Seeing Mr Speaker

I had an appointment to meet Mr Speaker today – John Bercow. I had requested this meeting as I wanted to suggest to him (gently) that Parliament still probably had a bit of a way to go to really engage with people using  technology to make it more accessible.

This is about opening it all up. Things have improved in the website now works better. But most of the best internet developments have come from outside the official Parliamentary structures, e.g. They Work for You and Write to Them both are more popular and have a wider range of functions than the official locations for similar information. These are sites where people can go to find out just what their own MP is doing. You can find what questions your MP has asked, what they have said in any debate and so on.

There is a culture issue here and that holds things back a lot. For example – uploading clips of MPs speaking onto YouTube. It’s taken months to review, and the arguments are over points the rest of the world has largely moved on from years ago like there might be an advert on the page!

Also – the way information about progress of legislation through Parliament is made available makes it very hard for others to then make use of the data. It’s as if the Met Office insisted people come to its website to find the weather forecast and didn’t like people taking its data and reproducing and reusing it elsewhere. Hence the ‘Free Our Bills’ campaign.

So – my visit to Mr Speaker was to suggest that he set up an Advisory Board to help move this agenda forward. It is crucial that it is non-partisan (this is about bringing parliament to life), and includes external experts as well as officers and possibly MPs.

There are a number of simple, significant steps a Speaker can take but the Speaker is very busy and to actually get stuff to happen needs support to make it happen.

Which is why I have suggested to him this Advisory Board. Mr Speaker seemed relatively enthusiastic – and is going to think how to best progress this. I didn’t go into any suggestions or details of things that I think should or could happen – that is for the group.

I think what Mr Speaker will want to do is to sound out the other Parties and officers etc – and then he suggested that we all get together for a brainstorm to see where this could go and how it could happen.

So – I was really pleased that he was open to the idea – and we will see what happens next.

YouTube – what's your verdict?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with doing YouTube films – partly driven by necessity (broken hand makes talking to camera much easier than typing!).

If you’ve not seen the films previously, you can see them on YouTube here. So the question now is – should I carry on with them?

I’ve been surprised at the viewership patterns. With blog posts, most of the traffic usually comes shortly after the post has gone up. With the films, the traffic is more slow and steady. There hasn’t been that much of an initial burst, perhaps because people see a blog post or tweet about them whilst at work and don’t have speakers – or have speakers but don’t want the office to hear and don’t have headphones with them. However, the views carry on steadily moving up.

Given how very local the content of some of them has been (e.g. about the service at Muswell Hill Post Office), I wouldn’t expect that large an audience in the end anyway. So – viewership figures promising, particularly if they continue to grow and an audience gets established.

Anecdotal feedback from people has been positive too, though comments and ratings on YouTube itself though have been very thin on the ground.

If you are interested in the technical details, it’s all been filmed on a Canon Ixus 70, using the inbuilt microphone and with minimal editing via Windows Movie Maker. In other words – pretty basic equipment but it seems to do the job with only one or two technical hitches. The built-in mike isn’t great in noisy locations, but the traffic noise in my Westbury Avenue film actually probably added to the point about the dangers from speeding traffic.

Anyway, those are my views on the films so far. What are yours?

Gordon Brown's taken up my idea!

At the start of this year I wrote about how Prime Minister’s Questions could be improved – including the suggestion that the PM could involve the public by letting people video themselves asking questions to which he then responds with video answers. And lo – that’s what 10 Downing Street has gone and done (though I suspect not just as the result of my suggestion!).

Ten most popular blog postings (3rd quarter, 2007)

As well as being my blog’s birthday today, it is also three months on since my previous three month round up of the most popular postings on my blog.

So here once again is a list of the postings that proved the most popular with you, the reader, in the last three months:

10. Flooding in Muswell Hill: title says it all really.

9. Haringey Conservative turns UKIP: William McDougall switches parties.

8. More on Wood Green’s Waterstone’s: the sad loss of a local bookshop. Not quite sure why this posting did better than my previous / longer one, but there you go!

7. More on Brian Paddick and the London Mayor: see number three below.

6. Birthplace of TV at Alexandra Palace to be lost? An old posting this – but certainly a big local issue. That the new owner is also involved in football may help explain its interest.

5. PMQs: What do you think? Prime Minister’s Questions – good for democracy or embarrassing weekly display of rowdy behaviour by MPs?

4. Tim Garden: August was marred by Tim’s tragically early death.

3. Don’t vote for me: no, I wasn’t planning to run for London Mayor in 2008. But thanks for the online votes!

2. Should YouTube be closed: a posting about the decision by one teaching union to call for the closure of YouTube – because of its role in some bullying episodes. My view? “No” – wholesale closure would be an ineffective over-reaction. But click through to read more…

1. Fortismere School update: perhaps no great surprise that news of the future of a local school should have attracted the most traffic – and in fact this very posting topped the list in the previous three month period too. I hope my postings helped shed a little more light on what was happening during what has been a controversial episode.

What to make of the whole list? Well – it is good to see a mix of local, Liberal Democrat and national stories – which must mean there’s a good mix of readers out there! It also looks like postings often pick up quite a lot of readership some time after they were first written (and hence the poor showing of the most recent blog postings in the list) – something to remember when I write them!

Anyway – thanks for reading – and we’ll see what the next three months brings.

YouTube poll: cast your vote

I thought I’d follow up my previous blog posting about the call from some teachers for YouTube to be closed with an online poll!

The wording is from the motion that was passed at the recent teaching union conference, though any wording doesn’t quite capture the nuances of all possible views – so please do also use the comments if you want to add a “but…” to your yes/no vote.

(If the voting buttons don’t appear it means you – or someone else using your computer! – has already voted).

My most popular blog postings of the last three months

I’d normally expect late July and August to be a bit quieter on my website and blog, with more people on holiday and less politics in the news equalling fewer visitors. But – good news – traffic has been going up and up in the last couple of weeks – which has prompted me to look at what people have been looking at.

So from my web statistics here are the top ten blog postings of mine from the last three months in, drum roll please, reverse order (no peaking straight to the bottom of the list!):

10. Two entries tied for tenth – one on the same topic as number seven (see below), and the other was Which way for Islam? – based on my column for Asian Voice.

9. Parkland Walk – big local issue over its future and whether – amongst various suggestions – it should get concreted over to make for a fast cycle track.

8. Writing to a random peer – part of the campaign to stop Labour and Tory attempts to exempt MPs from the freedom of information rules. We won!

7. Pirate radio station update – the appearance of police adverts on an illegal radio station generated a flurry of interest (though there’s lots more to the story overall than just what’s in this post – e.g. the bigger issue around illegal radio stations and their impact on other stations). Another posting on this topic also came in at joint tenth.

6. Hearing the Highgate Choral Society – most surprising entry in the top ten list – guess that lots of members of the society may have come to read what I thought of them!

5. Should YouTube be closed? – is this a solution to bullying? Bit surprised that such a recent posting should appear so high in the list, but it’s picked up quite a lot of traffic from other sites by the looks of it.

4. Don’t vote for me! – no, I’m not running for London Mayor! (I see that Brian Paddick has overtaken me in the online poll since that posting though!).

3. London selection results – who is going to be standing for the Liberal Democrats at the next London Assembly elections? And what to make of the choices?

2. Highbury and Islington station is now on the Northern Line – what’s up with the signs at Finsbury Park? But it all ended happily with corrections made. Thank you Tfl!

1. Fortismere School update – perhaps not a surprise that an issue of such importance and passion as the future of a local school brings in the most traffic.

All in all, what do I think of the choices made by you, dear readers? It’s quite an interesting mix – some very local stories (which must mean lots of constituents reading this blog) along with wider political stories, and some not very political bits at all. So – quite a good balance I think!

You can now pontificate at length about what this all means for politics, blogging, liberal democracy and the price of fish!

Should YouTube be closed?

I’ve been following the media coverage about the call from the Professional Association of Teachers for sites like YouTube to be closed – because they say they encourage bullying and harassment of teachers.

Both of these are extremely serious issues – but the idea that closing YouTube is the answer causes me two concerns: (a) is it really a solution? and (b) is a complete closing of YouTube an over-the-top reaction (even to horrific individual cases)?

The risk with media coverage of course often is that the details aren’t got quite right – so I went to see what the teachers themselves had said. I have to say – in all honesty – their arguments didn’t persuade me.

The Observer had a good round up story last weekend – but in it one teacher complained that they couldn’t complain against an inappropriate film because they weren’t a member of YouTube. Well – it’s only a matter of a few minutes to become a member and you don’t need to pay anything. Wouldn’t it be better if teachers were members of YouTube and made proper use of its channels for reporting things rather than say, “I’m not a member, so I can’t do anything proper, so the whole site must be closed”? I know this might sound very critical – but if you’re going to ask for the closure of one of the biggest websites (and one that is used for all sorts of funny, entertaining, educational and wonderful purposes – along with all the dodgy stuff) I think you need to really work at using the alternative avenues first.

The union’s website also has the full text of some speeches made in the debate. There were some horrible examples given of abuse – and my heart goes out to those on the receiving end of it – but again there wasn’t any real case made that closing YouTube would really solve the problem or is an appropriate solution. No real case as to how YouTube was failing in its current policies or how they could be improved for the future. And no real case that the existence of YouTube was making the problem worse.

So – if you’re a teacher and agree with what the union said, you’d better get in touch to persuade me to change my mind!

UPDATE: I’ve got an online poll here.

A Hoot

My mate Mark Pack has got the Tories going some! Now – as a non-geek – I did have to phone him to ask what astro-turfing was. To elucidate. One Tory – Grant Shapps – stands accused of trying to fake a comment on YouTube which claimed to be from a Liberal Democrat, only was really from him. Tsk tsk!

Now, Iain Dale (who – even though he is a Tory! – I actually quite like and is usually worth reading) seems to have lost his reason and is defending the indefensible. Iain would have us believe that some evil people were using Grant’s easily guessable password. Grant’s meant to be an IT expert, but even I know you shouldn’t set your password to 1234, I mean really! – yet that’s what Iain claims he did – and then that someone guessed it – and then that someone set him up. And then – even better – the story also involves Grant (or his staff) having supposedly spotted a problem a few days ago – but then not changing the password when they did!

So no surprise – reading the comments on Iain’s blog – pretty much no one believes his story. Stop digging seems to be the advice to Grant.

Oh the joy of by-elections!