by Nick Holmes on May 23, 2013
I’m a big fan of RSS and wish it was better understood, after all it’s really simple. But it’s an open standard (like HTML and other geeky stuff), not a sexy platform (like Twitter et al).
Like me Dieter Bohn loves RSS. His piece in The Verge on Why RSS still matters is well worth reading in full, but from it first read this:
I’m fully aware that writing that I love a web standard and that it has enriched my life makes me sound awfully nerdy. Whatever: open web standards have enriched your life too, and in fact that’s the first of several reasons why I deeply disagree with the argument that Twitter can replace RSS.
First and foremost, Twitter is not an open web standard, it’s a service from a private company that once offered a relatively open API but now does not. Depending on a single company’s largess when it comes to creating an open and viable third-party app ecosystem is a fool’s game. We’ve seen Twitter locked down, Netflix dry up, and even Google itself has threatened a class of apps with the closure of Google Reader. I don’t trust Twitter to replace RSS because Twitter isn’t a standard. As a way to disseminate news, it serves at the pleasure of Dick Costolo. RSS, by comparison, is like a web page: anybody can create a feed, anybody can host it, anybody can make an app for it, anybody can read it.
“As a way to disseminate news, Twitter serves at the pleasure of Dick Costolo”
RSS is built so deeply into the bones of so many websites and web services that we take it for granted. Your Tumblrs and your YouTube users and your Flickr friends and your favorite websites and blogs all usually offer RSS, automatically, with very little effort from their developers. It matters for the web that websites have a structured way to send their data out to apps and to other websites. Many of the apps that are suggested as a viable replacement for Google Reader — Flipboard comes to mind — pull just as much from RSS as they do from social feeds. More importantly, they pull from RSS freely, but they pull from Facebook and Twitter only because those companies let them.
If you don’t know how to read/subscribe to/consume RSS, there are plenty of articles out there. But bear in mind that Google is pulling Google Reader in July.
Here are a few tips for the initiated:
Can’t find a link to a site feed? Chances are you can guess it. To the home page URL append one of the following to create the default posts feed URL for the most popular blog/website platforms:
/feed (WordPress sites – the majority); or
/feeds/posts/default (Blogger sites).
You can browse by subject and search for most law blogs and legal update sites and their associated feeds using infolaw Lawfinder.
As well as subscribing to site feeds, you can also usually easily subscribe to feeds for particular categories or tags and to search results. Here are a couple from this site reflecting standard WordPress syntax:
WordPress makes it look so simple, doesn’t it. And it is! In principle it’s as easy for a site to provide an RSS feed of dynamic results as it is to produce the equivalent web page listing. Such feeds are a very effective way to generate custom alerts on very specific topics.
So it’s good to report that BAILII has now implemented just that for experimental purposes at this point. (Joe Ury at BAILII stresses that “This is not formally supported, in that we’ll have to shut it down if we get too much server load from it, but as long as that doesn’t happen I don’t foresee problems.”)
To grab your feed, take a BAILII search results URL – which will include /cgi-bin/sino_search_1.cgi followed by your search parameters – and replace the 1 with rss, for example: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/sino_search_rss.cgi?method=all&query=aircraft+noise
Now hop on over to legislation.gov.uk and you can do the same thing for legislation there. In that case take an advanced search URL and in front of the ? insert /data.feed and at the end append &sort=published, for example: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/all/data.feed?text=”Civil Aviation Act 2012″&sort=published
Neat huh? Who said RSS wasn’t sexy.
by Nick Holmes on May 1, 2013
by Nick Holmes on April 24, 2013
Proposals for incentives as part of a new system of independent, self-regulation of the press have been refined to make sure “micro-business” blogs are outside of the scheme. [DCMS news story]
I’m checking out the pretty chart and wondering why this malarky has been made so complicated. Why single out bloggers anyway as you then have to define them, which is difficult.
- Is publishing news your main business? Yes. You are a relevant publisher.
- Do you run a business with 10+ employees turning over £2m+ and publish some news? Yes. You are a relevant publisher.
- Everyone else not.
by Nick Holmes on April 18, 2013
- FOR are those designers who appreciate its “agile, user-centred design”
- AGAINST are those who like a pretty website, and
- UNDECIDED are those like me who would like to be FOR but, digging a bit deeper, find the site doesn’t really work (yet).
Don’t read the Gov press release or the mainstream press reports about the award, read some commentary:
Web Credible comments:
The GDS followed an agile, user centered design process …. Their website is primarily focused on providing actual users with the best possible experience, to use their tagline “user needs not government needs”. … it’s not what the design looks like but what it has accomplished that is so impressive. … To carry out a successful user centered design project of this scale, for a public facing website, is revolutionary.
I get that, but I’m still not finding the site as user-friendly as the FORs. I don’t find it that easy to navigate and, frankly, the site search sucks.
Have in mind that the site has two distinct parts. First, the front page stuff which essentially tells you (the public/business) about and leads you to the 600+ transactions that we need to carry out with Gov. That is essentially complete. Secondly, there is the Inside Government section (for the pro) to which the corporate elements of the 24 Gov departments and 300 odd agencies are migrating.
To illustrate the shortcomings of search, try the following on GOV.UK; then compare with the the top few hits on Google; then if you’re keen try the searches on Google prefixed with site:www.gov.uk to get a site search using Google:
- freedom pass (free public transport pass for pensioners in London) (GOV.UK | Goog)
- dvlc (what is now DVLA) (GOV.UK | Goog)
- legal aid (what little there is of it left) (GOV.UK | Goog) (look a bit further down the GOV.UK results)
See? I rest my case. Try your own searches. Tell me what you think.
I tried to discuss this with someone on the GDS blog, but didn’t get very far. GDS are working on search. I do hope so. There’s a long way to go.
I’ve done a fairly dispassionate review of GOV.UK in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. I do have good things to say but will leave them for another time.
by Nick Holmes on February 8, 2013
Hi there, [well, hello!]
I hope you are well and are having a good week. [you care?]
I’m contacting you from xxx, a content agency based in xxx. [content? uh oh!]
We came across your site and we really like it [well, thanks!] and in fact we work with a number of clients that would be a great match with the content and style of your site. [we have some vaguely relevant sites we'd like you to promote] We’re more than happy for you to provide us with a title you think will match your audience or we can send you a few ideas to choose from and either you or we can produce the content. [we want to put some drivel on your website with links to our clients]
Happy to discuss ways we can make this all happen and any ideas you may have, [we're not actually saying we want to buy contextual links on your site as goog would not be happy] and hope we can work together moving forward. [nevertheless, we know you can read between the lines and hope you will be willing to prostitute your site]
Looking forward to your response. [see above]
Thanks, [don't mention it]
Outreach Executive [give me a break!]
Image: Social Media Marketing University who I assume are more than happy that I’m helping them reach out; if not, just tell me and I’ll link to someone else
by Nick Holmes on January 31, 2013
Have you visited GOV.UK yet?
If you’ve recently used any government service you will probably have been directed to GOV.UK. On 17 October 2012 it replaced Directgov and Business Link as the place to go for government services. And on 15 November the first government departmental and agency websites started their migration to the Inside Government section of GOV.UK. As of today 8 of 24 government departments and 13 of 300+ agencies and other publice sector bodies have migrated; all departments are due to have moved by April 2013 and (with exceptions) all other public bodies by April 2014, so you better get used to it.
First, we ask, why the caps for GOV.UK? Must be because it’s BIG; an über site brought to us by the Single Government Domain project, born out of a report by Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox and delivered by the Government Digital Service, a new team within Cabinet Office tasked with transforming government digital services … aka Digital by Default.
So all this government stuff in one place and designed to be “simpler, clearer, faster”. Is that a Good Thing or “some kind of Orwellian nightmare“? I set out to find out.
It is early days yet, perhaps too early to judge properly. On the other hand, although all Departments have not moved over yet to GOV.UK, the site has officially launched and purports to have replaced Directgov and BusinessLink, so what are first impressions?
Well, shock, for starters. Why doesn’t it look like a grown-up website? Where has everything gone? Why are the lists so random? Why can’t I find anything?
I turned to the GDS website for explanation. They publish a blog about the ongoing project. (Hint: navigation is limited; nav links and a search box are at the very bottom of the page.)
The intention of the new sites is explained by Mike Bracken of GDS (at alpha stage back in January 2012). Compared to Directgov and BusinessLink, GOV.UK addresses “667 of the most common and important mainstream user needs … with a product that is redesigned, rewritten and rethought to offer a simpler, clearer, more consistent design, properly managed search and a user-focused service experience.”
Now I know they have done a lot of work on determining user needs … but I’m a user and I have serious problems. Here are just a few of mine and others’ I have sought out. (Would you believe how difficult it is to find web pages about a site called GOV.UK?)
I browse for a topic from the home page; after a couple clicks I get a set of links in apparently random order. I search for said topic using the site search box. Again I get a set of links in apparently random order whose relevance is impossible to guage. So how does their ranking work? We should be told.
I try the same search using Google and, bingo!, the page on GOV.UK I want is top. Now this is in fact a plus! GDS recognise that most people start their search for a government service, as for any other, using Google and the site has been optimised for Google, so we get nice structured, descriptive titles and friendly URLs. But it does rather highlight how “otherwise” the on-site search results are.
An article on economia criticises the information for businesses as littered with errors and using “noddy style” language.
Others have also criticised the website design as being simplistic without probably considering that simplicity if not simplistic is in fact the intention.
But, it certainly doesn’t feel like everything is there. For example, why is transport just about cars?
I’m sure some of these issues will be resolved in time, others we will get used to, like the pound coin.
Now this is just about the “front page”, public-serving, transactional part of GOV.UK. As noted the Inside Government section, for insiders and professional users, which will replace almost all departmental and other public body websites, is still a work in progress. Is that GOV gone mad? Read Jeni Tennison’s Precious snowflakes.
by Nick Holmes on November 29, 2012
On 20 November Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, delivered the First Annual BAILII Lecture, entitled No Judgment – No Justice (PDF) in which he dealt with three important aspects of improving access to justice through improved access to judgments: their clarity, free dissemination and enhancement.
Judgments are the means through which the judges address the litigants and the public at large, and explain their reasons for reaching their conclusions. Judges are required to exercise judgement – and it is clear that without such judgement we would not have a justice system worthy of the name – and they give their individual judgement expression through their Judgments. Without judgement there would be no justice. And without Judgments there would be no justice, because judicial decisions, at least in civil and family law, without reasons are certainly not justice: indeed, they are scarcely decisions at all. It is therefore an absolute necessity that Judgments are readily accessible. Such accessibility is part and parcel of what it means for us to ensure that justice is seen to be done, to borrow from Lord Hewart CJ’s famous phrase.
Ready accessibility requires that judgments be clear and well reported.
He had two “small” and two “more controversial” proposals for improving clarity in judgments which I shall summarise as:
1) each judgment should have an introductory, summary paragraph
2) judges should provide a guide to the structure and contents of longer judgments
3) judgments should be shorter
4) single judgments should be compulsory
On the first, non-controversial, point:
many self-represented litigants [Ed: and lawyers] will not have ready access to the professionally published law reports, [so] a self-represented litigant is likely to be at a disadvantage. This drawback could be easily remedied by each Judgment setting out, in its opening paragraph, a short summary. It would not be as long as a law report headnote, or as one of the press summaries prepared by the Supreme Court … But it should be sufficient to enable a non-lawyer to know the facts, the issues, and how and why they were resolved.
He then went on to discuss the “two types of law reporting”:
On the one hand there is what can be described as Judgment-dissemination: providing the public with easy and full access to all Judgments. This is what Bailii does and does so very well. And then there is what can be described as Judgment-enhancement: classic and scholarly law reporting. This is what is done so well by, pre-eminently [ICLR LR and WLR and LexisNexis All ER] … of particular importance because of the role it plays in developing the corpus of law. This is especially true of the common law, which is of course judge-made law.
The great benefits of the traditional law reports, he said, are reliability, accuracy and also selection.
He bemoaned the decline of court reporting by the media and suggested that “few if any legal bloggers report from court as well or as fully as press reporters once did”.
He also saw a downside to efficient (electronic) judgment dissemination: the cost of legal advice and representation will go up if advisers have to trawl through BAILII and other websites to make sure they have left no stone unturned.
Is judgment dissemination a threat to the survival of judgment enhancement? No, he said; the two are complementary.
And how could BAILII be improved? He wondered if it is worth judges adopting the practise of producing “starred” determinations, identifying whether a judgment is important or not.
There is much to agree with here, but I can’t help feeling his comments on law reporting relate to a different era, long, long ago when we had Web 1.0.
Does BAILII just disseminate judgments or does it also enhance them (or shall we say, add value)? Certainly the latter. There is more to BAILII than finding cases by searching or browsing. For example, it cross links to referenced cases and legislation and finds cases by parallel proprietary citations; and updates of the basic meta data can be pulled in by subscribing to its RSS feeds.
BAILII could easily do more to enhance judgments. Pointed reference was made to BAILII’s collaboration with the ICLR which amounts to cross links between the two sites: BAILII judgments include a link to relevant ICLR summaries (WLR Daily Law Notes) and ICLR subscribers can link directly from the neutral citations to the judgment on BAILII. (Incidentally, BAILII have also started adding links from UKSC judgments to the press summaries on the UKSC site – a modest suggestion specifically made by Lord Neuberger.)
Is this, as ICLR suggest, a small link for a mouse but a giant leap forward for BAILII and ICLR? Anyone familiar with Web 2.0 (as we used to call it), would feel these facilities are rather tame.
Clearly there are things holding BAILII back. Its budget is inadequate; but also it is dependent on the goodwill of the legal establishment and it cannot afford to be disruptive. So the fact that BAILII does not compete with law reporting is a deliberate choice.
There’s no doubt that if we all had open access to court judgments then creativity would be unleashed. I’m sensitive to BAILII’s arguments and have been sceptical of the give-us-the-data-and-we’ll-organise-the-world crowd, but there’s no doubt you can add a lot of value by mining the data. For example, see what AustLII does with the Lawcite citator; and check out the fancy analysis they do on JustCite.
Of course “scholarly law reporting” enhances judgments considerably and is crucial in developing the law, but Lord Neuberger is outdated in his views on alternative law reporting. There are indeed legal bloggers who report “as well and as fully as press reporters once did”. In his own back yard he has UKSC Blog which provides timely summaries and analyses of UKSC judgments; and there are several other specialist blogs like UK Human Rights Blog and Nearly Legal on housing law that report fully and comprehensively on judgments in their respective areas. They do not do so as formally as ICLR, or perhaps other present or bygone press reporters, but one cannot dismiss them; indeed we should embrace them as providing better access to law!
See also the report of the lecture from Paul Magrath of ICLR.
by Nick Holmes on November 20, 2012
It’s likely you’ve heard a lot of talk recently about “content marketing”. What’s that? You might turn to Wikipedia for an explanation:
Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to attract, acquire and engage clearly defined and understood current and potential consumer bases with the objective of driving profitable customer action. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty.
What we’re actually talking about is getting useful informational content (as opposed to promotional messages) to our target audience in the expectation that enough will engage sufficiently to recognise us in future and hopefully come back for more and, praise be, be converted to our products/services.
The way you “do” content marketing is via the so-called social media. In the legal sphere there’s few better up on this than Stem Legal. In a recent post Jordan Furlong puts us straight – don’t think social media marketing, think content first:
If you’re thinking about social media in your law firm, what you’re really thinking about (or ought to be thinking about) is content marketing. Create good, legitimate, practical, reader-oriented content. When you’ve done that, go back and create more. Then more again. Don’t even think about designing a blog, opening a Twitter account, starting up a Facebook page, whatever, until you’ve figured out very clearly what content you’re creating, why you’re creating it, and who you want to reach with it.
And if you’re thinking primarily textual content, then we’re talking newsletters or blogs. Is there a difference, and if so, what? In an earlier post Jordan tries to calm fears about blogs:
A blog post is an example of content marketing. It’s no different from a live presentation, a media interview, or a newsletter article. Either you think content marketing is worthwhile, or you don’t. If you don’t, pay no attention to blogs. If you do, please be assured, really and truly, that there’s nothing unusual or problematic about them.
Sue Bramall in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers has a good, practical article on the similarities and differences:
Either a news section or a blog can help by:
- raising the firm’s profile and highlighting expertise;
- making your site easier to find by potential clients, media etc; and
- generating links and boosting traffic to your website.
You’ll note that two of the three bullets relate to search engine optimisation and that’s certainly central to Sue’s advice. If you use a content management system like WordPress (or Blogger etc) to publish content (whether it’s a blog, a newsletter or some other type of update site), you have – to an extent – built in SEO.
Of course, there’s much more to content marketing than using the right sort of publishing platform. It’s what you write (the content) and how you support and promote it (the media) that will make the difference.
Where is all this content marketing going on?
Blogs get mentioned frequently and I’m reasonably alert to the appearance of new ones. At the last count there were 385 in my Lawfinder Blogs catalogue. That’s a lot, considering where we were just a few years ago, but not a lot given the size of the profession. And of these blogs only a relatively small number could be regarded as part of a deliberate content marketing strategy; rather the majority are the fruits of individual creativity, published not so much for marketing purposes but just because … By way of example, look at the latest additions at the time of writing:
- Scrapper Duncan
- Working Theory
- The Law Wizard Blog
- The Bung Blog
- Nothing Like the Sun
- Shadow of the Noose
- David Banks Media Consultancy
- Charon QC’s UK Law Tour
- LawBridge Solicitors: The View from the Bridge
- Alrich Blog
- A Range of Reasonable Responses
- Criminal Law and Justice Weekly Blog
- The View from the Bar
(follow new additions in the More Blawgs feed in the sidebar).
If not blogs, then surely many firms are publishing newsletter-type content? After all almost all websites are now published using content management systems, and all CMS will incorporate most recent-first publishing templates appropriate for blogs/newsletters/articles/updates; so implementing the publishing mechanics is not the issue. There must be many competent and effective if unremarkable efforts, but sadly, for some, basic competence is the issue.
Image: K Urbanowicz
by Nick Holmes on October 22, 2012
A recent story/scandal I keep being drawn back to is that of Grant Shapps, Tory party co-chairman, former housing minister and former (result!) web enrepreneur and marketing guru, aka Michael Green, now, vicariously, aka Sebastian Fox.
I’m quite happy to acknowledge that making millions from his [wife's] web businesses qualifies him/her as a successful entrepreneur. But it’s not just about winning is it? It’s about not being a sleazebag.
His/her HowToCorp and related businesses use[d] dubious means to peddle dubious products and hot air, promising prospective customers instant riches [subject to small print] for doing next to nothing other than buying a box of tricks, fiddling around with it for a few minutes, then polluting the web with the results.
In response to bad press HowToCorp has been rapidly disappearing its sites and promotional forum posts from the web. There’s plenty of reports to follow up, but I’ll point you to this on Bloggerhead for a flavour of what they got up to.
Of course you do in fact need more than a box of tricks to succeed and Michael/Sebastian are/were not shy to tell you HowTo[Succeed]. But have you actually listened to any of this drivel? Try this on achieving “stunning success” with a Profit Dairy.
There are serious copyright issues relating to scraping and “spinning” other people’s content which is at the heart of much that HowToCorp was up to. But it’s the general sleaziness of such “wealth creation” schemes that gets me. Anything that turns a profit is OK. Misleading? No, just good marketing. Ethical? Useful? These are not questions such entrepreneurs ask themselves. This is well illustrated by Jolyon Jenkins on Radio 4 recently in his investigation into The Internet Millionaire’s Club.
You only have to look upstream a little to see who set this off. Google (et al) have spawned an SEO industry much of which concerns itself with creating content and links made for Google rather than for the customers it serves, and “wealth creators” (fed by Michael Green & Co) auto-generating yet more content on an industrial scale made purely for the Adsense $$ it generates.
Google has demoted/removed Michael Green’s sites from it’s indexes in response to the outcry, and to its credit its recent Panda algorithm update was aimed specifically at demoting low value content sites such as these. But if ever there was a business encouraging socially useless enterprise, it is Google.