No10's new microsite by Puffbox

Fresh from its success with Twitter, 10 Downing Street is preparing for a weekend of social media experimentation, in association with Puffbox.
This Saturday, Gordon Brown is hosting a gathering of around 20 left-leaning world leaders under the banner of Progressive Governance, to discuss globalisation, climate change, development and international institutional reform. (It got a brief mention in yesterday’s monthly press conference, but you’d be forgiven for missing it.) With the renewed appetite for online experimentation at Number 10, I was asked to put together a microsite for the event – running on WordPress, and incorporating a few ‘web 2.0’ tools and tricks.
The site went live late this afternoon – sort of. There’s very little to see so far: the supporting materials, and our ideas of what to do with them, are still coming together. In fact, I fully expect to be coding up new templates and functions live on the day. I know rapid development has become a bit of a Puffbox trademark, but we’ve never cut it quite this fine before. 🙂
The centrepiece will be a live video stream of the proceedings, with a text commentary / discussion thread alongside. You could call it ‘live tweeting’, but we’re probably not going to use Twitter (tbc though). We’ll be posting the conference’s discussion papers for online viewing, with the opportunity for you to post your comments alongside. We’re hoping to get photos beamed into the site from the conference venue, via Downing Street’s new Flickr account; their well-established YouTube channel may also come into play. As may anything else which crosses my mind in the meantime.
It’s an ideal opportunity for innovation: a one-off, relatively low-profile event, not exactly on the scale of a G8, but still significant enough to be taken seriously. The ludicrously tight timeframe is forcing us to make rapid, almost instinctive decisions: in my book, that’s a good thing.
If you’re interested to see what we make of it, believe me – so am I. It all happens on Saturday morning, with the live proceedings due to wind up in the early afternoon. With Arsenal-Liverpool Round Two kicking off at 12.45pm, I’m relying on my fellow Gooner, David Miliband to ensure things stay on schedule.

Tories hit Twitter; where's Labour?

It really is Twitter week in Westminster. Barely ten days after the first MP began tweeting, and only a week after Number 10, the @Conservatives have launched an official channel – although so far, it’s precisely the one-way Twitterfeed-powered channel we all expected @DowningStreet to be (but wasn’t).
Likely to be more interesting is @conhome, the Twitter feed of the influential ConservativeHome website. It’s being written as a joint effort by the look of it, with identified authors: not a normal way to run a Twitter channel, but more likely to generate two-way tweeting, I guess.
Meanwhile there’s no stopping LibDem Lynne Featherstone, who started all this: she’s even been tweeting from the benches of the House of Commons chamber. And of course, her LibDem mates first tweeted back in May 2007, with an experimental election night service. The account is still active, with occasional alerts.
All of which brings us back to the age-old question of the Labour Party‘s general underperformance in new media. @Labour does exist, but it’s the Irish Labour Party. I’ve guessed at a bunch of possible Twitter IDs which Labour HQ might use; and all are still coming up as unregistered. Hey, even a basic Twitterfeed-powered channel would be a sensible starting point, and a defensive claim of the best ID.

BREAKING NEWS: Looks like there’s movement on the Twitter front. @uklabour is now pumping out Twitterfeed-powered updates from various sources. Thanks to Paul in the comments (below).

Instead, Labour seems to have been putting its efforts into a special homepage for its local election efforts. It has a campaign blog whose RSS feed doesn’t know what character set it’s sending, and thinks an appropriate story description is the first four words. There’s a box to make an online donation, which asks for your name and a donation amount, then seems to do nothing sensible with them. It’s terrible.

Twitter etiquette for corporates

It’s been amazing to watch news of Downing Street’s new Twitter account spreading round the planet. Reaction on blogs and Twitter itself has been a combination of ‘awesome!’, ‘boring!’ and ‘validates Twitter as a proper comms channel’.
But it poses an interesting question. Should a corporate channel like /downingstreet be following other people, or is it purely a one-way service? So far, I can’t decide.
Let’s be realistic: Gordon Brown doesn’t want to know what your cat had for breakfast, and deep down, you all know that. But it’s the done thing on Twitter: everyone follows everyone else. It might make people feel loved, if they see their picture embedded into the No10 page’s sidebar. It doesn’t take much effort to add people, and hey – nobody’s forcing you to read it.
Looking at it coldly then, I can’t help feeling it’s a pointless token gesture. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – look at what’s happening across the Atlantic. Barack Obama has 19,000 followers and almost the same number of ‘following’ – each of whom gets to see their picture on his profile. Hillary Clinton takes the ‘follow no-one’ approach, and has a mere 2,400 followers. And which campaign gets plaudits for its voter engagement?
Maybe that’s the point. Twitter represents a pretty deep level of ‘buy in’ to a person or a thing, much deeper than a blog subscription or email signup. You’re asking to know the minutiae on a real-time basis. By definition, it’s a more personal, touchy-feely environment. Maybe it’s the touchy-feely criteria which should matter most.
What do the rest of you think?

No10 now on Twitter

There isn’t much to see there yet, but 10 Downing Street has just opened an official Twitter account. Like a lot of corporate presences, it’s based – in these initial stages at least – on their existing RSS output, and the free Twitterfeed web service. But I had a very interesting chat this afternoon with No10’s new head of digital… and he’s eagerly exploring what they might do next.
Just as interesting: I think I ‘broke the story’ when I mentioned it to my own (relatively) select band of Twitter contacts. I was subscriber no3. Two hours later, we’re up to 23. Word travels fast.

First MP on Twitter (?)

LibDem MP for Hornsey & Wood Green, Lynne Featherstone was one of the first MPs to start blogging, back in October 2003; she now reckons she’s the first MP to start Twittering, having tweeted (?) for the first time this morning. You’ll find her at
Of course, it all depends on your definitions. As Stuart Bruce will testify, Alan Johnson’s (ultimately unsuccessful) campaign for Labour’s deputy leadership used Twitter although never strictly for MP-related business; and someone has posted a few tweets under the account ‘GordonBrown‘ – one or two of which, I have to say, made me laugh out loud.  Plus our own Justin Kerr-Stevens has dragged a few ministerial statements into the Twitterverse by proxy, courtesy of his RSS mashup.
Twitter seems to be everywhere suddenly, just at the moment where Facebook (for me at least) has gone deathly quiet. Hitwise analyst Robin Goad presents plenty of data on the supposed slowdown of Facebook’s stellar growth in the UK, but doesn’t attempt to draw a definitive conclusion.
The points I made in a piece back in January seem just as valid now, and I’m seeing a lot of people making the same switch from Facebook to Twitter. It actually came as a bit of a shock when I spotted just how many friends and contacts were following my Twitter updates, especially when I’d done nothing to promote their existence.
Organisations would do well to look at how Twitter can slot into their online comms approach. It could be as simple as a sequence of ‘new news release’ alerts to a specific Twitter account. Not strictly in keeping with the medium’s personality, but better than nothing. And anyway, if it’s a well written news release, the first sentence should stand alone as a summary – and should therefore be perfect as a ‘tweet’.
Insanely late update: just for the record, it looks like Lynne was actually beaten by Tory MP Grant Shapps. Lynne joined on 22 March; Grant joined a fortnight earlier.

WordPress meets Twitter

As if I needed another reason to love WordPress, along comes their new Prologue theme which effectively gives you your own local version of Twitter. That’s not to say it’s a competitor to Twitter: the whole beauty of Twitter is that everyone is using the same platform (with occasionally unfortunate consequences). But as a team collaboration tool, particularly on anything requiring a bit more privacy, this is potentially brilliant.
And yet, it’s so obvious. The ‘tweets’ are just very short blog posts. Author archiving, tagging, commenting, permalinking and RSS functionality is all built-in anyway. All it needed was the integration of a ‘write new post’ box into the display template – plus the stroke of genius to actually do it. Now all we need is an events calendar (maybe using the same ‘input box on the output screen’ concept), and WordPress takes over the world.
(If you want to use it on a local installation, you can get the files from Subversion. And you know what? Looking at the underlying PHP code, it’s depressingly straightforward. 🙂 )

Breath of fresh AIR

I’m finding more and more reasons to like Adobe’s new AIR technology. They describe it as ‘a new technology that makes possible exciting new software applications that merge the desktop and the web’; in practice, it opens software development up to those who chose to specialise in more ‘creative’ fields like Flash. And of course, because it’s AIR, the same app runs on both Windows and Mac (with Linux support  to follow).
Two current favourite tools: Analytics Reporting Suite, for looking at your Google Analytics data; and Twhirl, a lovely little Twitter app. In both cases, the originating website was already perfectly usable, but the convenience of a desktop app takes it a step further.
The Analytics tool is a reminder of the web’s limitations, even in the post-Ajax world: it’s just quicker, neater, and arguably prettier. And there are countless reasons to like Twhirl: you can log into several accounts at once; the interface removes the need to remember all those ugly Twitter codes; and there are ‘toaster’ alerts when a friend sends an update. Both are highly recommended… and free, obviously.