Blogger drafts Palin for VP

Whilst I’m not that keen on the Republican nominees, the emerging story behind Sarah Palin’s appointment is certainly interesting. What started out as a little known fact about the Republican nomination for vice president has now been picked up by the mainstream press.

Colorado blogger, Adam Brickley, is being credited for helping raise Palin’s profile through his blog, draft Sarah Palin for vice president.

Brickley has been campaigning for Palin since February 2007. You can view more about why he thinks Palin is the right candidate on his you tube channel.

Given the level of conversation about Palin on blogs and on twitter it will be interesting to see how this develops. If Brickley was instrumental in drafting Palin, it would be nice to see him retained on the campaign longer term. Given John McCain is aware of the internet and Palin appears to have been drafted by it, perhaps Brickley could help show them how to use it to transform government services.

At least they’re listening

This is easily one of the best examples I have seen recently of a company (EA) listening to web based conversation.

Dave Fleet’s post last week made me wonder if it was possible for government could do something similar – and then I realised we already have. Downing Street recently responded to a petition (almost 50,000 signatories) to make Jeremy Clarkson PM. Despite the criticism associated with the video, it showed Number 10 was listening to the feedback they receive. It might not be the best of responses… but they’re listening all the same.

Now… about those subtitles…

A Second Life for government?

The Department of Innovation Universities and Skills Social Media Manager, Steph Gray, asked an interesting question the other day about second life and examples of government use. I have to admit, I’m not a particularly big fan of the platform. Whilst I think there are potential applications for government in virtual worlds, take-up is still in its infancy and there are a lot of other ‘social media’ applications that would benefit from government use.

Who am I talking to, and when?

To date, I haven’t been able to convincingly argue why we should use Second Life as an engagement or policy development tool.

Previously, one of the more heavily used arguments for not using second life had centered on discussions involving a lack of available or inflated statistics.  Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life still claim the virtual world is ‘inhabited by millions of residents from around the globe’. This is a strange contrast to their August 21 economic statistics which indicate a population base in excess of 14 million unique ‘resident avatars’ but an active user base over the last month of less than 850,000.

Whilst the semi-active user base would normally be enough for me to suggest a ‘pass’ on the platform, this isn’t necessarily always the case for government, and there are some existing examples of public sector deployment that are worth a look at.

Current examples

The majority of public sector examples seem to be justified through a ‘look aren’t we clever’ approach, presumably backed by a business case that seeks to capitalise on being seen as an innovative early adopter of new technologies.

Despite the decreasing PR punch of being an early adopter in Second Life, one area where this approach may remain viable is through a unified government ‘in-world’ presence. Public diplomacy would seem an obvious choice.

Embassies have a strong presence in second life – two good European examples are Sweden and Estonia (though both were beaten to the ‘first-in Second Life’ tag by the Maldives).  These European examples seek to promote cultural and linguistic attributes of their countries. Estonia has also incorporated some transactional attributes within their embassy and visitors are able to to commence the application process for a ‘real-world’ visa.

The Australian State of Victoria has also developed a second life presence, Melbourne Laneways, which is co-hosted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The three month trial was designed to gather information on the viability of Victorian business operators establishing a presence within second life.

Key risks

One of the key risks suggested in the Melbourne Laneways project evaluation was the resentment of some second life users of real world companies ‘invading’ their fantasy space. John Edwards and Toyota are among some fairly big names to have been victims of ‘griefing’ attacks, which normally occur on unsuspecting or novice users. Dr Iain Coyne of the University of Nottingham has researched the practice of greifing:

…In Second Life it appears that the power imbalance between a griefer and a target is focused on knowledge and experience. A new resident (newbie) may be targeted because of their naivety and inability to stop the griefing. As one participant put it: ‘information is power…experience matters”

Which is all well and good if you are an experienced user, but I imagine it would be cold comfort to those of us unable to stop a patriotic nigras griefing attack involving avatars that include Hitler in pink hot pants or a legion of Super Mario’s from invading an organisations, all-important ‘world first’ Second Life announcement.

Despite the threat of second life trolls and the likelihood of needing a consultancy to manage the exercise (for all but the very experienced user) there are some examples emerging that highlight where the platform may be useful.

Where it seems to be working

Aside from establishing an embassy presence in Second Life there are some educational examples where government in conjunction with academic institutions seems to be making inroads.

Bertalan Mesko’s blog, Science Roll, recently featured work being done by Imperial College focussing on medical training applications in second life.

Similarly the British Council is using second life to enhance its interaction with teenagers and encourage global language learning.

These are just two prominent examples, a more comprehensive list with a focus on UK higher and further education is being put together by the Eduserve foundation.

Looking at the examples above, it occurs to me that a potential opportunity may exist for the UK Government to provide an environment for civil servants in conjunction with the National School of Government. To me this type of use would seem sensible and potentially avoid some of the   residential requirements of many of NSG’s courses.

Moving right along

To sum up what is an unusually long blog post for me, I’d recommend the following steps if asked to develop a second life presence within your organisation:

  1. Assess if you are able to use the platform on existing in-house IT infrastructure.
  2. Attempt to quantify if your audience uses Second Life and the amount of resources you will need to manage the platform.
  3. Seek alliances with existing government users of the platform
  4. Where disparate or multiple government use of the platform exists, try to unite them in one context

As Dan Herman over at the Wikinomics Blog suggests:

The key is thus to take Second Life for what it still is, a relatively unique niche space, whose utility for engagement should be targeted on its ability to pinpoint a population of Web 2.0 saavy users, and most important, in a visual and quasi-physical manner.

Have I got news for you.

Well I would, or rather COI’s news distribution service would, if they enabled RSS on government news releases.

I’ve asked the good folk at OPSI to include this request as part of their public sector unlocking service.

I’m still a bit surprised that central government departments haven’t asked for this to be included before – given many of them already have rss/atom feeds on their departmental sites it would be a logical extension of this capability. Enabling RSS would also provide government sites that are a little behind in providing rss to have at least some capability to distribute their information in a manner that people like to read it.

This really is a no-brainer and should not be difficult to do. It would extend the reach of goverment communications at little or no cost (or it shouldn’t at any rate- although Simon points out in his comments that NDS may have charged over £1000 for this service in the past)

People are interested in what the government has to say; if you would like to see your government news in your rss reader, you can vote for my request here.

How much should we pay to transform government?

Received an email today for the latest *special one day conference* on transformational government. The event, sponsored by Price Waterhouse Coopers is ‘designed primarily for senior civil servants and equivalent levels (I’m guessing this means those with a budget) across the public sector.’

So, at a bargain price of £480 senior staff can pay to hear their Ministers and colleagues speak about what they’d like to see their Department doing; listen to examples of how this has been done and also apply professional poker strategies to their work (it’s all about taking risks). This isn’t the first time a conference like this has been promoted to civil servants.

Recognising the fact that conferences cost money to promote and run, there has to be a better way of encouraging participation by civil servants. Budgets across Whitehall are tight – if 40 civil servants were to attend, we miss an opportunity to make the civil service more transparent, open and responsive for citizens – all in the name of the very programme that is supposed to bring about this change.

I don’t begrudge the organisers the opportunity to regain costs or even make a profit, but at the very least they could make it more interesting and inclusive by offering a couple of free tickets through some sort of competition.

After all, competition in Whitehall seems to be all the rage these days.

Are you a usability super-hero?

My friend Nathanael over on the Aussie bloggers forum posted today about the usability challenge 2008, which is happening on the 1st of August.

The idea behind the challange is to:

1. Find a usability problem – badly designed products or experiences are good examples

2. Design a solution – fix it, don’t whine about it

3. Get in touch with a person who can help solve it.

To take part in this year’s challenge you’ll need to find a problem, design a solution and share it on the 1st of August.

The poll on the front page indicates Government services running a close second to banks in terms of issues that need a usability overhall. To share what others are working on the usability challenge team has also set up a google group and facebook page (400 members and counting).

It seems to me the types of people that are looking to participatie in this would make ideal partners on other government led initiatives.

Get fixing.