happen, we will have multiple rooms (off the top of my head, around 9 + a breakout/coffee area) which means that multiple sessions can  take place simultaneously. So its unlikely that you will be ‘presenting’ to an assembled throng of people in a conference environment. More likely that you will be leading/facilitating a small group around a table
  • Sessions could last two minutes or two hours – depends what you want to share and how long it might take to share it
  • We’ll agree the running order on the day, and it will be changable, so that as much as possible everybody can take part in the bits that interest them. This might mean that we need to run some sessions more than once if they prove popular
  • Plenty of people seem to be offering to lead sessions on web strategy – its important for many government webbies that we gain some consensus about what organisational and government web strategy should look like, but thats not the only thing –
  • Some contributors have suggested to me that there’s an awful lot of piloting / proof of concept work going on across government with social media tools / collaborative workspaces / social networks etc
  • Equally its clear that there’s an awful lot of expertise between us about how to make use of those tools, and other specialisms like search engine optimisation, web metrics etc
  • It would be great if some of the people leading these pilots could share what they have done, learnt etc. This could include:
    • How you persuaded the powers that be of the value of doing what you did (or bypassed them… 😉     )
    • How long it took
    • The barriers to getting the project going
    • How you supported the business to implement a social media project – guidance, training etc
    • How they measure and evaluate the relative value of the pilots
  • Those with expertise in using social media tools could assist by:
    • demonstrating how to set up a blog on a hosted service, taking people through the process
    • show how to create a Flickr account, upload photos and embed them into a blog feed
    • similarly, create/edit video content, upload it to YouTube and embed into a blog
    • record, edit and create podcasts
    • etc etc

Feeding back experiences of doing this stuff, and demonstrating how to do it, are as much an important part of the barcamp as defining good practice in web strategy. My team is certainly experiencing an increase in demand for using these tools, and creating opportunities for online engagement internally and externally. Personally speaking, I want to learn from others who have got through the pain barrier that I am currently feeling as I try and work out how to do all this stuff.

I’m probably not best placed to do this, but I am happy to demonstrate how to set up a blog on WordPress if that is of interest to anybody. I’m not an expert, but having done it a few times I can point out some simple tips that have helped me.

If you’re still toying with the idea of coming in January, and you work in the government web world, please sign up. A few people have contacted me because they are not sure what they can contribute. There’s plenty of time to think about that, and hopefully we can start a dialogue on the associated Google Group about what others are doing – that might give you some inspiration.

If you’re reading this and you’ve already signed up, but haven’t subscribed to the Google Group, please do so – especially if you have offered to help organise the event. We need to start talking. I’ll try and contact everyone who has offered support in the next few days, but I don’t have everybody’s email address – so please drop me a line and sign up to the group.

If you’re still undecided, I recommend reading the background information about barcamps at barcamp.org and wikipedia, as well as searching for the phrase ‘barcamp’ on Flickr, YouTube and Google video. Together these should give you a good idea of the nature of the event. These are friendly, flexible, knowledge sharing events, not intimidating conferences.