Monthly Archives: February 2009

To Whom It May Concern – An Open Letter to Lord Carter and the ‘Digital Britain – Interim Report’ Team

Dear Lord Carter,

Drawing on inspiration from the Power of Information Taskforce Report (beta) [ ], in which members of the public can comment on individual sections of that report, and in response to your statement in Digital Britain – The Interim Report that you “welcome feedback and comments on this interim report, before 12th March 2009”, we have republished “Digital Britain – The Interim Report” in a way that supports commenting on the report at the paragraph level at

Within a few hours of becoming publicly accessible on February 4th, 2008, comments started appearing on the site, with the site itself receiving several hundred visitors within just the first two days of availability.

We hereby invite you to consider comments made on Write To Reply’s Digital Britain site as comments made to you in response to Digital Britain – The Interim Report.

There are several ways in which you can view the comments made to the report on the WriteToReply website, as well as “trackbacks” from people who have linked to items within the report from elsewhere on the web:

  • by visiting the website itself: we split the report up into separate pages at the level of numbered subsections. Comments can be viewed at the section/subsection level, (for example: all comments on section 3.1); at the paragraph level, (for example, comments at the paragraph level); and by the name of the commenter, allowing you to consider individual responses to the report (for example, comments by user);
  • by subscribing to comments via an RSS/feed reader: an RSS feed is available for all recent comments (for example, recent comments feed) or on a per (sub)section basis (for example, comments on Section 2);
  • as a WordPress XML export file: we are happy to provide you, on request, with an XML file in the WordPress export format containing a full set of comments received on the site.

We are also happy to provide you, again on request, with access to the Google Analytics reports for the website.

We hope that you find the comments using this initiative useful and we are more than happy to discuss with you any questions you may have regarding the operation of the site and how it may benefit your work on the Digital Britain report.

— Tony Hirst
— Joss Winn

Contact: (email) or @writetoreply (Twitter).

Dated: February 6th, 2009.

Note: This letter was also sent to Lord Carter using Write to Them on February 6th, 2009.


What’s it all about?

And so, from such tiny tweets do multi-user websites grow…

So what’s it all about? Well, over a couple of evenings hurriedly spent getting the Digital Britain – Interim Report online in a commentable upon form using a special theme for the WordPress blog (Commentpress), we realised something… If we could do this for one report on a single WordPress site, we could do the same thing for tens, hundreds, thousands (even hundred of thousands!) of public reports by using the multi-user version of WordPress (WPMU), which just happens to be the same blogging platform that runs and the radical syndication platform that is UMW Blogs.

So here’s what we think (in no particular order) are some of the things that we might be able to do with Write to Reply:

  • Provide a convenient and innovative site for members of the public to re-publish public documents for detailed, structured comment.
  • Provide a convenient and innovative site for authors of public documents to re-publish their work for detailed, structured comment.
  • Provide a variety of methods for comments to be syndicated to the authors of the documents with reference to the section and paragraph that the comment refers to.
  • Provide a variety of methods for comments to be syndicated to anyone with reference to the section and paragraph that the comment refers to. Feed comments into your newsreader, your web site or your very own mashup.
  • Allow ‘re-publishers’ and authors to analyse how their report is being accessed on the site (i.e. we can provide Google Analytics reports for each document).
  • Provide a version of the report that allows other people to use unique URIs to “deep-link” to individual sections, figures, tables and paragraphs within the report.
  • Provide a way of seeing who’s linking to each section, figure, table or paragraph within the report from other websites.
  • Help promote the public scrutiny of and commentary on public documents.
  • Run a site built around the freely available WordPress platform, one of the most popular and extensible open source web publishing platforms around. (With over 4000 plugins, WordPress actively follows the cutting edge of web publishing). For anyone who wants to host their own version of Write to Reply, we’ll be able to show you how…

Those are our initial ideas, but what about yours? Join us on the Write to Reply wiki where we’re starting to pull our ideas together. We’re keen to discuss (with whoever’s interested!) what you think the potential of the service might be. We also hope this project grows too big for just the two of us to manage in our spare time, which means there could well be opportunities for volunteering your own time on the project 😉

Finally, if you’re interested in some of the web analytics for our Digital Britain – Interim Report launch, hop over to Flickr, where we’ll be posting screenshots of some of the stats until commenting drops off. (We’ll also look at ways of publishing the stats as raw data with interactive charting tools that anyone can use).

If Lord Carter and his team want access to the full site analytics, they’re very welcome to them.