Why senior managers need to lead online

I wrote a thing for the Guardian’s Public Leaders’ Network:

The explosion in online innovation throughout public services is seeing more and more activity taking place on the net, whether via interactive websites, or mobile applications. Networks such as Twitter and Facebook provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and problem solving on a scale unimaginable previously – and those in senior positions have to be a part of this conversation.

Bookmarks for December 12th through December 30th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Connected Generation 2010

Connected Generation 2010 is, in the words of chief cheerleader Tim Davies:

…a one-day conference exploring youth engagement and technology in 2010. Based on feedback from participants at recent training events, and on the positive response to the Beyond Twitter event we ran up in Wrexham last year, we’re trying a mixed Conference and Open Space format again – with a morning of top-quality input from speakers and a range of pre-planned workshops, followed with an afternoon of curated unConference, where delegates can set the agenda and direct the conversations.

It’s happening at The Watershed in Bristol on Friday, 7th May.

Some of the speakers include:

Well worth signing up if you have any kind of interest in how technology can be used to engage with young people – even better value if you use the LPOOL discount code to get a tenner off the ticket price.

The Conservatives’ ‘Honest Food’ campaign

Yesterday morning, the Conservative Party launched a new campaign for ‘honest food’ – which is all about labelling food with its country of origin. They do have a rather nice video:

I don’t usually drift into party political stuff on this blog, and I’m not really going to start now. For some reason though, this campaign caught my eye and I’m just going to look at the online elements of it and see how they might be improved.

The campaign has it’s own URL – www.honestfoodcampaign.com – which just diverts the user to a sub page of the main Conservative Party website. This is mistake number one for me, for a campaign to engage with a broader range of people, it needs to avoid heavy branding from a political party. By all means make it clear who is behind the campaign, but don’t alienate potential supporters by making it all about the party.

On the campaign site itself, there are four tabs of content, which cover:

  • Honest Food – an intro to the campaign. There is lots of information available, but it is all in downloadable PDFs. Mistake number two.

  • Supporters
  • – some quotes from celebrities. There’s no interaction at all. Mistake number three.

  • Our poll – some details of a survey completed on behalf of the Tories, with a download link to (guess what?) another PDF full of further information (not that I bothered to download it)
  • Get involved – it would appear that the only way to get involved is by emailing, or posting(!) misleading labels to the campaign organisers. These are then made available for people to view…in a downloadable PDF

At the bottom of each of these sections is a link to sign an online (Conservatives-hosted) petition.

That seems to be it.

Here’s what I would do to breath some life into this campaign:

  1. Create a microsite, with very modest branding to host some decent levels of instantly viewable content, and get rid of the PDFs
  2. Get more value from the celeb endorsements, perhaps by making them available for questions from the public through webchats or something similar, or even just by doing some video with them to make it more interesting
  3. Create a space for people to talk about this issue with each other – maybe just a Facebook group, something simple
  4. Make the process of providing photos of poor labelling more fun and social – make it an instantly updated online photo gallery. Accept photos from mobile phones and services like Flickr. Maybe even create an iPhone application to do it.

What I think this makes clear is that whilst people have been critical of Labour’s efforts online, the other parties by no means have it licked themselves. Also, for a campaign to be really successful I think you have to let people feel like they are a part of it, and make it their own. Throwing PDFs at them and getting them to sign a petition does doesn’t real cut it.

Tom Watson’s Christmas Message

Our Minister for Digital Engagement’s blog has a stark message:

Globalisation in a connected world did for Woolies. When my son is a teenager, his friends will arrange to meet online and share their music tastes before pressing the ‘buy’ button. They’ll discover the world from their shared trust in favourite web sites.

We are entering an era of profound and irreversible change to the way people choose to live their lives and organise the world around them.

And there isn’t a politician on the planet who is going to stop this.

Web based or desktop?

Just recently, I have stopped using the WordPress inbuilt editor, which runs in the web browser, and have started using MarsEdit – a piece of desktop software I have previously been rather unkind about – to write my blog posts. Since getting a PC, just recently I have continued in this offline blogging vein by using Windows Live Writer.

This started me thinking about the ways I use online services – through web based or desktop applications. As always, the first thing I did was to ask my Twitter buddies:

  • Me: What makes you decide whether to use a web app rather than a desktop one? eg webmail vs client, or google reader vs feedemon or netnewswire?
  • Simon Wakeman: functionality functionality functionality…it depends, I use a mix of each, although my multi-PC multi-site work life lends itself to a cloud-based apps (newsgtr excepted)
  • Nick Booth: experimentation or if someone shows me something I like – then I’ll use it.
  • Matt Kelland: web apps are a last resort for me – only if I need collab access to the data AND I know I will always be online when I need it
  • Kevin Campbell-Wright: I’m with Simon Wakeman
  • Steven Tuck: using desktop for things where I want alerts eg twhirl, feeddeemon and web based for portability google docs, email.
  • Andrew Beekan: Accessibility. When it comes to readers and mail I like to be able to access wherever I am. Docs, I use a mix of Office & Zoho.
  • Michael Grimes: Because I can access them easily from anywhere (with an internet connection).

The answer, it appear, is ‘it depends’.

Let’s have a look at some examples of what I use and where.


I use webmail all the time – Gmail in this case using Apps for your domain. However, I have also set up Apple’s Mail client to download my email through IMAP for backup purposes, which I do roughly once a week. The main advantage of using the client application on my desktop is that it works when I’m not online… but that is rarely the case and my iPhone can be used for emails that just can’t wait. So, I’m happy with webmail. Unless anyone wants to convince me otherwise?

News reading

I started out reading RSS feeds late 2004, using Bloglines (Google Reader didn’t even exist in those days…). Then, as a Windows man, I discovered the wonder that is FeedDemon, a desktop application that really is the Rolls Royce of aggregators. When Google Reader came out (for the second time, the first version was rubbish) I toyed with it for a while before returning to FeedDemon.

When I switched to a Mac, I immediately downloaded NetNewsWire, the equivalent to FeedDemon. Sadly, I found that it just wasn’t the same experience, both in terms of ease of use and features. So, I switched to Google Reader, and that was that.

(It’s worth pointing out that both FeedDemon and NetNewsWire are part of the Newsgator family of RSS products, including the online RSS reader. All three sync together, so you could use NNW on a Mac, FD on a PC and NG at a third machine, and all would be up to date with what you have read and what you haven’t. Pretty neat.)

I really got into some of the features of Reader, like sharing items, with and without comments, which get automatically re-reported in FriendFeed. I also have got used to using Google Gears to download an offline copy of my feeds to read on the train. So, am also a web-based man when it comes to RSS. I have, though, just reloaded my latest subscription list into NetNewsWire to give it another go – along with the iPhone app and the fact that I now have a PC with FeedDemon on it – which could convince me to switch back…possibly.

Blog writing

A quicky this as I seem to write about it so much – I prefer writing blog posts offline. It’s irrational in these days of always-on broadband, but I feel rushed using the built in WordPress editor. There’s more on this topic here. On a Mac, the only sensible choice of offline editor is MarsEdit, whose lack of rich text editing is, frankly, a strength. The only time I use the built in editor these days is when I am using a different machine to my MacBook, or if I need to use a lot of bullet points (which are a bit annoying to do in MarsEdit).


I use a client for TwitterTwhirl. Others may rant on about the benefits of others, like Tweetdeck (which is big and ugly and horrible in my view) but I have found Twhirl seems to do stuff just the way I’d expect and like it to. Which is more than can be said for the Twitter web interface, on the homepage. The brightest thing Twitter ever did was to outsource its UI, if the website is anything to go by…

Word processing

See blog posting. I just like typing into a desktop app more than a box on a web page. Even when the document I am writing needs to be shared, I’d still rather type it locally first, then upload to Google Docs or whatever. What are your thoughts on the online/offline decision? I’m clearly pretty confused about which I prefer and when!

Which do you prefer – doing everything in the browser, on the desktop or a bit of both?