Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ways to read and navigate documents

Consultation documents are hardly ‘light reading’ so we thought it might be useful to provide a round-up of ways that you can more easily read and navigate documents on the WriteToReply site. We’ll use the BBC’s Project Canvas document as our example, not least because we want to encourage you to read the consultation before the deadline on 17th April. We’ve previously written about how you can use the RSS news feeds to read both documents and comments on your own Netvibes or Pageflakes dashboard. There’s a lot we could write about the use of feeds, and in this post, we provide a new example below.

Table of Contents

Obviously, the first thing you see on a WriteToReply document site is the Table of Contents. No real innovation here, except that you can see how many comments have been made, which might indicate the ‘hot spots’ in the text. If you’ve not got a lot of time, you could go directly to those sections.

Most Commented

Even more useful is the Most Commented box on the right of the page. This ranks the hot spots so you can immediately see what’s of most interest to other people.


It’s worth remembering that you can search across the entire document for keywords and phrases. Enclose specific phrases in double quotes.

Coming Soon – Serialised Daily Subscriptions

We’re testing a brand new feature which will allow you to have a section of the document delivered to you each day. Rather than receive the entire document at once and have it nagging at you in your feed reader, you’ll receive a single section each day, making the document easier to find time for and digest. Just subscribe to the ‘Serialised Feed’ as you would any other feed and look forward to tomorrow’s subscription!

Hyperlinked Word Cloud

We’ve pointed out how you can navigate comments via our CommentCloud, and we thought it might also be a useful way of navigating the document itself. You’ll see a link to the WordCloud in every document sidebar.

Semantic Tagging

We’ve recently started using OpenCalais, a semantic technology that analyses the document and automatically produces tags from names, facts and events. It produces a far greater number of relevant tags than we would normally include and offers a useful, visual way of mining the content of the text.

The Calais Web Service automatically creates rich semantic metadata for the content you submit – in well under a second. Using natural language processing, machine learning and other methods, Calais analyzes your document and finds the entities within it. But, Calais goes well beyond classic entity identification and returns the facts and events hidden within your text as well.


We also produce an eBook of every document we re-publish so that it can be read offline on a variety of eBook readers. Again, you’ll find a link in the sidebar of every document.


If you’re one of the millions of iPhone, iPod Touch or Google Android owners, then each document is specially formatted for your phone (the sections are in reverse order but we should be able to fix that with a bit of free time. In the meantime, just navigate to the first section and bookmark it).

Embedded version

Finally, we also provide an embedded version of the original PDF, which we host on Scribd. This allows you to read the document full screen and print it for reading on the train 😉

Final, cumulative Digital Britain web analytics

We recently discussed how by using Google Analytics and a time stamped RSS feed, we could get a good idea of when people were reading and commenting on the Digital Britain – Interim Report. Now that the official consultation period has ended, we can show you the full web analytics from our re-publication of the report and try to draw some conclusions. We’d appreciate any insight you might be able to bring to this and have made a fairly complete set of PDF exports of the analytics available on Scribd. We’re aware that web analytics are never 100% accurate, but these should be accurate enought to indicate trends. Below are some images which offer a useful overview. Click on them to go to Scribd.

Visitors Overview

Visitors Overview

So 3,313 people made 4,409 visits and on average viewed 2.75 pages over 3:03 minutes. About half of these visitors, ‘bounced’; that is, they came to the site and left without reading beyond the initial page. The spikes in traffic are when we launched and when the Guardian, boingboing and the Digital Britain discussion site linked to us.

Traffic Sources Overview

Traffic Sources Overview

Note how few people came to the site via a search engine. Currently, a search for ‘digital britain report’ on, ranks our re-publication of the report at site #15 (the Fake Digital Britain Report ranks slightly higher).



When people did come to us via a search engine, the searches are predictable, they stayed on the site for less than the average time and tended to ‘bounce’ more often than average, too. The site is optimised fairly well for Search Engines (there are areas for improvement) but perhaps because it’s a new site, with few incoming links and is competing with established government and newspaper sites, it would be difficult to rank higher in this short period of time.

All Traffic Sources

All Traffic Sources

The top ten traffic sources accounted for 83% of all of our traffic. 43% came from Twitter and ‘direct’ sources which I suspect are the shortened URLs which are used on Twitter. I think we can say that without Twitter, we would have had much less impact and found it more difficult to advocate comment on the report given the time we have available to work on WriteToReply.

Content Viewed by Title

Content Viewed by Title

With just over 12,000 page views, the front page of the report is by far the most popular page but it’s interesting to see that the 3rd and 4th most popular pages are the ‘Comments by User’ and ‘Comments by Section’ pages, which are unique (??) to CommentPress, the tool that enables paragraph level commenting.

UK geographical coverage

UK geographical coverage

We had visitors from across the UK, but the largest concentration by far came from London (44%). Next was Manchester (5%) and third was Milton Keynes (2.6%). I should note that Tony (one half of WriteToReply) works for the Open University which is based in Milton Keynes. The rest of the geographical coverage would appear to be just small clusters of people, mainly in England and the urban areas of Scotland and Wales. If WriteToReply is to be a successful public service, we need to see this coverage spread more evenly throughout the UK for national consultations. We’d also like to see local authorities and local interest groups use WriteToReply for their consultations, too and their use and advocacy of it might also help even the spread during national consultations.

Connection Speeds

Connection Speeds

At least 70% of visitors came to the report over a ‘broadband’ type connection. This is possibly much higher if the ‘unknown’ speeds were also mostly broadband, too.  Interestingly, at least 17% of visits were from a T1 connection, which is a leased line used by business. Just 2% of visitors were confirmed dial-up users.

Browsers and OS

Browsers and OS

54% of visitors browsed using Firefox, while 26% used Internet Explorer. 66% ran on Windows and 23% ran on a Mac.

So, if you run Firefox on Windows, live in London with a broadband connection, came to the site via Twitter, spent about three minutes on the site (not long enough to comment) and never returned to the site… you’re pretty average, but we thank you for your interest. 🙂 If you’re one of the 69 people that left some of the 295 comments on the report via WriteToReply, we want to thank you very much.

And do remember that anyone re-publishing a document on WriteToReply can easily collect this kind of data to give a better understanding about the impact the consultation is having. Were it endorsed and used by civil servants to publish consultations, a much more accurate overall picture of who is engaging with the consultation and how they engage could be built up and why not make that information publicly available, too?

Recent activity on WriteToReply

The official consultation period ended last week for the Digital Britain – Interim Report although the ongoing discussion on WriteToReply and the Digital Britain Discussion Forum remains open and welcomed by the @digitalbritain team.

We contacted the Digital Britain Team via Twitter and email about whether your comments should be delivered ‘formally’ by email. Happily, we didn’t have to do this…

…which gave us time to do other things:

If you’re reading this via a feed reader, you may have noticed a draft post accidentally slip out about ‘how you can get involved…’ This was inadvertently published in the process of setting up a new feature on WriteToReply, which will allow you to search and browse by tag and category, every section of every document that we re-publish. In addition, every tag and category has its own RSS feed, so you’ll be able to subscribe to categories of government documents, or even just set up a feed for specific tags which are of interest to you. We’re still working on it, but over time, we think it will be a really useful way of searching through and browsing the full-text of government documents that we re-publish.

Ideally, every government consultation would be published on something like WriteToReply by government workers. Until that happens, it’s down to the rest of us to get involved and help re-publish consultations on WriteToReply. In the meantime, the best way of keeping track on current government consultations is to keep an eye on Tell Them What You Think . (Exploring how WriteToReply can most effectively work with Tell Them What You Think is on our to do list!)

We’ve already had two people step up and ask for their own site. One consultation is nearly ready and another was re-published yesterday by @DJSoup. More on that below.

In addition to evolving the ‘site architecture’, we’ve been working on trying to get funding. We’ve submitted a bid to 4iP and have a bid in development for a JISC Rapid Innovation Grant. The former is a bid specifically for WriteToReply, the latter is a bid based on our work on WriteToReply (but would share benefits for WriteToReply as well as the JISC community).

We’ve also started holding weekly online meetings on IRC. Our first meeting was last week and a last minute annoucement on Twitter attracted two people to join us, who gave us technical advice and advice on registering WriteToReply as a formal entity. We realise we need to do this if we’re to accept funding and develop WriteToReply over the long-term. Our meetings will usually be every Thursday at 11am. If they are poorly attended at that time, we’ll move them to another time. Instructions on joining us are on the wiki as are the agendas and full logs of the meetings.

You may have noticed that we had some planned downtime on the site over the weekend. WriteToReply was first thought up and launched within two days using cheap, shared web hosting. As the site grew in popularity, it groaned under the strain of your comments, so to remedy that, we moved everything to a new host over the weekend which will provide a better level of service and offers us more flexibility, too.

Finally, as I mentioned above, Andrew MacKenzie re-published Lord Carter’s Straw Man, otherwise known as ‘Copyright in a Digital World. What role for a digital rights agency?’ This consultation document has grown out of the Digital Britain – Interim Report and specifically addresses the issues of copyright infringement and the protection of intellectual property in a ‘digital Britain’.  These are discussed under Action 11 and Action 12 in the Digital Britain – Interim Report. The deadline for the consultation is the 30th March. Hardly any time at all…

“Today we have published proposals in the form of a Straw Man on digital rights. That Straw Man could be torched, tolerated or a touchstone for the start point of constructive debate and design. I for one hope it is the latter.” ((From the press release))

Sounds like an invitation to comment on the document paragraph by paragraph to me 😉

When are people commenting on Digital Britain?

Yesterday, on Twitter, @cyberdoyle asked “how many people use the digitalbritain site in work time as part of their work, and how many ‘ordinary’ people know about it?”

Well, the first part of the question is pretty easy to answer. We have web analytics showing visits to the site and the RSS feed of comments is timestamped, so we can examine when people are commenting, too.

Here’s a snapshot showing an overview of what time people visit WriteToReply’s re-publication of the Digital Britain – Interim Report. Click on the image to examine it in more detail on Flickr.

Basically, what this shows is that traffic is fairly evenly spread throughout the day, starting around 9am and not dropping significantly until after midnight. As you might expect, there are peaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

The next image shows on what days people are visiting the report.

This shows that visitors are largely looking at the report during the week, with just 14.67% of visits over weekends.

To look at when people are actually commenting on the report, I’ve used My Timelines, which in turn uses Simile, to visualise the comments on a timeline. This has been quickly knocked together for the purposes of replying to the question. We’ll host Simile on WriteToReply soon and look at how we can pimp up the timelines even more. Click on the image to go to the timeline. Drag the timeline either left or right to see comments made. Click on a comment to view it.

Timeline of Digital Britain comments

The final part of the question asks how many people know about WriteToReply’s re-publication of the Digital Britain report. This is much more difficult to answer, but here are a few thoughts.

If knowing about the report results in a visit to the website every time, then as of 12am today, the report has had 2,357 unique visits and 3,087 visits. Most of our ‘marketing’ of the report has been over Twitter. It’s where we first had the idea of re-publishing a report and is an easy way for us to get the message out at no cost. Our own efforts to tell people about the report have then been ‘retweeted’ or rebroadcast by others who have supported our efforts. Potentially, the message can reach tens of thousands of people on Twitter in this way. Indeed, it led to both the Guardian and the BBC tweeting about WriteToReply and writing two blog posts each ((1, 2, 3, 4)) about our re-publication of the report. Cory Doctorow on boingboing did the same, giving a significant boost to visitor numbers. Given the nature of this particular report, Twitter is a good place to focus our ‘marketing’.

However, our plans for WriteToReply are to enable anyone to re-publish any public report and therefore each report will require specific, targeted marketing to ensure that the appropriate audience are made aware of the service. It’s easy for us to advocate the Digital Britain report because we’re using Twitter and blogs all day in the course of our work for two universities, but we would currently struggle to reach the same number of people were the report a local council consultation or a topic well outside our existing communities.

The point about WriteToReply though is that it shouldn’t matter. It’s a multi-user platform that anyone can use to do the same as we have done with Digital Britain, empowering people to re-publish reports on issues they care about and can be effective advocates for. We’ve recieved some genuine enthusiasm from inside Government and have been told that WriteToReply will be advocated to Government departments as a method (among many) to seek public comment on consultation documents.  So whether you work in Government and are the author of a report or you’re someone who just thinks that a consultation could be done better through WriteToReply, the service is the same for each of you. We’ve created a guide about how it works on our wiki. Let us know what you want to re-publish and we’ll help you get set up and then it’s all yours to advocate by whatever means you can.

If you want to support WriteToReply, we’ve recently submitted a proposal for funding which outlines how we think it could grow and be an effective ‘community platform’ (and by ‘community’, we include the Government) for publishing, reading, commenting and discussing public documents. In fact, it could grow to be a social network where Government policy issues are discussed in general, but that’s for another post. 🙂

Three Days Left to Comment on the Digital Britain Interim Report

How time flies… There’s now just three days left to comment on the Digital Britain – Interim Report (at least if you want your comments to count with Carter’s review team) – deadline is ‘before March 12th’.

Comments have still been coming in (although we have suffered a little bit of downtime – apologies for that) with comment feeds being re-published on the official consultation sites at Digital Britain Forum and Digital Britain Pageflakes dashboard.

Contributions have also been flowing in to the The Fake Digital Britain Report (described here: The Fake Digital Britain Report), which provides another way for you to feed back to Lord Carter what you’d like – or expect to see – considered in the final report.

The Fake report managed to pick up quite a bit of press, which was good to see, firstly from the BBC Tech blog – Rewriting Digital Britain – swiftly followed by the Guardian Technology blog – Write the Fake Digital Britain report – it might get used.

So have you commented yet? WriteToReply: Digital Britain Interim Report.