Inside Inside Gov is the clunkily-named tumblr run by one of the teams at GDS. Of the many important things done at GDS that I have had nothing to do with, it’s the one I’m most impressed by.
If you don’t work with me you’ll almost certainly have zero interest in it or why I like it.
‘Inside Government’ was the name given to the section of GOV.UK which plays host to the corporate publishing of government departments. It recently moved the 24th ministerial department over the platform, and has made some headway into moving more than 300 others over.
To get a scale of what that means, the work done now has involved publishing 50,000 documents, closing 222 sub-domains, and rewriting 223 policies in clear, human-readable language.
Doing that is an epic undertaking; communicating with that many stakeholders moreso.
Neil and the team started the Tumblr account as a means of publishing updates about progress, answering questions and describing new features and research instead of emailing that stuff on an ad-hoc basis to thousands of people. It was a very sensible decision. ‘Publish, don’t send’ – have one canonical place to point people at and say ‘Look! Here are the answers to all of your questions! Here is the one true thing, until it is replaced with the next true thing!’ Saying a thing well once has much more power than saying it quickly a hundred times.
What has impressed me, for a few months now, is (basically) Neil. His tone of voice has always been pitch-perfect, and it’s set a standard the rest of the team have done brilliantly to match. This post, published when the last of the ministerial departments moved over, had every right to be valedictory and tubthumping. But it wasn’t. It was humble, to the point, and honest about the challenges his team face. So too this one, a post telling people off.
I don’t know if Neil writes or clears everything that gets published. I haven’t asked him (he told me recently our conversations never take long to ‘get silly’, something I take as a compliment but probably shouldn’t). But it never appears like he does. It just seems like a flow of valuable information, published in a pretty regular and timely way, in terms clear to users and non-users alike. It’s exactly the model we’re going to need services to follow if they want to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard. It’s everything I wish Last.HQ could have made of their blog. It’s brilliant.
I wrote a while back about how a blog ‘should be a lot of work for a lot of people’. What I mean is that distributing publishing authority is the best way to stop bottlenecks. But the best way to stop bottlenecks on a blog, of course, is to publish blog posts. Keep them good, and keep them coming.
I watch myself worry about publishing the ‘right’ thing an awful lot, but too often I don’t consider that not publishing anything is almost certainly wrong. I just need to write well and often.
I really miss wrangling that thing. There is little as satisfying as having a huge box of newsprint delivered, colours screaming off of the page, fabulous stories printed within. But there is also little worse than having a box of comics waiting to be sold, dragged from one poorly-promoted small press fair to another, every inch of profit eaten away by train fare, miserable sandwiches and rickety tables.
The numbers don’t lie: the subscription was absolutely brilliant for the anthology, in terms of finance, promotion, enthusiasm and general confidence. For that I didn’t need to leave my laptop. After that, the best things Paper Science did (in terms of audience, profit and reach) were get stocked at Gosh comics, appear on a table at MCM Expo, and get taken to ELCAF. Almost every other event, no matter how much fun at the time, turned a little bit of money into a lot less money. I’m told that that is the standard definition of ‘publishing’.
As for the anthology itself, I’m more proud of it than anything else I’ve done. It’s an excellent collection, filled with brilliant work by people who are getting better and better with each passing story.
Tomorrow my company – newly rechristened We Are Words and Pictures – enters its second year. The only goal for 2013-2014 is ‘make one thing as good as Paper Science’. Feels like a good challenge.
I was sick for most of last week – a bone-chilling flu that kept me wrapped up while GOV.UK was busy winning awards – keeping my blogging arm at bay for a few sickly days. On the plus side I got a lot of sleep.
Haar/We Are Words and Pictures
Haar is a lovely word. However, as anyone who’s bought me a whisky in the last year knows, it is a useless word. While one-person companies are basically just games of Pretend Office, names still mean something. Names you have to spell each time you say them don’t mean quite as much though.
So, I made the changes necessary to do what I should have done right when I started out – register the name We Are Words and Pictures. It’s kept evolving as a project for almost five years now, long may that continue.
However, this hasn’t been entirely without problems. The registration happened much faster than anticipated, delaying my contract extension at GDS and leading to all kinds of unnecessary hassle. I fully expect that state to continue for the rest of April, after which I’ll start thinking about how to do things like sort out the WAWAP website, get Sandsmark moving, etc.
Contractual wrangling aside, the GDS team had a great couple of weeks. The service manual I mentioned a month ago launched Version 1 while I was down with flu, on top of which they won the Design of the Year award. Russell’s written about that, and it’s a neat summation of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of GDS right now.
Flat-planning a newspaper for Anne stirred all kinds of muscle memory from the Paper Science days. Very good fun, and lovely work from the designer too. I’m looking forward to seeing that in print.
Like a few thousand other people, I stumbled onto the set of Doctor Who yesterday.
Too far away for any dialogue spoilers – which is fine by me – but fun to see what must have become a fairly standard sight on the streets of Cardiff while on my way to a meeting.
It was miserable out though. Freezing cold and really quite windy. I don’t envy that team one bit, nor anyone for whom a ‘set’ consists of the nearest flattish bit of ground with room for a TARDIS/similar. Lovely to see things like this though…
The tape on top reads “ALAN PLEASE LOOK AT TARDIS LIGHT”, which is a much more interesting note than the ones Russell usually leaves for me.
EDIT: Very good…