This was the second wordpress in government meeting – organised by Simon Dickson. He started with some stats, but the lineup of speakers illustrates how widely wp is being used across government.  Speakers also included one of wp’s lead developers and member of the buddypress core team.

And we're off........ Simon Dickson introduces Word Up Whitehall II

And we're off........ Simon Dickson introduces Word Up Whitehall II

First on were the hosts: Stephen Hale and Francis BadayemiDepartment of Health

In essence, pretty much everything new published on their main site is now on wp.

Stephen gave credit to last years wordup, which may have encouraged them to go further than thought at the start. Their initial premise was that the department did  a LOT of publishing,  especially a lot of letters. Thus approximately 60,000 documents form the DH legacy! The content of these is important, so people will probably persevere and find what they need …. eventually, but this type of site didn’t really meet all visitor needs.

Their transition has been gradual – they  started light, with blog-type channels for some content. Editors liked it,  better at publishing, and managing content. Gave them the ability to syndicate, send out alerts etc. Then, next step was to move corporate publishing to wp.  One decision that caused some technical challenges – there was  no migration of content. A lot was archived, then as material became out of date, new content was published in the new model.

Another decision was that all material was to be put up by professional communicators. As part of this move, they also put in place a series of channels which were less tightly controlled, including maps and apps – an innovative conversation site.

Over to Francis who described HOW they solved the challenges this approach presented. I hope others will cover in more detail, but examples included: for web continuity, they built a plug-in to transfers content between servers. So rather than looking in two places, the National Archives can pick up the whole lot. They worked out a solution for search,  using a free xml sitemap tool.

Now, the wp powered dh site is the main thing, but where there is historical content, it gets pulled from the archive store. The proportion currently stands at around 300 posts – all the high priority content – low on volume, high on traffic. The majority of content is still the historical stuff – low traffic but still valid material.

Outcome of the discussion that followed this – a lot of talk about HOW we can share all these useful things across government.

Next, Gavin DispainDepartment for Transport

Gavin talked about their corporate convergence project. Moving from alterian enterprise cms. 4 oracle db servers plus 5 application servers; changes had to be done by third party, and there were 7 agencies,  all using different cms and web hosting.

They had similar discussions to the Department of Health, but ended up with a more hybrid model.  wp ended up best fit for their solution. Working to a tight timeline, their wp build and implement was 10 weeks, and a lot of this time was spent re-reviewing content, navigation and search.

It proved impossible to get content out of their old cms [lesson: better not to migrate].

They went live on time and on budget – teething problems were mostly down to insufficient testing and most problems fixed within 3 weeks.

Now have 3,000 live pages – this is down from 20,000 in their old site pre machinery of government changes.

The slide that caused most sharp intakes of breath was on the overall benefits of the project. Substantial sums saved on cms licences, hosting reduced 70% per month, DSA – reduced by 35,000 per year.  They are using amazon S3 for assets – example given of 320,000 downloads per month at the grand cost of under $30 per month.

Worth taking a look at consultations – good faceted search to narrow down what you might be interested in. Filter by open, closing soon, closed. Set up via wp forms. all metadata included,  so it meets egms requirements.

Other points made: in total – around 12 templates; there is a small central team plus 2 people maintaining the statistics site, none previously wp users; search = google mini, however, within each site, just searches that site (using built in wp search).

Gavin was followed by Mizan SyedCabinet Office/Number 10

The Number 10 site has famously been on wp since 2007. Cabinet Office was developed on drupal.

I lost track of what we were or were not allowed to share of this talk, but in essence, the team is very small, yet they have evolved an impressively slick way of  implenting wp, using some custom plugins for what in essence is a 6 section site: news, transparency, history, policy, take part, and the coalition government.

Steph Grey:  Helpful Technology covered a project that is complete, but not live yet. He talked through the issues around creating a theme which will meet triple A accessibility.

The project team worked with nomensa – a good agency for accessibility.

The idea was to make a home page entirely widget driven – so therefore really easy to build simple site for commenting on documents – and to make this all completely accessible.  Also, the end result should not be that different once it has been made accessible.

Key principles are to make content which is readable, adaptable, predictable, navigable and compatible (validate, work on different browsers, with different software).

Triple A main challenges: enhanced contrast, user able to reduce line lengths to max 80 characters, link purpose must be identifiable out of context, and a sitemap or breadcrumb trail needed.

So, out of the box, how didn’t the theme work? Some of the problems and solutions Steph outlined:

  • dont use hidden text, use positioning (eg position it way off screen)
  • layout breaks when text size increased – solution is use relative sizing of blocks
  • layout not resizable to shorten line lengths – use max-width
  • no supplementary indicators of focus – highlight link in css – use that to highlight where you are in the site
  • colour contrast – measure the contrast ratio – need 4.5 : 1 to pass – so use darker text on white
  • in line styles – prevents screenreaders using their own – but – akismet does insert one – so that needs to be removed…
  • no error message when empty search strings used – but you should give people an error message in this case. Solution – captured empty search screens and delivered error message
  • no context for some links – so, add hidden text which explains the links if a custom menu takes them out of context [nb Mike L mentioned another solution within wp – menu walker?]
  • links which say “read more” – again, added hidden text which includes unique description of where the read more links to
  • add a stylesheet switcher – eg for contrast – yellow background, and reverse/high contrast version on black. nb dont worry about text size – can be done in browser
Steph's checklist

Steph's checklist. Picture credit: David Pearson

Finally, nomensa accredited the framework as AAA (nb its important to remember of course that the addition of content can make or break this!)

To cut a potentially long section short, and more to the point, add the correct coding solutions,  I’ll link to Steph’s presentation once published.

Next up was Peter WestwoodWP lead developer

He is one of the small team of wp core developers.  He described how the community works – from that small central team out to a wider community of contributors. Basically, most if not all start out small – people get responsibility by contributing, and their contributions being deemed valuable by other people.

The wp philosophy: design for majority, decisions not options (reduces amount of testing needed), deadlines are not arbitrary (aim for 3 releases a year), vocal minority (to be avoided… not necessarily the people you should be listening to!).  More can be found on site.

How can people contribute? [if you have developed something] use it, shout about it, help others with it, contribute code, contribute translations, contribute documentation. Start in the wordpress.org support forums – people move from helping out, to moderating – to more.

He added a word of caution regarding releasing plugins. If they are added to the core, there are support implications. If you can’t commit to that, better to publish the plugin on your own site, and then let others use – perhaps someone who CAN support it might take on that role.

The next version 3,3 is due end of November.

First session after lunch was Ross FergusonForeign and Commonwealth Office

He talked about the evolution of how FCO has applied wp, through 5 different applications.

The first was Geneva Conventions at 60 – an engagement site celebrating 60th anniversary in partnership with British Red Cross. It went live in 2009. It was built completely in house,  but after this, all went quiet and key people left.

Next use was for the Human rights and democracy report 2010. This  report traditionally published as a glossy document – now looked for a digital way. A pdf version was available, but they also produced a site which would enable people to read, comment and share. They used helpful technology’s read+comment theme. This project served to whet the appetite for future wp use. Site still used to take comments on the countries of concern in the HR report.

Next project,  still read+comment was a site to support an event: UK Nordic Baltic summit – London 2011. Little commenting or engagement – but it presents people who couldn’t attend the conference with a way to access the slides. Site should probably now be archived! Very functional and flexible – site can stand without the slides.

Next: overseas territories consultation. This one done by policy team with a developer – no input from digital team. By now they had developed a strong set of guidance, and operate under the rule of presumed consent – teams CAN do this, as long as they follow the guidelines.

Finally, and this is due to launch any day, a project to update the FCO blogs. Initially, created using apache roller, but this is going to change: they are moving to wp. Really doesn’t look that different (deliberate – UX not broken). They plan to roll out in phases.  Its a standard installation of wp 3.2. One key issues for the FCO is translations. They have  c. 54 bloggers, c. 10 publish in second language eg arabic, lithuanian etc. So they intend to use the wpml plugin to associate 2 posts.

In a diversion from wp implementations, Ann Kempster talked us through work she has led to re-vamp the Government Communications Network – GCN – by migrating it onto buddypress.

Still the only install in government,  it is- used to power the GCN community, the online home for professional communicators across the civil service. This used to be fairly static site, it was custom built and resource intensive to manage. Now, using buddypress, it can be run by one person (not sure Ann 100% supports this side effect!).  Following 6 months of business planning and proposals, they then allowed 10 weeks for development and implementation. However, they actually needed 10 days for development – and a lot of this time was spent getting plugins working.

They selected the theme:  buddypress social (sort of based on facebook – to give people instant familiarity). Enabled all functions apart from private messaging – have blogs, forums, documents archives, calendars, for each group. nb there are c. 39 groups – one for all users, plus a variety of specialist.

Anne and Harry introduce buddypress

Ann and Harry introduce buddypress

They launched March 2011, not with a splash, but gradually. The hands on approach of  encouraging people to re-register  actually resulted in more people here than were on the old site.

The implementation uses a lot of plugins. Its a fairly complex site and some plugins proved incompatible. Some worked off the shelf – but most needed some degree of modification. One or two had to be built.

Tons of features follow:

  • For mailing, they used auto chimp, which links to mailchimp.
  • There is also a plugin to take a feed from media wiki, which shows up when people make changes.
  • Eventbrite powers the list of training courses and events and they would like to use eventbrite for end to end process, but its not possible yet.
  • There is group auto join – when you fill in your profile, it assigns you to certain groups.
  • And a plug in enabling group blogs.
  • Plugins built from scratch include one to facilitate export of information on users, plus a password strength meter.
  • How do they handle inactive users? System marks them as inactive, after period, then, when they decide to use it again, makes them re-validate, and then re joins them to all groups.
  • There is single sign on between buddypress and mediwiki

Lessons learned? There was a buddypress plugin which should have allowed admin to email all members of a group, but it sent the messages 5-6-7 times – hence the decision to use an an external mail client. Buddypress not quite as flexible as wp yet – not as many hooks and filters. There were issues around patches and plugin authors – one worked, others not so successful. Idea of pushing patches back to the community – good in theory, not so effective in practice.

And a lesson from Harry – when making the decision between using off the shelf plugin or writing your own. If you find one that does ALL you want and/or more, then great, but if it does 80%, and the final 20% is something vital – better to write your own.

In a neat segue, next up was Paul Gibbsbuddypress developer.

His day job is at the Telegraph working on their blogs, plus myTelegraph – which is another wordpress site

He discovered buddypress about 3 years ago, following a long period of working together with a group of other developer friends and experimenting with bulletin board software. They did lots of work to add stuff,  but were looking for a better way.  They put wp and buddypress on their server and continued to experiment.

The story then was very similar to Peter’s earlier:  start with exploring,  spend time on forums – first asking questions, then helping people.

Paul talked a bit about how corporates can pay back to the community, when they are using these free software platforms and plugins: hosting events, and encouraging people to feedback is a good start.  Setting aside funds to actually pay plugin authors would be good too.

David PearsonDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 

Following DEFRA’s presentation at last years event, when they had literally just launched their wp driven corporate site, David gave an update as to what has been happening since. (nb hope these slides are published, as David covered a lot of ground!)

So – what is their new structure? It consists of one master theme (which is structural – and actually not used anywhere on the site!), plus a series of child themes:

  • home,
  • news,
  • general page,
  • magazine/blog,
  • non-core branded (customisable)

plus they can also do bespoke themes if required. But – the main ones can meet a lot of specific needs with relatively little work.

Core site consists of c 500 pages – news, consultations, publications, statistics etc. and they all look the same. The non core subsites are used for panels and 10 ndpbs. They all look very similar, but have different colours and logos.

Taxonomy is the glue which holds it all together, it defines the info architecture and reaches out to pull the subsites to the core. eg – if on a page about waste, can reach out to other sites and pull material together. Its nested – can auto index material from one site into another.

They used some use standard plugins: TinyMCE – to lock down editor controls (take away the buttons people wont use, add ones they do),  JetPak for social media buttons,  and google analytics.

They have developed a clever redirection package – to avoid sending people to the TNA just because something has been moved, they offer visitors a choice – giving them editorial judgement.

Updating content is delegated to individual business areas, allowing the central team to focus on high value high traffic areas – plus overall site management.

Enhancements planned include more home page customisation – to handle crises, displaying comments, “rate this page”, magazine theme, user surveys (quite gentle way of encouraging people to participate), and sitemaps.

In a final quick case study, he remarked that if people are given guidance, they do manage to run a site. Nevertheless, it is still best to automate wherever possible! The best way of getting these teams up and running is for them to come and sit by the web team at the start.

Neil Williams talked about Government  beta project

Should declare an interest here, as my department is part of the pilot, so I do have more of an insight than some as to how this project is progressing.

In essence though, there has been a bit of a stir, which Neil mentioned, but he focused on the many ways in which he sees that wp could potentially fit into the overall government digital landscape.

Josh Shindler introduced a soon-to-launch project from The National Archives

The Archives media player (not yet released, but about to go onto the labs site (also wp)) will contain all video and audio content from across the archives – including public information films and podcasts.

Currently, their podcast page gets 1.5 million downloads per year, plus they maintain a youtube channel.  A diagram showed that material currently is scattered all over the place (with many different designs): education, main series, news, records.

The project is a wp powered central location to contain and push out all different media.  Why wp? Their solution couldn’t be done using their existing cms. They wanted to include user feedback, comments, wanted pre-moderation, wanted it to be done quickly, and they recognised there was a  good level of support available from wp community.

Their project used the agile approach – and a technique/tool called sketchboard [hope thats the right youtube video] to get everyone involved in creating site, then moved to wireframes.

Following user testing and design, they created a custom theme 9which will be somewhat familiar to users of iplayer – probably no bad thing) and integrated longtail video player. This enabled videos to be brought into wp build. They used custom fields (good for structured style of media record). They used category templates rather than custom posts (and Josh admitted that probably developers would prefer the latter, so this might be changed).

They applied plugins for ratings, search, author image etc and went for a responsive design which will flex according to the device used to view.

I look forward to exploring it!

Finally, Simon Wheatleywp developer

He talked about further possibilities, but I confess although he explained very clearly, I dont trust myself to report on  synchronising custom post types – other than to say that the project he used as an example – a  system for managing events for the Princes foundation for children and the arts, was extremely impressive – I think people would be surprised to discover it is running on wp.

His second item was about “dealing with the request….” Again, beyond saying that it is about what happens when a url is called, I got a little lost! (sorry Simon).  Again though, the project to which his work is being applied is impressive: babble. This is a multilingual plugin which sounds as though it will give the wpml plugin the FCO mentioned earlier some competition.

My conclusions? This second event showed us how far things have come since last year:  lots of departments now have wp firmly established as part of their digital offering. As several people commented, the next step should be a more systematic way of sharing the many ingenious plugins that have been developed and the different solutions worked out for different departments needs. Something like a wp app store – a catalogue of widgets and models – could be an extrmely useful thing for central and local govt – and beyond. And just when I went to hit ‘publish’ on this post, I saw the Steph has blogged in exactly the same vein – think we might be on to something?

Thanks to @simond for putting together another interesting event – here’s to Wordup Whitehall III

Note – any errors are of course entirely down to my misunderstanding – if any presenters would like to correct the record, please get in touch! Also, I’m happy to add links to any presentations that are published – again, please let me know.

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