Category Archives: Thoughts

Idea: A re-usable framework for “Who Should I Vote For?” tests

Those “Who Should I Vote For?” sites are, I think, a great idea. Many of them fail though. They;

  • often miss out huge policy areas (e.g. Europe)
  • often just copy/paste from manifestos making it easy to see which party is which
  • over simplify questions or provide limited answer choices that don’t always match views
  • become out of date and are slow to be updated

I’d like to propose we (anyone with the inclination to help me) build a framework for creating such tests that we can use again and again.  I have an idea how we can do it.

It needs to be;

  • Open source and collaborative (obviously!)
  • Easy for anyone (i.e. non-developers) to contribute to improving the policy questions

Here’s what I propose;

1. Agree/disagree questions

In order to determine the political leanings of the user without revealing actual policies we should use questions to which the answer has to be one of five choices;

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Neither
  • Disagree
  • Strongly Disagree

Each political party will then be attached to one of those five answers. For example, consider the proposition “The UK should leave the EU” to which the matching would probably be;

  • Strongly Agree – UKIP
  • Agree – Conservatives
  • Neither
  • Disagree – Labour
  • Strongly Disagree – Liberal Democrats

For each matching answer, a “point” will be given to that party, and at the end of the survey those points will be used to generate percentage “matches” to each party. E.g. if the user was Nick Clegg you’d hope he achieved a 100% match to the Liberal Democrats, and lesser percentage matches to some other parties too.

2. Markdown for question and answer generation

So that anyone can help to contribute, the questions and the matching of parties to answers should use Markdown. The application would then parse the markdown to generate the actual questions and calculate the points based on the answers given.

This is an example of how that Markdown might look.

It’s not great for parsing, but should be straightforward for contributing too. I’m very open to ideas on a better format, in any case.


So, what do you think? Is it a good idea? Is it workable? Will you help me build it?

The Lichfield Blog Twitter account – can you help?

If you’re reading this you’re probably aware that The Lichfield Blog‘s Twitter account was the subject of unauthorised access and de-activation this week.

We’ve been through the process to retrieve it as Twitter suggests we could still get it back. However, that’s not a certainty and I won’t hold my breath.

It seems we’re popular enough that other variations of Lichfield Blog have already been snapped up. As Ross has said, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – so thanks to those people(!)

A while ago I snapped up @Lichfield and handed it over to Lichfield District Council’s tourism team who subsequently changed to @VisitLichfield leaving @Lichfield to be snapped up by someone who hasn’t even used it!

So I’d like to try and obtain @Lichfield instead. It’d be a great account to use and we could really use it well to promote everything that’s going on!

Here’s what I’d like you to do to help;

  1. Follow @Lichfield – this will send the owner an e-mail so if there’s lots of us that means lots of e-mails!
  2. Send a tweet to them, asking them to donate the account and linking to this blog post.

Please don’t retweet each other doing it – send your own, individual tweet as it’s the most sure fire way to make sure the owner gets lots of tweets! Oh and be polite!

Lastly, if you’re the owner and you’re reading this – pretty please could The Lichfield Blog have the account? Hopefully you’re reading this because you’ve seen the support we have locally but just in case, see our about page for what we are & do. If you’re willing to pass it on please e-mail me at 🙂

Do you work or achieve?

I’m a thinker and most of my best thinking happens in the shower (must be the lather).

This morning, after waking up early and spending a couple of hours catching up with some reading links I’d saved for later, I found myself in the shower at about 9:30am. That’s not uncommon on an average day for me.

My friends often rib me about getting up late because I don’t have a ‘proper job’ which is fair enough, ’cause most of them are slaves to the 9-5 routine. However, I do often continue working well into the evening, often finishing around 8 or 9pm at night (mainly when I force myself to stop!)

It’s another part of my life that invites well mannered ridicule.

But this morning it made me think about ‘work’. Most people think of work as that thing they have to do every day. The job that wakes them up at an hour they’d rather not see, forces them to don a suit and tie, make sandwiches for lunch (possibly to be eaten while still chained to their desk) and trawl through the hell of the commuter traffic.

That’s all very negative, I know, but so often people moan about having to go to work, having to go in on a Monday or shouting about how glad they are about the weekend, or even home time, arriving.

Now I know I’m very lucky – I love my job and quickly obtained my (then) ideal job aged 18 and have spent the last 7 years moving onwards and upwards all the time. I’ve taken the plunge to work for myself and as I approach the end of my third full year I’m realising just how different my approach to ‘work’ is.

See, in the shower this morning I thought about how most people look at work – that drain on their life, a necessary evil. And then I thought about how I look at work – an opportunity, a chance to achieve my goals in life, to better myself and become all that I ever want to be.

Recently, I went to Tenerife. I went there to stay with a friend who’s just moved out there for a while. He’s someone who, as well as being a good friend, I look up to. He spent nearly three years working his arse off earning very little to reach the point he is now at. He’s working for himself, earning a six-figure salary and living on the Canary Islands. He’s thinking of going to Argentina next.

On my second day there I updated my Facebook to;

Philip John is already having an amazing time…I’ve only just been here 24 hours! Now sitting pool side in shorts wearing my “Armani” sunglasses that I got for €5, thinking you ‘suits’ doin 9-5 sayin’ “wish I could live somewhere hot & sunny” should get your finger out & JFDI ’cause cost of living is ridiculous here & you don’t need to know Spanish, it’s hot and amazing and [my friend] has got it bang on.

It was a pretty spur of the moment update but the sentiment is still true. All too often we say “I wish…” or “if only…” but the thing about that is the only barrier, the only thing holding us back, are ourselves.

I’d decided by the time I hit puberty that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. At 23 I considered myself just that. Sure, I’d had lucky breaks but then again, all I’d done was carried on doing what made me happy and remained determined that I could one day achieve my aim. I didn’t make excuses as to why I couldn’t, or shouldn’t do it, I just fucking did it.

You may be wondering why this sounds a bit like a 25-year old telling you to get off your arse and chase your dreams and I can see why (especially if you’re older than 25) but I find it so disappointing when I see or hear people miserable about their lives, especially work.

I have a motto;

If it ain’t right, fix it. If you can’t fix it, get rid of it.

Now I’ve not always applied that very well to my own life (as some who know me will gladly testify) but I still stick by it as a good rule of thumb. If you’re not satisfied in an area of your life, figure out what you can do to make it better and JFDI! If you run out of ideas/options/whatever then get rid. Quick disclaimer here: don’t take that as meaning you can do anything stupid (read: illegal, immoral) – use your common sense.

If you sit on your backside and complain then you only have yourself to blame for your level of happiness (or lack of it).

So, do you work or do you achieve? Do you stick to the status quo or go out there and do something? Do you wear a suit or sit by the pool with your laptop topping up your tan?

I know which I’d rather do…

Recognition for The Lichfield Blog just keeps on growing…

When I first got involved in The Lichfield Blog back in February this year I had no idea that six months later I’d be writing a business plan for a brand new social enterprise.

The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09
The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09

I never thought I’d be looking at stats showing an average of 11,000 visitors each month (equivalent to over 10% of Lichfield District’s population* and a third of the circulation of leading print weekly, the Lichfield Mercury). Nor did I imagine it would spur such cool things as Lichfield Social Media Cafe and Lichfield Social Media Surgeries (both still in planning). I would have laughed if you’d have told me I’d be live-streaming local artists at Lichfield’s Fuse Festival. A look of disbelief would accompany the thought of our MP, Mike Fabricant advertising on the site.

I knew we’d do lots of very cool things with it – as seems to be customary now my brain buzzed with ideas for exciting developments as soon as I saw it. I’m taken aback by the way things have played out though.

When I first started working freelance in November 2007 my aim was to be a leader in my industry. The heavy involvement in The Lichfield Blog and the recognition it’s seen has proven to me that I’m starting to achieve that.

That recognition has seen a massive boost over the past few weeks for two big reasons. The first is securing Michael Fabricant MP as an advertiser on the blog. He was our third advertiser and (we think) the first MP to advertise on a hyperlocal media site. Rick Waghorn of Addiply (the ad system we use) took the opportunity to shout about it that very afternoon at NewsInnovation London. I saw the tweets rolling in and I could barely contain my elation at having made such an impact.

Second reason, and the inspiration for this post, is that today Lichfield District Council have (after I sent them a cheeky tweet) changed their “Local Newspapers” section to “Local Media” and included The Lichfield Blog. They’re even syndicating us! I’m still undecided as to whether to check the other 353 local government district web sites to see if Lichfield is the only one to do so…

Both of these also come after what I consider to be a huge compliment from Birmingham Mail who recently started syndicating us along with our friends, Tamworth Blog and local blogger, Brownhill’s Bob. I call this traditional and new media meeting and getting along nicely – aka a sneak peak into the future of local media.

I know this is just the start though. All this has been achieved with the only expenditure being less than £100 and the time of a small team of dedicated and passionate volunteers (I say only, but it takes a lot of time). With the extra help and support we’re hoping to get as part of our future plans it’s obvious to me that The Lichfield Blog is going to move on leaps and bounds.

I can’t wait!

* based on data from the Office for National Statistics.

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Citizen journalism: Friend or foe to traditional media?

Recently I’ve become involved in a relative new project, The Lichfield Blog. As you may gather from the name it’s a blog, about Lichfield.

I’m really proud to be part of something that has such a switched on and engaged little team behind it.

It was especially gratifying to watch as the story of a fire in one of Lichfield’s pubs quickly made it onto the blog just 3 hours after the initial call to the emergency services. Obviously we were lucky to have one of our team walk past at the right moment with a camera phone – a photo quickly made it’s way on to Twitter and a few tweets later the post was up.

The blog’s creator, Ross, made a call to the fire service about the incident and learned that no-one else had picked up on the story yet. It seemed we had beaten the local media. Having seen other, more high-profile, stories break on Twitter that doesn’t surprise me but it did make me think about all this “newspapers are dead” talk.

The blog has a few hundred visitors now, which is great, but it’s never going to kill the newspapers in Lichfield. I wouldn’t want it to either – there are plenty of people throughout the world, not just in Lichfield, who like to read a paper.

So the question isn’t, “are newspapers going to die?”, but rather “how can newspapers use citizen journalism?”

A good example is the Pancake Race in Lichfield. Nick Brickett has been providing photography for The Lichfield Blog, his first assignment being the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. His photos of the event made their way onto the Express & Star web site (ironically, as I write this, said web site is down!)

This could be the way journalism is going. Another great example is Channel 4 News (who my Twitter followers will know full well I admire).

Their coverage of the Schiphol plane crash was very much driven by Twitter. I sat in front of Tweetdeck and watched it all unfold in front of my eyes, from them picking up the story, contacting an eye witness to putting a Twit on the lunch time news. It was a first for them and possibly for journalism in the UK.

Krishnan Guru-Murphy of Channel 4 News says that Twitter is “just another way of finding people and talking“.

I suspect some journalists will treat services like Twitter and citizen journalism in general as a threat rather than an asset. I’ve heard of publications shutting down because they just can’t sustain themselves for much longer (obviously the ‘crunch’ doesn’t help) but instead of shutting down, I believe they should adapt and grow with the times.

And let’s face it, it’s cheaper to do it online!

Do you think the internet is a threat to traditional media, or should traditional media adapt and embrace services like Twitter as sources for news?