1. Are you one in 6,983,028? Looking at our UK visitor numbers

    How many people visit mySociety’s websites?

    That’s a question we don’t ask ourselves as much as many other organisations. Much of our current funding is dependent on transactions (that is, the number of people using the site to complete an action such as making an FOI request, writing to a politician, or signing up to receive emails when their MP speaks), and rightly so, since that is a better measure of the sites’ actual effectiveness.

    All the same, visitor numbers* do tell us about things like how much public awareness there is of what we do, and which of our sites is more visible than the others, so it’s good to take a proper look now and again.

    Which of our UK sites is most visited?

    By far our most popular site in terms of visitor numbers is our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow. With over 4.5 million visitors 2014-15, it’s had three times more users than its closest competitor, TheyWorkForYou.

    As well as allowing users to submit FOI requests, WhatDoTheyKnow also puts the responses into the public domain, so that the information becomes openly available. Every request receives, on average, twenty readers, meaning that transactions do not show the whole picture for this site.

    WhatDoTheyKnow’s user numbers are also rising steadily. It’s up 8% on last year, and March 2015 was its highest month for unique users since its launch in 2008, at 470,509.

    Which is least visited?

    This dubious honour goes to WriteToThem, which nonetheless welcomed 457,209 visitors during the year, either helping them to write to their representatives, or simply showing them who those representatives were.

    This was still a decent 11% rise on the previous year, despite a real rollercoaster where some months dipped substantially from the previous year.

    Which made the most gains in the last year?

    FixMyStreet saw the biggest percentage change, with a 21% rise in visitor numbers compared to the previous year; we talked a bit more about that in a recent blog post. WhatDoTheyKnow had the highest rise in actual visitor numbers: over 360,000 up on 2013-14.

    Which fell by the most in the last year?

    TheyWorkForYou saw a 12% drop in visitor numbers year on year (and also the biggest drop in real terms)—disappointing, but something we hope to rectify with the new voting pages, an ongoing process of rolling redesign, and some grassroots outreach.

    How much effect do external events have on visitor numbers?

    Plenty!

    We already know that, as you’d expect, when Parliament is on holiday, MPs, debates and legislation aren’t in the news, and TheyWorkForYou visitor numbers fall. There’s also a weekly pattern for all our sites, where far fewer people use them at the weekends, presumably indicating that lots of our users access them from work.

    It’s too early to say exactly what effect the election has had on our sites: as I write, people are eagerly checking out the voting records of newly-appointed cabinet ministers on TheyWorkForYou.

    One thing we know for sure is that fewer people will have been using WriteToThem, because there have been no MPs to write to for the last few weeks. We’ve removed the “write to your MP” links from TheyWorkForYou, which always drove a good deal of WriteToThem’s traffic.

    FixMyStreet enjoyed a boost back in June, when it was featured on the Channel 4 programme ‘The Complainers’—and the nice thing is, user numbers never receded back to their previous levels after the programme was over. Maybe people just need to use FixMyStreet to see how useful it is.

    How many people visit mySociety’s UK websites in total?

    This is a difficult figure for us to produce with accuracy, because we don’t trace whether you’re the same person visiting a number of our different sites.

    However, the aggregate total of visitors to all our UK sites (WriteToThem, TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet and WhatDoTheyKnow) for 2014-15 is 6,983,028. Thanks very much if you were one of them :)

    How can I help?

    Glad you asked! If you find mySociety sites useful, you can help us spread the word by telling friends, sharing the URLs with any groups you are a member of, posting on Facebook or Twitter, or writing to your local paper.

    We have a number of materials for FixMyStreet which can be found here; we hope to create similar materials for our other sites too, and we’ll make sure we announce it on here when we do.

    * Note: all references to ‘users’ refer to unique users within the period discussed. So, users in a year means individual people who may have visited any number of times over that year, but are only counted once; same with monthly users.

    Image: Rodrigo Moraes (CC)

  2. Track your MP’s activity with TheyWorkForYou

    So, the results are in. Some of us have a brand new MP. Others will see the same familiar face returning to the benches of Westminster.

    Either way, the important questions remain the same:

    • What will your MP do in Parliament?
    • Will they speak about the things that matter to you?
    • How will they vote in your name?

    The easy way to keep up

    TheyWorkForYou.com makes it very easy to keep check: you can even sign up to receive an email whenever your MP speaks. These are in the form of a daily digest, and we only send them on days when your MP has actually contributed to a debate.

    It’s the low-effort way to see exactly what your MP is getting up to, with no spin, just the facts. Click here for our easy sign-up.

    All change

    If you already receive alerts, but your prior MP has lost their seat, be sure to set up an alert for the new one now. We’ll be sending reminders to all current subscribers.

    There’s no need to cancel the previous alert, however: if your old MP isn’t in Parliament, we simply won’t be sending any more emails about them.

    Image: Parliament Acts by Jeroen van Luin (CC)

  3. We’re up all night to get MPs

    Spare a thought for us over the night of May 7th – for, when the nation wakes up to the General Election results, we’ll have been up all night updating TheyWorkForYou.

    As you might imagine, elections are bitter-sweet times for us here at mySociety. On the one hand, swingometers, marginals and ballot boxes are about as exciting as life gets for a bunch of political geeks. On the other, we have only a short window of time in which to ensure our parliamentary websites reflect the new administration.

    In previous years, this has meant manually updating an XML file and running an import script 650 times – slightly arduous, even for the most dedicated civic coder. This year, we’re taking advantage of the fact that YourNextMP exists and several of us will be staying up anyway to see the results, and hoping to do things a little differently.

    As each result is announced (or potentially even earlier, if it’s clear that there’s only one possible winner), site administrators will be logged in to YourNextMP, where they’ll have access to a “this person won!” button. We’ll be on a rota throughout the night, sharing duties with the equally dedicated Democracy Club volunteer team.

    When that button is clicked, YourNextMP will update, and TheyWorkForYou will notice and automatically update its underlying JSON data.

    This is the data we match you with when you input your postcode on the homepage, meaning that TheyWorkForYou should be a great place to find out who your next MP is as soon as you wake up (assuming the results are in) on 8th May.

    UPDATE: If you are interested in the technical aspects of the YourNextMP and TheyWorkForYou updates, you may like to read more about it in this thread.

    A blank canvas

    Note that new MPs will not have a great deal on their pages yet: TheyWorkForYou’s MP pages are built up of voting and debating activity, past positions and expenses, etc, and of course, totally new MPs will have none of that. But there’s one important feature that you should take advantage of on Friday—the ‘subscribe’ button.

    Sign up, and we’ll send you an email every time your new MP speaks in Parliament, so you can keep track of exactly what he or she is saying in your name. If you were previously following an MP who has resigned or lost their seat, don’t forget to follow the new one! We’ll be sending out a message straight after the election to remind you.

    WriteToThem

    Another website which will require a lot of attention post-election is WriteToThem, which matches you with your local and national politicians so that you can contact them.

    Unfortunately, WriteToThem takes a little longer to update, as we rely on data, including email addresses, from external sources. We’ll be updating as soon as we can. Meanwhile, if you have an urgent message for your MP or councillors, you may find that you can locate direct email addresses on the official Parliament and council websites.

    Image: William Murphy (CC)

     

  4. Google’s election search – now powered by YourNextMP

    Have you ever typed a phrase like ‘what’s the time in New York’ or ‘what is 28 km in miles’ into Google? If you’ve done so in the last couple of years, you’ll have seen answers given on the results page itself, inside dedicated answer boxes.

    YourNextMP results on GoogleFor the next couple of weeks, Google users in Britain who search for key election data will see the answers presented in-page in this increasingly familiar way.

    We’re delighted to share the news that these answers are being supplied as open standard data from Democracy Club’s brilliant, volunteer-powered YourNextMP project, as well as our own long running TheyWorkForYou. The aim is to make information easily accessible to anyone who seeks it: we are one of a few data sources to be supplying Google.

    YNMP data on GoogleWe’re particularly excited about this because YourNextMP is powered by PopIt, a Poplus Component which is used to create nice clean open standards Popolo data on politicians.

    We think that adoption of open standards data by companies as big as Google points towards a promising world in which there is a lot more good quality, open standard data on political issues of all kinds.

    Try it for yourself: search for uk election candidates or a question like who can I vote for?

     

    How was this made possible?

    We’re so delighted to see essential civic data being brought to the search engine’s vast numbers of users. It’s all down to the power of open standards and re-usable open source software.

    YourNextMP provides feeds via an API, which are available for anyone—large organisations like Google, or individual people like you, perhaps—to use in their own projects.

    YourNextMP’s use of the Popolo open standard for government means that the data is clean, machine-readable and easy to slot in anywhere—including Google.

    Three cheers

    We think a few shout-outs are due. This simple but far-reaching usage of YourNextMP data is only possible because of many good people bringing good things together:

    • Democracy Club, and the huge amount of work that this volunteer-run organisation put in to gather and check candidate data
    • The many volunteers who gave their time in adding and refining that data
    • Popolo, driven by the work of James McKinney
    • Poplus, because YourNextMP is based on the people-and-positions storing Component, PopIt
    • Google.org, whose funding allowed the creation of Poplus in the first place.

    What YourNextMP has achieved

    Just as was hoped, YourNextMP data has been used to underpin a variety of projects by many individuals and organisations.

    Google may be the latest and the biggest, but we’re no less pleased to see how it has made possible numerous tools to educate or inform the public before the election, as well as powering stories and infographics in several national newspapers. See our previous post for more details on this.

    And there’s more. YourNextMP, because it’s built on Open Source code, won’t be going into hibernation until the next election in this country.

    The UK voting may be over on May 8, but there are elections all over the world still to come. Our friends in Latin America will be taking the code and adapting it for use in Argentina whose election process starts in August. ¡Viva YourNextMP!

     

     

  5. New poster to help with dog-fouling in your area

    fixmystreet-poop-posterIf you have a persistent problem with dog mess on your street, you might like to download this new poster from FixMyStreet and put it in your window—or even print out a few for your neighbours, too.

    Doggy mess is just one of the common street problems you can report on FixMyStreet, and this encourages residents to do just that.

    We hope you like this cheeky poop and his impassioned message. It’s the latest in a series of downloadable print-out materials from FixMyStreet: see the rest here.

     

  6. Have you seen YourNextMP lately?

    Back in December, we told you about a project to collect the details of every election candidate in the UK— YourNextMP.com.

    YourNextMP isn’t a mySociety project. It falls under the wide umbrella of Democracy Club, a loose confederation of volunteers doing interesting digital things, with the overarching aim of helping people be more informed before the election. We have, however, been lending our technical skills.

    That database now contains details of every candidate and we’re really glad to see that many projects have been built on the back of it, from national newspaper visualisations to voter advice applications to single-issue sites and more.

    Back in December, YourNextMP was a tool for crowd-sourced data-gathering. As well as providing free, open source data via its API, it has now matured into a useful static site in its own right. In a neat virtuous circle, it not only shows you who your candidates are, but also displays feeds from many of the sites using its own data.

    What does that mean? Go and input your postcode and you’ll find not only:

    • A list showing every prospective parliamentary candidate standing in your constituency, and including links to their Twitter stream, Facebook page, homepage and Wikipedia entry, where possible —

    but also:

    • Pictures of leaflets which have been delivered to residents in your constituency — from ElectionLeaflets.org, another crowdsourced project which is creating an archive of leaflets from all over the country, to stand as a permanent record of promises made pre-election
    • Details of where you can go and see your candidates speak  — from MeetYourNextMP.com, which crowdsources details of hustings in each area
    • CVs from your local candidates  — from Democracy Club’s CVs project
    • News stories which mention your constituency or candidates  — from electionmentions.com.

    In many cases, these sites are just like YourNextMP: they’re relying on the time and energy of people like you, to add information. They’ve all made it as easy as possible though, so whether you fancy snapping an election leaflet on your phone and uploading it, or asking your candidates to provide a CV, it really does only take a couple of minutes.

    You can also still continue to add more data (such as email addresses) to the candidates on YourNextMP, if you have time to contribute, and some basic Googling skills.

  7. So that was TICTeC 2015

    Group shotTICTeC 2015 was mySociety’s first annual conference on the impacts of civic tech. It was a great day, packed with ideas, debates, questions – and even some hard evidence!

    Even if you were there, it was impossible to attend every session, so we know you’ll be glad to hear that we captured a lot of it for posterity. You can see the full range of videos, audio interviews, slide decks and more on the TICTeC 2015 page.

    Since the conference, we’ve been spending time  reviewing how it went, emailing many of the attendees to continue the useful discussions we began on the day, and figuring out how to make next year’s TICTeC even better.

    We’ve also set up a TICTeC Google Group as a forum for civic tech research discussions. Do sign up if you would like to join in.

    We’ll be putting out a call for speakers for next year’s conference in October, so make sure you are signed up to the Research newsletter if you’d like to be the first to hear about it.

    Roll on TICTeC 2016!

  8. Can you believe everything you hear? Fact-checking claims ahead of the election

    Full Fact

    A whole lot of facts are going to be bandied about by politicians, between now and the General Election. How do you know which to believe?

    Fortunately, there’s an organisation that’s dedicated to checking every statement, so that you can see the bare facts with no added hyperbole.

    Our friends at Full Fact are working day and night, scanning mainstream media outlets (radio, television, newspapers) and what is said in Parliament, logging any sightings of claims made by politicians.

    Their researchers then provide a professional assessment of each claim, along with a verdict on whether it can be said to be supported by the relevant data, not supported, or whether there’s not enough information to prove it either way.

    With a large team consisting of volunteers and experts, such a large number of facts to be checked, plus the likelihood of the same facts being used by different parties in different ways to suit their agenda, it’s essential that Full Fact have systems in place to help them keep track. That’s where mySociety Services stepped in.

    We’ve created tools for their volunteers to log sightings of claims and for researchers to link theses claims to the data and provide an expert assessment. That means that when the same issues keep reappearing, Full Fact will know exactly where to look to find the relevant facts.

    At the same time we’ve had an opportunity to standardise and improve the organisation’s coding practices, ensuring that as Full Fact grow their own development team they’re able to work without stepping on each other’s toes.

    Check out Full Fact’s valuable work here – and if your organisation’s workflow could also benefit from some streamlining, take a look at what we offer on the mySociety Services site.

  9. Boom times for FixMyStreet

    Each of the previous three months has been a record-breaker for FixMyStreet. In January, you made the highest number of reports in the site’s history… until February. And then that record was smashed again in March with over 17,000 reports across the month.

    FixMyStreet has been running since 2007, and it’s enjoyed increasing usage over that time, as you’d expect any site to do organically. The performance in the last few months, though—a 30% rise from the year before—has been notable. We reckon it’s been driven by a couple of factors.

    Grassroots outreach

    At mySociety, we tend not to go for big advertising campaigns (read: we can’t afford them), but you might have noticed that we put quite a bit of effort into spreading the word about FixMyStreet at the beginning of the year.

    Everything we did was low-cost and designed to help us promote the site to as many new people as possible:

    • We offered a number of downloadable posters and other promotional materials (if you haven’t seen these yet, go and take a look; we think they’re pretty nice)
    • We sent our users a stack of branded postcards that they could share with others to let them know about FixMyStreet
    • We also contacted a large number of community newsletters and magazines, serving towns, parishes and villages across the country: perhaps you saw us featured in your local publication.

    Users from council sites

    That all paid off, but there was another source of reports helping us achieve our record figures.

    That source was our client councils, who have FixMyStreet as the primary fault-reporting system on their own sites.

    Eight UK councils currently have FixMyStreet installed, with every report made on via the system on the council site being published on fixmystreet.com, and vice versa.

    Between them they’ve added just over 16,500 reports this year.

    Riding the wave

    So far this year, we’ve seen an overall average of 16,000+ reports per month, and there have been over 50,000 reports since 2015 began.

    Now, let’s hope all those reports get some kind of a response, because as the recent research we collaborated on showed, getting something fixed has the power to turn first-time reporters into conscientious, engaged repeat reporters. And that’s all for the good.

     

    Image: Jamie Taylor (CC)

  10. Before the election: make sure you understand how your MP voted

    Polling Station (way in) by Paul AlbertellaRight about now you may be considering whether you’ll be voting your MP back into Parliament in the coming election.

    Has he or she reflected your interests? One key way of checking that is to look at their voting record.

    We’d like everyone to know exactly how their MP voted over the last parliament, so we’ve made some changes to TheyWorkForYou that make votes easier to understand.

    See an example here, or read on to find out how to check your own MP’s voting record.

    A complex matter

    TheyWorkForYou publishes activity from Parliament each day.

    This content includes parliamentary votes, along with the debates that they are part of. But it’s not always obvious to the lay reader exactly what’s being voted on.

    Take a look at this debate, for example, on exemptions for smoke-free premises. By the time you’ve waded through the first clause,

    The appropriate national authority may make regulations providing for specified descriptions of premises, or specified areas within specified descriptions of premises, not to be smoke-free despite section 2

    – you may well be lost. And who would blame you?

    Making it nice and simple

    We don’t think you should have to be an expert to check your own MP’s voting record, and our new pages for each voting stance are here to help.

    For some time now we’ve given you summaries of how your MP voted on certain topics, with a link to the votes that helped us understand each MP’s position on that stance.

    Now we’ve created a page for each stance, and worded it in plain English so that anyone can understand exactly what it means.

    See for yourself

    Here’s how to see how your own MP voted (or we should say ‘previous MP’, since until the General Election, no MPs are now in office):

    Go to TheyWorkForYou.com and input your postcode on the homepage.

    twfy_votes_01

    You’ll be taken to the page of your (former) MP. Click on the ‘voting record’ tab.

    twfy_votes_02

    Choose a topic you’re interested in, and click the ‘Details’ link on the far right.

    twfy_votes_03

    You’ll see a plain English description of the stance, followed by descriptions of all the votes that were considered to contribute to it.

    twfy_votes_04_updated

    Want to see the context? Click on ‘show full debate’ and you’ll be taken to the full record of that vote.

    twfy_votes_05

    Let us know what you think

    These pages are still a work in progress, so we’ve included a feedback box at the top of each voting stance page. Do be sure to let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to see on them.

    If you have feedback about how your MP has voted, mind you, that’s another matter… one you might want to reflect at the ballot box.

    Image: Paul Albertella (CC)