Tag Archives: Digital Britain

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.

Clouds of Comments

A couple of days ago, we noticed that the Digital Britain report had received over 100 comments. So to celebrate I created a Wordle word cloud from the RSS feed of comments. The feed currently provides up to 200 comments, so I was able to pull everything into Wordle. We mentioned it on Twitter, linking to the image on WriteToReply’s Flickr account and that made some people happy.

I know what you’re thinking: Wordle’s yesterday’s toy. You can’t turn around without seeing a bloody Wordle these days. And you’re right. In the back of my mind, I knew we could do more to celebrate passing ‘the centenary’. So did Tony…

So duty-bound, I looked around and found FeedVis. It’s free software and a really slick way of getting an overview of the comment trends, browsing the comments and navigating through to the full comments on the report. Don’t tell me it’s yesterday’s toy. Please.

It’s interesting to compare the Wordle word cloud with the word cloud produced by FeedVis. ‘Music’ and ‘Industry’ feature heavily in the first cloud, but less so in the second, where ‘access’, ‘content’, ‘digital’, industry’ and ‘technological’ are all favoured pretty equally in terms of how often they’re repeated. By default, Wordle looks for a maximum of the most popular 150 words and shows their relative popularity by increasing or decreasing the size of the word. FeedVis is more sophisticated. It uses stemming (where Wordle doesn’t), so words like ‘fast’ and ‘faster’ (<cough> broadband <cough>) are mapped for the purpose of counting their frequency. There’s a couple of other important features, too:

  • The first is frequency. Frequency says how many times a word is used per 1000 words. If you hover over a word, you’ll see its frequency to the left of the frequency change value.
  • The second is frequency change. Often, a word will be more (or less) popular than usual in a certain time period (for instance, “election” in early November). Frequency change measures that difference as a percentage: greener words are unusually popular; redder words are the opposite.

Here’s a screenshot from earlier today. Click on the image to visit the FeedVis of the Digital Britain – Interim Report itself. Hopefully, we can find more tools like this to add to the WriteToReply suite of ways which comments can be read, viewed and interpreted by us all, including the authors of the reports. If you know of any, please leave a comment. Thanks.

An Example Netvibes Dashboard for the Digital Britain Interim Report on WriteToReply

One of the powerful features of the WordPress platform we’re using to host WriteToReply is the RSS feed publishing engine that produces all manner of RSS feeds out-of-the-box.

Feeds are a Good Thing, because they let you syndicate content and view it elsewhere. So called “web desktops” are one way in which you can construct your own dashboards containing widgets that can display content from different RSS feed sources and help you keep an eye on activity surrounding on any particular part of the report.

(For a mini-tutorial on how to use services like Netvibes, see the Click On: Web 2.0 Workshop on open2.net.)

So for example, here’s a Netvibes tab that show’s how to view the original content from one of the sections of the Digital Britain Interim Report, along with the comments made on that section. The tab also tracks media references to Digital Britain via Google News, blog post references using Google blogsearch, and up to the minute references on Twitter – WriteToReply dashboard demo (Netvibes): Digital Britain – The Interim Report, section 5:

Writetoreply Dashboard - http://www.netvibes.com/psychemedia#Digital_Britain_-_The_Interim_Report

Click on one of the section tabs in the far left hand column, and you can read the text from that subsection of the report:


Here’s an example of the RSS feed to pull in this subsection content: http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain/2009/01/29/section-5-equipping-everyone-to-benefit-from-digital-britain/?&feed=rss2&withoutcomments=1

If you click on one of the comment links (middle columns) you can view the comments made by each individual on the relevant subsection:


Here’s and example of the feed URL you need to view comments by subsection: http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain/2009/01/29/section-51-education-and-skills/?&feed=rss2&withoutcomments=0

The blogsearch pulls in the first few words from the start of relevant blog posts:

Digital Britain blogsearch http://www.netvibes.com/psychemedia#Digital_Britain_-_The_Interim_Report

Here’s the feed: http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch_feeds?hl=en&q=%22digital+britain%22&ie=utf-8&num=10&output=atom

Searching for Twitter responses to the report allows us to track some of the real time discussion going on around the report:

Twitter responses to Digital Britain

Here’s the feed: http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%22digital+britain%22

Obtaining RSS feeds from Google News search, Google blog search and Twitter search is easy – the search pages all contain RSS feeds for the current search.

At the moment, feeds aren’t necessarily exposed on the page for each different WriteToReply view (although we are working on it). However, the RSS feed URL patterns described above should help you work out how to create an RSS feed URL from most of the pages that appear on WriteToReply.

If you do create you own public WriteToReply dashboard(s), please post a link to them in a comment to this post.

Digital Britain: First week analytics

In the interests of transparency and fun, here’s an overview of the Google Analytics from the first week of Write to Reply’s re-publication of the Digital Britain – Interim Report. Note that GA has certain limitations that can make the reports a little misleading, but heck, they’re the best we have.

As we explained here, Tony and I threw the site together over a couple of evenings and launched it over Twitter. We’ve continued to watch Twitter as the main source of feedback about Write to Reply. A running Twitter search (via TweetDeck in my case) for ‘digitalbritain OR “Digital Britain” OR writetoreply OR “Write to Reply”‘ quickly alerts us to any possible reference on Twitter to either the site or the report. (This coverage extends somewhat to the blogosphere, also, which we’re also tracking in terms of things like incoming links to the site.)

When we see someone referring to the Digital Britain report, we might contact them (@ them on Twitter, or post a comment to a blog post) and mention Write To Reply, where the report is commentable upon.  Every response I’ve had to this approach has been appreciative.

Many people have blogged about Write to Reply’s re-publication of the Digital Britain report but two posts have generated a significant amount of traffic. One by Jack Schofield on the Guardian Tech blog and another by Cory Doctorow on boingboing. Both writers urged their readers to use Write to Reply to comment on the report.  Thanks!

So first up, here’s a graph produced by the Akismet spam filter used on Write to Reply. It’s not entirely accurate for some reason (!?) but we can confirm there’s been three spam comments and 87 genuine comments received.  Thank you!

Given what I’ve said above about our use of Twitter, the first of the GA reports is not too surprising (click on the images to see them full-size and legible):

This shows that overwhelmingly, our traffic is via Twitter and, most likely, shortened URLs used on Twitter (which accounts for the ‘direct’ traffic). Thanks Tweeple, for about half of the traffic to the report!

The Guardian and boingboing are, respectively, the second and third largest referers and as they are busy news sites, we’ve probably seen most of the traffic they will generate as people turn on to the latest news. Maybe I’m wrong there. We’ll see next week.

When people visit the report, they’re mostly landing on the front page, as we would expect. Second on the list (with a much lower landing rate) is Section 5.1 Education and Skills (a section that was linked to directly with a request for comments in a message that got retweeted several times on Twitter).

48.15% of people are clicking through to at least one more page (actually, the average page views is 2.56/visit) and the top of these exit pages is, again, Section 5.1 Education and Skills.

Want to know about aggregated page views? As of 9pm last night, there had been 5683 views of 54 pages in the last week.

As you can see, besides the front pages of the report, people seem to like looking at the list of comments by section and the list of comment by user.  This suggests that that specific functionality provided by the CommentPress theme for WordPress is of interest to people. Excellent! 🙂

Most visitors have visited just once, but 19% are returning visitors (and we commend your dedication!).

So, where are all these people from? Mostly the UK (81%) but also from the USA (8%) and 40 other countries.

People across the UK are visiting the Digital Britain report, though almost half (48%) of visitors are from London (does anyone know exactly how Google locates people? Is it locating actual people at computers or just their ISPs?)

Interestingly, 46 visitors are from Lambeth, which is just minutes away from Westminster. We can only hope that these visitors are a concentration of people working in government 😉

Finally, here’s the big picture. The site peaked on the first day (Wednesday 4th Feb), dropped rapidly but slowed slightly due to the Guardian tech blog post (Thursday 5th Feb), continued dropping over the weekend until Monday 9th when it picked up again and then rose again suddenly, thanks to boingboing’s post on Tuesday 10th.

If anyone wants view access to the full analytics, send us your GMail address and we’ll add you to the user list. We’ll post more on this subject on March 13th, after the consultation period ends or if anything interesting happens before then. If you’ve got ideas about how this data can be creatively and productively used, please get in touch. We have some ideas on the burner, but welcome yours too. Thanks.

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) [ http://poit.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/poit/ ], 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 http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain/.

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 http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain 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: mail@writetoreply.org (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 http://wordpress.com 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.