I’ve recently been made aware of a really interesting project that Edinburgh Council’s libraries service has been involved in. It’s a bold venture into Web 2.0 waters, under the umbrella brand of Tales of One City.
The whole thing is brought together by a public page on Netvibes (a personalised web portal, similar to iGoogle). You can find it at www.netvibes.com/talesofonecity.
The page has a customised theme (with an image of books as the header) and an embedded Google Search bar. It then serves up 12 widgets, pulling in information from various sources.
The widgets include:
A feed from the brand’s Delicious bookmarks – mostly links to the various applications listed on the Netvibes page itself, but with a few other useful links (lots of room for development though).
Tales of One City blog
A blog, which has been running since February, by Library Service Manager Liz McGettigan.
We blog about lots of different things on Tales of One City; public libraries, community regeneration, impact studies, web 2.0, library 2.0…
There are also feeds from three other library-related blogs.
Social networking sites
YouTube and Flickr provide the platforms for various multimedia content, including images of various libraries.
Potential and risks
The possibilities presented by this kind of approach are immense. Web 2.0 provides an exciting and relevant way of engaging with our citizens, targeting them in the places that they already frequent on the web (rather than relying on them coming to our corporate site to find out what we’re doing).
Accordingly I’m now looking at using a similar approach to promote other Council services, and I’ll blog more about these once we’re up and running. Of course, such an approach has to be managed, and there are many risks and issues to be aware of. For example:
Most social applications are designed to be person-to-person, not organisation-to-person. Any presence on Facebook, Twitter et al should ideally appear to be from an individual, or at least a small group of individuals, rather than a ‘faceless corporation’. It’s vital to build up a personality online, and for that to work people must take ownership of the accounts. These people have to know what they’re doing, and also want to do it. Additionally, sustainability must be built in to mitigate against changing circumstances – if a person leaves the organisation, the accounts must not simply fall silent and die a death.
Despite aiming for a ‘personal’ voice, it’s still vital that the person is accountable to the organisation for what they say. There have been countless horror stories of brands taking serious damage through social media mistakes, and as a public sector organisation we have a serious obligation to be accountable for what we are putting out there.
It is, of course, important to remember that not everyone has access to the internet, or even a computer, and also that many of the third-party applications discussed here have varying issues to do with web accessibility. For this reason, it is vital to ensure that the ‘digitial divide’ is not made greater by concentrating solely on these kinds of ventures and ignoring more traditional channels, as well as ensuring that content is made accessible or, at least, an alternative provided.
This is a major concern for many of the people I talk to about Web 2.0. The fear is that if we enter into conversations with citizens, many will use the opportunity to publicly berate us, whether justified or not. Whilst this may be true, it’s also true that such conversations are already going on out there – it’s crucial that we join in with them and hopefully learn from them.
Another major concern is the misuse of the channels that we create (for example, if we create a space on Bebo and people use it to solicit inappropriate contact with children). Most of these risks can be reasonably managed, though, depending on the platform, but it does highlight the need for constant monitoring of the channels, which must be built into someone’s regular workstreams.
Look out for a progress report soon.
- Simon Wakeman’s oft-cited piece on why council’s shouldn’t be on Facebook, actually featuring some good reasons why we should
- Dave Brigg’s summary of ‘bits and pieces’ relating to social media in local government
- Ingrid Koehler’s excellent 10 local government social media myths
- Anyone in local gov wanting to discuss these issues further should sign up for Communities of Practice, where there are some useful Web 2.0 and social media groups