January 11, 2009
If you haven’t checked it out yet, have a good look at Message in-a-Box “A toolkit for communicating your cause”.
It’s relevant to anyone that needs to communicate in life and work.
When Nodestone was commissioned by the Tactical Tech Collective earlier in the year to help bring it together, I faced a somewhat overwhelming task as you might imagine when you see it.
What is it? A rather large online resource for learning how to communicate better, to put it simply.
More specifically, it’s an international educational platform for people in NGOs and campaigning organisations that demonstrates how to use low-tech and high-tech tools and tactics to work on some of the hardest issues of our times.
We show you how to think strategically (about goals, resources and time) and then know which tools and tactics (eg. images / print / audio / video / internet / mobiles and media) to choose to get your message across.
Here’s how Tactical Tech describe it:
“…a set of strategic guides to using communications tools for social change, together with a suite of open source tools to get you making your own media. The toolkit is designed for small and medium-sized NGOs, advocates, and citizen journalists to help them create and distribute content for their advocacy efforts while exploring the constantly evolving world of campaigning and communications.”
The feedback has been excellent around the world. A much needed resource.
Here’s an example of how it works:
This section helps you find out how others have used images effectively and creatively. It helps you learn how to find, create, edit, share great images, with an emphasis on photographs, comics, maps and simple animated images.
Images add impact to stories, blog posts, websites, posters,brochures, email campaigns – whatever campaigning channels and tools you are using.
What do you need?
Essential: ideas, creativity, imagination, a strategy.
Extra: people to help, internet access, mobile phone and/or a camera (digital or other), source books/comics/cartoons collected from anywhere or commissioned.
Having worked in communications as a consultant, writer, activism and educator for (gosh!) over 20 years, it was a dream to be able to put these threads of life to good use. To make something practical and tangible.
Message-in-a-Box is about the power of PR being brought to the people who have historically had least access to it. Things were all explained in the simplest possible terms with examples and free software downloads. From human rights abuses to clean water – NGOs on little or no budget obviously need education and support. It’s an egalitarian Aussie’s delight.
In London, Botswana or Mumbai, Message-in-a-Box is now available for free, 24/7. A print version with DVD software is also being distributed. It’s actually a good resource for anyone a clear (hopefully) perspective on getting your message across.
Along the way we got to massage the words and ideas of some great folk like Becky Faith, Dr Dan McQuillan and Heleana Quartey. Hopefully to first incarnation is already being put to some good use.
Once thing I’m hoping Tactical Tech do soon is to improve collaboration and “stickiness” on the site. Feedback, registration etc… Also the use of images and stills, sound and video clips to make the resource more visual and interactive – to practice what we preach!
Over the years we have increasingly worked on projects that pass positive screens for social / eco accountability. Put another way… that feel good. Like:
- widgets for TrickleStar and the BBC
- social carbon measurement for Global Action Plan
- edu-marketing for the Guerrand Hermes Foundation for Peace
- teaching blogging to communities and companies
- setting up The Big Love Gift Guide
- running a massive campaign for TV Turn Off Week.
But as long as you aren’t arms dealers, we can usually find or create some positive values in just about any project. Get in touch if you want to know how Nodestone can help you feel good about your work.
October 9, 2008
I’m at the Future of Web Apps conference today and tomorrow in London. Here are a few summary notes from this morning.
Note: this gets pretty technical in places.
The mornings’s theme seems to have been about operations and development isuses.
Kevin Rose, from Digg, talked about Digg and the new Digg recommendations. I’ve done lots of work in this area with our Recommendation Ventures web services, so it was really interesting to hear Digg’s experiences. A few points:
- When Digg added recommendations, they saw a 4 times increase in the number of people ‘friending’ other people, and a 40% increase in diggs (votes on news stories). This goes along with the conventional wisdom regarding recommendations — they help keep visitors on your site longer and encourage interaction.
- Digg generates recommendations by clustering around keywords in their existing taxonomy. This generates better recommendations, by allowing a person to have differing interests, and generating and blending speciific recommendations for for those topic areas. I suspect the do the clustering/bucketting to make the calculations less expensive, too.
- Digg have built custome graph stuff in Python to generate recommendations. Nice to hear the Python namecheck there.
Edwin Aoki from AOL talked fairly generally about the Web Application Ecosystem.. A few points:
- Web apps have probably suffered from the release of a lot of device development kits this year: iPhone, Android, more Flash development. So, a step back into putting programs on devices rather than developing apps to run on all devices.
- Basically, end user consumers don’t care about open web standard and that. They just want ot do stuff in usable apps.
- Web Services are important for building the fundamental services for creating enduring value, rather than another website. (I think I got the point of that comment…)
Languages and Scaling and Operations
I guess every tech conference has to have a session to poke fun at programming languages. Jokes cast at Ruby, PHP, Python and Perl by Joe Stump (Digg) and Blaine Cook (ex-Twitter). But some important points as well:
- languages don’t scale. Scaling is something else, comes from actual systems architecture. (Therefore, who cares what language is used, keep developers happy)
- Web Apps need to be able to scale horizontally onto lots of small cheap boxes. Architect this in from the beginning to avoid pain later, but don’t sweat it too much.
- Capacity management matters.
- Use message queues. Defer tasks into the background if you can. This is essential when systems grow, and add lots of flexibility.
- Use caches such as memcache, but do it intelligently: cache invalidation is often a hard problem to solve. Easy to add to the cache, harder to keep it consistent.
- Look out for herd-effects on cache invalidation: All servers then go and re-fetch data at once. Stagger invalidation times across servers.
Matt Biddulph from Dopplr talked about using message queues. Interesting stuff. Basically, this is all about moving server processes into queues, so you can have one or more worker save servers to handle less-time-critical parts of the application in the background.
A few notes:
- Queues make life easy because:
- Easy to add and remove slaves, which means easy scaling
- Improve application performance by delaying things that don’t matter now to lower priority background processing
- Easy performance monitoring .. look at the queues
- “Enterprise Integration Patterns by Hohpe, Woolf et al.” is worth reading.
June 20, 2008
Mark Walker from SCIP has long been supporting local charities and communities with IT services. Not just through all the work SCIP does in information and computer technologies, but also via the very happening SCIP group email list, which brings people together all around the South Coast.
If that’s not enough, Mark is now researching how to help local charities raise funds via the internet, including a bunch of region specific resources. That’s all part of his role as ICT Champion for the south east of England.
Read his post on this and the rest of his blog here.
We like lots of the same stuff (To Kill a Mockingbird and Atonement for a start), so it’s great to have found you Mark. Don’t you just love social media for short cutting all that “getting to know you” stuff. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the music/books/films that inspire them.
March 16, 2008
I’ve just finished my BarCamp2 presentation, all about resilience when the power goes off. How do we build an ad-hoc communications system from the common component we have lying around? And can we make a local internet without needing more than a few laptops, WiFi/WiMax routers and a few antennas.Here’s the presentation as a PDF: Resilience or “Trapped in First Life”There was an interesting discussion.. Some key points:
- The difficulty of getting stuff configured. Are we really all that capable at solving networking problems and making stuff work under some pressure?
- How do we practice to test if it works?
- Can we use the One Laptop Per Child as nodes
- We needed this for Hack Day last year :-)
- Running a bunch of servers at home use a lot of power. Replace them with laptops.
- Can we demo/test some of this stuff out at another BarCamp? Could we build a solar powered, operating private Internet at BarCamp.
So, going forward, there is some interest. Next steps? Some research on the idea, I guess. I’ll publish more here under the Resilience category.
November 25, 2007
I’ve always though that Yahoo Pipes was a pretty cool thing. I’ve done a lot of work inside Scouta working with incoming and outgoing RSS, and the idea of doing ‘arithemetic’ on feeds is intriguing.
So, a problem just came up: for Widgety Goodness, we wanted to feed in all posts about Widgety Goodness and Widgets and Brighton into the WG07 backnetwork, but backnetwork would only accept tagged posts from registered bloggers that have activated their accounts. That limits the amount of blog articles that can be seen in backnetwork, which is a shame. Here’s how I got around it:
- I constructed some searches in Google Blog Search for appropriate keywords
- For each of these blog searches, I got an RSS feed, and then fed them into a Yahoo Pipe Fetch Feed block
- Made a Union of these feeds
- Sorted by ascending publish date
- Removed duplicates
- For each item in the resulting aggregated feed, I added the tag to the item.desciption with a Loop/String Builder
- Fed the resulting into backnetwork, via a new user created called WG Feed.
Because backnetwork will aggregate all tagged posts from participant’s feeds, these posts now appear in the backnetwork Posts page.
It works nicely. One little issue is that all these posts show up as authored by the WG Feed user, but clicking through to get the full article goes to the right place.
June 29, 2007
This is mostly just a feeling at this point, but I’m starting to think that overenthusiastic mashup-making is a waste of time.
Mashups, I’m now thinking, are a path to, or perhaps even only (as Ivan suggested across the round table today) practice for, a solution that helps to solve some human problem. When we go to develop social and sociable systems, we are trying to solve some problem in the hands of users.Practice. Like a textbook problem. To build skills and test ideas. A demo. To mix shit together and see what happens. To test openness and transparency. A place on the way somewhere.
So, let’s go and mash up all these APIs, but let’s not waste all our lives on it.
In searching for real problems we’ll find elegant things to do that help.
June 27, 2007
I didn’t get to write a summary of Hack Day.. Fell into a week of busyness and a bunch of real work to get out of the way before Glastonbury. But that’s another story.
Hack Day was good fun:
- Lots of interesting people
- Lots of encouragement
- Great inclement weather and systems problems to make us work together
- Lots of great ideas flowing around. One of the things I love about the hacker crowd is the willingness of pretty much everybody to put forward crazy, mad schemes to test all the boundaries in sight. And how delightful to have somebody to listen to my mad schemes as well.
With a couple of annoyances for me:
- The WiFi never quite got reliable, at least on the Saturday. Very frustrating, and pretty quickly made me attempt to do something that didn’t need a net connection.
- I had an offer of a comfortable bed and good food close by, so that made it easy to sneak off on Sat and get a good night’s sleep. (Not really an annoyance, but the temptation got to me and i didn’t stay up hacking all night :-)
I got a good way through making a python APML library at Hack Day. I had intended to use it to do some attention-based searches on BBC content, but that will have to wait for later. I’ll put the finishing touches on that and post the code in the next couple of weeks after a bit more testing.
June 16, 2007
A lightning strike to Alexandra Palace caused a fire system failure in the building housing Hack Day, opening air vents in the roof and letting rain into the room.
So, we all have had to evacuate to the palm court and hack together power and internet networks to keep Hack Day going again.
We’ve found a corner, have got some power strips, and I’ve set up a WiFi access point via my 3G mobile. We’re off and running again, but the whole event is pretty disrupted at this point.
May 18, 2007
I just got the word that I’m accepted into the BBC/Yahoo Hack Day. Which sounds like a phenomenal event.
So, now to cook up something interesting to do. Hmm. Something with Pipes and BBC content and a recommendation engine or two perhaps… I wonder.
[Update: I've added the Python language category to the unofficial hack-day wiki to see what sort of group forms there.]
June 29, 2006
The Internet as we know it, a delicious, creative free-for-all, is under threat. ISPs and Telcos want to start having a say in what traffic is carried on their networks and how much they can charge for it.
Watch Tim Berners-Lee on Net Neutrality and why it is important