Tag Archives: Google

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 http://google.co.uk, 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?

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.