Posts Tagged ‘ twitter ’

All kudos to the Number 10 webbies

When Jimmy Leach left Downing Street last Autumn, after the changing of the guard, many people thought that the raft of innovation he had overseen (including the introduction of online petitions and webchats) would come to an end. I have to admit that I was one of those people.

But in recent weeks, coinciding with the arrival of Jimmy’s replacement – Mark Flanagan – the web team at Number 10 has been on a bit of a roll.

First, a neat little wordpress microsite build to support the Progressive Governance summit at the beginning of April. The project included a live video stream of the event and online chat between officials and viewers. Considering the event took place on a Saturday, and the subject matter, it got a pretty good audience.

Second, an even cleverer wordpress microsite to support the prime minister’s recent visit to the United States. As well as the goodies above, this project incorporated Google maps to track the progress of the visit across the country.

Third, the launch of a Downing Street Twitter feed a few weeks back. Initial suspicion that this would simply tweet links to official announcements on the Downing Street website were allayed as the team found their voice, using the tool to support announcements, events (such as the two described above) and engage in dialogue and banter with the geek ‘twitterarti’.

All this activity has attracted attention elsewhere. Last Friday, the Guardian published an article on their homepage, sorry frontpage, about Downing Street’s use of Twitter. Now that is some coverage and encouragement.

Downing Street’s innovation has always been of help to other government webbies to justify investing time and effort in using new tools and applications for communication and engagement.

This isn’t playing with technology for the sake of technology. Its about piloting new methods of engagement, at little or no cost, in an attempt to improve transparency and dialogue.

Please guys, keep it up for all our sakes.

Where do government webbies fit into e-government?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the group, or community, of people within government who manage websites, intranets, blogs, wikis and other digital communications channels.

There aren’t that many of us around considering what we actually do.

We’re also not very good at organising ourselves so consequently we don’t have the representation we need – we and our work are often overshadowed by other groups who have louder voices and / or are better organised.

Its one of the reasons why I set up the barcamp and, subsequently am trying to make the afternoon tea gatherings regular events (described by David today as ‘Teacamp’ – I quite like that) – so that we could get to know each other better and start to interact as a group of similar interests. Not just civil servants, but the people on the periphary or outside who can assist us in making what we do better.

This problem of relative obscurity has been highlighted to me over the last few days. Downing Street launched a twitter feed, a great idea and a good example of low cost piloting to test the value of an emerging digital channel.

But coverage has focused on the fact that ‘Gordon Brown is now on Twitter’ – he’s not its Downing Street that runs the feed, not the Prime Minister (in fact, he is sort of, but that is by the by).

This illustrates for me the problem of our role and profile in egovernment and the challenges that face us both day to day and in the longer term.

We’re not IT, we’re not e-democracy, and we’re not politics online. Each of these groups are important to us, and we need to work with them, but them we ain’t.

But some people do think that one or more of these are what we do – hence the confusion over the ownership of the Downing Street twitter feed.

The IT profession in government is a powerful group – they provide both the infrastructure and the applications that help us deliver procurement big contracts. They’re well organised (they did invent Prince 2 after all) and have senior representation in most government departments.

The e-democracy crowd are also quite a well self-organised group – academics, social hackers etc who have an important role in challenging government to do better in its interactions with citizens.

Then there’s politics online – the parties, representatives and the bloggers. They obviously make a lot of noise, and gain exposure for what they do.

We are none of them – not partisan or political, not technical, not edemocracy.

It strikes me we need a voice to represent us and plug us into these other groups somewhere closer to the top of the pyramid. Perhaps COI’s Digital People will draw us together. Perhaps Tom is that person?

Somehow we need to draw ourselves together – the people around government who are really passionate about improving the way government conducts itself online – and speak as a group.

Why I’ve been a bit of a twit(terer) recently

One of the reasons I’ve been quieter than usual here (apart from organising, and then getting over, the barcamp) is my reappraisal of Twitter.

Twitter, for the initiated, is a micro-blogging tool that allows you to send short messages, about the length of an SMS. These messages are almost immediately received by others who subscribe to your updates. You, in turn, can follow others’ updates an instantly connected community.

So what’s so good about that? After all, on first glance it just looks like the status update tool in Facebook. When it first launched a year or so ago it didn’t seem to have much to it.

When Facebook added status updates to user profiles and the ability to update via mobile, it seemed to me like Twitter was becoming just a little bit superfluous.

Now though things are different. Facebook seems to me to be much quieter than before and most of my interaction there is via private messaging rather than status updates or writing on pe and public messaging. And Twitter is proving to be much more than just letting people knowing what you are doing at a particular time.

Its beauty is its simplicity. Twitter’s proposition is that you have just 140 characters to answer the question. ‘What are you doing?’. So far, so Facebook. But if you observe tweets from other users, you notice a marked difference to Facebook updates. What you are doing doesn’t just mean your current status, but also what you might be thinking, planning, debating, or questioning.

That’s where its value starts to shine through – quick updates, testing ideas, advising friends and colleagues what’s happening.

I’m increasingly advising people that blogging is hard work and labour intensive as a discipline. it needs careful thought, and commitment. Because of this its generally not instantaneous.

Twitter on the other hand is immediate – a short message delivered and received either  via a webpage, an rss feed, an SMS on a phone, blackberry, iphone, instant messenger… Hell, you can even update your Facebook status using Twitter

I’ve tried various ways of using Twitter. At the moment I recommend the Twitbin plug-in for Firefox, though I’m tiring of it because its not comprehensive enough.

Bloggers I have followed for a long time, like Jeremiah Owyang and Steve Rubel, make great use of Twitter, almost to the detriment of their blog posting in terms of frequency and depth. With Twitter, they can throw out an idea and get a very fast response from their readership.

So, what does this mean for the public sector. How could we make use of tools like Twitter? Well, the key is in its convenience. As I said above, I’m increasingly advising people not to blog because of the time and effort commitment. Twitter gets around that problem by lowering those barriers. That in itself is a bonus.

But Jenny Brown put the case for Twitter much better than I ever could in her presentation at the Barcamp. Its well worth a view.

POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote a rough version of this piece a few weeks ago (thus proving my point above that blogging can have a huge lag from draft to publish) I’ve noticed a raft of articles around the subjects of ‘why twitter is still relevant’ or ‘how business can use  twitter’. Which proves one thing, when people are talking about it, it can’t all be hot air.