Average age of those who follow me on twitter…

Hello, yes I do have much better things to do with my time but I just wanted to bang up a quick post, to help Directgov and anyone else who might mistakenly think that twitter is the social medium of choice for ‘the young’.

I did a quick survery – asked a couple of times – how old people were (who were reading my tweets <- following me). I got 120 replies that were in a format that I could use (thanks @grahamashton for this little hack https://gist.github.com/1043057 we have upped the number of calls it can make to try to capture everything, but it obv won’t read the dms – and you will need to install feedparser). I ended up having to work out the average age this way:

Anyhow, ages are still being sent to me as I write, but the average age at 11am today was 40.51.

Interesting things to note, although it is a bit “no shit sherlock”, those who choose to read my tweets will generally be interested in the stuff I am, which is a bit dull: open data, government, geeks, hack days, cooking and moaning – and so the age group is defined more by the subject and person; if I were Justin Bieber doing this my followers may well be younger.

My daughter, her friends and other teens I know are on BBM (the Blackberry messaging service) and Facebook, right now – they are not interested really in twitter, but do sometimes ask me to tweet stuff or find out what someone said.

Twitter is a platform, and from this little survey – most commonly used by grown-ups/the middle aged

Feel free to comment on how to run a proper survey and that this doesn’t really say anything – it was just an interesting thing to do and hopefully helpful somewhere to someone… and it did not cost 10s of thousands to research 😉

Right – to work

Rewired State’s massive March

Those of you who know me, or follow me on twitter (@hubmum), can’t have failed to notice that we (Rewired State) are putting on quite a few events in March. Also, the more eagle-eyed will have noticed that we have also turned ourselves into a grown up Limited Company.

Why?

As James Darling observed on our blog post about this – we were ready to hang up our collective boots and move aside after the launch of data.gov.uk and the apparent very public commitments to opening all data and enabling transparency. But then there began a series of conversations and online discussions about how the value of data.gov.uk could be explored, departments were asking for help unlocking some of the stories their data could tell; this, alongside the unsettling assumption that developers would carry on playing with this for free and would eventually come up with the *big* one (other than THE newspaper – a defining moment in data realisation), meant that we thought we still had a point.

We decided to reconvene and see how we could help government departments get to grips with the untold value of the data they were releasing, whilst showcasing the talents of the Rewired State developers in not only creating exciting applications, but also in problem solving using Agile methodologies. And so Rewired State was reborn – with more of an organic message (as you will see when our brand new site is launched next week!) <- we are all about Agile.

Why a proper limited company? So that we can be paid, it was achingly difficult getting sponsorship and past procurement issues for the other hackdays without a formal company; also, it seemed the right thing to do. We are forging ahead with the view that what we are doing is right, and we will see what value we can provide for developers, and for government. It may be nothing, it may be something – we’ll see.

What’s on in March?

11th March Rewired State: Justice and Home Affairs – Ten developers are going to play with data from the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. It is an open hack day with a presentation at the end of it to senior officials, comms teams, Press office and the CIO’s office. Statisticians will be invited to go and have a look at what is happening during the course of the day.

After the presentation, each ‘hack’ will be written up with details of what data was used, whether it was available (or scraped), how long it would take to create a fully operational version and an idea of how much. This is not to say that Rewired State would then take on the full development, but to give the department a realistic starting point, should they want to develop it themselves. (The IPR remains with the geek, of course, as with anything we do).

I have to say that everyone within the departments that I speak to, is very excited about this (as are we).

19th and 20th March Rewired State: DotGovLabs – 30 developers will work over the course of two days solving some of the more specific challenges faced by Directgov, businesslink.gov.uk and NHS Choices: including localisation, personalisation and a cross-site(s) topic of pregnancy. (We are hunting pregnant (or young parent) developers for this – so please do spread the word).

The event will start with developers working with key people from the three super-sites, as well as policy/departmental bods. Challenges and issues will be explored then the developers will be left alone to work on some technical solutions. The following afternoon the groups will meet again and see how the applications are coming along, ready for mass-presentation at 4.30pm on the Saturday to invited people from the three super-sites and across government.

Beautifully, we have decided to hold the National Hack the Government Day on the 20th, so there will be an almighty powerhouse of development going on in The Guardian offices, with the 30 developers from the dotgovlabs hack, cheered along by the wave of random Hack day developers – who may themselves come up with some interesting things for the dotgovlabs people (but the presentations from the National Hack day will be later – and over beer and pizza as opposed to tea and biscuits!) and will be completely random.

Last but not least, we have the much evangelised Rewired State: Culture event on the 27th March. Mark O’Neill, CIO for DCMS and brilliant blogger, wrote this about what is known as ‘Rewired Culture’:

Britain is a creative culture. We have a vibrant developer community, a growing and active entrepreneurial base and a vast, rich array of culture assets. How can we bring these together to create new opportunities for data owners and developers? How do we encourage links between data repositories such as museums, broadcasters and the wider community like data.gov.uk or the “London Datastore”? How do we ensure that the exciting work already underway in a number of organizations is shared more generally, so even smaller bodies and SMEs can learn from best practice and find workable routes to market? What are the cultural content business models for the 21st century? How do creators, curators, developers and entrepreneurs work together?

Rewired Culture is a day long event on 27th March 2010 organized by DCMS and Rewired State which is intended to explore these issues and more besides.

Rewired Culture has two strands – the first is a hackday bringing together data owners, data users, developers and people with ideas to see what they can create in a day. This builds on the very successful Rewired State events held in 2009.

The second strand is a halfday unconference style event starting at midday and running in parallel with the hackday for data owners, entrepreneurs, data users and communites to discuss business models, funding mechanisms and challenges.

We will be encouraging constant communication between the two strands because by the end of the day we want the event to have come up with a number of projects that people want to take foreward on technical or business grounds, preferably both!

As you can see: four very different events

And we are wanting to work up our offer back to departments/organisations around these four – plus a few other one off events during the year. Please bear with us, we won’t be able to answer too detailed questions about our future right now – but we are going to carry on, and yes, we are definitely doing another Young Rewired State (we are also pretty chuffed that some of the younger devs are rocking up to some of our other events).

This has all happened rather fast, and as with anything, the last thing we have focused on is our own website – we are working all the hours to get everything sorted, in the mean time, if you want to come to any of the days, either signing up as a developer or as a voyeur, here’s the rather haphazard sign up:

Rewired State: Justice and Home Affairs http://rewiredstate.org/home (As there is such limited space, this will be invite only)

Rewired State: DotGovLabs email info@rewiredstate.org with the subject line ‘dotgovlabs’

National Hack the Government Day email info@rewiredstate.org with ‘National Hack’ in the subject, who you are, whether you have been to a Rewired State event before, and if not – an example of something you have created

Rewired State: Culture Sign up at: http://rewiredstate.org/culture but everyone wants to come, so you have to beg

Want us to do one for you? So long as it’s not March – I’m sure we can, just email info@rewiredstate.org with the subject line: ‘It’s OK, it’s not in March’

Otherwise – we will keep you posted

*I get asked quite a bit who the Rewired State team is, here goes: James Darling (boy wonder), Richard Pope (super clever), me and a new addition Rob Carter (@hubdad) the sensible money/business man. But the extended family is definitely The Guardian who host many of our hackdays and Harry Metcalfe, founder of the Dextrous Web, who has been extremely generous with his time, thoughts and brilliance. And, of course, the team behind data.gov.uk – who we won’t individually name as we know they are a little bit busy!

** we need sponsors for The National Hack the Government Day: only beer/pizza/lunch money for the 100 geeks and the show and tell guests email us info@rewiredstate.org with ‘sponsor’ as the subject line

*** next you will hear of us will be specific hack day deets and the launch of the new website

Every day I love you less and less

Communication used to be fun for me. Digital communication especially so. In the mid 90s it was a blank sheet of paper, or one only scribbled all over in pencil. Common sense was all it really took to say what you wanted to say, online, to the audience you wanted to reach.

Since the digital revolution of the last decade (at least) – and as ‘organisations’ make their online presence a strategic priority – it has become increasingly hard to keep that clear line of sight.

Take website rationalisation in the UK government. It is a perfectly simple and absolutely right policy. The information was often badly managed, not maintained and completely impossible to find, notwithstanding the cash that was being poured into a plethora of websites.

Put in its simplest form, website rationalisation means that all public sector information for citizens can be found on Directgov, and for business on businesslink.gov.uk (corporate information stays with the departmental websites) by 2011. This requires convergence of the content on the two main sites and throws up the inevitable cry of: what about the old stuff? Clearly, content that was written yonks ago needs to be re-written and there are new style guides to consider &c &c. But we can’t just switch off the old sites, it is wrong to have broken links in recorded answers to PQs/PMQs, that information must remain in perpetuity; and once you go down that path you end up in all sorts of mind-boggling complications. The National Archives provides the obvious solution (but that is so not as simple is it sounds – because I am nice I will not drive you down through that particular ‘detail devil’). Nor can you switch off urls, as to do so risks cyber squatting (on non-.gov domains) by questionable folk.

*sigh* you see… by the time you have wound yourself up in knots about this, the simple pleasure of getting the right information to the right audience is swept up in such a maelstrom, you wish you never started! but you can’t do that…

Then along comes a new lovely clean simple way of communicating online: one that is not simply a push of content…

WEB TWO (twenty if you’re cool)

Oh how attractive this is to the frankly ragged people like me; and to be fair the bemused policy units, communication and marketing teams, press officers and the rest: aching to be relieved from the too complicated discussions around getting the ‘old, flat’ content to the spangly new macro-sites (and keeping the… yes you get where I am going).

And so we have seen the remarkable rise in supremely fantastic new work across the public sector digital arena, using social media tools: monitoring, influencing and engaging in the *hopefully* appropriate digital communities… so much so that I cannot keep up (unless I give up the day job and simply watch).

In the last 18 months the most desired digital skill set has not been the ability to craft and manage online content, rather the canny knowledge of the community manager: someone who understands how everything works NOW, and can steer a department/organisation into utilising crowdsourcing, cloud computing and Open Source software.

This is all well and good; it honestly is the Good Life of the internet: community based communication.

But it’s not that simple.

Now we have embraced social technologies we come to the problem of data. In order to continue with this trend of ‘going to the people where they are communing’ we must listen to what they need – and increasingly those who enable us to utilise these social tools demand that the raw data be free. I don’t mean personal data about you and I, I mean the data feeds. Give it to us, they say, and we will make our own stuff in a way that we understand.

The answer to the eternal cry of ‘How can we engage the young people’? Give them the data and let those who know what they are doing, create something that their peers will understand.

And so we find ourselves in a quandary. Not because anyone is precious about the data, rather it is not ready; often it has not been held in any format that is easily shared; sometimes data sets have been held in different formats and updated by a variety of people; borders and boundaries differ &c &c.

In order to free this data, a cross-government (central and local) audit needs to take place; and as with the rationalisation of content onto Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk, a redrafting and ordering of the raw data needs to occur, APIs created, ratification of the accuracy, maintenance contracts drawn up, SLAs…

*sigh*

It’s just never as simple as it seems, but we need to do this work. All of it.

I just wanted you to understand how complicated this all is 🙂

Oh and by the way, go and sign up to this: http://www.mashthestate.org.uk/index

#babysteps

PS Apologies to the Kaiser Chiefs… er not sure what I am legally up for when using a song as a blog title.

So Directgov took up the challenge

Tom Watson MP challenged Directgov on Twitter to:

Tom_watson @direcgov Today for example – wouldn’t it be the day you change the front page to give a host of travel info feeds and up to date advice?

Directgov @tom_watson heard loud and clear

Tom_watson @Directgov Very glad to hear it. I’ve just purchased www.schoolclosures.org.uk Fancy rising to the challenge for tomorrow morning?

Tom_watson @Directgov that should say schoolclosures.org.uk If you did it for tomorrow am, you’d be heroes.

A few hours ago:

http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/2009/02/03/school-closures-%E2%80%93-a-better-way/

Tom_watson @Directgov, I salute you. Utterly brilliant turnaround: http://is.gd/idfX More on school closures and humble pie here: http://bit.ly/39aljD

That’s how it is done. H/T to the ever clever Paul Clarke who was able to swing into action, even though he was also crowdsourcing for snow 🙂

There are problems with the Beta site for school closures, you need to refresh the page to get a response, and the results depend on the schools themselves or you lot in the know to update the information – so… anyway the point is that it was done.

Lovely.

Update: SHOCKING behaviour on my part, I completely ignored @brianhoadley who led the development of the Directgov innovations site and the development of the app for school closures, I am so so sorry Brian! Being a div, staying at home going slightly mental.

twitter update – (warning: this post makes no sense unless you understand @hubmum)

Well now, ever since Jonathan Ross (@wossy) and Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) ‘broke’ the twitter thing on @wossy’s comeback show, twitter seems to have gone bonkers.

I have had a difficult relationship with it – detailed on this blog here and here and I banged on for a bit in various related posts not worth bringing up again. I could wang on about the context of this post, but am going to limit it to 140 chars, my twitter journey:

@hubmum curiosity, disdain, exasperation, overuse, grumpy, laughing, work value, inspiration, grudging admiration, acceptance, value

Over the weekend the Power of Information report was launched on twitter for review, I know that it was ‘set live’ elsewhere but it set twitter alight, not least for @tom_watson‘s incessant tweeting (and direct messaging) about it. (Not so much fun, as it really meant homework for the geeky kids, but still… it was a good place to show it off and get the attention of those who cared).

Then there was the out-pouring of information about the UKGovBarCamp09, stories breaking, blog posts being slutted, a wealth of information. By Sunday I had trimmed my list of people I followed (including losing @wossy I am afraid) to the people of value to me at work, and also those who just keep me sane.

Last night it became about snow… we get terribly excited about snow, and quite right too, (my flickr stream of the chronically brilliant snow we enjoyed today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mulquem/sets/72157613229704253/). Then @paul_clarke asked his followers to fill in a twitter formula for reporting snow, mark out of ten (I don’t know if he did this alone): hash tag uksnow first part of your postcode followed by a mark out of ten, so for me (if my tweets weren’t protected): @hubmum #uksnow GU1 5/10. @benmarsh picked this up and created a mashup of the snow reports from the UK.

Today it was snow, yes, plus school and trains… for me. I knew that my daughters’ school would use the clarion call text system to let us know about whether there was any respite today from the excitement: there wasn’t, but I also needed to know if I was able to get in to work: I couldn’t. I did however abuse @directgov by twitter for not giving me more travel information – seeing as all of the travel sites crashed – and received direct messages assuring me that they were working on it: v gd use of twitter; might not give me the information I needed, but I knew that someone was at the other end of my frustration and was doing something about it.

@tom_watson then challenged @directgov to carry information about schools that were open or shut, starting a maelstrom of advice and an acceptance of the challenge from @directgov. Let’s see what happens now…

My list of ‘friends who keep me sane’, (including weirdly @paulcarr who is definitely not sane), kept me amused with their increasingly ridiculous twitpic attempts to outdo eachother in the alternative snowman competition that developed during the day.

Because many people were similarly trapped at home, the conversations happening on twitter about stuff that interested me, by the people I respect enabled me to work, to completely understand what is happening in this space, tweets and RTs were coming in by the minute, I felt that I was fully conversant in what is happening right now.

Although this was happening on twitter, I was also able to take my children out every few hours, answer emails (deal with the backlog) and complete my meetings by teleconference… then catch up again.

During one such outing to the slopes of Guildford I missed the exciting news that techcrunch (@mbites) had written about @directgov, this was then picked up by @washington_post.

Yet, I feel as if I am becoming a bit spoiled. For example, my sister told me (on facebook) that getting through the day at home demanded Jeremy Kyle on repeat; so I had him on in the background, but he was doing a ‘lie detector’ session rather than the more compelling ‘DNA test’. The indulged ‘me’ wanted to tweet the programme organisers to say that I was more in the mood for ‘DNA testing’, please, to keep me going through the day. Hmm even I can see that this demand was not going to be met… so I feel a bit guilty about @directgov tbh…

… anyhoo

I am exhausted by writing this post… the point is, twitter is good, it is useful, but watch who you follow and be aware who is following you. Protect your updates until you know how you are going to use it, and NEVER synch it with facebook unless you are: 1. so au fait with this stuff that you only update occasionally to the same audience or 2. use both socially/professionally (same diff).

You would not believe the stuff I have left out, but really, I like you, so I will not RT and overload your brains: make your own minds up.

PS Best twitpic of the day: @littlelaura is best http://twitpic.com/1avrm un-be-lievable…

PPS Best in ‘balanced use of twitter’: @paul_clarke

PPPS No post is complete without a mention of @olibarrett who launched his Make Your Mark with a Tenner ’09 campaign.

PPPPS http://www.twittermoms.com/ = new netmums

PPPPPS I protect my updates, so people have to ask to follow me, in the same way that Facebook offers the same privacy option – sorry

Love

@hubmum

Innovate Directgov, you know you want to

Well, boys and girls – Directgov’s innovation site has been launched at UKGovBarCamp09. Here it is, and here’s the blurb:

Directgov have created the innovate.direct.gov.uk developer network to inform the greater developer community about available resources, to provide a platform to connect with one another, and to showcase new ideas with the aim of supporting and encouraging innovation.

Over time we will provide content feeds and APIs allowing people to develop new and interesting ideas and applications for use by the greater community.

Look out for our forthcoming email discussion list where developers can interact with one another and tell us what we can do to make innovate.direct.gov.uk a better space.

And here’s how you can play:

The Directgov | innovate site has been created for a technical developer community.

Directgov’s main site www.direct.gov.uk is the official government website for citizens. It provides information and services from across government. It also offers a contact and help facility in relation to government services for citizens.

We welcome suggestions and comments regarding innovation in public information, government services in digital channels, or relevant technology developments.

Comments on other topics, such as government policy in general, will not be published on this site.

innovate.direct@directgov.gsi.gov.uk

It’s a great start. Directgov has a real purpose: providing information for citizens from government; eventually everything that you need, all services and information will be hosted on Directgov, the migration process is happening right now and will continue for a few years. However, there is *possibly* a need to make this more than a static site, maybe not, but this innovation space will enable all suggestions to be logged and looked at; and of course provide data for those of you able to do stuff with it.

Noting the Rewired State nod, lovely lovely!

P.S. Google is not picking it up properly yet and you MUST type in the exact url, it does not have any defensive ones: http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/

The Directgov | innovate site has been created for a technical developer community.

Directgov’s main site www.direct.gov.uk is the official government website for citizens. It provides information and services from across government. It also offers a contact and help facility in relation to government services for citizens.

We welcome suggestions and comments regarding innovation in public information, government services in digital channels, or relevant technology developments.

Comments on other topics, such as government policy in general, will not be published on this site: http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/

Directgov franchise building – should anyone care to know

A part of my current job is to rebuild the two areas on Directgov: ‘Crime, Justice and the Law‘ and ‘Government, citizens and rights‘. (This is not the first time I have worked on Directgov franchises, my sticky fingers are all over ‘Money, tax and benefits‘ and ‘Disabled people‘ and ‘Caring for someone‘ – to varying degrees.) Any road, I am getting quite excited about how these two franchises (Directgov speak for a content area on their site) are turning out – it even looks as if they may become three if we listen to what our customer research is telling us loud and clear – and I thought the development of a new franchise, or even franchises, might be something of interest to those who read my blog.

If not, read no further, good day to you!

I am going to assume that few of you reading this understand how Directgov gets its content and how it operates its franchises (for now). Here’s how it works (very basic version you understand):

Some time ago extensive research was done to see where the touch points were with government and the citizens of this country. This offered up the segmentation of content that you see now. Then departments were assigned areas of Directgov, franchises (so called because its modus operandi was similar to a department store) were created, with the appropriate level of funding and resource – in theory, and now (thanks to Sir David Varney and the transformational government agenda) becoming a reality.

So ends the brief history lesson – that is what got us to where we are now, and watch this space because although I am no longer a part of the central team, I do hear what their horizon-scanning work is offering up and it is good, revolutionary… and good.

Right, so where we are right now is in the research and customer insight phase. Late last year we canvassed all areas of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice (the two main stakeholders in the franchises), to discover what the departmental drivers were, what information did us citizens NEED to know, regardless of whether we were aware of it. This was run in parallel with a series of focus groups across the UK to assess what people really wanted, what information we could provide that would make life a little bit more easy to navigate (when dealing with the public sector/government).

The outcome of these two pieces of work were then cross-matched for commonality and relevance and a series of topics collated that were then put through a ‘card-sorting’ phase – with real people 🙂 us users of said service.

The results have been developed into wireframes (pretend title pages) to test the information architecture of the site areas – that means the navigation, the route through to content should you choose to click through rather than use the search function.

What we get next is an iteration of the navigation until we have found the architecture that works best. This will be developed into a full information architecture, with titles for each page and then we go about the task of re-purposing or creating the content.

Alongside this we are completing a full content audit of what is currently available, so that we can easily find, de-dupe, re-write (if necessary), everything that is already out there. A laborious task but one that will pay dividends in the end, for the cost to the public purse and to ensuring that there is a single source of information that is maintained, owned and accurate… online – a surprisingly mean feat if you consider how long the www has been going, and how much information government has provided over the years.

Of course some content may have to be written from scratch or re-purposed through interactive tools or flat HTML, whichever suits the need. But the point of both exercises is to streamline the delivery of the franchises on Directgov, and more importantly – provide the right information, in the most helpful way – it has to be said, that this is regardless of whether the message is a popular one or not, it is not our raison d’être to address the popularity or otherwise of what the current government policies are.

Within days we will have developed our planned content architecture and within weeks we will know how much work is involved in delivering this and how soon we can start getting the right stuff in the right place for everyone.

I look forward to sharing this with you.

Important to note

  • the current offering is working as a place-holder for us, so please do not send me useful tips on how to make it better; the point is that we know it needs to be a whole lot better
  • we may seem pedantic, but if you are going to do this well… do it right (and we can do so without it costing the earth)
  • This blog post is written from my own experience only

What can you do? Let me know if you want me to post further on this subject, please 🙂 and in the future, it would be good if you could help us refine our franchise areas on Directgov.

Important to note, I am not delivering this single-handedly. Hereby listed the civil servants working on this with me in departments (not Directgov – too many to list):

Yasmin Diamond

Bill Reay

Phil Ramdeen

Fran White

Dan Berry

Atul Sharda

Jeremy Gould

Blogging sin: forgot to say Andrew Lewin has been integral to this process… damn it… forgive all future sins, I am sure I will add to this list