Tool-up NGO-style – 20 web-based tools for daily working

My fiancee, Gemma, is a very adventurous woman. She works in countries like Afghanistan, Chad and Nepal for a development communications NGO called Equal Access.

In 2009, Equal Access opened up a new office to run radio projects in Yemen, and in November Gemma went over train the Yemeni team. Unfortunately, Gem got sick and I had to go to Yemen to bring her home. Always looking for the positives, I at least got to visit an amazing country and had a chance to see Gemma’s organisation at work.

Amidst all the excitement in setting up the new office, there were also problems, not least in the areas of IT and communications. Although there was a decent web connection, the team was very dependent on desktop software for basic office functions, organising themselves, keeping in touch with Equal Access HQ in San Francisco and with partners and funders around the world. Problem was that this software cost a lot, needed expertise to install and sync, and that is if it ever gets through customs with visitors.

It got me thinking about the web and how the tools it holds could help. Might these support everyday tasks? Could they save money? Improve communications? Perhaps encourage innovation? It seems that in some sectors knowledge of these tools is well-established, whereas in others their use is unfamiliar and the choice can be bewildering.

Out of that thinking came the list below. The inclusions do basic things, at a low cost or for free, are easy to set up and manage, and work well on low bandwidth. I’ve written it up with Equal Access in mind, but it may also be useful for other small to medium-sized NGOs thinking about how to take advantage of the web. Continue reading “Tool-up NGO-style – 20 web-based tools for daily working”

Surfing Spots… all-in-one-page debate, pupil voices and ROI

Do people still talk about surfing the web? Well, anyway…

While surfing around recently, I spotted the following:

1. BBC’s experimental online debates

This online discussion format is a departure from the normal message boards and comments used by the BBC. I liked the way they had incorporated the issue, the two sides (using rich media), an indication of sentiment, example comments, and the ability to add your own all on one page. The look of the UI is a little bit dated , but hey-ho.

I haven’t been able to find out who’s been behind them or what’s going to happen next. Any leads appreciated.

2. Involver

A former colleague, Greg Sanderson, emailed me a link to the website of Involver, the social enterprise he is working for, which promotes smarter school councils.

I hold this up as an impressive example of what agile small organisations like Involver can do with WordPress and a few well chosen social web accounts to communicate, consult and encourage communities of practice online.


SWIX is a company that ‘helps companies measure the ROI of their social media marketing campaigns’. I signed up to test their SWIX app, which is in beta. I’ve done a lot of reviews of these sorts of tools and even in beta this is impressive.

You create a dashboard capturing activity across your corporate/personal/campaign presences online, SWIX tallies them all up and calculates an ROI for each. It even gives you the choice of sharing this information in an automated report, a webpage or not at all. Would like to see a tie in with some more embedded market players, such as Netvibes.

The SWIX blog is at

Sustainable Surfing – 5 sites to tap into the COP15 feeling

With COP15 very much in the frame, I thought I’d share 5 useful web resources (linked to the environment and living green) that make smart uses of the web:– Walking in and around town is the smart choice – no timetables, no delays, no jams, healthy, green, free, with easy access to services en route. WalkIt provides a route map between any two points, including your journey time, calorie burn, step count and carbon saving. WalkIt covers over 20 cities; I’ve used it in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London and it is brilliant. Good blog too. – If you want to experience the scale and power of the environment, then take a train to Scotland and go climb a Munro, Corbett or Graham. All 283 Munros, 221 Corbetts and 224 Grahams are covered in detail including descriptions, pictures, location maps, walking routes, weather reports. Much of which is generated by the people who do the climbing.

I use this site all the time because, let’s face it, people still need to print on occasion. PrintFriendly makes printing from the web better. Their algorithm removes ads, navigation, and all the junk you don’t want to print. They use ‘best practices’ in print typography to format your document for great readability. You can also use to create PDF docs.

I’m not a member of this hive of climate change activists but I’ve been watching this community for a couple of years and have been impressed by the scale and frequency of activity. There’s lots to like about this issue-based network – from the Rails platform to the goals-based interaction between members.

The whole story of the Eden Project – then and now – is inspiring. I think every area in the UK should have an Eden Project but until that happens the website is the best [but one] place to be part of it. It’s a great point to start on a journey of greater appreciation for the environment and the way humans can live sustainably. Start with the site, radiate out to the YouTube channel and then who knows where.

Much Use Tools… Screengrab, Screenr and dotSUB

Spanners by Ross Ferguson
'Spanners' by Ross Ferguson

Recommendations for some highly-rated free tools I have been coming in handy at work recently:


No Photoshop to edit a ‘Print Screen’ capture? Screengrab is a Firefox add-on that captures what you can see in the bowser, either the entire page, just a selection, or a particular frame. It saves the capture as a decent sized JPG that can then be dropped in a doc to go up to the boss or over to the client.


Got wind of this on Mashable the other day. I’ve used a number of screen-recording tools before, but Screenr is really slick and the files are a decent size. Perfect for recording an instructional video to walk a colleague or client through an unfamiliar set-up.


Need to add subtitles to a video? With nothing to buy or download, dotSUB is a browser-based tool enabling subtitling of videos on the web into and from any language. Highly recommended for an all-too-familiar tricky requirement. They even have ‘Scots’ language on there, though nothing has been uploaded yet. Race you!

Angus Loughran has nothing on me :)

UK ‘internet landscape’ stats slide from recent presentation.

Might find it useful.

  • The Internet is 40 in 2009, the World Wide Web is 20
  • Global Internet usage reached more than 1 billion unique visitors in December 2008 (ComScore 2009)
  • Almost 16.5 million households in the UK had internet access in 2008. This represents nearly two thirds of the total households in UK, and a rise of more than 1.2 million since 2007 (ONS 2008)
  • 70% of Britons use web, 30% do not (OxIS 2009)
  • The online population now reflects the demographic make-up of the UK as a whole, with a 52%/48% male/female split. 21% of internet users are 25 to 34 years and at the other end of the spectrum, the over-50s now represent 30% of total time spent online. (BMRB Internet Monitor 2009)
  • 33% of British users have 7 or more years of experience using the web (OxIS 2009)
  • 51% of British users rate their skills as good (OxIS 2009)
  • 89% of UK users felt fairly or very confident about their critical skills such as evaluating the credibility of a source online (OxIS 2009)
  • The UK has the most active online population in Europe, with the highest average number of daily visitors (21.8m), the highest usage days per month (21 per user), and the highest average time spent per month per user (34.4 hours). (ComScore 2009)
  • Trust in the internet is growing, and is higher than television and newspapers/magazines (which still best the internet for entertainment purposes) (OxIS 2009)
  • 38% of Internet users had met someone on the Internet they did not know before (OxIS 2009)
  • Most internet users believe that the use of the Internet is of value in creating opportunities for personal, financial and economic advantage (OxIS 2009)
  • 38% of professionals believe the internet makes them more productive (OxIS 2009)
  • 49% of adults had used an internet banking service, 34% had sought health-related information, 25% had looked for a job or made a job application and 31% had looked for information on education, training or courses. (ONS 2008)
  • One fifth (21%) of Internet users undertook at least one civic action on the Internet, compared to one third (34%) of users who had done this offline. (OxIS 2009)
  • Use of government services online was undertaken by a relatively large proportion of the population (59% in 2009) and increased considerably since 2005. (OxIS 2009)
  • 44% users have posted photos online, 33% have posted on message boards, 22% have a blog, 19% had commented on someone else’s blog, 8% had contributed to a wiki (OxIS 2009)
  • One in every six minutes the average internet user spends online are spent on a social media channel (Neilsen Online 2009)
  • 47 per cent of Britons online use Facebook (Neilsen Online 2009)
  • UK internet traffic to video websites has increased by 40.7% over the last 12 months. Twenty hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. (Hitwise 2008)
  • As of December 2008, 12.9 million people, or around 25 per cent of the population, used mobile internet. 19-34 year olds are most likely to use the mobile to access internet. (ComScore 2008)

WtF r URIs, Triplr, SPARQL and CC0?

If you’re in the government or public sector and you’ve been thinking about surfacing data and putting it online, but are wondering what’s involved, let me point you to ‘Putting Government Data online‘ (, a short article on the subject by Tim Berners-Lee.

The abstract runs:

Government data is being put online to increase accountability, contribute valuable information about the world, and to enable government, the country, and the world to function more efficiently. All of these purposes are served by putting the information on the Web as Linked Data. Start with the “low-hanging fruit”. Whatever else, the raw data should be made available as soon as possible. Preferably, it should be put up as Linked Data. As a third priority, it should be linked to other sources. As a lower priority, nice user interfaces should be made to it — if interested communities outside government have not already done it. The Linked Data technology, unlike any other technology, allows any data communication to be composed of many mixed vocabularies. Each vocabulary is from a community, be it international, national, state or local; or specific to an industry sector. This optimizes the usual trade-off between the expense and difficulty of getting wide agreement, and the practicality of working in a smaller community. Effort toward interoperability can be spent where most needed, making the evolution with time smoother and more productive.

Mid-course breather, not mid-life crisis

Tough Guy Assualt Course (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Tough Guy Assualt Course (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Interesting analysis of the Obama-Biden Administration’s problems in using the web in way they had envisaged now that they are in government, that picks up on an earlier article in the Washington Post.

Familiar problems for us in the UK, I’m sure you’ll agree (not the ‘uncharted territory’ Macon Phillips laments).

The more and more of these articles I read, the more it convinces me that the UK government is as far into this as our trans-Atlantic colleagues (from some vantages we are further ahead).

Truth is, this is just the middle of the course and we have probably been taking a breather to build up the energy before tackling some of the bigger obstacles toward the finish-line.

To Macon Philips and team, I say ‘welcome, let’s confer and see if we can team up’.

‘Digital Democracy’ Predictions for 2009

I’m into my second year of blogging, and this year is almost done. So I thought I’d celebrate and sign off for 2008 with a few ‘digital democracy’ predictions for 2009.

I can’t emphasise enough that none of these predictions are based on inside knowledge of existing plans. I just thought it would be fun to reflect and have a go at judging the way the digital wind is blowing into the year to come.

Here goes…

  1. A ‘household name’ government department will launch a large-scale crowd-sourcing site for the purposes of problem-solving. Not a one-off PR exercise; it’ll be something more like what we are used to from the likes of Dell and InnoCentive but it will have to be even more efficient and incisive. It will go through a bunch of phases before the department gets it right.
  2. Two states will be at loggerheads over the way one of them has been using the web to engage the citizens of the other. It won’t be cyber-warfare, more a gentlemanly disagreement, but it will spark a debate that’s been long overdue.
  3. A local government will fall head-over-heels in love with the promise of eDemocracy and launch into an ambitious project to put digital front-and-centre of its democratic processes and service provision. It will be facilitated with next-generation municipal ICT and it will capture our imaginations but it will come at a price.
  4. We’ll all be fascinated with what Obama does in office, but he’s going to have to work hard to live up to the standards we became accustomed to over the course of the presidential campaign. I reckon he will pull it off.
  5. The UK Parliament will launch a virtual-version of Westminster Hall debates. The MPs will love it, the officials will be tearing their hair out.
  6. The ‘digerati’ will freak at all this good stuff coming out of political institutions because it takes away the founding basis of their books, lectures, sites and films – that institutions and elected representatives don’t get people and they sure as hell don’t get digital. It will take them a while to get their heads round it, there will be a lot of foot-stamping and door-slamming, but then there will always be consultancies.
  7. A government department will move away from a standard homepage to a drag-and-drop dashboard model. Others will quickly follow.
  8. Sadly there will be a disaster somewhere in the developed world but digital communications infrastructure will be sufficiently intact to play a pivotal role in dealing with the emergency and speeding up the rescue and rebuilding effort. The integrity and quality of digital infrastructure will race up the political agenda overnight.
  9. As more and more citizens come online to access services and hold their representatives to account, efforts to to promote political literacy will have to be redoubled and the volume will have to be turned up on the participative opportunities inherent in representative democracy.
  10. I will blog a lot less about digital democracy and turn to some of the other things in life that interest me.

I reckon these are all good bets – bar number 10.

What do you think?