Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's in a name?

People invest an enormous amount of identity and personal energy into their own names.

Names are our unique identifiers, defining us as separate to others - even for people with common names.

So when organisations make rules about the names people can use online it can create signficant distress and dislocation for people.

It also raises questions over who can decide your identity. Can corporations deny people the use of their legal names online simply because they don't fit a narrow model of what the corporation regards as 'appropriate naming'?

A recent example I've been following is Stilgherrian's battle with Google over the use of his legal name for Google Plus. You can follow it at his blog (strong language) or read about it at The Register.

Stilgherrian changed his name over thirty years ago to a mononym - a single name. His passport and official records all reflect this and those of us who know Stilgherrian personally have never experienced any dislocation or issue with engaging with him as an individual with one name.

However Google's Plus service has defined rules for allowable names. Firstly it requires that you use your legal name (although Google is apparently not requiring evidence or checking with authorities in most cases to verify). Secondly, it requires that you have a first name and a last name and that there's no spaces or characters like an apostrophe in your name.

Now while this might fit a certain segment of the population, there's a number of people who have either only one name (as is common in a number of countries), have spaces in their names such as "Dick Van Dyke", or use apostrophes and other non-standard characters.

The net result is that Google is blocking people with names that don't match its view of what is a legal name - and requiring that people provide documented proof of their 'anomalous' legal names.

I have another friend who changed her legal name to a mononym (which includes an apostrophe) over ten years ago. About two weeks ago she announced that she was changing her name to add a 'first' name, so that she could use Facebook and other social media channels to communicate with people.

She had finally reached the point where her single name was excluding her from legitimate social interactions due to the naming policies of (mainly) US companies.

I have a real problem with this situation, for Stilgherrian, for my friend and for the millions of other people around the world who have names that don't fit Google or Facebook's views of a legal name.

Firstly, 'legal' names should be defined by governments, not corporations. Australia's governments, and many governments around the world, support a much wider variety of legal naming conventions than social networks appear to allow.

Secondly, isn't it discrimination when corporations deny you access to their service due to the format of your legal name? Denying a service to an individual just because their name is structured differently to their business rules might be legally actionable.

Finally, what right do corporations have to your legal name anyway - particularly if they make it public. Many people have good reasons for not revealing their legal name publicly. Those in witness protection programs, minors, people with embarrassing 'real' names and those who are widely publicly known by a name other than their legal name, are all candidates for using a different name to their legal name online for legitimate reasons.

It is fair to deny people access to online services, particularly when these services are in such widespread use, just because they can't publicly disclose their legal name?

All of the examples above relate to corporations. However there are examples which may also refer to government as well.

There have been calls from a number of quarters in various Australian government to restrict people to the use of their legal name when commenting online. The purported reason is that people are less likely to behave inappropriately if they can be held accountable for what they say. The subtext is that people become easier to monitor and track.

I am not a fan of this approach for governments either. Like above, there are legitimate reasons why people might choose to not use their legal name in online discussions.

It can also be very hard to identify many people from their legal name alone, given the number of duplicates that may exist. Any step taken to require legal name use would have to attach address and proof of identity in order to identify specific individuals. Even then, identity theft would lead to many misrepresented identities.

Also there are other ways authorities can identify individuals if there are legitimate reasons to do so (such as discussion of committing a crime) - using IP addresses and various analysis techniques.

What is useful for government, is being able to identify consistent identities online - whether individuals choose to use their legal names or not.

Consistent identities allow organisations to build user cases based on profiling views across different topics, supporting policy development and decision-making without compromising personal privacy or security and while allowing people to define themselves online as they choose.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ACT Virtual Community Cabinet #2

The ACT is holding its second Virtual Community Cabinet tonight from 7pm to 8pm, so I have again set up a livefeed to capture the tweets for the record, and to allow analysis afterwards.

I am only capturing tweets including the hashtag for the event (#actvcc), so if you are participating, but don't include the hastag, your tweet will not appear below.

Also note that CoverItLive, the tool I am using, doesn't necessarily capture every tweet due to the way Twitter's API works, so this may not be a complete record of the discussion.

I hope that the ACT government will record it and provide an official 'transcript' after the event (although I am not aware of them doing so for the last virtual community cabinet)

UPDATE:
Unfortunately there was an issue with my CoverItLive, which did not start last night as scheduled, and I wasn't near a computer to check :(
Therefore I didn't record the session and at this stage are not able to report on it.

I'll look at alternatives through other tools to see if I can get a record of the event.

A basic analysis is available from the Archivist here and a record at Twapper here.

There is also a good analysis at the blog Keikaku Doori

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What's faster than an earthquake? Social media

Last week the US East Coast experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

While comparatively weak compared to quakes experienced elsewhere in the world in the last year, the event was powerful in one sense.

It demonstrated the speed of social media.

People in New York learnt of the quake before it actually hit, by reading the tweets of people experiencing the quake in Washington.

Yep that's right - news about the quake travelled faster through social media than the actual quake travelled through the ground.

Here's a comic from xkcd (found via Wired) illustrating the point. Note this was written before the quake!


Socialnomics reported that there were 40,000 quake-related tweets within 60 seconds. It also reported that "Facebook said it had some 3 million U.S. users updating others about the event."

This included more than tweets from the public. The Socialnomics post also reported that a proportion of messages came from government agencies,

According to a FEMA spokesperson, the agency put Twitter to use to alert people impacted by the quake not to use cell phones unless absolutely necessary, thereby freeing up some of the lines for emergency calls.

Among the tweets was this one from the Department of Justice – “Quake: Tell friends/family you are OK via text, email and social media (@twitter & facebook.com). Avoid calls.”

Meantime, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted – “I’ve spoken w/ our Police and Fire Commissioners & we’ve activated the Emergency Management Situation Room. Thankfully, there are no reports of significant damage or injuries in NYC at this time.”

Twitter also thought it worth releasing a short 'boast' video about its speed, as republished in Mashable:



The earthquake's impact on Twitter was even presented at the G-Force conference in Melbourne the same (US) day - via this video recorded and presented by Charlie Isaacs, eServices and Social Media Engineering, Alcatel Lucent.



Back to the Socialnomics article, social media is becoming a critical important channel for emergency management,
According to a pair of June Red Cross surveys from more than 2,000 people combined:
  • After television and local radio, the Internet ranks the third most popular way for people to obtain emergency information with 18 percent of both the general and the online population directly using Facebook;
  • Nearly one fourth (24 percent) of the general population and a third (31 percent) of the online population would turn to social media to alert loved ones they are safe;
  • Four of five (80 percent) of the general and 69 percent of the online populations surveyed think that national emergency response organizations should regularly monitor social media sites in order to respond quickly.
“Social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response,” Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the American Red Cross, said in a statement. “During the record-breaking 2011 spring storm season, people across America alerted the Red Cross to their needs via Facebook. We also used Twitter to connect to thousands of people seeking comfort, and safety information to help get them through the darkest hours of storms.”

Now to spoil a good story, the Wired article in which I found the xkcd comic, Tweet Waves vs. Seismic Waves, did an analysis of the effectiveness of Twitter in warning people about this particular quake so that they could take action to protect themselves from its effects.

The analysis, while limited in scope to this one quake, indicated that barely anyone would have had the time between receiving information via Twitter and taking an action to seek safety.

Of course, social media isn't only useful for earthquakes - fires, floods and many other disasters spread at a slower rate conducive to social media warnings. Also larger earthquakes may have bigger radii, meaning there's greater prospect of people catching news via social media and having time to take action.

There's also still plenty of value in getting news about a disaster as, or just after it happens, elsewhere in the world, This allows emergency management mechanisms to swing into action - in this case every minute saved can preserve lives.

So I'm definitely of the view that social media has important uses in disaster and emergency situations. It can save lives directly and indirectly and help management teams do their job.

Organisations just need to ensure that social media is thoroughly integrated into official disaster management plans and appropriate channels are in place before emergencies occur.

After all, might it not be considered negligence if governments and organisations ignored social media in emergencies when it could save lives?

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Avoiding the 'social media graduate' approach

I've commented before that it isn't a sound strategy for organisations to entrust their social media strategy to graduates, simply because they are young and "must understand social media".

I've also commented on the need to expand social media engagement beyond the communication team to entire organisations, within designated policies. This is because communication professionals see the world through a particular set of filters that can restrict an organisation's capability to gain many of the broader benefits from social media tools.

The following video does a great job of summing up my views in a single two minute long discussion, courtesy of Socialnomics author Eric Qualman (via the Digitalbuzz blog)



And to throw in another video from Socialnomics...worth a look.



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Thursday, August 25, 2011

ACT Government opens discussion on open government website

In what I believe might be a first in Australia, the ACT Government has released the requirements and wireframes for its upcoming open government website for public scrutiny and comment at its Time to Talk website.

Essentially the ACT government has decided to allow the community to give feedback on the upcoming website's proposed functionality and design before they spend the resources to actually build it.

This step could help reduce site costs and improve community satisfaction by ensuring the site is build to a specification tested to meet public needs.

Of course, as this is the first time the ACT government has taken this kind of step, it may take time for people to become aware of the consultation, to consider the material and to comment. Also, many people are unfamiliar with specifications or web design processes, so it could be a challenge for them to understand and provide constructive advice. Hopefully a number of the web-savvy people in Canberra will step up, take a look and provide comment (as I intend to do).

Otherwise this might be a very quiet consultation and not deliver an outcome that encourages others to take similar steps in the future.

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Gov 2.0 at the 2011 Public Affairs Conference

You may still have time to consider attending the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and the Walkley Foundation's Public Affairs Conference in Canberra from 5-6 September this year.

The conference has a significant Government 2.0 and open government flavour, looking at the new toolkit of digital communication and engagement options available to public relations professionals and the effects of the FOI reforms on public relations.

There is also what looks to be a very interesting case study on the Clean Energy Future digital campaign including its social media and web engagement.

I'll be presenting a keynote (on Government 2.0) at the event and participating in one of the panels.

Other speakers specifically in the Gov 2.0/Open Government area will include Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner; Hank Jongon from DHS; Sandi Logan from Immigration; Tom Burton from ACMA; Kylie Johnson, University of Canberra journalism academic Julie Posetti; and Greg Jericho, known for his blog Grogsgamut.

if you can't attend, keep an eye on Twitter - there should be plenty of interesting titbits from the day.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Online-first: Building in web at the front-end, rather than the back-end of government processes

One of the largest challenges for all forms of online use by government is how, as a late addition to the communications, engagement and policy stable of tools, web initiatives often get added to the end of processes rather than the beginning.

A good example is in content development of all kinds. Often officers across agencies use desktop publishing packages to create communications materials, briefs, papers and reports, finalise them via publications teams and printers, then send the final 'web-ready' PDF to the online team, to be loaded online - usually within a few hours.

This poses challenges and risks throughout.

The documents may be initially created without effective use of word processor standard styles (with format issues such as the use of spaces or tabs instead of tables or paragraph marks, and poor use of nested lists), the print design process loads them up with print-quality (sometimes inaccessible) images, adds charts and tables without appropriately text alternatives and incorporates formatting that requires substantial time to replicate online or simply doesn't suit screen viewing.

The final PDF may have 'printer's edits' (last minute changes at the printer) which are not replicated in the original final word processor document. This requires the online team to convert the PDF, rather than the faster and easier final word processor document, into the web version. Often the background information for charts or descriptive text for images is unavailable. Images may also not be available as separate files to the document to make them easier to embed online.

Finally, due to approval timeframes or last minute edits to reflect changing events, the online team may receive the final document too close to the go live deadline to do justice to the web publishing. This often results in the PDF version being uploaded with an apology stating that the agency will convert the document to an accessible HTML web page as soon as possible. Depending on priorities this may take months, disadvantaging people who cannot access the printed or online PDF versions.

As sometimes all the budgeted funds for the document are spent on the physical print process, online teams may be left without sufficient budget to do the document justice, time or dollars to convert the document into a fully web-enabled deliverable, which could be higher quality and far more usable and useful than a printable PDF.

A combination of some of all of these issues adds to the cost and stress of government documents. They can put pressure on agency timelines and result in lower community satisfaction and understanding of communicated material. They may also create greater legal risks due to accessibility considerations.

These potential costs could be avoided by embedding an online-first philosophy, policies and mandate throughout an agency. This would recognise at the beginning of document creation processes that content will need to be delivered online and, indeed, this might be the only, or most important, distribution channel.

This approach would, after initial training and support costs, save significant expense and human effort, freeing up agency staff for higher value activities while delivering more effective, and timely, public outcomes.

The shift could begin with appropriate training, support and mandates for public servants creating material which will need to go online. Including websites and intranets this reflects the majority of documentation now created by government agencies.

Online teams would be engaged at the start of document creation processes, advising other staff on how specific materials can be best designed for online representation, whether as 'traditional' documents or as web services, apps, interactive modules, data feeds or in some other format.

Every document would then be created using appropriate formatting in word processing tools or the appropriate alternative, with an express goal of being able to be quickly and easily placed online in an effective manner.

The created documents may be structured and laid out quite differently depending on the eventual form they will take online - representing the range of variation we already see between a video script, report and brochure.

The document creation process would include the steps necessary to deliver a quality accessible product, identifying the text behind every chart and appropriate explanations for every image and diagram.

As documents were created, graphic templates would also be created by graphic designers, both online and print templates which can be executed through online style sheets. Using this approach documents would appear in a web browser as native webpages but, when printed, be automatically reformatted for A4 paper.

This means agencies can deliver online and print versions from a single version of the content, a 'single point of truth' that removes the need to manage multiple versions, such as HTML, RTF and PDF copies. A print-quality template would also be developed at this stage as a shell for any printed copies needed.

The document would be directed loaded into the web template with the metadata and alt tags required and viewed and edited online, or printed in the print template and hand edited, to finalise the document.

Once approved the 'document' can be simultaneously released online and in print format, appropriately formatted for the different mediums, maximising its impact. There would be no time lag for an accessible version.

Sounds too easy? Well yes, there are a number of changes that agencies need to make to implement an online-first philosophy.

The most significant and influential change in agency policies. They would need to be redeveloped for the modern age, a business process improvement step to integrate web as a core platform rather than an afterthought.

While significant, changing these processes is technically quite simple, it just involves adjusting a few words on (ahem) 'paper'. The most difficult change is related to people - changing culture and retraining staff responsible for producing documents (public or internal) to reflect the new capabilities and skills required of a public servant.


I believe it is inevitable that agencies will gradually move in the direction of online-first publishing, for cost and efficiency reasons if not due to legislative and high-level policies (such as the recent FOI changes). However the speed and difficulty of this transition can be influenced by staff.

Senior staff can set policy in their areas and embody the behaviours they support, while middle management can build their own understanding and support and encourage their teams. Those teams responsible for agency document outputs can seek out new skills through training and lobby their management to make their jobs easier, allowing them to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs.

Online teams have a large central role to play, by demonstrating and modelling the behaviour themselves, identifying processes where documents are only published as web pages and piloting improved processes which lead to efficiencies (helping themselves as well as the teams responsible for the content).

Online teams may also to lobby for improved training, so that officials across an agency understand how to use the word processors and other document creation tools they use daily more effectively - this knowledge by itself improves efficiency.

Having a given level of skills with document creation tools, or developing it once in the job, could become a requirement of recruitment processes and performance reporting. It has often surprised me how otherwise highly intelligent and capable people may simply never have had the opportunity to learn how to most effectively use the tools of their 'trade' - document and presentation creation programs - at school, university or in the workforce.


An online-first philosophy isn't native to government agencies, and it will take conscious and directed effort to make it the default approach.

However in today's world, with online increasingly the first and sometimes the only distribution platform for government information, the rising cost of print, falling budgets and the legislative requirements to deliver government content online - shouldn't we be putting in active efforts to change our philosophy and make it so?

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Eight governments, led by US, form an international Open Government Partnership - should Australia be involved?

I've just learnt about the Open Government Partnership (OGP) a global effort to "make governments better" through encouraging and supporting more transparent, effective and accountable governments.

Launched under the oversight of a multi-stakeholder International Steering Committee including representatives of eight governments and nine civil society representatives, and initially co-chaired by Brazil and the USA, the OGP has broad ambitions to promote open government around the globe.

The OGP has already launched a networking mechanism to "help participating governments identify and connect with one another (peer to peer) and other relevant expertise and service providers (NGO and private sector) as they develop their OGP commitments and action plans. This mechanism is a partnership of Global Integrity and the World Bank Institute."

The OGP will formally launch in New York City on September 20 this year when the governments on the steering committee will embrace an Open Government Declaration, announce their country action plans to promote OGP principles, and welcome the commitment of additional countries to join the Partnership.

I wonder if Australia will take this opportunity to become involved.

Australia is already listed as being eligible (DOC), due to our activities in the open government area and meeting the other eligibility criteria (DOC).

The process for actually joining (DOC) is reasonably simple, although there are some actions the Australian Government would need to take to participate in the formal launch in September 2011 and to meet the March 2012 Open Government Action Plan

So which governments and organisations are already involved?

The US government, together with the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom, and leading civil society representatives, Africa Center for Open Governance (Kenya), Instituto de Estudos SocioeconĂ´micos (Brazil), Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (Mexico), International Budget Partnership (Intl), MKSS (India), National Security Archives (US), Revenue Watch Institute (Intl), Transparency and Accountability Initiative (Intl), Twaweza (Tanzania).

An interesting group, and one that Australia has much to learn from and share with.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Next ACT Virtual Community Cabinet coming up 30 August at 7pm

The Chief Minister of the ACT has announced via Twitter that the next Virtual Community Cabinet (on Twitter) will be held on 30 August at 7pm AEST.

As last time it will include all four ACT Cabinet Ministers, @KatyGMLA, @ABarrMLA, @SimonCorbell and @JoyBurchMLA.

It will use the same hashtag, #actvcc.

Participants do not require a Twitter account to watch, but will to participate.

The Chief Minister also commented that further Virtual Community Cabinets would be single topic focused.

I'm waiting for a copy of the transcript of the last Virtual Community Cabinet to be published (As Tom Worthington comments a record is required by law) to analyse any tweets missed in my analysis of the first event and compare the claims of 700+ Tweets with the 299 I recorded via CoverItLive.

I aim to repeat my analysis for this community cabinet.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

If you're in Perth, don't miss the RightClick 2011 Conference

I will be making my first trip to Perth to speak at the RightClick 2011 Conference on 30 September.

If you're in town, or can make it there, I recommend that you consider attending.

The event is organised by the Institute of Public Administration WA (@ipaawa) and the event hashtag is #rightClick

More details below:

Transform the Way You Communicate - RigthtClick 2011 Conference

Over 10 million people in Australia have a Facebook account and up to 2 million use Twitter and LinkedIn. So how can you control what people say about you and what are the security implications for your organisation?
Simple answer, you can't control what people say but you can develop policies which address internal and external communication and security risks.

Attend RightClick 2011 and find out how you and your organisation can effectively use social media and new technologies in the workplace both safely and securely. Hear case studies from the public and private sector and the challenges and opportunities technology has provided.
Discussions will include:
  • Why should government adopt digital media?
  • Benefits of social networking services.
  • Implications for policy makers and those employing young people in the workplace.
  • Expanding young people’s digital citizenship.
  • Communicating and engaging internal & external stakeholders.
  • Security and privacy issues.
  • The role of a Government 2.0 Advocate.
Download conference program

Who should attend?

Any professional interested in developing and using technology more effectively in the workplace.
Tell your colleagues:
We encourage you to tell interested colleagues about the conference.

Date
Friday 30th September 2011 
9:00am - 4:30pm
Hyatt Regency Perth

Cost

Member
$399.00
 
Corporate Member
$515.00

Non Member
$630.00

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can microblogging save or destroy governments?

In Australia many people still treat microblogging tools such as Twitter with scepticism and scorn, or even dismiss it outright as a tool for 'discussing breakfast'.

While the more negative views are beginning to shift, due to the active role Twitter played in the Brisbane floods, Australians still largely consider microblogs as a tool for emergency and breaking news, rather than as a tool for democracy, government engagement and accountability.

In China, in dramatic contrast to Australia, government officials have been waking to the potential of microblogging services for reconnecting with the public - and to the shock of being held accountable at a speed that outraces the fastest censor.

China's first microblogging services were introduced in 2009 and have grown in popularity extremely quickly. Today there are reportedly more than 195 million users of the leading microblogging services, almost ten times the population of Australia and approximately 15 percent of the Chinese population.

Interestingly about the same proportion, 15 percent, of Australians use Twitter, our most popular microblog service.

A Global Times study in March-April this year found that "71 percent of Chinese Web users attribute their growing interest in politics to microblogging". Of the respondents, 59.3 percent said "they had become more inclined to express their political views on microblogs" and 23.1 percent chose politics as their favourite topic of discussion via microblog (with 36.6 percent citing social news and 19.6 percent daily-life topics, such as fashion and heath).

The respondents were highly in favour of politicians using microblogs, with 72.1 percent backing the idea. However two thirds (65.6 percent) complained that most government microblogs were merely publicity stunts.

Microblogs have also become a major source of news in China, with the Communication University of China in Beijing reporting in their Internet Real-time Public Opinion Index Annual Report 2010 that within 20 months of being allowed into China, microblogs had become the third-favorite online source of information, after news portals and online forums.

The report highlighted land acquisition and official corruption scandals as being hot on microblogging sites - both highly sensitive and politicised topics that rarely are discussed in mainstream Chinese news channels.

A separate report in 2010 was reported to state that more than 20 percent of the 50 most-discussed public events in China through 2010 were first reported on by microbloggers.

Government in China has increasingly recognising the potential uses and risks of microblogging.

It has become increasing difficult for the Chinese government to control sensitive discussions online due to the speed and reach of microblogs. Equally the size of the main microblogging networks makes it dangerous for the Chinese government to simply close down them down.

Therefore government officials are increasingly actively engaging via microblogs in order to influence conversations. In fact, "How to open a microblog" has become a training course for high-level Beijing government officials.

Accordingly, in March 2011 Sina, one of the leading microblogging services, reported that there were over 3,000 official government microblog accounts on their service, spread between agencies and high-level officials.

In July it was reported that 4,920 government departments and 3,949 government officials had opened microblog accounts at weibo.com.  The same report indicated that the ten government microblogs in China had a total of 5.08 million followers in the first half of 2011.

It has also been reported that more than 1,200 microblogs have been opened by police authorities throughout China, resulting in a number of high-profile successful convictions.


For example, police in Xiamen, reported that they were able to solve the murder of a three-year-old girl in six days by releasing details of the murder via their microblog, together with a reward offer for further information. The message was forwarded more than 10,000 times and, according to a report by China Daily, led to the collection of more than 100 pieces of information used to solve the case.

The highest ranking individual official microblogging in China is Zhang Chunxian, the party chief of Xinjiang province. He took over in Xinjiang in April 2010, about nine months after ethnic riots led authorities to shut down mobile and internet services across the province.

Zhang has more than 148,000 followers for his microblog and has told the China Daily that microblogging can "be used to promote the government's efforts in Xinjiang's development."

Given there are over 450 million internet users and 900 million mobile phone users (those on smartphones can microblog), there is enormous potential for the sustained growth of microblogging in China.

With microblogging able to circumvent many censorship barriers, China's government is being forced to choose between closing down entire services, potentially facing extreme public backlash, or embracing increased openness and engagement with the public, dealing actively with charges of corruption, inappropriate conduct by officials and allowing citizens to share news before government communications channels can present official viewpoints.

If microblogging has the potential to have this impact in China, it is a channel that cannot be ignored or given lip service by governments in Australia or other nations.

Perhaps the two statements below best sums up the potential of microblogging for the Chinese government - and other governments around the world.

From the People's Daily of 2 August 2011:
Mastering the use of the internet shows a leader’s quality and ability. We hope that more and more leaders show their capacity for speech on the internet and on microblogs, and find popularity. We hope even more that more and more leaders address the conditions of the people in the real world, through real actions.
From the China Daily of 2 July 2011:
If governments can correctly and properly guide public opinions, use microblogging as a good platform to learn about public opinions and the wisdom of the people, and find and solve problems as soon as possible, forming a widely-participated, orderly and interactive microblogging public opinion environment is completely possible. Microblogging will also become a "release valve" of social emotions and the "lubricant" of government-public relations.
References
China’s microbloggers unafraid to rattle the censor’s cage 15/8/2011 - Business World Online
Politics in the age of the microblog 2/8/2011 - Chinese Media Project
China tackles the messy world of microblogs 1/8/2011 - Chinese Media Project
Microblogs a Threat to China's National Security: Official Report 14/7/2011 - The Epoch Times
China's government offcials open up to microblogs 14/7/2011 - Want China Times
How microblogging power shakes reality in China 2/7/2011 - China Daily
Xinhua Insight: Communist Party microblogs to reach out to public 24/6/2011 - English.news.cn
Must Officials Microblog? 6/5/2011 - Beijing Review
University names top ten official microblogs 25/4/2011 - Want China Times
Microblogging to improve governance 6/4/2011 - Global Times
Microblogs in China government's fight to win public approval 9/3/2011 - Reuters
Government Gets Big Into Microblogging 14/1/2011 - China Realtime Report
Police microblog helps catch murderers in East China 1/12/2010 - China Daily

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don't forget to register for Australia's first Govcamp

A Govcamp is an unconference specifically for government people, discussing government-related topics (usually, but not always related to community engagement, IT, the internet and Gov 2.0 topics).

They've become a regular feature of the landscape in the UK, US, Canada and even New Zealand, however there's been less interest in Australia for running one - despite our successes in holding similar unconferences such as BarCamps and PubCamps.

Now, however, Australia is going to get its very first GovCamp, being organised by Pia Waugh and held at NICTA's offices in Canberra with support by AGIMO.

The (free) event is being held on 10 September from 10am - 4pm, and only has 100 spots for attendees (many of which have already been snapped up).

If you are interested and want to learn more, or want to RSVP right now, go to the GovCampAU homepage.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Do we really need a common look and feel for government websites?

Recently Luke Fretwell over at Govfresh asked the question Time for government to plug into one platform?

While I am a big fan of Luke's and agree with his view that transferring government websites to Facebook, granting partial control over them to a foreign-jurisdiction company, is not a good idea, I find it harder to agree with Luke's point on centralising government websites and employing a common look and feel.

I've never been a fan of the 'one site fits all' approach of the UK Government's attempted Directgov website - or a supporter of the view that all government sites should have a common look and feel.

Why?

Because websites need to be designed to meet their specific set of goals within the constraints of the needs and preferences of their key audiences.

Where the goals and audiences are different, the websites need to be designed and operate differently.

Even when the goals and audience of two separate websites are similar, there can be good reasons to solve the 'problem' of usability and quick access to key information in different ways.

Web design is an art as well as a science. There's often multiple ways to achieve a good outcome, not one single approach that is best. This means that a government that did lock itself into a single 'right' website look and feel may find itself in a blind alley over time, requiring a huge shift in design to jump onto a more future-proof track.

When I commented on Twitter about my views I was told that a common look and feel made citizens more comfortable that a website was 'official'. This is quite a useful technique in the real world, where standard uniforms are used in a number of government professions to convey officialness and trust (such as police forces).

However online governments cannot trademark a given 'uniform' design for their websites, leaving it open for others to employ a similar or identical layout in order to mislead people into believing they are official websites.

The best safeguards of 'officialness' are those we already use - a common crest (where legal action can be taken to protect it from fraudulent duplication) and the use of a common domain '.gov' which is unavailable to anyone other than government agencies.

These two safeguards ensure that anyone visiting a government website can be assured that it is owned and maintained by the government in a way that a common look and feel cannot.

I always try to keep in mind that government websites are not common places for citizens to visit. Citizens only go to government sites for specific purposes - to find information on a given topic, to access a service or to report an occurrence.

Meanwhile government web staff visit government websites all the time, particularly their own.

I've generally found that while government web teams can point out all the flaws in their sites, visitors (who may go to the site once a year) don't notice them and often have a much more positive view towards government sites than do the internal experts.

I've yet to see evidence that citizens want a single website for government, at any level. What they do want is to find the information or service they are seeking quickly and easily. Google has become the front door into many websites - including government sites - because it meets this need.

Why should government invest a cent into replicating what search engines already do well? We could better invest our money into ensuring that when people get to our sites that the content is current, relevant, written in plain English and fully accessible.

Touching a little further on the concept of a single central government site, often the structure of government works against this approach anyway.

Agencies are funded separately, managed under different laws and often have restrictions on how and when they can share information.

They have widely different needs to engage the public and generally need to control their own web presences in order to maximise their flexibility when the environment changes.

Moving to a single content management system and single website poses a number of challenges for operational management structures, flexibility and funding.

Do all agencies forgo some funding for websites to fund a central agency web unit?

How does an urgent ministerial need (which requires the equivalent of a website today) get fulfilled in a timely manner? How does the central team prioritise development work, and who has access to content - and at what level.

There's just so many questions as yet unconsidered - even in the UK's Directgov model.

While I hate the proliferation of web sites across government, where every policy or program area, government directive and new initiative often 'requires' a new and discreet website, I think we'd be better placed putting a common framework around when and how government websites are built, and developing a central public list of these sites, than attempting to fit all these diverse properties into a single content management solution, central site and common look and feel.

By all means recommend a standard approach (always put the About link at far right, include a Contact, Privacy, Terms and Copyright page, organise content in relation to the audience, not the Department's structure), but don't compel a standard look and feel or central site.

I predict that many agencies would work around a centralised model, simply to meet the government's explicit policy requirements.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Why is no-one running 'Government 2.0 202' courses?

There seems to be a consistent supply of people new to Government 2.0 filtering through the various events I track around Australia.

Whether commercial conferences, 'Masterclasses', government-supported events or university courses - many (though not all) now providing decent '101' or introductory information and case studies on social media use for government and even on open Public Sector Information.

However for people who already employ Government 2.0 techniques, have been involved in designing and implementing social media initiatives and channels, there's really no 'step-up' courses available in Australia to provide the greater depth and expertise these people are looking for.

Essentially, Australia is well supplied with '101' introductory courses to Government 2.0, but there's no '202' or '303' courses - intermediate and advanced training to help people build on their experience.

These more advanced courses would help improve government's effectiveness in social media by moving us to more complex and strategic use of digital channels to meet citizen needs.

There's certainly people around with the experience to run such courses, both from a strategic and implementation perspective. Many are presenting actively at the various '101' events.

I'd welcome any ideas on how to move us forward, keep the introductory courses for those still new to the area, but provided advanced training for those who now need it (at an appropriate cost).

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Apologies for the hiatus in blogging - life trumps blogging

I'd like to apologise to those reading my blog for effectively taking two weeks off from blogging (although I've been tweeting actively).

Essentially life got in the way, with some tight work deadlines, a death in the family, wedding preparations and a range of other factors.

I am now rebuilding my blogging habit and will keep to my 3-5 posts per week target for the next few months - then take a break during my honeymoon.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

QPS Media releases report on their use of social media for disaster management

The Queensland Police Service Media group has released a report on their use of social media in managing disaster situations.

It's a good read, though only scratches the surface of what they achieved or what is possible.

As the document was released only as PDF, I've converted it to HTML 5.0 via Scribd for more widespread access as embedded below.

It will be very interesting to see which government agencies continue to resist the use of social media in future disaster situations. It will provide insights into their cultures and is likely to reflect on them publicly.

It may even be fair to say that it would be courageous of senior public servants in any government across Australia to forbid the use of social media for disaster management in the future.

The original PDF, Queensland Police Service: Disaster management and social media - a case study, is available here.

QPS Social Media Case Study

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