Posted by balders on September 28, 2007, 10:16 PM in General | Permalink
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Forget it... they ain't coming
Over the past 4 years, I've spent a lot of time trying to encourage MPs, councillors and candidates to join the online community in an open, responsible and sustainable manner.
By and large, this time has been wasted. Pissed away. And do you want to know why?
Because your average MP, councillor or candidate is far too concerned about what's in it for them and/or too fucking stupid to understand what's in for them... even when this single aspect is explained to them in detail.
There are also complete dickheads like Mike Chambers and Dennis Paul who see weblogs as a way to spread anonymous smears and/or pass off positive comments that they've written about themselves as genuine contributions.
Nothing new here; representatives from all parties use fake or 'independent' contributors to pepper the letters page of the local newspapers with this view or that... and I'm fed up to the back teeth with it all.
I'm equally fed up with the information gap that exists between the partisan crap spewed out by local representatives and candidates, and what actually gets reported in the local/international media.
Weblogs are the perfect way to fill that gap... and there is a pronounced need to fill it.
Take my shiftless, witless, lying and deceitful MP as a prime example.
There's a whole lot of crap that she'd get away with clean if there weren't someone to keep an eye on her, and I am not the only constituent with this problem.
It's a job that needs doing... and there aren't a hell of a lot of people around that know how to do it. So I'm going to teach them.
In 2005, the folks at the New Statesman blamed the lack of development on a general malaise in the sector.
They were wrong; the malaise is in parliament.
By and large, MPs have no interest in offering added accessibility, accountability and transparency... so it's up to us to deliver it on their behalf.
Watch this space.
[Note for Developers - If you are one of the many developers who expressed an interest in the Political Weblog Project and you disagree with this view and/or wish to carry on independently, please get in touch and I'll make sure that MPs who do give a damn know how to find you.]
Posted by timireland on October 26, 2006, 4:10 PM in News | Permalink
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David Miliband weblog wins 2006 N00b Media Award
On the 24th of July 2006, the New Statesman announced the winners of their latest round of New Media Awards.
While they should be given credit for actually arriving at a decision or two this year, someone deserves a kick up the arse for their choice of keynote speaker; David Miliband MP.
Yet again, the New Statesman have shown their unique insight into political blogging by choosing as their most honoured guest the one MP who sets the worst example.
Yes, you guessed it;
David Miliband - WINNER - 2006 N00b Media Award
The N00b is a special award granted annually to the individual or body that shows the most ignorant, witless or callous approach to political weblogs or the online community at large.
This year the shortlist included Iain Dale (everyone's favourite
latecomer 'expert') and Trevor Kavanagh (with his non-blog 'that politicians fear') but David Miliband was streets ahead for setting a terrible example that's sure to be followed:
1. David Miliband did not set up his blog under a dedicated domain name; he set it up as part of his departmental website.
So, when he changed departments, the blog had to move with him.
It used to be here:
And now it's here:
Later, it's going to be somewhere else. Maybe.
2. David Miliband did not pay for his blog himself, it was paid for by taxpayers.
The blog was built at a cost of £9,000. Or was it £40,000?
And it was built at a time when top-of-the-line blogs for MPs were up for grabs for as little as £700 (if, of course, they paid for it themselves).
This brilliant measure saved David a little bit of money (at considerable expense to the taxpayer) and protected him from any pesky party-political discussion. Which leads us to...
3. David Miliband passes off mild joshing and heckling as 'healthy debate'.
In his keynote speech at the NS awards, David read out a series of critical comments that 'proved' that open debate was permitted on his website... but each of them lacked that certain something that makes any exchange worthy of the title 'debate'; substance.
When David finished his award duties, we intercepted him as he dashed to his ministerial car. This is a full transcript of the exchange that followed (photo courtesy of Balders, who helped with the ambush):
Tim: David! Don't go yet! We have an award for you!
David: For me?
Tim: Yes, we know you didn't score inside, but we run the Political Weblog Project, and we have our own annual award... The N00b! Would you mind posing for a photo as we present the trophy?
David: Great! Thank you. OK, then.
[Hands are shaken as photo is taken.]
Tim: I should explain; the N00b is awarded to the individual or organisation who has shown the most ignorant, witless or callous approach to political weblogs in the past year.
Tim: Your blog is a total waste of space. It sets a very poor example. By having taxpayers fund your weblog, you completely rule out any possibility of genuine debate. So...
David: Now, that's where you're wrong. People are allowed to make critical comments on my weblog.
Tim: But not party-political comments.
David: People are allowed to be critical on my weblog.
Tim: So they're allowed to object to what you have to say?
Tim: So they're allowed to present alternate or opposing views?
Tim: And what happens when they belong to another party or one of those alternative views involves the policy of another party?
David: Well, they're perfectly free to say what they want on their own website.
Tim: Pfft! Well, there you go, then. Money well spent. Congratulations, David... here's your award.
[An effort is made to present the trophy.]
David (somewhat testily): You'll have to take that out.
[David gestures to the fiver that forms part of the trophy. Here, we should point out that last year's trophy presented to the New Statesman included a funnel and compass, so they might one day be able to find their arseholes unaided... but this year's trophy included a funnel and a crisp fiver, because we thought that David knew exactly where he could stick it. Turns out we were wrong.]
Tim: What, the fiver?
David: Yes, I can't accept that.
Tim: OK, then.
[The fiver is extracted and David accepts what remains of the trophy with 'grace' and 'dignity'... before completing his dash to the car.]
Balders: You do realise that we now have photographic evidence of David Miliband accepting a fiver...?
Tim: But we both saw him refuse it. He wouldn't even touch it.
Balders: Ah yes, but we're both bloggers... and you know how notoriously unreliable we can be.
Tim: Point taken.
Posted by timireland on July 25, 2006, 3:19 PM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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Special Event - MPs and Weblogs Seminar
MPs and Weblogs: building (and benefiting from) an online support network
Room P (Portcullis House) - Tuesday 13th December 2005, 6-8pm
Only 18 seats are available for this event. We would ask that MPs themselves attend (i.e. not their staff/researchers).
IMPORTANT UPDATE - Given the circumstances (there are a number of competing events on this date, including the Labour Party Xmas booze-up) we can understand why MPs would wish to send a member of staff in their place. You're welcome to do so... but the booze-up will be much more fun if you walk through the door with this under your belt. :o)
This a special seminar designed to show MPs the potential benefits and pitfalls of engaging with the community using weblog technology. The primary focus will be cultural forces that drive weblogs and web use, not web and weblog technology itself.
The seminar will be conducted by Tim Ireland using a straightforward PowerPoint presentation. There will be little-to-no need to take notes, as a 12-page handout of the presentation contents will be provided.
The seminar is suitable for MPs with little-to-no technology experience and even MPs that already have their own websites will find it illuminating.
- Search engines and how they work
- Weblogs and how they work
- The effect of weblogs on search engines
- Risks of self-publication
- Risks of two-way communication
- The risk of doing nothing
- Executive summary (and the importance of building an online community)
The primary presentation is expected to run for 60-90 minutes, leaving ample time for questions.
This seminar has been made possible by the kind co-operation of the office of Boris Johnson.
If you wish to let your MP know about this event:
Simply contact your MP (via WriteToThem.com if you wish), advise them that you would support their effort to communicate in this way, and send them a link to this post:
Posted by timireland on November 25, 2005, 11:30 AM in Education and Seminars | Permalink
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Conservative leadership contenders - who cares?
Considering that the great unwashed will have a say in who gets to be next leader of the Conservative Party, you would think that at least one of the smart bods behind one of the following contenders would see the sense in engaging with the online crowd, right?
David Cameron - No two-way communication on his website apart from the usual 'send me an email' invite. Nothing approaching a blog, just a sequential newsfeed.
Ken Clarke - Email and newsfeed. Again. But they do dress up the email form as your chance to 'comment' (presumably so his team may pick and choose the best sound-bites).
David Davis - Email and newsfeed. Again.. But both have been given prominence on the front page. Do try to contain any overwhelming feelings of gratitude.
Dr Liam Fox - King of the clever strapline and now master of a new domain. With a button marked 'FOXblog'!!!! And an RSS link! Be still my beating... oh, wait, it's just another newsfeed.
Edward Leigh - Wow! His front page is *covered* in newsfeeds! He must really, really, really care.
Theresa May - Email. Newsfeeds. Online photo gallery. *yawn*
Sir Malcolm Rifkind - Doesn't even have his own website. Instead, he shares space with the Kensington & Chelsea Conservatives.
Look how seriously these people take the challenge to engage with their own party members and the electorate.
It warms the heart, doesn't it? Can you feel the love in the room?
UPDATE - As Anthony Wells notes, David Cameron and David Davis have dedicated campaign sites:
1. If they each ran their own personal website, there would be no need for this external campaign website nonsense; they could instead have set up shop at their established website and taken control of traffic almost immediately. (Hint: Google does not trust new domain names.)
2. David Cameron says: "Send us an email if you'd like your comments posted here." If they like your comments, that is. This is not a conversation, this is not the way to establish trust.
3. David Davis has a big 'BLOG' link on his front page that links to this monstrosity, which is written by staff and does not allow comments.
Posted by timireland on October 4, 2005, 9:38 AM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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Political blogging seminar preview (on the subject of potential abuse of your trust)
What follows is the section of the upcoming Westminster seminar that deals with potential abuse of your trust.
An important note on context:
This section is preceded by information about weblogs, how they work and what the advantages are (this includes the importance of funding/building the site yourself, a short section that also partially addresses the matter of party-interference).
This section is followed by a closing section (ahead of a final summary) about the risks you take by not engaging at all.
This is the most crucial aspect of the seminar, as it will drive many decisions (thus the need for context) but it is based largely on my own experiences and those of other bloggers such as Tom and Boris, so I'd welcome any thoughts, additions or feedback from anyone else who has been on the receiving-end.
(Note: All those attending this seminar will be given comprehensive handouts with the full text of the presentation - so while brevity is important, any important niggly bits can be included in this document, if not the presentation itself.)
SELF-PUBLICATION - THE RISKS INVOLVED
* The most common pitfalls can be avoided by remembering these simple rules:
- Remember that you are an individual with your own views, but you are also an ambassador for your constituency, your party and your country
- Be consistent in your views where possible, but if you have to change your stance, be prepared to back this up with a logical argument
- Think before you post (or reply to a comment)
- Never publish anything on your website that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of a newspaper
- When in doubt, say nowt
TWO-WAY COMMUNICATION - THE RISKS INVOLVED
* Two-way communication must be allowed in order to:
- Establish actual communication (sounds obvious, but…)
- Become part of the online community
- Establish trust
- Earn those inbound links
* Two-way communication introduces the risk of:
- Comment/trackback spam
- Abusive/unsuitable comments/trackbacks
- Party-political harassment/attacks
* Idiots thinking they can promote their site by making generic comments complete with a link to pokersite.com, cheap-viagra.com, etc.
* Inevitable, but can be minimised by using a robust blog format that allows for:
- Anti-spam blacklists
- Comment registration
- Identification of contributors by email address
- Identification of contributors by IP address
- Pre-publication vetting of comments
* Similar to comment spam, but prompted by automated trackback 'pings'
* Harder to avoid, but can be minimised by using a robust blog format that allows for:
- Mass-deletion of offending trackbacks
- Closure of trackback on old/archived entries (the usual target for trackback spammers)
* What to do about them:
- Delete offensive comments
- Edit otherwise-constructive comments that include unsuitable material
* Typically, outright abuse of your trust will not originate from ordinary members of the public
* Almost every complete dipstick you encounter will be a party activist posing as an ordinary member of the public - however...
YOU MUST AVOID THE COMMON ASSUMPTION THAT ALL THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH YOU DO SO BECAUSE OF AN UNDECLARED POLITICAL ALLIANCE
* Spotting the difference between an ordinary member of the public, a general ditto-head and a party-political dipstick (and knowing when to say/do something about the latter) requires good judgement
* That same level of judgement is required to avoid posting material (or getting into arguments) that party-political dipsticks can use against you
* Generally, it pays to simply ignore/delete comments you heavily suspect of being a part of a party-political attack
- What will usually follow is a mindless bleat about the right to free speech, but:
- It's your website
- Party-political attacks like this disrupt your conversation with ordinary members of the public, and as such, they themselves are an assault on free speech
troll: One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a website, newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument
* Delete and forget (ban if necessary)
* You cannot 'win' an argument with a troll, because an argument is what they seek
* The only winning move is not to play
Calm down, dear...
* A quick word regarding how freaked out you are right now:
- Over 270 comments were made regarding Boris Johnson's Liverpool adventure in October and the personal revelations that followed in November 2004
- Only 5 of them required deletion
Robust blog formats
* A good blog format allows you to:
- Set the blog up so comments are not published until you have read/approved them
- Set the blog up so regular/trusted contributors can post as they please, but new ones must be approved by you
- See all of the comments/trackbacks made recently, even if they are made on old posts
- Edit/moderate comments, only removing the offending text (and perhaps adding a polite reason why)
- Delete multiple comments/trackbacks from the same dipstick
- Ban the IP address of a persistent dipstick
- Introduce registration that requires contributors to give a valid email address before their comment is published/considered
* Blog formats that allow for the best control and moderation of comments and trackback include:
- Movable Type (Tom Watson, Boris Johnson, Bloggerheads)
- WordPress (Richard Allan)
* Solutions like Blogger.com are easier/cheaper, but only allow for individual deletion of comments (no moderation or mass-deletion) and have limited-to-no registration/vetting capabilities
Posted by timireland on September 22, 2005, 12:39 PM in Education and Seminars | Permalink
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Paul Leake chooses his blog over his party
Paul Leake, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Durham, has been asked by his local party to remove any "controversial" posts from his weblog and to give them the right to vet future posts. He has refused, and stepped down from the party:
Paul Leake - Constituents vs Party - Constituents must win every time: Looking back on posts I don't think I have once criticised any of the hardworking City Council staff, or other Lib Dem Councillors. I have however sought to inform members of the public why I, as their local councillor, have done what I have done and voted how I have voted, as well as inform them about what their council is doing.
I only have a second-hand report on how BBC Radio Newcastle reported this, but I trust the source:
The report on the radio said that the blog is closely monitored by the opposition Labour councillors. The only bit closely approaching a quote I can remember was Denis Jackson, another Liberal Democrat on Durham City Council, saying something about Labour councillors using the blog to find "lurid headlines" and "he joined the party to be part of a team and not to go off and do his own thing". Needless to say, I couldn't find any lurid headlines on the blog today.
Well, I've spoken to Paul Leake and Denis Jackson, and this appears to be what has happened...
A Labour election agent has claimed something along these lines in recent election literature:
"A senior party spokesmen for the Liberal Democrats said that when it comes to policy Labour beats the Lib-Dems hands down."
This election agent appears to have got his hands on a curt email sent by Paul Leake and quoted him out of context... but one can easily see where senior Lib-Dems have made the connection with the weblog and decided to exercise caution (you may remember Jody Dunn's bloggage being quoted out of context in the 2004 Hartlepool by-election).
I've experienced similar behaviour over at the Anne Milton weblog. Conservative members, campaigners and councillors - usually posing as concerned members of the public - have tried on a number of occasions to take comments made by Lib-Dems on my website and misrepresent them. Click here to see a Tory putting his foot in his mouth by threatening a press release labelling Lib-Dem a homophobe... and not realising that his target is homosexual.
OK, let's get this straight (no pun intended):
Paul Leake is not a loose cannon, and his former party-masters are not the bad guys (though they do need to pop by and ask the Lion, the Tinman and the Scarecrow for a cup or three of ready necessities).
The main problem here - and it's an all-too-common one - is party activists looking for any weakness they can exploit, and thereby undermining the willingness and ability of elected officials to communicate openly with their electorate.
And this shit has got to stop. People who do this kind of thing deserve an online 'buckwheating'...
Andrew Brown: Paul Leake has been put in by what looks like a mixture of poor political management by his former group and partisan use of what he's written. Any of us who blog as elected representatives know that we may attract readers who don't always wish us well and we need to take a view on how to manage this.
Griff Wigley: I think Leake's situation is a great example of why it's important for an elected official to have a weblog that's not part of an existing organization, political party or otherwise.
More in Comments.
(As it happens, I've just now reached the section of the upcoming Westminster seminar that deals with this kind of thing (beginning with Slide 57, dontchaknow). I'll post the relevant passages sometime today or tomorrow to see if we can't reach consensus on a sensible take and approach.)
Posted by timireland on September 19, 2005, 12:11 PM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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We now have 3 teams on board, two for WordPress and one for MT.
We also have our price.
Domain names (if required) - 10 pounds
Hosting (if required) - 20 pounds a year
The creation of new site/blog or integration of a blog into an existing design will cost the same for MT or WordPress: 600 pounds
This price includes design, coding and training (on-site at Westminster).
This should include a reasonable level of support, but if there is an ongoing need for consultation over and above the usual 'can-you-fix-this-broken-widget' stuff, a nominal retainer will need to be agreed.
And nominal is the word. That core price of 600 pounds is as low as it can go. In fact, it's about a tenth of the price you'd pay for a commercial weblog.
What we need to impress upon MPs is how much of a bargain this is... and also inform them what they need to do to hold up their end.
Early next week, I'll draw up formal packages with all the details MPs will need in order to choose a team/package... and get cracking on the seminar content. There'll be special introductory pages that folks can point to when trying to convince their MPs to make this move, but I think the seminars will be our most likely route to success.
(A thought: Part of the deal should be a link back to a special info page on the project website so other MPs can see what's theirs for the taking.)
Posted by timireland on September 1, 2005, 12:46 PM in Designers and Providers | Permalink
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Black Dog lacks clue
I spotted this in the Mail on Sunday this weekend. The author of Black Dog appears to be the victim of ignorance or wishful thinking.
Not that one expects to see accuracy in political gossip columns - or the Mail, for that matter -but this assumption does lead us to an interesting point.
Let's start with the facts and some reasonable conclusions anyone with half a brain could form upon discovering them...
1. The GidleyWatch blog came before the Romsey Redhead blog.
2. It is written by constituents who showed (*gasp*) an interest in communicating with their MP and managed to convince Sandra to begin a weblog of her own.
3. Knowing this (and it would only take a close look at either blog or a search in Google to find out), it should be clear that the weblog is not written by rivals.
4. Or lackeys, for that matter. But there are some people who are actually convinced that GidleyWatch is written by Lib-Dem activists.
This is part of the curious 'Us and Them' mentality shared by some journalists and many, many party bods (including supporters of Anne Milton such as Dennis Paul).
The latter group simply cannot accept that anybody who disagrees with their views can form the offending viewpoint independently. They would rather believe (or have others believe) that the viewpoint is fed to them or forced upon them by a political body.
Yes, sometimes this happens. But usually it pays to keep your mouth shut until you have proof.
To immediately and/or repeatedly leap onto the idea that anybody who speaks their mind is a party activist is completely wrong-headed and shows a startling level of arrogance.
Aren't ordinary members of the public capable of forming opinions? Isn't voicing or acting on these opinions the right of every citizen?
No, I'm afraid not. To hold any opinion or take any action you first must be part of the official fellowship.
Then, of course, those opinions or actions can easily be dismissed as part of a party-political campaign. (See, as an example, the only defence offered by Anne Milton regarding racist pamphlets in Guildford.)
You see how it works? You need to be part of the club before they can beat you with it.
Posted by timireland on August 30, 2005, 11:14 AM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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I've been thinking about the need for a contract, given that we are providing these weblogs at a certain price with the provision that they are used to engage in two-way communication.
It's my opinion that we don't need one.
Link spectrums are living, breathing things and they will quickly dissipate if engagement stops. In such a case the MP concerned will have received a cheap website at the cost of their (online) reputation.
Let me know if you disagree.
Posted by timireland on August 26, 2005, 12:28 PM in Designers and Providers | Permalink
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OK, after some discussion in the background, we are currently planning to develop using Movable Type and WordPress only. Other formats can be introduced to the project at a later date, but we need to get some packages and prices finalised before MPs come back from their break.
Movable Type's complicated licence fees, erm, complicate matters somewhat. If we wanted to run every single weblog from a central server, the matter would be greatly simplified... but we don't want to do that. Our team holds a commercial licence which means we can - in the short term - roll out multiple weblogs with a nominal licence fee, but other teams that don't have such a licence will need to develop in WordPress or attach a one-off fee for a suitable MT licence (I would imagine 'personal' would be most suitable). Not a big deal; it just needs to be kept in mind.
Offers of (and pointers to) suitable hosting range from 10-20 pounds per annum. Early on with Tom Watson's site we used a dirt-cheap host and suffered from all sorts of support shortfalls, so I think it's reasonable that we set this to 20 pounds per annum for now.
Domains (.co.uk or .org.uk) are to be priced at 10 pounds.
What we need to do now is discuss (privately via email) how low we can go on prices for:
- Installation and set-up (new website, existing website or the move of an existing website to a new server)
- Design from scratch
- Coding from scratch
- Design for integration into existing website
- Coding for integration into existing website
- Education and training
1. Have I missed anything?
2. Our team is planning on using templates up to a point - but I think it's important that we avoid a cookie-cutter solution to individual design. Integration is groovy, but same-ness sucks.
You know the address... use it.
Posted by timireland on August 25, 2005, 5:48 PM in Designers and Providers | Permalink
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Mark Pritchard punks out
The Mark Pritchard Proxy Blog brings to our attention the new and fabulous and not-at-all blog-like website for Conservative MP Mark Pritchard (located at www.markpritchard.com)
Mark Pritchard is, of course, rightly famous for publishing the most inactive weblog of all time (and when I says 'of all time', I means of ALL time).
The author of the Mark Pritchard proxy-blog has quite rightly asked why this MP continually fails to communicate with his constituents. He also asks this question of his MP:
Why didn't you use a local company to do your work?
Allow me to field that one...
The design company behind this website is Butter Mountain. They have also developed sites for the following people:
Tariq Ahmad - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Croydon North
Geoffrey Cox - Conservative Member of Parliament for Devon West and Torridge
Philip Dunne - Conservative Member of Parliament for Ludlow
David Gauke - Conservative Member of Parliament for South West Hertfordshire
Michael Gove - Conservative Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath
Myles Hogg - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Ellesmere Port & Neston
(Is anyone else detecting a pattern here?)
Nick Hurd - Conservative Member of Parliament for Ruislip-Northwood
Stanley Johnson - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Teignbridge
Paul Oakley - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for St Helens North
Mike Penning - Conservative Member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead
Aaron Powell - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Basildon
James Proule - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham
Shailesh Vara - Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire
Charles Walker - Conservative Member of Parliament for Broxbourne
Stephen Watson - Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Caerphilly
OK, enough snarking...
Two of these websites provide a glimmer of hope. Both David Gauke and Michael Gove are running pseudo-blogs (i.e. blogs used as content-management devices with no two-way communication)... so they're *almost* understand there. Almost.
I'll be in touch with these two chaps once we have the troops and packages in order. If it's permitted, we may even be able to plug our expertise into the inner workings of Butter Mountain.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again; it doesn't matter who builds these things... all that really matters is that they get built correctly used properly.
But I wouldn't hold any great hope of Mark Pritchard coming online and communicating properly... this is a man who held his first surgery 106 days after the election.
Posted by timireland on August 25, 2005, 3:18 PM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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Right, here's the deal...
I've given myself until the 1st of September to move this forward as much as possible and about a dozen very useful people have been in touch.
(waves to very useful people)
I've gone right off Blogger.com (FTPed) for one very good reason: poor comment control. Blogger.com makes it very difficult to fend off comment attacks and/or identify anonymous troublemakers (via IP address). This could lead to a situation that has a negative impact on the most important component of any given weblog - the willingness and/or ability of the author to maintain a viable two-way communication channel.
So right now I'm looking at formats that appear to give an adequate level of control on this front:
1 - Movable Type
2 - WordPress
I'm also taking a close look at Quills and would be willing to look at any other blog format that can adhere to the overall specifications of this project and provide robust comment moderation features.
Right now, I operate as part of a team that has experience in delivering a finished Movable Type weblog. Some people have been in touch that can deliver the same on this or other formats. Others who can provide individual aspects such as hosting, coding or design have also expressed an interest.
(waves again to very useful people)
So what needs to follow is a (hopefully very short) discussion about acceptable formats, then the identification of individuals (or formation of teams) that can build and host a finished weblog using any of the agreed platforms. Then we can all have a chat about price.
If you or your team can build and a finished weblog using Movable Type or WordPress, please get in touch.
If you know of an equally acceptable blog format, please get in touch.
If you can only offer certain specific skills or resources, please get in touch and I'll try to put you in touch with others who can help you to form a viable team.
Once the packages are ready to roll, we can get on with promotion and education.
(My gut tells me that - for Councillors - the best solution is to simply provide a tutorial on the best use of Blogger.com - i.e. FTPed to a location under a domain they control - and also advise theses people of the limitations of this system. This can happen later. For now, I want to crack on with the formation of a series of 'ideal' solutions.)
Posted by timireland on August 23, 2005, 12:09 PM in Designers and Providers | Permalink
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Political Weblog Project launches
OK, we're just about ready to roll on my end. The time has come for me to reveal this new project and call in some willing bods.
The first thing you may notice is the back-dated entries that form a developing timeline of political blogs in the UK and include some commentary on technical aspects and cultural events. I've done a fair whack of the history of weblogs by (and for) our elected officials, but there's a lot more that needs doing. There are about 25 councillors to add, for a start. I also need to expand the categories to include MEPs, members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
I'm launching without the full history in place because time is of the essence.
I want to get more elected officials blogging properly. I want to do this by offering them a full blogging package at rate they can afford... on pretty much the sole condition that they use it properly. (These elected officials are better off paying for this out of their own pocket for reasons I outline here.)
I don't want to be the only provider. I want other producers, designers, coders and providers in on it, too.
What we have to do in these early stages is discuss the nuts and bolts and what they cost so there are standard packages available at a set price.
Also, we need to agree on which nuts and bolts to use. To create a fully-functional ecosystem, we need to use formats and tools that can 'speak' to each other; Movable Type, WordPress, and so on. Custom solutions will be welcomed to the fold, so long as they don't use query strings, have good comment moderation features and are compatible with other major blog formats (in terms of trackback, etc.).
I pondered on Blogger.com (tweaked to include trackback) FTPed to a server under a this-is-my-name-domain as the base package, but I'm wary of creating a lowest-common denominator solution (especially as Blogger.com has two major weaknesses; poor archiving/categorisation and poor comment moderation). Take a look at how many MPs set up a bare-minimum profile on ePolitix and leave it at that and you'll get a pretty good idea of what I'm worried about. (Perhaps - just perhaps - we can offer this as an entry-level option for Councillors.)
But, ideally, what I'd like built for each willing individual is a sturdy and suitable blog installed and hosted with a good domain that they control. Something that will suit them no matter what the future holds.
I have an introductory article ready, but when MPs come back from holiday and file back into Westminster, I want to be holding mini-seminars on the potential and proven value of two-way communication via weblogs with at least this core package ready to roll.
So, if you can design, build, code and/or host a weblog and think this is a good idea, I'd like you to get in touch:
manic AT bloggerheads DOT com
Let's agree on formats, criteria and cost... and get moving.
Posted by timireland on August 11, 2005, 12:51 PM in News | Permalink
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New Statesman wins 2005 N00b Media Award
Allow me to introduce the N00b Media Award.
This is a special award to be granted to the individual or body that shows the most ignorant, witless or callous approach to political weblogs or the online community at large.
This year the shortlist included such luminaries as Mark Pritchard (who, despite having made no posts to his weblog, has archive links dating back to the dawn of time) and Stephen Coleman (the e-democracy 'expert' who doesn't even have his own website) but the clear winner is New Statesman magazine.
New Statesman - WINNER - 2005 N00b Media Award
On July 5th 2005, a representative of the New Statesman announced to an incredulous audience at their 2005 New Media Awards that no award would be granted to an elected representative. They felt that none of the sites shortlisted deserved recognition and they gave their reason as follows: After much discussion and thought, they agreed that none of the shortlisted nominations deserved the accolade. Some of the elected representatives have made massive efforts in creating an interesting online presence. But it was recognised that they have done so with little official help, and mostly by being in a fortunate enough position to draw upon the technical and communication skills required.
Perhaps the shortlist was sub-par because the site with the most nominations failed to get shortlisted. Perhaps the judges felt they could not give an award to Steve Webb for his text-messaging initiative because somebody else had already done so. Perhaps the 100+ plus comments made on many posts to Boris Johnson's website are a figment of the collective imagination, as they clearly don't count as '(the best) new media technology to communicate with the electorate'. Or perhaps (as has been put so delicately here) 'a magazine of a certain political slant couldn't be seen to be awarding the editor of a magazine of another political slant'.
These are all interesting possibilities, but it's far more entertaining to take New Statesman at their word when they assure us that the real reason for their failure to grant an award was a general malaise in the sector.
In other words, if a growing ecosystem seems fragile and uncertain, the most constructive thing you can do is take a dump in the middle of it. (Some have suggested that this theory has something to do with a need for more fertiliser.)
For this brave and clear-headed decision, for inviting the nominees into London knowing they would be sending them all home empty-handed (to the point of even calling some up that afternoon to ensure they would attend) and for a spirited defence in the days that followed that involved more than one reference to the possible need for lawyers should they or their judges be called into disrepute, the New Statesman is more than deserving of the inaugural N00b Media Award.
Fashioned from the most readily-available metals somewhat reminiscent of silver, this soon-to-be-coveted award comes complete with detachable funnel and compass.
If they can work out how to use either, they may be able to avoid winning the award two years running.
Posted by timireland on August 11, 2005, 9:11 AM in Fighting Ignorance | Permalink
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Kate Hoey (Proxy Blog)
Labour MP for Vauxhall
Proxy blog by: Richard Pope and others
Launched: May 14, 2005
Format: Movable Type (custom template with snarky header)
Set up after the 2005 election in response to Kate Hoey's apparent technophobia, this proxy-blog is a mix of passive reporting (via Google News, Technorati and Theyworkforyou.com), the occasional stir, and links to her declared interests and voting record.
This proxy-blog is unique in its use of a domain name, but there appears to be a valid reason for this...
Kate Hoey represents an area stretching from London Waterloo to Clapham Common (which includes the area around Brixton and Stockwell stations). Not the most affluent part of town, but it's certainly wired throughout - and by no means a distant backwater where electricity is hard to come by and Teh Interwebs is a distant dream.
However, Kate Hoey's heart and mind appears to be in the countryside, rather than with her constituents. In late July 2005, the author of the proxy-blog set up this pledge at Pledgebank: "I will contact Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, asking why she has time to become chairman of the Countryside Alliance when she only attended 55% of votes as our Member of Parliament. but only if 10 other Lambeth residents will too."
(The author got his 10, and 6 of the resulting letters can be read here.)
This disregard for her constituents extends to communication. Despite living in an urban area where a great many of her constituents have internet access, Kate Hoey has completely failed to establish any kind of online presence beyond a profile page at the Labour website. And she's been an MP for this same area since 1992 (the first website for an MP was built in 1994).
The site has an open offer on the front page for Kate Hoey to take up the website herself, and this offer has been reinforced here with a further offer to cover hosting costs.
Personally, I don't think they have a snowball's chance in hell. Kate Hoey would first need a desire to address her constituents, followed by the will and intelligence to do so online. Sadly, she seems to lack the required desire and any kind of will beyond her own agenda. As for intelligence... well, the less said about that, the better.
The use of the katehoey.co.uk domain name can in no way be considered a cybersquat - especially when you consider:
1. There is an open offer on the table for her to take control of it via the established proxy-blog
2. The motivation/opportunity for her to secure the domain name for herself has been there for the better part of a decade and she has failed to do anything about it
Posted by timireland on May 14, 2005, 12:22 PM in Blogs: Proxies | Permalink
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Labour MP for Cardiff North
Launched: May 10, 2005
Julie's main website still sits here at Geocities (Geocities? Run! Hide!) but she now also runs a weblog here at Blogdrive.com
Ideally, Julie needs to bite the bullet and set up a new home at a site hosted under a domain that she controls, but she is to be commended for waiting until after the 2005 General Election to start her weblog:
Following in the footsteps of my colleagues Tom Watson and Leighton Andrews, I've decided to start keeping this blog as a new way of communicating with my constituents. I hope you enjoy it! I was very proud to be re-elected as MP for Cardiff North on May 5. I have enjoyed the last eight years immensely and want to continue my work for our community. Hopefully, this blog will be another way that my constituents can keep informed about my work for them in Cardiff and in Westminster.
Posted by timireland on May 10, 2005, 2:03 PM in Blogs: MPs (Labour) | Permalink
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Mark Pritchard (Proxy Blog)
Conservative MP for The Wrekin
Proxy blog by: BigDaddyMerk
Launched: March 15, 2005
Format: Blogger.com (standard template)
The proxy blog for Mark Pritchard has one simple and clearly stated purpose; to continue to exist until Mark starts his own weblog. And it's not the most favourable or fawning of proxy blogs, let me tell you.
What chance do you think it has of succeeding?
Well, Mark Pritchard - who obviously cannot see into a future that doesn't involve him being the Conservative MP for The Wrekin - has his online home at http://www.wrekinconservatives.com/... and sometime before March 2005 a 'blog' link appeared on the front page of that website.
Sadly, while Mark Pritchard may be commercially involved in Teh Interwebs via the company Discount Domains Ltd, he appears to lack the common sense and/or common courtesy that is required for effective networking via weblogs. To give you an example, as the proxy blog for Pritchard reveals here, Mark Pritchard has been clever enough to 'find' and endorse the website for Discount Domains Ltd on a number of occasions.
Oh, sorry... I mentioned a blog.
Sorry to get your hopes up, but in August 2005, Mark Pritchard was shortlisted for the inaugural N00b Media Award for launching a weblog and failing to make a single post for upwards of 5 months, even though the site boasted archive links dating back to the dawn of time).
The 'blog' remains empty and still provides a magical portal into the dim and distant past. You can click here if you wish to see it, but please be aware that the page is a very hefty download in its current state. The archive dates don't stop once they finally count down to January 0 (there was a Year Zero?); they go on to December -1 and on and on and on into the 'negative' years... and would continue to do so forever if his server and your ISP would allow such a thing.
Posted by timireland on March 15, 2005, 11:06 AM in Blogs: Proxies | Permalink
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Anne Milton (Campaign Blog)
Conservative MP for Guildford
Campaign blog by: Tim Ireland
Launched: March 14, 2005
Format: Blogger.com (standard template FTPed to server)
This was a tough call for me. When I first called for proxy-blogging, I realised that I'd have to at least offer Tim Yeo amnesty, lest people treat this as an ideal and/or assume that the best approach was an aggressive one. (You can read more about what my issue with Tim Yeo is by clicking here. Just if you're interested.)
Then, in 2005, the election loomed and a local candidate by the name of Anne Milton came to my attention. You can read about my first encounters with her here to learn why I started the blog. To learn why I continue it today... well, a chap by the name of Chris Ward met her under far more favourable circumstances, but the way his relationship with Anne developed echoes my experience closely, so his comments on this are worth repeating here:
Chris Ward: I may add that I met Ms Milton under rather nice circumstances and we got on rather well. At the time I was concerned about racial hatred, particularly with literature the BNP were circulating. I believed that this could put our international community at UniS at risk. Anne Milton seemed to agree with me, she seemed quite adamant that the type of thing was deplorable. When I joined the Lib Dems, even then I did not have a dislike for Ms Milton, obviously we were on opposite sides of the campaign battlefield, but that's no reason for a personal dislike. I dislike her because she refused to disown certain literature that was circulated around Park Barn. It contradicted everything she said to me, and made me understand she was fighting for something different.
You can read more about the offending literature by clicking here and following your nose (which is pretty easy to do, because the whole affair stinks to high heaven).
Over time, my impression of Anne Milton became less and less favourable. You may want to read my election-eve statement to get an idea why, or you can simply place your faith in the following comment I made in that post:
I wouldn't trust Anne Milton as far as I could throw her. I place no faith whatsoever in her abilities, her word, her promises, or her character. I had my doubts when I started this weblog, but did not form a firm opinion until I had been exposed to much of what you see above.
Then she won the seat by a margin of 347 votes!
The blog continues with a new focus;
How many of her campaign promises will she keep?
How does she conduct herself as our parliamentary representative?
Early signs are not good.
Though the offer of amnesty for Tim Yeo (which still stands) may allow me to continue to refer to this as a 'proxy blog', I think in the case of the Anne Milton weblog a new classification is in order; it is best described as a 'campaign' blog (and, unlike most proxy-blogs, it certainly does not include an offer for her to step in and take charge of it herself).
Note - Because of the high priority already afforded information published at bloggerheads.com (see: Why do I need my own domain?) this weblog earned the top search result for 'anne milton' in every major search engine within a few short weeks and continues to maintain that position. MPs and Councillors should take note of this. If you fail to engage at the correct level, you may be overtaken by other sites that do - and if one or more of those sites is not acting in your favour, you have a problem.
Posted by timireland on March 14, 2005, 1:01 PM in Blogs: Campaign | Permalink
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Martin Linton (Proxy Blog)
Labour MP for Battersea
Proxy blog by: Dave Cross
Launched: January 29, 2005
Format: Movable Type
Aside from the domain name, this is a great little proxy blog.
So far it's the only proxy blog that has gone beyond the Blogger.com solution and instead built on a far superior platform (Movable Type). The author also sets an excellent example with this 'full disclosure' post:
I've been a Labour Party supporter for as long as I can remember (well, except for a brief flirtation with the Green Party in the late 1980s) but I didn't get round to actually joining the party until the disappointment of the 1992 General Election. By that time, however, the Labour Party had moved a long way from the Socialist party that I wanted it to be. When the leadership refused to listen to the membership and imposed its own candidate for the London Mayoral Election of 1999 it was the final straw and I resigned my membership. As a good friend put it "I didn't leave the Labour Party - they left me". The Labour Government continues to act in ways that appal me. Their actions in taking the British Army into the invasion of Iraq make me ashamed to admit that I voted for them.
The authors' reasons for setting up the site were also clearly explained from the outset:
My MP is Martin Linton and whilst he has his own official web site he and his staff are all too busy to keep it particularly up to date, so I've been thinking for some time about putting an unofficial site together that would be easier to keep up to date. But like many of my projects I was too busy to do anything about it. Then a couple of weeks ago, I was given a leaflet about a meeting where Martin Linton would be speaking to members of the Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition. I went to his web site to get more information, only to find that this was one of the meetings that they had been just too busy to mention. At that point I decided that this site was more important than some of my other projects so I put them to one side and set this site up.
Martin Linton operates an ePolitix profile and a website at http://www.martinlinton.org.uk/
A review of the latter will have to wait for a bit. At the moment (August 5, 2005) the only text on the site is the following error message:
VBScript compilation error 1002 :
/index.asp line 149
August 11, 2005 - martinlinton.org.uk now carries the message: Welcome to Martin Linton's website. As you can tell, it is offline getting some radical surgery.
Posted by timireland on January 29, 2005, 8:19 PM in Blogs: Proxies | Permalink
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