Week 30 at work

This week marks the start of two major projects that will run until late March (and forced me to cancel my trip to New Zealand – sorry bro!).

  • Both of our two major websites are failing to deliver results for either our business or customer needs. We finally got the nod to begin addressing the problems and this week we started the project with a kick-off workshop day. Myself, four colleagues and the external agency fffunction spent the day finding out the scope of the problems and the opportunities. We are employing the GDS project phases of discovery, aplha, beta to live. January and early February will be “Find out what your users need, what to measure and what your constraints are“. For much of the remainder of the week I met with staff from across the service to hear what their needs were and to hear how we could best find out how we could meet real users/customers. The list of ideas are captured in a public trello board. I need to fire up our labs blog in the coming weeks to write about the project in the open.
  • I met with our marketing officer to discuss plans for 2014
  • I had a productive Skype call with a researcher at UWE and hope that we can collaborate on researching the use of kiosks at our M Shed museum.
  • I contributed to a City wide planning meeting about an HLF digital project. I co-wrote the HLF digital guidance so it was slightly strange to hear folks quoting words I’d written a few years ago.
  • A potential volunteer got in touch to offer his web skills for February. I’m hoping he can experiment with RFID and Raspberry Pi as I just haven’t found the time.
  • The most important strand of work until Mid march is our Arts Council bid for 2015-2018. I had 3 minutes to pitch my thoughts on our digital activity road map.
  • I managed to attend the always enlightening Social Media South West #SoMeSW event
  • Finally I had a really nice chat with the curator responsible for Nature Sciences about possible digital activity
  • A bonus work day was attending the fantastic govukcamp 2014 on Saturday in London which i’ll blog about soon.




Choosing the right ebook file formats

There are many types of paper and paper-size  to choose from when printing a paper book. The same myriad of choices applies to digital books except instead of texture and paper-weight, we’re concerned with what device and software the reader may choose to read your book.

If I had all the time in the world and I was producing a fairly simple digital book which didn’t require format specific features I suggest ensuring my digital book was produced in all of these formats:

  1. epub – an open format which means it will hopefully be around for years to come. An epub file will open in many ebook reader software and hardware such as an iPad or Android device. You can choose epub 2 or epub 3 depending on your target audience – stick with epub 2 for the widest support.
  2. Amazon kindle format (mobi and kf8) – because amazon rules the market it makes sense to ensure it works on both the kindle software and the kindle device
  3. Adobe PDF – Almost every device on the planet will open a PDF file so its a safe bet and is also open (see point 1). Further-more PDF is built to handle print, which could be a useful feature for some readers
  4. Apple ibook (IBA) – if I wanted to sell via the apple marketplace then i’d want to use their format.

Tip: if I was to distribute any of my own books I’d plump for giving ALL of the above to the reader in one bundle. This way they get the choice of their preferred format. I guess an issue for a small number of readers is they’ll receive a zipped bundle and have no clue what to do next. I didn’t say it was fool-proof.

Why is there more than one format I hear you cry? The market for selling ebooks is fierce and each major provider wants you to lock-in to their ecosystem, hence a fragmented market and a high number of file formats.

The key to producing our book fairly painlessly for each format is to plan early and use a workflow that doesn’t rely on any one particular format. The nerds of this world call this being ‘device agnostic’.  Essentially write the book using whatever your preferred writing tool is and then have a workflow that makes it straight forward to produce for the context and constraints you have.

If I wanted to sell my digital book and I happened to know that all my potential customers used Amazon then I would likely produce this format first. If I wanted the book to open in  say five years time I’d go for epub and PDF.

A final word on file format features

At the time of writing in early 2014, the format with the most advanced features that are implemented by a reading device is the apple ibooks format. It has some pretty impressive features for adding interactivity that may be essential for the success of our book. In which case your workflow for ibooks will split off and tackle those issues. Just be careful that you don’t go so far down that road that you can’t make a good experience for the other hobbled formats. By this i mean that readers and/or software for displaying epub, kindle and PDF don’t yet support any of the advanced feature support you’d like. Things change with each new reader software release though so the future could brighten up any day. If you need to use a feature e.g. video support, check if its supported in your primary testing kit.

Week 29 at work

This week focused on the here and now with the green light on the website project and then also trying to think strategically out to 2020. Although 2020 seems far away, in reality this immediate website project will be the foundation for work that will happen in 2020!

  • All the procurement reading (70 odd pages) and hoop jumping has finally resulted in the green light to build the first phase of a new website for the service. We begin on Monday 20th January with the first wave of work called project ‘discovery’. Our champion striker in Government digital, GDS, describes the discovery phase as “Find out what your users need, what to measure and what your constraints are”   Both us and the chosen agency, fffunction,  will be talking about the project regularly so stayed tuned.
  • Monthly budget forecasting which is the motorcycle equivalent of riding behind a truck in the rain
  • Had an introduction with a new curator who will be joining us for a few months. Its fun times like these where I really enjoy preaching about the emerging digital curator roles I imagine the sector needs from now for the future.
  • Demonstrated why it’s essential to listen carefully to an archivist about file naming conventions if you want to find the source material in 100 years. Talking of 100 years, I and the Records Office met with a central IT project manager about how our modern records might survive for the next 100 years. I really don’t think even Microsoft will be able to open a 2010 edition word file in 2114!
  • Discussed my ideas for 2014 to 2020 with my boss. We looked at infrastructure, revenue, digitisation, skills needed, constraints and the chaotic beast that is the world of digital and IT. I drafted a trello board with these activities if your curious called the BMGA roadmap.
  • I reviewed the user interface progress on a student project around volunteering
  • Took a valuable trip to Exeter to visit Rick Lawrence at the RAMM. After a tour of their setup we talked about opportunities to work together in the near future. In order to do the best possible work many of us all need to work together which is also principle number 6 of our digital principles.
  • Finished reading Content Strategy for the Web which will be an invaluable reference from here on out
  • I took a leaf out of Tim Lloyd’s blog post and gave my personal copy of ‘Organisations don’t tweet people do’ to my boss who is already half way through. Out of my own pocket I
  • Finally, I agreed to speak at the Office of National Statistics in February about digital media IPR and hopefully a little about digital books. Again, I think there is lots that can be shared across Government digital services.

Week 28 at work

Everybody came flooding back this week and with them a tidal wave of email.

  • Transferred BRERC to our own server to further reduce our third party annual hosting costs. By the end of all of these moves we’ll have saved several thousand pounds.
  • The new interim Director started and I look forward to talking about my plans. IT services managed to drop the ball and I found myself saying “Welcome to the Council”
  • Got a detailed tour of our City Lives exhibition from the curator Julia Carver which was brilliant and I wish everybody could have a curator in their pocket!
  • Ironed out how we move a key collection back into the fold
  • Put the wheels in motion for a web project with regional partners where I think we’ll give the website service squarespace a run through its paces
  • Wrote about why online is still the real world
  • Hit the brakes on a pending project due to begin next week
  • Managed to squeeze in a lunch-time run (6km)
  • Finished reading Organisations don’t tweet, people do during my breakfast reads


Online is still the real world

I often get pulled into discussions about why staff shouldn’t be allowed to have permission to official online accounts. Come a little closer and i’ll let you into a secret; The online conversations we and our customers are having (with or without you) are still part of the real world. We trust our teams with these vital conversations daily, at the reception, over the phone, in our shop and our galleries. Yet the moment a member of staff wishes to extend their reach to the online world somebody wishes to pull them back. For what? Certainly not for the benefit of our customers who need those closest to the coalface to respond in a timely manner.

The online conversations we should be having with our customers need all hands to the pumps. Let them go and set them free.

The next time you want to say no, take a moment to reflect. Consider who else could answer that question in a timely manner and professionally, if not those you trust face to face with our valuable customer.

Here, take those reigns.

Reading list 2014

Last year was my first attempt at keeping track of the books I read during the entire year. Twelve! I thought it was going to be much longer than that. In November/December I picked up and failed to complete three books. Yet I read tons online which I think has a role to play in this low number.

We’ll see how I fair this year.

  1. Semple, Euan. Organizations don’t Tweet, People Do – A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web. Wiley, 2012. Print and finished Friday 10th January 2014.
  2. Halvorson, Kristina. Content Strategy for the Web 2nd edition. New Riders, 2012. Kindle and finished 18th January 2014.
  3. Krotoski, Aleks. Untangling the web – what the internet is doing to you. Faber and Faber, 2013. Kindle and finished 3rd March 2014.
  4. Hsieh, Tony. Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. Business Plus. 2013. Kindle and finished 3rd April 2014.
  5. Boag, Paul. Digital Adaptation. Smashing magazine, 2014. Kindle and finished 22nd June 2014
  6. 37signals, REMOTE: Office not required, 2014. Kindle and finished 11th July 2014

Week 27 at Work

It seems that most of the Service takes the full two weeks off and so this week was still eerily quiet on the office front. As we reflect on the end of a year and hop to the next, I managed to focus on the website project.

  •  Meet with a young student who will be joining us for a week in February for work experience.
  • Completed the content audit for our two main websites (find all URLS, listed value to audience and business, note volume of web traffic  for Q1 and Q2 in 2013 and make notes for anything interesting)
  • Met with potential web agencies to hear about their approach to helping us build a new website platform
  • Was impressed by Tom who fixed hundreds of pounds worth of AV kit using 40p replacement transistors
  • Learnt about current good practice for digitising film
  • Started to read Organisations Don’t tweet, People do and make notes for folk in the service
  • Reviewed a student project to replace our existing volunteer database
  • Read our procurement guidance in painstaking detail
  • Completed an IT request to ask for Google Chrome and need to write a business case to use Skype – yes you read that correctly, the average person has more useful tools in their pocket.


Today I was being schooled by Stephen Gray about current practices for digitising 8mm and Super 8 film. I was enthralled by the media format and its history. Now, nearly 50 years since its release,  we use modern techniques of film capture to “see” what is on all those shiny reels from the past.

There is so much to discover in this huge field of “digital” and I hope I never lose this sense of curiosity.