Tag Archives: feeds

Experiments for the iPhone and eBook Readers

Yesterday morning, @stef had a wish…

So, we’ve added support for the iPhone. Now, when you navigate to http://writetoreply.org/digitalbritain on your iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll see a very different rendering of the report. Feedback so far has been positive, but there are two caveats.

First, you can’t comment on each paragraph 😦  We’d love to develop this in the future, but it’s not something we could whip up on a Sunday morning. Sorry. You can still comment on each section or switch over to the default site design (there’s a link at the bottom of each section) and comment by paragraph from there.

Secondly, the report sections are rendered in reverse order. This is because the main site design (which uses the CommentPress WordPress theme), works that way. It takes the first post/section and places it first in the Table of Contents. This make sense when publishing sections of text, but in the world of blogs, first comes last and so the iPhone rendering assumes that the first post/section is ‘old news’. Again, it’s something we’d like to work on for the future.

That aside, please do give it a try and let us know what you think. We’re pretty sure you’ll find it’s a really enjoyable way to read the report. ((We’ve also been looking for ways to reformat the report for any mobile device, but have not found any that are really up to the job. If you know of a WordPress plugin that will work, please leave a comment. We’ve tried WordPress Mobile Edition, but it needs some work to suit reading a report published in this way.))

And that’s not all! If you use an iPhone or iPod Touch, you’ll probably know about Stanza, the eBook reader. Stanza integrates with Feedbooks, a platform for uploading and downloading books and other forms of text. Feedbooks has a great feature that allows you to take an RSS feed and convert the content into several different eBook formats for Stanza, Amazon’s Kindle or the Sony Reader.

Since we have an RSS feed of the Digital Britain – Interim Report already available, it was trivial to turn it into an ‘eBook’ for these devices. To get around the report sections being held in reversed order, we pushed it through Yahoo! Pipes and reversed the contents of the feed so that the first section would appear first in the eBook. Here’s the link to the pipe. But more importantly, here’s the link to the eBook version of the Digital Britain – Interim Report.

Again, a couple of things should be noted: The tables and diagrams from the report are not included in the eBook version. They are in the original feed as five images, but unfortunately Feedbooks ignores them when creating the eBook version. We’re not entirely comfortable with this but feel that on balance, to have an eBook version of the report which you can read offline is worth the omissions ((The following tables and diagrams are not displayed in the Feedbooks eBook version of the report: Section 2, Paragraph 13; Section Section 2.2 Paragraph 23; Section 2.4, Paragraph 16; Section 4.1, Paragraph 29; Section 4.1, Paragraph 30)). To alert readers of the eBook to this, we’ve fed this post by RSS into the eBook, so it will appear as a final ‘appendum’ to the report.

The second thing to note is that there’s no hyperlinking either. So there’s no direct connection to the report on WriteToReply 😦 We assume that by providing more ways for people to read the report, more people will feel compelled to comment, and there’s no better way than to use WriteToReply 😉

So there you are. Let us know what you think. Do you think that the government should be taking similar steps to make their reports more widely readable than simply through a PDF or .doc?

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What’s Consulting Now?

One of the things we want to try to achieve with WriteToReply is a sense of “real-time” commenting on public reports that are (allegedly, at least) posted with public consultation in mind.

So how can you find out what’s consulting now?

One way is to visit the the DirectGov: Public Consultations site, which identifies a set of “headline” consultation exercises:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/UKgovernment/PublicConsultations/index.htm

At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be an RSS feed detailing these “front page” consultations, so we’ll try to maintain one… Here’s a first attempt: current UK gov “headline” consultations (via Directgov) [RSS] (or via an embeddable widget).

A full list of current consultations is, however, available as an RSS feed from Tell Them What You Think: current UK government consultations [RSS].

WriteToReply Recommendation to DirectGov: provide an RSS feed of consultation exercises that are linked to from the DirectGov “Public Consultations” web page.

Why do we care so much about web feeds? Because they’re connecting the web and providing ways to access, analyse and distribute information between web sites and web applications. Feed syndication and aggregation is now central to both disseminating and discovering information on the web. Web feeds extract information in a form that is convenient for readers, publishers and web developers.

The DirectGov site also provides a page containing links to pages that itemise the current consultations being run by each government department: DirectGov: List of government consultation websites.

Again, there doesn’t appear to be an RSS version of this list, which makes it a painful exercise to embed such a list in your own web pages. So once again, as a stopgap, here’s just such a feed: Government department consultation web pages [RSS] (via an embeddable widget).

Ideally, each of these individual departmental pages would publish feeds of the current open consultations being run by the corresponding department (a list of the current auto-discoverable departmental consultation feeds can be found here: autodiscovered consultation feeds), but this means of publishing appears to be the exception rather than the norm.

WriteToReply Recommendation to Government Departments: provide an auto-discoverable RSS feed of current consultation exercises from the departmental consultations web page.

Fortunately, the Tell Them What You Think website provides a list of feeds generated by screenscraping the departmental consultation web pages: Tell Them What You Think: Browse Consultations.