HISTORY PICS: How English Heritage are doing cool Flickr things

Okay, so I was wrong. I used to thing English Heritage were a crusty bunch who jealously guarded castles.

Like lighthouse keepers, you’re glad they’re there but nothing too much to get excited about.

Actually, that’s not totally the case at all. If you’ve children, you must take a look at their website for their family orientated programme.

Romans at Wroxeter in Shropshire I can vouch for. Select a venue and then take a look in the bottom right hand corner . There you’ll see a really great use of Flickr.

By posting into an English Heritage group you agree that you don’t mind if the image is linked to via the organisations’ website. That’s a brilliant idea. They’re also upfront about it too.

Forget leather patched tweed jackets, those people at English Heritage are actually pretty cutting edge.

Can this idea be used in local government? No question. Does it cost money? Not a penny. But what it does do is this:

  • It provide an extra resource for people looking to browse for a place to visit.
  • It creates a presence on a popular social networking site.
  • It builds links with the community who can really feel as though they own a small slice of the website.

At a time when budgets are tight and very painful cuts have been made at English Heritage, this is good work by the history geeks.


SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.


BIG PICTURE: Case study: How Flickr can work on a local government website

Good pictures leap from a page to celebrate, amaze and tantilise.

Poor pictures shout loudly. But not in a way you’d like.

One source of good pictures is the website Flickr which has more than four billion images. It’s something I’ve blogged about before.

What’s on there? Think about any subject and there will be pictures. A whole heap of them. And Flickr groups too. It’s the civilised corner of the web where people are constructive and are happy to licence their images through a Creative Commons licence.

Residents have self-organised and are daily taking an avalanche of brilliant pictures.

It can be a community around a love of countryside. Or of cats. Or a geographical community brought together by an area.

In Walsall, a borough of 250,000 near Birmingham in the UK that’s expecially the case. There are more than 100 members, 5,000 images and a vibrant Flickr group.

People like Steph Jennings, Lee Jordan, Stuart Williams, Beasty, Tony M, Nathan Johnstone and others do brilliant things.

At Walsall Council, we looked at their shots we wondered aloud how good it would be to showcase their shots on the council website.  After all, people taking pictures of the place they live and seeing them showcased on their council’s website HAS to be a good idea.

Our head of communications Darren Caveney and web manager Kevin Dwyer picked the ball up and ran with it.

As part of a web refresh, Kev designed a Flickr friendly header that woud apply across all pages.

Next the pictures. A comment was posted on the Walsall Flickr pages to flag up what we were looking to do. We asked people to add the tag ‘walsallweb’ to each individual picture if they wanted the shot to be considered.

We were staggered to get more than 400 shots tagged for consideration in three days. An amazing response that showed the community support.

The postbox shape of the header ruled out scores of images. We also steered clear of people shots because of any problems with permissions.

The first shot was a canalside image. By linking back from the council site to the original Flickr image we embraced the web 2.0 approach of sharing.

The image got more than 150 hits in just over two weeks.

This is the revamped Walsall Council website that celebrates our residents’ work.

SIXTEEN THINGS WE LEARNED…

1. Ask permission. Photographic copyright by default lies with the photographer. Even if there is a creative commons licence available I’d still ask. Just to be on the safeside.

2. Ask permission to name and link back to the original picture too. For some people photography is a hobby they don’t want publicity for.

3. Rotate images. Try and use pictures from around the borough. Not just the photogenic park.

4. Rotate photographers. Share the love around.

5. Use freelance pictures too. But ask permission. The licence you may have originally negotiated may only be for print use, for example.

6. Be seasonal. A cornfield in summer sun looks great in August. It may not be so at Christmas.

7. Change the shot regularly. Two or three weeks is enough to freshen up the site.

8. Stage a competition to encourage participation.  Post a topic.

9. Use Flickr images across the site. A cracking shot of a park would work well on the park pages, for example.

10. Be aware of your policies towards people. Do you need to get permission forms signed in order to use the image for publicity.

11. Join Flickr. Contributing to the Flickr community is a good way to build bridges and understand how it works.

12. Acknowledge using a shot via a comment under the picture from the council Flickr account. Comments are a social part of Flickr and a way to give praise.

13. Create a gallery. A page on the council website to gather the header screenshots.

14. Stage a Flickr meet. Generate content and allow residents to take shots of their landmarks and building.

15. Showcase your area. It’s a chance to really show off.

16. Skill up. Make sure there is the skills base for several team members to add content.

LINKS:

bccdiy.com - A website for Birmingham put together by bloggers that uses Flickr images brilliantly.

Lichfield District Council – Some lovely shots of the Staffordshire city of Lichfield using Flickr.

San Fransisco’s District Attorney’s Office – Great blog on how a US office is now using photo sharing.

LGEO Research - Good blog by Liz Azyan on how Lichfield used user generated content.

Coventry – How Coventry City Council use Facebook to showcase official images.


WEB: So, what makes a good council website?

Jason Santa Maria / Flickr

This was drawn-up after the ‘What makes an ace local government website?’ session at #ukgc10 by Liz Azyan from Camden Council and also the #ukgc10 WordPress session. Some extra thoughts were inserted after…

You’re in a rush. You’re going swimming. You’ve three minutes to find out when the nearest leisure centre closes… and you’re face with a council website.
 
This could be a pleasant experience and for many it is. But if you’re unlucky  you’ll be faced with a sprawling brick wall behemoth of a website written in a funny language riddled with jargon.
 
Oh, Lord.
It’s not gritting information, for example. It’s a winter service plan.   
Your opinion of your council suddenly plummets and you hurl abuse at the screen.
 
But ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t have to be this way.
 
Liz Azyan’s session at the UK Government Bar Camp ’10 at Google was a thought provoking session with some cracking points.
 
Cards on the table at this stage. I don’t work in a web team. I work with them and more to the point I’m a council taxpayer who uses one.
 
Here are some points that emerged from the session — sprinkled with some that struck me afterwards.
 
What do people want?
 
They want to find the information they are after. Simple.
 
 

What do they often find? 
A website written in council speak with difficult to find pages presented poorly. In short a frustrating experience.
 

Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr

Tech frustration by CCB Images / Flickr

So, why bother with a council website?
 
It’s an argument that – surprisingly – seems still to exist in some quarters. Isn’t it just a big waste of money? Actually, no. Quite the reverse. After getting attacked for wasting money by TPA Lincolnshire Council responded with a cool, calm and brilliantly argued piece that argued that the cost of web was staggeringly lower than employing people to help face-to-face or over the telephone. It’s worth taking a look at.
 
What’s the average cost of contact via a council website?
 
For contact, read an occasion a member of the public needs to contact the council.
 
            Face to face              £7.81
            Telephone                  £4.00
            Online                         £0.17

 
Which does make you think. Vast resources get put – rightly – into a help desk or a one stop information shop. Often, web is seen as a poor relation.
 
There is also a theory that telephone numbers should be hard to find. If you have cost savings in mind pushing people towards the £4 option may not make good sense.
 

 

Do Local Government websites pay enough attention to design and appearance?
 
The hell they do. Some of them look utterly dreadful. There’s an organisation called SOCITM who seek to raise standards in government. Every year they survey Local Government sites on a checklist. Accessibility is key. So is usability. But nothing seems to get assessed on design.
 
One point that Devon’s Carl Haggerty made very strongly – which I totally agree with – is the need for this to change. Design and look IS important. If the website looks poor people won’t even get as far as starting a search.
 
As someone who has worked on newspapers and has put together magazines the look of something is fundamental. Look across the news stands. From the unscientific straw poll in the session colour seemed to be important.
 
Why should we bother to make websites better?
 
We need to improve because people’s expectations are higher.
 
We need to improve because at a time of tighter budgets web is a cost effective solution.
 
We also need to improve because while once council websites had a virtual monopoly on local information those days are changing.
 
As barriers are lowered – by things like WordPress and by the surge in hyperlocal blogs – others can do the job themselves. The case of the tech-savvy Birmingham residents who knocked up their own council website – bcc.diy.co.uk should send wake-up calls throughout local government. If you don’t do it, they are basically saying, someone else will.
 
As more and more data gets released web developers will find their own uses for it. Leisure centres? There’s an app for that. The days of the council website being a monopoly are ending. Smart people are just starting to wake up to that.
 
Yes, but it’s all about the home page, isn’t it?
 
The figures can vary widely. Around 15 per cent of people came onto the site through the home page from one council. That’s not much more than one in ten. A piddling figure. Especially when you take account the time and effort that goes into it. But in another council researched after the session was around 90 per cent.

Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.

Brent Council's opt in less busy webpage.

The moral of the story to local government webbies  is to research your web stats before changes are made.
 
 
Can you make your homepage less busy?
 
Yes. Brent council offers the option of the traditional busy page and a more simple one. That quite appeals to me.
 
So how do people navigate around your site if they do do that?

 
There’s your website search box. Which often isn’t that great. Even if it’s a google one, apparently. From the experience of several councils much time and effoft is wasted bu users here.
 
There’s your A-Z of services too.
 
There’s also the postcode search which to me seems rather attractive and far more relevant. If I lived in Baswich in Stafford, wouldn’t it be better to tell me what was on offer for me there?
 
There’s also the novel idea of a pictorial map. You point at it. You hover over the bits you want and you click through there. Directgov have a rather attractive planning map that does that.
 
Widgets. Redbridge Council have use this. It’s a similar theory to the igoogle approach where you compose the page that you want from the information that you want. The idea is great but feedback suggests that only small numbers of people have embraced this
 
The message from Liz’s session was that as far as search is concerned you need to pick one way and stick to it. Sites that try and do absolutely everything in the way of search look cluttered, busy and turn people off.

How about open source (and what the hell does that mean?)

At the WordPress #ukgc10 session the idea of WordPress as a web content managament system was talked about. There is much going for it. It’s open source. Which for non-geeks means that you don’t have to pay someone a lorry load of cash to buy it and maintain it. It’s free. You can download it from www.wordpress.com and web developers who know what they are doing can build you widgets so you can customise things to suit your ends.

The downloadable version of WordPress is from WordPress.org while WordPress.com is where you get your hosted versions.

There are plenty of examples of Government using open source. The 10 Downing Street web site relies on it in parts for it’s press operation. So do almost half UK government departments in one shape or another. It’s great if you need an emergency website knocked up at short notice.

However, the feedback was that there was  a 500-page limit on WordPress. That’s probably more than enough for some sites but bigger projects may be hampered by that limitation.  

But how about the Birmingham City Council experience? (insert clap of thunder here.)

There has been plenty written about the Birmingham experience. But if you haven’t come across it it’s a tale to strike fear into local government web managers up and down the land.

In short, Birmingham City Council appointed consultants to build their website. The final bill was more than many expected and wasn’t as good as people were expecting. It led to Press criticism.

The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.

The Birmingham bloggers build a DIY site when they were less than impressed with the council version.

There is a thriving community of bloggers and the digitally-connected in Birmingham. They decided to build their own DIY council site by taking the data that was publicly available and constructin their own website.

Based on open source and while it may look rough at the edges, it is a site born of social media and built by community-spirited people eager to do their own thing. That it cooked a snook at authority to boot was for some a bonus.

They came up with something based on a postcode search and using stunning Flickr imagery of their home city.  

It’s legacy will be more than a website. It’s legacy is a warning shot that internet users have a powerful voice and if you don’t provide them with something they’luse and be impressed by, they may well build their own. As a warning shot to council it’s there to be heeded.

So, how about asking people what they think of your site?

I’m impressed with the Camden Council Facebook group set up to see what people thought of their site. An impressive use of social media. Bold, imaginative and connecting directly to the online community. Magnificent. And a template to follow.
 
 
In a nutshell: So what would NINE really good things to do be?
 

 
1 Use pictures better. Pictures tell a 1,000 words and are a brilliant way of showcasing your organisation. Not just the arty commissioned ones. The Flickr ones too.
 
2 Choose a way for people to navigate about the site. And stick to it.
 
3 Don’t make your site busy. It looks awful. Simplicity works.
 
4 Don’t get too hung up on the homepage. Remember that few people can get onto your site that way.
 
5 Speak to the people in the calls centre. What subjects come up most often?
Shouldn’t that play some role in what appears on the homepage? And be well designed and put together?
 
6 In an A-Z of services think Yellow Pages. Put links in several places. For example, people could be looking at household waste in several places. Waste, rubbish or even trash
 
7 And finally, wouldn’t it be good if SOCITM took more account of design and look? That way we may all have better websites.

8 Use social media to see what people think. Use Twitter and Facebook. If social media is about a two way conversation then what better way of connecting with web-savvy citizens? 

9 Don’t rule out open source. It’s free. And one day someone with vision will come up with something that government can use.
 
Input for the #ukgc10 ‘What makes an ace website?’session included points from Dan Harris, Ally Hook, Liz Azyan, Sarah Lay, Martin Black, Stephen Cross and Andrew Beeken.

Flickr pics used with creative commons licence laptop (Jason Santa Maria) and frustration (CCB Images).


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