Emma V.

So, I have left government and am now officially allowed to start blogging again! Hurrah – but bear with me as I am going to have to re-learn the habit. No I am not going to write about everything over the last few months and what it was like under the Coalition and through the massive cuts and changes, this is about the future and what happens next.

Speaking of which…

I am indeed going to be running Rewired State as a more full-time part of my life now, and we have some exciting work coming up and some cunning plans to pore over.

I have spent the last week running the very fabulous Young Rewired State and the UK Online Centre hack days, both of which have been exhilarating, exhausting, triumphant and (at some points) mortifying!
Proper blog posts about both of these events will be live on the Rewired State website next week (they take ages to get together as you can imagine) however, I can show you some stuff from Young Rewired State now at the following links:
And finally from YRS2010, Tim Dobson from DFEY who helped run the centre in Manchester – filmed and rapped this (he starts rapping at about 1:21 into it, it’s SO GOOD!!)
So what am I actually going to do?

I do need to make sure that I can put a roof over my head and survive, can’t live on worthy projects alone! Therefore I have accepted a very generous offer by The Guardian for me to come in and do a little work for them whilst also running Rewired State from their offices. The Guardian have always been unstinting in their support of what we are doing in RS and I am massively grateful for this cuddle I am getting – it makes life far, far easier.

Over the next three months I will be taking some serious time to not only look at the future of RS, but to build on the developer network – with the help of a strong and committed ‘geek advisory board’ – that I have imagined but not yet actually invited! – who will be charged with making sure I don’t disappear down any bonkers avenues that just won’t work.

Thanks for all of your encouragement, please do keep spreading the word, we are still running our super fabulous hack days and we will be looking at curating some of the apps we have sitting in our Creations section. We are also going to be actively building the network and working with the young developers who have attended the past few years, similarly taking forward some of what they have made.

So, that’s me… for now

The problem with social media – there’s no cash to be made… so what?!!

So much has come from the last GovBarCamp in the UK public sector, believe you me – blimey, even DJ Collins from Google came to the last Heads of ecomms meeting. However, if we are to do it again – we need to do it better. The reasons I heard for why some people did not turn up were:

  • I did not know about it
  • It was a weekend and I could not leave the family

The first problem is easily solved, let’s give it a longer lead and a greater audience. The second is also exciting, bring the family. As I have shown here, people were interested in what my daughter had to say. This may not be appropriate for all of our proteges, they may be too young, our partners not so keen, but this is not insurmountable.

The problem with social media is that there is no money to be made, so people tend to off-set the value of their time spent at events against time with family or friends. But this then counts out some realy cool people that we know about – and some that we might not.

I propose a reconvene of the last BarCamp, in say October/November – somewhere where children and partners can come too and join in. A festival – with toilets.

Hopefully I will generate a small group of willing people here to help me move this on from a musing to a happening – but I think it has legs.

Let’s not forget that the kids we have are the future users of anything we try to change, and our other halves have more than a vested interest in what we are doing.

If we cannot make cash, let’s create a movement for change.

Bills to pay – Bills paid

I have spent the day rather luxuriously sorting out my study, which had become a dumping ground for ironing, stuff we had not unpacked from November 2006 when we moved in… and shoes.

I threw out three bags of rubbish, filed the business stuff that I am legally required to keep (in the shed), and ruthlessly sorted until I found the nirvana that is the study now: a bachelor-esque space, free of clutter… it is heaven (I am so sad).

During this process I recycled another two bags of paper, something my dear Oli has written about today here.

I have to admit to two rather large piles of paper now reclining on the dining table waiting for attention. I need to get them into three piles:

  1. Bills to pay
  2. Bills paid (therefore filing – at some point at the weekend)
  3. HMRC/business stuff that is too important to sit in the shed

It is so simple and I know that I will have done it by midday tomorrow.

This got me thinking… yikes not again

My online working life is so flipping complicated. I run three businesses, am a partner in another two, play in about three business sandpits, mentor two children, willingly throw myself into social media play-pens and fulfil the contracts I am paid to complete. (Bill – both Edwards and Reay – this does not necessarily reflect the order of importance/attention…).

I also over-promise on all sorts of other stuff I want to do voluntarily but really struggle to find the time (Internationale – apologies, I will get there).

The only complication is the online management – I can run it all off-line no problem, but I have no online time left! Notwithstanding the two daughters and husband (parents, friends, Tom) – I warned you this had no particular order.

My online life is a complete mess.

I update:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Flickr

I check:

  • WordPress – for comments and stats (yeah vanity)
  • Gmail
  • Webmail

I write:

  • Justice for Tom
  • Emma Mulqueeny
  • Linkedin

To do all of the above requires more hours in the day than are provided, if you are to also have a family life, fun, and rest. The obvious conclusion is that I need to sort the rest of my working life into a ‘to do’ and ‘done’ category, with an ongoing online/mental tray for ‘stuff’.

So… I need to be as ruthless as I have been in my study.

Bear with me whilst I work through this. Essential stuff:

  1. email (gmail and webmail) – comms
  2. justicefortom – soul/friendship
  3. emma mulqueeny – work

I guess the rest is optional. So in order of importance, if I have time, I will attend to the following:

  1. Twitter – people I do not know but respect are here and I have a line to them that I cannot ignore
  2. WordPress – if people are commenting on the posts I write then I will respond and learn)
  3. Facebook and Flickr – worth checking as some good friends and colleagues here who use this as primary comms route
  4. Linkedin – my CV – needs to be up to date

This all looks doable. And sitting in my heavenly study, I am committing to this order of priority.

Of course my family comes first, but right now I am dedicating my days to family, and evenings to ‘work’. You will find no value in me expressing how I juggle my family life, but perhaps this order of service will help some of you in the same position as me.

Good luck everyone! Bet you cannot wait for me to go back to work in May…

Update on customer retention

After writing about how to retain customers, I was duly summoned by the FCO (my employers at the time) to put my theory into practice and go ahead to make it happen. I am half way through my fortnight of doing so, but thought it might be useful to update you all with how this translates in reality – with some incredibly brilliant help from Adam Burr from Logica.

Disclaimer: my boss, the wonderful Tracy Green (head of the e-media team in FCO) knows that I share this information, it is within the bounds of public sector knowledge share, and full accreditation is given where it is due.

The FCO web project is Prince 2 certified (I am assured there is a Prince 1 by the fabulous Dave Briggs, but cannot remember what it supposedly did) . Anyone who is either Prince 2 certified, or has worked on a Prince 2 project will realise that there is a requirement for minutising your work – which in this case is rather handy for blogging! My project manager, Darren Roberts from PA Consulting, insisted that I turned my musings into a set of deliverables over two weeks. This helped focus the mind…

In between writing the original blog post and the FCO asking me to make this real, I spoke to a contact in Logica, who could answer the technology questions for me – as it had become obvious that there was a relationship between technology and comms, and the money needed to be spent in one or other area. I learned so much and clarified the problems we were facing as follows:

1. Not annoying those who regularly use the site

2. Retaining the support and authority of key ‘linkers’

3. Checking that all Parliamentary Questions held at The House – containing answers referring to FCO web pages, would continue to point to the relevant information (pretty key)

4. Doing the decent thing with the thousands of people/companies reliant on regular updates from the FCO and associated sites

Adam read through my suggestions and proceeded to talk in a succession of numbers. After two meetings, several emails and a document, I think that I can explain what he suggests we do (from a technology/automated point of view). It is beautifully simple – so simple that I am sure it is the perfect answer.

Bear with me whilst I explain.

Glossary first, before I go on you need to know these two things:

Error 301: this code means that an old url which contains content that has moved, will be discreetly redirected to the new url – however, it sends some silent message to search engines that will ‘accelerate the correction on the search egine indices’ (quote Adam Burr). I suggest that you explore this further off your own bat if you need a full explanation.

Error 410: this a code that works better than a usual 404, because it explains that a page has moved permamently rather than being temporarily out of action. It also enables you to tailor redirects. Once again, this explanation could do with more research, do go off and look it up of your own accord.

Right, now you are ready for the beautifully simple automated solution.

We have identified two problems: Finding:

1. Content that has migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

2. Content that has not been migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

There are differing sets of reasons for why we need to ensure that all content is re-findable, but who cares? If we can solve the two redirects – we are winning.

So, the decision that we are musing over most seriously is for:

Problem 1: Content that has migrated – we put an error 301 ‘page moved’ notice on. This will help our readers, and the search engines.

Problem 2: Content that has been archived – we put an error 410 on, giving the reader a splash page with the opportunity to go to the new page and find updated information, go to the new website search page to hunt down what you need, or go to the old page that has been stored in The National Archives (this is a whole other story I am not so sure you readers will want to hear about, but if you do… yell)

How beautifully simple is that?

Now all that is required is a dissemination of the stakeholders, linkers and subscribers, and three tailored messages for each.

I will update you next week on how we handle the comms around this, and the other brilliant stuff that Adam Burr has un-earthed that might be even MORE useful!

Social media and democracy

I was at a conference today during which much was made about how social media – well it was tabbed as ‘The Internet’ but I think they meant social media – is changing the way democratic societies across the globe govern themselves.  The assumption is that those in power will be forced to listen to the voices of those they represent, and be accountable. In this vein, it was mooted that China will have democracy forced upon them, and there is nothing they will be able to do about it. Hmmm…

Well, OK, you can see how social media, or The Internet, gives many fora for opinion/discussion and can act as an effective lobbying/rallying tool. You can even see that there is little any government or ruling party could do to silence those voices – take China and its efforts to block access to YouTube – this is clearly a losing battle.

However, it is just another way for people to speak – it does not enable listening! Yes it can create a two-way conversation, yes you can feel as if you are speaking directly to the person – rather than through convoluted channels that might dilute your message… but who is listening? What assumptions are they making about you?

Anyone who works in an e-media team in the public sector, will tell you how difficult it is to champion the use of any social media tool to any great effect. And, other than responding to the perennial cry: ‘I want a blog’ – which never, ever really means I want a blog (Miliband excepted of course) there is little or no interest. This could be due to the fact that there is a great nervousness around it: mis-information and wild assumptions all ultimately culled by risk aversion/avoidance. Sure, there are some great examples of its effective use: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Number Ten’s e-petition site and the Ministry of Justice Governance of Britain site are all great examples of effective and supported use of social media tools – however, these are the exceptions and hardly about to start affecting the political philosophy behind democracy – or even give those who govern our country too much to be concerned about.

I remember being impressed by the Wispa campaign, where a Facebook group successfully nagged Cadbury’s to bring back their favourite 80s chocolate bar; I can’t see how nagging will ever enforce an EU referendum, for example, or change policy, or get you out of your tax liabilities.

Yet I keep hearing how these voices cannot, will not and should not be silenced… and a true democratic society would utilise the opportunity afforded by social media. My feeling is that there is nowt you can do to lower the noise level, but to enable real change, or the change that is suggested could be afforded by social media, a fundamental shift needs to take place in the way people listen. Until then, nagging/lobbying/campaigning through social media tools will have very little effect.

That is my view on social media and democratic change. HOWEVER, there is a great opportunity for any ruling nation to use social media tools to consult, deliver messages and perhaps better understand society’s concerns, but that is another conversation – and one that I know can be answered by members of public sector e-media teams across the globe.

Humility – I don’t really know… and yet more Twitter

The more observant of you will have noticed that I have taken off the strap-line – Queen of social media, and the page: What is Web 2.0? The reason for the former is that the strapline was given to me by my husband – who built this site for me – because I know more than he does on what is happening in this space, and – to him – I am the fount of all knowledge. (Easy to see why ;)). However, I am far from being the ‘queen of social media’… ’nuff said

I removed the What is Web 2.0? page because I actually don’t know. And so many other people are explaining it better than I can, but I won’t link to any of them, because, quite frankly, it is incubating and therefore there is no definitive answer. Best bet? Google the question and see what you get.

So… what do I have to say? Well, I can share learnings with you.

twitter: my bug-bear

Having created, deleted and re-created my twitter account; slated it here and talked incessantly about it with all who will listen… I have started to understand how it could be used/useful. If you bear with me, I will share with you some of the links that help me understand this media.

social media in government

I am involved in what is happening in the Foreign Office (yes, that includes twitter!) but also watching what is happening elsewhere. I will capture what I can for you – however, you might like to use Simon Dickson’s natty tool for what is happening in the blogosphere:



I will take you on this little journey with me, and try to gather together the stuff that makes sense – to me at least – for you to read. I do rely heavily on the bloggers and ‘real people’ who get this stuff, but I will resist listing them here as (again) the experts vary from week to week. (legal bit: I will not nick stuff, I will ensure that I give credit where it is due!)

Two-way conversation anyone?

Just had a rather crazy day… but much time to think about the conversations that are happening online. As you know, I am struggling to find the value in Twitter – not that I hate it on principle, I am just waiting for the problem that Twitter will solve.

You know what I would really like? The opportunity to have a two-way conversation with a person of my choice – who exists in the world-wide social media space – where I am not a part of the white noise… I could list a hundred people off the top of my head right now with whom I would like a dedicated ten minute conversation with – some of whom I know (but never get their full attention – Briggsy?!!)

All of you super-clever people out there building social media platforms for mass discussion… can someone create the perfect dinner party – where my dream social media guests will actually be there? Even if it is only for ten minutes of one-to-one conversation.

I would pay for that…

Twitter? or rubbish chat room?

I know that many disagree with me on the Twitter thing, and it may well be that I am being completely thick. I am sure that it has great value for some – but not me. I used to use the geek chat rooms in 1997 to get help from anyone around the world, at any time of day or night – who lurked in chatrooms that were helpfully titled – so that I could find the expert I needed at 4am, with 6am US deadline looming.

Chatrooms got taken over by desperate housewives/singles/blah and the geeks retreated once more. Now we have Twitter – it is a chatroom, but a bad one – where you can:

1. Choose who is in the room (but not know whether they are there or not)

2. Be un-moderated

I do miss the geek help at 4am, but Twitter is not the answer for me. A well organised piece of chat software that kept out the ‘daters’ would be perfect.

Twitter seems to be a great place to read the stream of consciousness of great bloggers you admire; and survives on its ‘cool club’ status – I really don’t think this is sustainable.

I do realise that many people will look on me with complete disdain for having this opinion.

Social media caution

In our GovBarCamp group on Google there has been some discussion about the latest e-petition – where one of our members was directed to a broken url http://groups.google.com/group/BarcampUKGovweb/browse_thread/thread/a1def7ce0a02c244#

It highlights the need for these social and accessible tools to be managed and thought through in some way. However easy these apps are to use/create, thought has to be applied at some point, and must be applied if they are going to be used in a professional capacity. The dawn has come, IT can be cut out as a debilitator – now we need to deal with the human desire to reach out and communicate. This requires rigorous management (especially if publishing is devolved) and ruthless editing – in the true sense – are the words spelt properly? Are the urls correct? Proof reading 101 should once more become the quintessential skill of all social media operators.

Another thing to consider is the real life impact of your use of social media. There will be communities established wherever you choose to converse – they may be people you don’t know, or people you know very well. You need to find your niche and try not to be put off by perceived slights, or even real ones! The conversation has started and let it live – you do have to have a thick skin and please don’t be risk averse 🙂