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How To Run a 'Proxy' Weblog on Behalf of Your MP
June 2004 (updated August 2004)
© Tim Ireland 2004
Introduction: What I'm asking you to do here is pretty simple; start a weblog and blog on behalf of your local MP. MPs have had more than enough time to discover the power of this new publishing format and take action. Facilities exist that allow any MP to set up a weblog at zero cost and with almost no tech skills. The time has come to show how easy this is, and at the same time take blogs from the status of luxury to necessity.
It needs to be pointed out that Tim Yeo is not my local MP. I only started to blog on his behalf because he was being a total hypocrite about Interweb accessibility. The blog itself serves very well as technical example, but do not assume that the blog you start on behalf of your MP has to be an aggressive one. In fact, a general amnesty has now been declared at the Tim Yeo weblog and an open offer to to hand the whole thing over lock, stock and barrel is on the table so Mr Yeo may turn it from a liability into an asset.
It would be much better if you chose from the outset to make the blog as useful as possible to your MP and be ready to hand the finished product over when they finally wake up to the potential of this publishing/communicating format. A good example of this can be seen at the proxy-blog for Jim Cousins.
Or - if you feel you must - you can simply speak your mind and make them realise that if they won't talk with us, we're going to carry on with the conversation in their absence (but do realise that if you start blogging in this way, you're more likely to scare them off).
Why/When Run a Proxy Weblog For Your MP?
- If they don't have a website.
Why a Local MP?
- You will have better knowledge of local issues.
Why a Weblog?
For the constituents:
For the MP:
How to Get Started- Go to www.blogger.com
- Open a (free) account.
- Use a nickname for your 'Display name' if you wish to remain anonymous.
- (Even if you already have an account with Blogger, you will need to start a new one for this weblog if you wish to be able to hand it over at some stage.)
- Include the name of your MP in the Blog Title.
Name availability may be limited, especially for more common names. You can use 'MP' in the URL if you like, but do be aware that if your chosen MP then takes up the weblog, they will not be able to use it during an election (as, during this time, they will not be an MP, but a candidate). Not a big deal, just something to be aware of. Some examples of suitable variations follow:
- Choose a design template.
What to Include In Your Design Template
- Contact details for your good self.
Extras You Will Need - Image Hosting- Blogger.com does not allow for the hosting of images.
- To host pictures, scans of newspaper articles, etc. you will need your own (anonymous?) webspace or an image host.
- MSN offers free image hosting and here are some tips for using the service.
Extras You Will Need - Tracking- Blogger.com does not offer tracking.
- You will need tracking to know that your weblog is reaching readers.
- You will need tracking to know where they are coming from.
- Free tracking including referral data is available from Statcounter.
Getting Listed- Most important listing is with the Open Directory Project.
- Search for name of biggest town in the constituency, follow link to category and submit your site.
- If there are no/few editors for that town, you may also choose to volunteer to edit this category.
- Some high-profile MPs have their own category in the ODP. You should submit to this category also if it exists. You can even volunteer to edit this category if you're feeling cheeky. (But you will be expected to list existing/new sites objectively!)
- Link to other weblogs.
Here's an example of how this works:
- Tim Yeo weblog launched Thursday, June 19, 2003
- Use the MP's name and relevant keywords in your subject headers; e.g. 'Tim Yeo and top-up fees', 'Tim Yeo defends education voucher/passport/gift-certificate scheme', etc.
What To Put On Your Weblog - News- Extracts from (and commentary on) news articles - local or otherwise.
- Quotes and scans from local newspapers.
- Use Google News Alerts to keep track of latest news and information published online (alerts sent direct to your Inbox).
What To Put On Your Weblog - Parliamentary/MP Records- Quote/link relevant parliamentary activity (speeches, questions, answers) and feed what you can to Google.
- Hansard publishes online 'the edited verbatim report of proceedings in both Houses'. It's searchable and indexable by larger search engines, but too big to be of any use via these external search engines.
- Advanced Search allows you to find exact quotes for any speaker within specific date ranges.
- Alternatively, you may find the presentation/organisation of this same record provided by TheyWorkForYou.com to be more user-friendly, but when you quote from any record, please ensure that you provide a link to the actual/relevant record.
What To Put On Your Weblog - Overview- Your job is to take the most relevant information and post it individually with a strong association to that MP's name.
- Add commentary (and allow comment) to provide improved context. (What does the information really mean?)
- People searching for information relating to your MP (or issues that concern your MP) will normally find your weblog - and your take on this information - first.
- Once you draw an audience, you may also wish to co-ordinate and/or prompt action. The first order of business, obviously, would be to campaign to get your MP to take on the weblog of start one of their own.
- Wit/humour is not necessary but it engages your audience and can be a very powerful tool.
Some Final Thoughts
You'll have to be prepared to actively communicate with constituents and turn thoughts and opinions into actions when necessary, (kind of like an MP is supposed to) otherwise your blog is just a very fun noisemaker. Again, this is where the Tim Yeo weblog falls over by way of example (*hangs head in shame*).
UPDATE - Proxy-bloggers who have populated their blog and drawn an audience are making a lot of progress simply by getting in touch with their MP and letting them know more about the weblog and their intentions (but obviously, you're probably not going to get far on day one - you need to hold your water and then show the machine in action). As of early August, two proxy-bloggers have met or talked with support staff and lined up a meeting with their MP to discuss the benefits of weblogging.
UPDATE - Proxy-blogging claimed its first success in September 2004. In reaction to approaches from the authors and interested parties, and after seeing her proxy blog and other blogs in action, Sandra Gidley launched a blog of her own. This blog is currently running at http://romseyredhead.blogspot.com/, but there are plans to integrate the blog content into her official website sometime in the near future.
Blogs are now being written on behalf of the following MPs:
Read Why Politicians Need Weblogs.