TIMELINE: 12 tips after three years of blogging… and some reflection

“Of course,” said John Lennon in passing, “the problem is we’re bigger than Jesus.”

Always put the most eye-catching quote in the first par of a feature is indeed a handy trick to know.

It reels the reader in and makes them want to read on. Same for pictures too. Get something arresting and witty.

Two things I’ve learned over three years as a blogger. There. Now they’re yours.

Only thing is, a Beatles quote and a picture of an exploding car doesn’t work when it’s a reflective piece. Unless, of course you use them as a device to get people reading and keep them reading by offering blogging tips in amongst the reflection.

Tip three:  Have a very understanding partner who doesn’t mind you hammering into a laptop when she’s watching the telly.

Tip four: Don’t worry that your first few are rubbish. It’s the law.

Now for some reflection. Three years ago I started to blog to add to the debate and conversation. There were many people I admired and respected and very few of my contemporaries are still at it. Many have moved on and are now turning their talents to other things. Realising this made me feel a bit lonely. Every blog has a lifespan. It made me think of what this blog’s timeline would be. We Love Local Government was a blog that was a cornerstone on the digital landscape. Speaking to the people behind it Glen Ocsko and Gareth Young a while back I felt a burning sense of kinship.

“Sometimes you really don’t want to write something,” one said “but you sort of have to because you’ve set yourself this deadline. Which is mad because it’s all self-imposed.”

Tip five: Write where you feel comfortable. In a chair. On the train. At the kitchen table. Vary it if it helps. But give yourself a weekly deadline.

One lapsed blogger Ingrid Koehler drifted through my timeline today. Ingrid used to work at the IdEA. It’s criminal that her talents have been lost to the public sector. She is responsible for some great work and much of it stands the test of time. Like her Connected Councillors guide, for example.

Ingrid used to collect case studies and blog them insanely early the morning. It was one of the many inspirations for comms2point0 a blog about comms and PR and an idea that Darren Caveney came up with that I sprinkled some hundreds and thousands on.

I spoke to another lapsed blogger today too. Sarah Lay is still passionate about what she does but has taken a conscious step back from writing.

We spoke of how the great mountain of work and case studies on digital innovation in local government has been produced in people’s spare time. In my corner of the allotment, it’s about public relations and communications.

We also spoke about how you can only go so far to embed good digital practice by out-of-hours work and unconferences. We’ve both thought at one time or another that they were the golden bullets.

We agreed that if local government is serious about mainstreaming change then the bright sparks doing the innovation need to be able to have room – and funding – to create and share the best practice sweets.

Tip six: It doesn’t matter what you write about is niche. It’s your niche and you’ll be amazed at how you’ll find fellow travellers.

On a lighter note, three years on and Hyper WM is going from strength to strength. A loose collection of local government people help run it. This time, Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton and officer Liz Onions have chipped in and former Birmingham City Council officer Si Whitehouse is taking a lead this year. The first 50 tickets went in 24-hours. If you want one go here. Quickly. It makes me feel quietly proud something that was quietly floated on this blog  following a Eureka conversation with Si Whitehouse has taken root with help, love, dedication and cake from a bunch of others. A handful of people read that blog post proposing it. But the good thing was that several of those that did wanted to come and wanted to help. That’s the beauty of a blog post. It circulates an idea cheaply.

Tips seven to ten: Write about things you are passionate about. Write one every week. Post what you write on Twitter and add the #weeklyblogclub hashtag for a ready made audience.

Since I started there are new bloggers in and around local government whose work I love. There’s comms officer Stuart Macintosh from Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, Ross Wigham head of communications at Northumberland County Council, London social worker Ermintrude2, Carolyne Mitchell in Scottish local government and from the US Jim Garrow who is doing some brilliant stuff. Matt Murray in Brisbane Australia is doing some great stuff with photography. Kate Hughes does housing comms really well, Helen Reynolds of Monmouthshire County Council writes some cracking stuff in Shropshire Jon King  and Kate Bentham  are doing some brilliant things as is Phil Jewitt at Leeds City Council while the weeklyblogclub initiative skippered by Janet Davis is a constant source of good content.

Whatever the future holds for me I’m sure that it will be in part because of the work I’ve done and shared. I’m certain of that.

Tip eleven: Compfight is a brilliant tool to search for creative commons pictures for blogs (especially ones of people smiling which draw you in.)

Tip twelve: Don’t write too much. A few hundred words will do. That’s why I’m ending this post here.

Around 3,000 people read this blog every month which is slightly mad. If you’ve read, commented, shared or taken something from any of the 120 posts I’ve written in the last three years from me to you: ‘thank you’.

Creative commons credits
Exploding car http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourbartender/49458670/sizes/l/
Table http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocokelley/4433654477/sizes/o/
Smile http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexmasters/106771263/sizes/z/
Bang http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoyvinmayvin/5002699621/sizes/l/

BAR CAMP: What’s this Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands?

Some of the best ideas are dreamt up in a pub or over tea and cake.

Many of those pearls just never get past the beermat scribble stage.

Once me and a mate had the idea for beeridea.com. This would have been a site to sanity test great pub ideas that may have emerged after pint number five.

It never got off the ground.

One wheeze that has got out of the pub is Hyperlocal Govcamp West Midlands.

Staged at Walsall College on October 6 the aim is to be a half day unconference for local government with added flavour.

It’s followed by an uncurry. And beer, naturally.

Who is behind it? some bright people from local government and hyperlocal blogging. Namely, Simon Whitehouse of Digital Birmingham, Stuart Harrison of Lichfield Council, Andy Mabbett of Birmingham City Council and Mike Rawlins of Talk About Local. And me.

What’s the added flavour?

Two things: first, hyperlocal bloggers. These are either an important emerging news platform or untrained citizen journalists playing fast and loose with the law. Depends who you talk to.

The second? The open data movement. Once dismissed as box bedroom anoraks they are now slowly making an impact. In time this will be massive, I’m convinced of this.

For me, in Autumn 2010 Local government people, hyperlocal bloggers and open data geeks are at three points of the same Venn diagram.

It doesn’t make any sense to stage an event that doesn’t incorporate those elements.

The trick, if we can achieve it, is getting the three elements to talk and understand more.

Why a half day? We thought it interesting to see if the unconference format could fit into the day job. Events on a Saturday have worked well in the past but they attract the deeply committed. Would a mid-week event expose the 9 to 5-ers to inspiring ideas?

What is an unconference? It’s an informal conference that allows the agenda to be chosen on the day. I’ve lost count of the number of people who look back at Localgovcamp in Birmingham in 2009 as being a major source of inspiration.

Why Walsall? We’re from the West Midlands and the thinking was it may be good to do something in one of the Black Country boroughs. It’s also a town that does some surprsingly good things online.

Why Walsall College? Because they’re very nice people and they’ve got a Star Trek-esque 100 meg broadband.

Who are the nice sponsors who are allowing this to happen? Big hand for Public Sector Forum, Jadu CMS and Local Government Improvement and Delivery (formerly IdEA). Also very supportive have been: Replenish New Media, Talk About Local, Vicky Sargent at Boilerhouse, SOCITM, Walsall Council, Digital Birmingham, Birmingham City Council and Lichfield Council. And Russell at Walsall College.

What resources are there?

Here is the eventbrite: Ticket info and sponsors.

Here is the Google map: Where it is and where to park.

Here is the govcamp discussion page Right here.

What is an unconference? This is what wikipedia says.

How to run a govcamp The Dave Briggs guide

Yes, but what does an unconference actually look like? Here is localgovcamp in Birmingham.

Here are a couple of places to go in Walsall if you’ve never been before. New Art Gallery Walsall and the Leather Museum (it’s right next to the venue. The cake is very good.)

Creative commons credits:

Logo: James Clarke of Replenish New Media

Walsall College: Dan Slee

Andy Mabbett and Dave Briggs: Jamie Garner


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