Simon Dickson has been blogging about online government, politics and WordPress since 2005. Some important people read it.

 
 
Thursday 19 January 2006

Which paper tops the school league tables?

I can't say too much about it now, but one thing I'm currently working on is an improved presentation of the Department of Education and Skills's school performance tables. No, we don't say league tables, even if others do. The latest tables were published today; we'll have a new 'skin' on them in a few weeks. And you're going to love it.

It's been an interesting exercise today, looking at the various treatments of the same tabular information on the various news websites. The Independent comes bottom in my book, with a very nasty cut-and-paste job on some very rudimentary HTML. A surprise winner, given their reticence in embracing the web, is the Daily Mail - who actually ran the tables as their homepage's lead story for most of the morning, until Ruth Kelly spoke in the Commons. There's a nice illustrated search box, with free-text searching for school names and towns; the summary tables have a cute row-by-row hover effect; and they have individual pages for individual schools. That tops even the BBC.

Actually, the Daily Mail site is a genuine surprise. Journalists blogging? Readers commenting on stories? All sorts of RSS feeds? I don't know about you, but I would never have had the Mail down as a Web 2.0 candidate.

Thursday 19 January 2006

links for 2006-01-19

  • 'Supermarket giant Tesco is launching an internet phone service to attract the growing number of consumers choosing to switch from landline services.' Probably good news for the whole sector.
  • 'Mr Duncan said Channel 4 was the first broadcaster to recognise that the red button service, which is widely used to offer viewers extra interactive content, was the "emperor's new clothes".'
Thursday 19 January 2006

RSS feeds per columnist?

I was fascinated to spot today that the Mirror, usually the least online-literate of the main papers, is now offering RSS feeds for each of its famous-name columnists. The BBC is doing something similar, with a feed of all (video) reports by political editor Nick Robinson - and presumably, others to follow. (Plus, it goes without saying, his excellent blog.)

From the user perspective, this is great. I've always liked Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire, for example, despite his inability to refuse a broadcast appearance. I'll happily add him to my RSS list. Can we call this 'blogging'? Arguably... it's a regular opinion piece, posted online, with a feed. Hey, maybe RSS is actually the defining characteristic of a blog. Time will tell.

From the publisher's perspective? - I'm not so sure. Columnists are what ultimately defines a particular newspaper. On paper, the columnists support the title's brand; give them their own RSS feed each, and the columnist becomes the brand. 'Who do they write for?' - it won't matter. Kevin's stuff will slot neatly into my RSS reading - which doesn't currently include the Mirror's news coverage.

Bad news for any columnists hoping to be poached for b-i-g money in the new fed-up world.

Thursday 19 January 2006

BBC experimenting with tabs

Get ready for tabs overload. Not only are they coming to Internet Explorer version 7... but I see today that the BBC is playing with the concept. If you look here you'll see the standard BBC grey header-bar, running along the top of the screen; but if you look here, at the news website's international version, you'll see the tabs concept.

Wednesday 18 January 2006

links for 2006-01-18

Wednesday 18 January 2006

Changing the homepage on T-Mobile MDA Pro

I'm not a huge fan of Pocket Internet Explorer on on my T-Mobile MDA Pro, running Windows Mobile 5. On occasions its rendering of HTML can be, er, curious. But more annoyingly, there's no easy way to change the homepage. I've been stuck with T-Mobile's own T-Zones. But one quick freeware download later, I've managed to change it to my preferred 'about:blank'.

How to do it? Start by downloading the free Mobile Registry Editor. It doesn't claim compatibility with WM5, but I had no problems. You'll need Microsoft's .NET 1.1 framework, but if you're engaging in the blogosphere, you're probably OK with that sort of thing. It's a carbon copy of Windows' own Regedit, so you should be on familiar territory. Once it's installed on your PC, navigate to \HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\HTC\PIEPlug. And lo, there's the offending T-Zones entry. Just double-click on it, and change it to whatever you want. Hooray!

Mind you, all this could be academic. I've got a copy of the new Opera v8.5 for PocketPC downloaded, ready for testing over the next few days. I'm fully expecting to shell out the necessary $29 when the free trial period runs out.

Wednesday 18 January 2006

Letting readers edit the news

Lloyd Shepherd from the Guardian Unlimited team wrote an interesting piece the other day about editing by audience consensus, in the context of Digg. For those who don't know it, Digg is 'a technology news website' where 'rather than allow an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do'. All very zeitgeist-y. But could a mass-appeal site like the Guardian really hand over control of its homepage to its users?

One site out there is testing the idea, so we'll find out soon enough. I was the lucky recipient this morning of a beta invite to something called Newsvine, 'where anyone can read, write and influence the news'. And at first glance, it's a fascinating idea.

The core of the site, for now anyway, is the usual supply of AP newswire copy. But you can vote to make a story more prominent on the homepage, like Digg. You can add comments to the bottom of stories, like on a blog. You can get a personal 'column' (ie. blog) which forms part of the newspaper. There's a del.icio.us-style concept of 'seeding', where you can contribute links to external news sources. Plus, it goes without saying, all the (increasingly) usual RSS and tagging options. And probably a few other things I haven't spotted yet.

Like its evolutionary predecessor Slashdot, I don't really see Digg having the mass appeal to take it beyond what Geoffrey Moore's book Crossing The Chasm calls the 'technology enthusiasts' crowd. But Newsvine shows how the same idea could be applied to more generalist-friendly contexts. Like the Guardian?

Tuesday 17 January 2006

Blogging: buy it in, or build your own?

I'd love to take credit for the news that the Telegraph is bringing RSS to its new portfolio of blogs - but I'm sure they were planning it anyway. Marcus on the foreign desk replied to my post of the other day, with a 'promise' they are being added soon. Good. ;)

It does pose an interesting question, though. If you're a big media organisation, and you're thinking of blogging - do you build (or extend) your own platform? Personally, I'd say 'don't'.

Use one of the established blogging apps or hosted services. Not only do you get everything 'out of the box', but you're seen to be 'playing the game properly'. Something like Typepad costs nothing in corporate terms, and even allows you to mask the host's URL behind your own domain.

Tuesday 17 January 2006

links for 2006-01-17

  • Official pages for C4's forthcoming computery comedy. With Graham Linehan and Chris Morris on board, it should be in safe hands. But I still get a b-a-d, b-a-d feeling about it.
Tuesday 17 January 2006

Can Channel 4 make IT funny?

I think we'll learn a lot about the country's view of technology from Channel 4's forthcoming sitcom, 'The IT Crowd'. It's written by Graham Linehan (from Father Ted), and produced by Ash Atalla (from The Office). It features 'special appearances' by comedy legend Chris Morris. There shouldn't be anything to worry about. Should there?

I still have a b-a-d feeling about it. There's one promotional page on the C4 website, featuring this side-splitter: 'Have you tried switching it off and on again?' - hardly the pinnacle of observational comedy. C4 are being s-o-o forward-thinking by showing each episode online before it appears on TV... but they haven't thought to register the obvious URLs for the company in which the show is set. (If anyone registers renhamindustries.com as a result of this posting - you are now morally obliged to split the proceeds with me.)

Don't get me wrong. There's plenty of comedy to be found in the IT world. But please, please - can we rise above the (long outdated) stereotype? 62% of UK households have a 'home computer' - near enough double the number who have a dishwasher, for goodness sake. Undergraduates these days probably don't remember life before the internet. IT is simply not a geek-driven subculture any more.