Governance of Britain relaunched

It’s a busy couple of weeks for Puffbox, with several high-profile projects all delivering within a matter of days. First to appear is a quite radical reworking of the website for the Ministry of Justice‘s Governance of Britain project.
The site was originally built in late 2007 as a simple news hub, gathering updates on the various consultation processes and legislative processes across government. I think it’s fair to say, it was fairly modest. But things moved up a gear a few months ago, and the new site introduces some exciting new elements.
To attract attention and spark debate, the team have commissioned some ‘celebrity’ content from some extremely famous names. First contributions are from John Bird (Big Issue) and Adam Sampson (Shelter), two well-known NGO figures; and Dr Tim Edensor, an academic from Manchester Met University. Once the site beds in a bit, we’ll be posting some megastar-level contributions which are guaranteed to attract proper media attention.
Video will be a key element of the new site. Every week or two, we’ll be posting new video contributions, and inviting readers to comment blog-style. We’ll be starting with a few ‘official’ messages from Ministers and ‘famous faces’. But when I mentioned the plans in a comment on Shane McCracken’s blog earlier this week, Shane followed up by asking if we were going to accept video responses too. It was an excellent suggestion, and we’re already looking at how we could do it.
We’ve also added a Google Map showing past and future public events: some are official MOJ events; others are third-party events with Ministerial appearances; others have no MOJ connection, but are offered FYI. Nothing too clever from a technical perspective, but a nice addition nonetheless.
My own favourite part of the old site – the ‘What Others Are Saying‘ list of recommended articles from external blogs and websites, managed through a account – retains its homepage prominence. It’s a great way to demonstrate you’re listening to the wider debate, and a useful service to your readership: managed with a single mouse-click. It’s a feature I’d love to see on a lot more sites.
Obviously it’s all done through WordPress. It isn’t flashy; but I’m really excited about its potential. There’s no shortage of substance, on subjects we know people are interested in. It’s one of the first sites to use video as more than just a one-way medium. Ministers and the Comms team recognise the need to develop momentum, and I’m confident we’ll get regular involvement from senior levels. Let the debate begin.

Movie critic Kermode takes video-blogs into mainstream

I’ve always been a big fan of Mark Kermode, movie critic, broadcaster and visiting fellow at the University of Southampton. Prior to podcasting, I would schedule my Fridays to allow me to hear his Five Live segments with Simon Mayo. And yet curiously, I’m not really a movie fan (although I sometimes think I could have been). And besides, I’m now the devoted parent of a toddler. Cinemas are off my agenda for the foreseeable.
Kermode has one thing in his favour: passion. He really cares about movies, and he’s quite prepared to show it. It’s almost as if that passion is what attracts me, more than the subject matter. It’s the same with Clarkson & co on Top Gear. Since last summer’s floods I no longer own a car, and I don’t get especially excited by them. But Top Gear is must-see TV. (Indeed, as my wife puts it, she loves Top Gear apart from the car bits. That kinda sums it up.)
So it’s great to see Kermode being the subject of the BBC’s latest blogging project – and, if I’m not mistaken, their first true ‘video blog’. And yes, guess what, it’s great stuff.
Let’s look at the mechanics of it. The ‘entries’ use the BBC’s embedded video player (which finally works on my system!)… and look terrific in full-screen. They’re limited to 2 minutes, ish… and they’re mostly a fixed camera pointing at his head and shoulders, with the occasional still image or trailer excerpt dropped in for variety. No clever production, no smart-arse video effects, no background muzak. Frankly, nothing you couldn’t do yourself with a dead cheap camera, probably even a half-decent phone, and a YouTube account.
Why does it work? It’s all down to Kermode himself, once again. A warm and engaging personality, a thorough knowledge of his subject, a sense of what makes a good anecdote. He’s clearly comfortable in front of a mic or camera; he goes in knowing what he’s going to say, but doesn’t seem to be reciting a half-memorised script – or worst of all, reading off an autocue. But mostly it’s his passion, genuine passion. His opinion on what constitutes a good film (almost) doesn’t matter.
This is the first example I’ve seen of a ‘mainstream’ videoblog which really works (although as Dan Taylor points out, you can arguably trace it back to BBC2’s Video Nation); and it shows the power of video in personal engagement.
There’s unquestionably a role for this in government and politics, giving MPs, ministers and candidates an opportunity to demonstrate the genuine passion they have for what they (want to) do (in theory). And this is the model they should aim to follow.