Monthly Archives: April 2007

Kathy Sierra cancels NZ workshop

I was looking forward to seeing what Kathy Sierra had to say about creating passionate users. She has been running websites that are ‘fun’ even when for serious for ages, and she spoke last year at the webstock conference to much acclaim.

Well, I was disappointed to find out today she’s not coming to Aotearoa New Zealand next week afterall. But she has very good reasons.

Kathy is a victim of death threats received in the comments section of her blog, and published on other blogs. Some of the posts and pictures threaten sexual violence (see an interview with Kathy in Computerworld Death Threats Force Blogger to Sidelines) and are deeply hateful. Kathy is so scared for her safety she has cancelled speaking engagements and is reconsidering whether she’ll keep blogging and being a public figure.

There is a real sense of unease rippling through the blogging community at the extreme anti-social behaviour exhibited. I share this unease.

Somehow I tend to see the Internet in optimistic shades. Seeing it almost exclusively as a force for good. About freedom from the tyranny of received untruths and embedded power structures. Striking a blow for the people, together and stronger. All that and more. But, in the harsh light of reality I probably would admit it’s just like the real world with it’s share of brutality, oppression and alienation.

Best I keep looking for the postive shades in everything (including the transformative potenital of the Internet). From what I gather optimism is at the heart of Kathy’s message. Fortunately, I get to learn about this as a replacement has been found to deliver her workshop.

Making a splash: new website from ECO launched

Yesterday deja vu struck me as Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ (ECO) hosted a website launch. In the same room as the new SeaNet was unveiled, three years ago ECO launched a similar webite focusing on the resource management act.

The new website has been set up to “help people and communities and environmental groups to navigate to find out how to participate in public processes for policy and decision making on the management of human activities and impacts on the sea and in the coastal environment.” There is also an emphasis on putting people in touch with each other.

Speaking at the launch Cath Wallace, ECO Co-chair, emphasised that the website is a fact-based initiative, rather than being about advocacy. Obviously people are encouraged to contribute to planning processes, but the website doesnot promote a particular partisan stance. The intention seems to be that the broad range of people and organisations interested in the marine world should be recognised. Iwi, sports fishing groups and greenies are all willingly listed in the directory.

There is already a lot of material uploaded on policies, legislation, international agreements and agencies, and over 100 organisations listed. ECO want to keep what is being consulted on up-to-date, and new organisations and material listed. A minimal budget is available for maintenance, but the bulk of this will be done as a community effort.

To me obvious additions (not already the designers yell!) to support a community effort is a way of facilitating some form of interaction between people participating in sea conservation, and collecting email addresses to send irregular updates and reminders. There is a danger with a centralised system as it stands that sufficient resource may not be available within ECO to devote to regular updates. It’s a big task for anyone running a website.

As the sun rises on ECO’s new initiative I say cheers for the dedication of all concerned. I hope it makes a big splash for marine conservation.

The Couch’s first birthday

the couch banner
Yeeha!! We celebrated the first anniversary of The Couch today. Rebecca pulled together a celebratory breakfast for staff at the Families Commission. With lots of help we cooked up a big pile of pancakes, with lashings of fresh fruit, maple syrup and bacon. While 30 plus staff ate around an extended table, a birthday cake was winging it’s way to Auckland office to make sure they got in on the spirit of things.

To mark our first year online we’re asking members what they think about how we are going. After just a week we’d received over 350 responses. A full analysis of the results will wait until after the end of the poll, but I did take a sneak preview and we’ve got loads of really valuable feedback.

One thing I picked up on skimming comments is that members want reassurance that what they’re saying is having an impact on government policy related to families. Being alert to expectations raised by any public participation process is really important. One of the things we’ve been talking about is having a regular newsletter that demonstrates how we are using the data collected. I think we’ll bring creation of that forward.

As we enter year two, with 3,000 members and lots of valuable contributions, we’re going to continue pushing to we ensure the website makes a difference for families.

SSC walking the talk with participation wiki

I can’t imagine what horse trading took place behind the scenes before the management at the State Services Commission (SSC) agreed to run a wiki for people interested in using the web for public participation.

If you believe the myths, wiki are risky as people can write what they want without regard to truth or honestly, and equally as easily people can tear down what has been written. And wikis can suffer from a lack of participation, so are merely gaunt skeletons. All good reasons not to tread this path.

So far the ParticipatioNZ wiki has attracted a lot of interest. 140 members and almost 4,000 visits in a few weeks. The main contributors so far are the team behind the online participation project at the SSC, but other members are throwing some ideas and links forward.

The wiki is being run to support community engagement practitioners, theorists and techies to talk with each other and share. It supplements face-to-face meetings (about which I’ve written before, see “Participatory GIS“), and actually acts as an archive of notes and audio recordings from the presentations.

One of the main features on the wiki is an open process being run to develop guidelines for using tools/ applications on the Internet for public participation run by New Zealand government officials.

As befits the core philosophy of wikis: anyone who has an interest in online participation can register, create and edit pages, and enter into discussions. There is a resource section being developed, in a crazy, chaotic, random sort of way.

SSC are offering good support with a help desk running during office hours. Email prompts and reminders at meetings are being used to keep the new tool visible.

There is little evidence of scary comments or inappropriate pages, which will keep the SSC bosses happy. I’m hoping the discussion will heat up once the participation crowd get more actively involved.