October 2009

Warning – realtime search can be addictive! An article in Information World Review added a couple of new tools to my list – and reminded me to revisit a couple of others:

  • Collecta I’ve looked at before – includes tweets and blog posts. Interesting 3 column layout which gives results in the middle, with the first couple of lines of the most recent, or selected item in full on the right. I think I surprised one blogger who I discovered via this tool on Blog Action Day – posting a comment I guess seconds after she had published
  • Icerocket – whose Big Buzz search is interesting – displaying search results for blogs, videos, news and images all on one page.  The article claims Big Buzz includes twitter – but it didn’t when I looked – you had to click another tab
  • OneRiot is the star of the article, as far as I can tell because of the huge amounts of investment capital it has attracted, but I was puzzled by the short results lists it returned – more testing needed
  • Scoopler – good range of results, and I liked the ‘peek’ option, which brought up the item in a new window
  • Itpints is listed as ‘a small player’ and one article I saw claims it includes twitter, friendfeed, technorati and youtube, but most of  the searches I did were overwhelmingly filled with twitter results – plus a few results with mysterious identifying icons – only one of which I recognised – as flickr
  • I’ve mentioned Surchur before, and still find their real time dashboard intriguing
  • Not forgetting the accurately named Addictomatic which I still love for the clever way it displays results from 18 different sources,  including videos, blogs, newsfeeds and others

Finally, for people who really like to explore different search engines, Phil Bradley has put together a huge list.


I’ve noticed a flurry of articles on simple blogging tools recently – specifically Posterous, and Tumblr:

I’m intrigued to hear from anyone who is using either of these tools – are they really as simple as they sound?

After the amazing map of Africa mentioned in an earlier post, which illustrates well how a picture can say much more than a page of text. I’ve been noticing sites which offer examples of the power of images. I was fascinated by the blog information is beautiful which has some extremely topical visualisations.

And continuing the theme, IMF data mapper site – limited data to choose from at the moment, but an impressive idea as to what might come.

Thanks to Marisol, I saw the Trendsmap – see what people are twittering about round the world.

From visualising data, to real photos – although this tool seems a sort of hybrid between the two: Photosketch (thanks Phil for the pointer)

And finally, a couple of collections showing what can be done with the aid of a computer (and, I suspect,  a lot of patience).  I was intrigued by this collection: polar panorama photos amazing circular pictures, each a little world. And these examples of tilt shift are just confusing!

I’ve watched a number of documentary stlye films – some better than others: An inconvenient truth, The Age of Stupid – and listened to the arguments and attempts to convince us that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. OK, I’m convinced -and do what I can on a personal level to reduce, re-use, re-cycle, save energy etc. I enjoyed the TV series “Its not easy being green” – and would love a wind turbine, solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system, and even wouldn’t mind a composting toilet – tricky to see how some could fit into a tiny Victorian mid terrace, but ideas worth exploring (wish there were more grants available to subsidise and reward this sort of thing though).

Anyway, for those who still need to be convinced – a fascinating presentation from James Balog at TEDGlobal: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss. The description sums it up :

a network of time-lapse cameras recording glaciers receding at an alarming rate, some of the most vivid evidence yet of climate change.

Many other bloggers will have noticed the Blog Action Day is nearly here again (and I love the fact that this year I can actually contribute, not just follow!) This year the theme is climate change, so I should have no trouble finding things to write about – after all, it is taking up a huge amount of time among my colleagues at the moment.

What it reminds me now though, is that it is a year since DFID staff started to blog.  I’ve spoken about our experience a lot, and am still happy to share what we did – to try and answer any questions from people in organisations who may be still thinking about using this method of adding a personal perspective to corporate news. I’m really pleased at how our initial planning and persuading has evolved into a rich channel, with some really interesting stories. Our early volunteers have mostly handed over to new recruits, and we have a steady stream of volunteers coming forward. Highlights of the year for me have been the series of posts from Martin, who from February to September was head of our office in Rwanda; interesting insights, and a string of celebrity visitors from Sarah in Nepal; fascinating stuff from Colum, who visited places I had to go and look for on the map; and an insiders view of life for a UK civilian in Afghanistan from Vicky. They have all been interesting though – I look forward to reading many more, and the discussions they kick off.

I hope it is the success of these pioneers that has strengthened our drive to inject personal accounts into material published on the main website. Many people enjoyed reading Neil Barry’s account of his work in really difficult situations. We have also injected individual accounts into our coverage of crises around the world – for example when covering events in Gaza, besides news announcements and factual updates, we added diary entries from colleagues who had been there, and carried out phone interviews which we turned into audio files and published.

I didn’t start out meaning to turn this into a survey, but it would be good to hear what people think about this approach – personal voices from government -something that deepens your understanding, or unnecessary fluff when you just want hard facts?

Spent the day yesterday at the Digital Engagement conference in Westminster. As others have put far more eloquently, it was quite odd after the range of barcamps and similar free events I’ve attended where the agenda is decided on the day, the energy comes from the particiants, and you go away buzzing with new ideas, contacts and things to follow up.

This was a much more traditional conference – and the twitter stream (#digieng) contains lots of complaints, but I did find several useful nuggets of information – and while there wasn’t any livestream, all speeches and presentations were filmed and will be available on the website. It was an interesting venue too – in a room with an amazing round glass ceiling, echoing with history: doors for clergy to stream through and vote either as ‘ayes’ or ‘noes’, we heard about projects to join up whole regions with “fibre to the home” and there were numerous mentions of Digital Britain.

Martha Lane Fox gave an opening speech which was peppered with examples of inspiring people she has met in her new role as Digital Inclusion Champion. I’m intrigued to hear more about the network she hinted at. There wont be an official Launch – but if I understood right, it sounds a bit like the School of Everything idea – putting people who have skills to share, in touch with people who want to learn.

I went to one of the seminars which focused on a local authority : Redbridge – impressive example of thinking ultra local, I like the idea of being able to define your neighbourhood, and then get really local news although Jack Pickard has questions about their accessibility claims.

The closing set of sessions was interesting – started by a presentation from Helen Milner, which Steph has blogged I also noted her succinct definition :

Digital inclusion: getting offline people online

Digital engagement: helping online people to do the things they want and need to

Last useful nugget – one of the event sponsors was I Level – who have just completed a review of internet use among the UK population. To be available free to government (e-mail contact left at work though  I’ll update this post tomorrow)

UPDATE: The report is called Generation 10, and the contact is kirsten.nielsen@i-level.com

I’m not really a magazine reader – Kew, English Heritage and the National Trust magaines hang around on my dining table for ages. However, I’ve just read the October issue of Wired UK in one sitting! So many snippets made me think wow  and gave me lots of opportunities for follow up and getting sidetracked.

One item from among the TED Global reports is possible fuel for a Blog Action Day post….. so I’ll just highlight now the article called Design for Good – a showcase of 10 inventions which make you think “how sensible…” – including the hippo roller water carrier (turn a 24 gallon barrel on its side and attach a big handle – how simple) 30,000 of which have already been distributed around South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Somalia; a cap which converts a coke can into a safe disposal device for sharps; spectacles with adjustable lenses; and  – something which gets my vote for ingenity, a plant which reacts to the presence of nitrogen dioxide in the soil and turns red – so if you scatter seeds across a minefield, you get patches of red to show where the mines are.

This article reminded me of the Ashden Awards – which also showcase invention and ingenuity, and I think deserve much more mainstream publicity.

Final comment from my reading of Wired – I also enjoyed the article on the X Prize – and a single line at the very end fired my curiosity – after all the talk of space tourism and mass produced fuel hyper-efficient cars in the rest of the article, the Village Utility X prize sounds fascinating –

The ultimate objective is to use the power of competition to develop models that enable communities in the developing world to uplift their living standards and break the cycle of global poverty. The global competition would leverage technology-based innovation to develop more effective ways to deliver power, water and connectivity to communities in need in the developing world.