1. A new year, a new Better Cities team

    A couple of months ago we started a search to find three new team members for our Better Cities practice: a Product Manager, Web Developer and Sales & Partnership Manager.

    We’ve now signed up our new colleagues and I’m excited to say that Matt Jukes will be joining as Product Manager. He’ll be leading the development and expansion of our Better Cities services and building upon our recent work to launch FixMyStreet 2.0.

    Matt is a familiar name to many people in the UK Civic and Gov Tech sphere — most notably for the transformation work he led over the past couple of years at the ONS (Office of National Statistics). Matt brings with him an excellent pedigree of building and leading teams. What was of particular interest to us was the way that he talks openly and publicly about the projects he’s working on, which sits very well with our approach.

    Stuart Harrison will be joining us in January from the ODI (Open Data Institute) as a new Web Developer on our commercial and Better Cities work. Stuart brings a wealth of public sector experience and is already an avid user of mySociety’s services. We’re very lucky to have snagged him, not least as he brings masses of insight and experience into how Open Data meets the commercial world.

    Finally our new Sales & Partnership Manager Rachel Baker will start in early January (we’ll let you know who they are once we’ve got that all wrapped up shortly). She comes with valuable entrepreneurial and marketing experience from previous startups and will also be working from our growing base around Bristol and Bath.

    Rachel will work with our Local Authority partners in the UK and around the world, on FixMyStreet for Councils which has undergone a substantial revamp over the last few months. And will help us better connect with like-minded partners who might benefit from making use of our services — if this is of interest please get in touch.

    And one departure

    Finally and sadly we also say goodbye to our dear friend and colleague Ben Nickolls.

    Ben has been with us as Head of Services for the past four years, working with me and the commercial team. He has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of our services team over the past 18 months, giving us a firm basis for the public sector product and service business we are seeking to grow over the next couple of years.

    Now with the groundwork done, Ben is off to pursue his startup ambitions with the wonderful Libraries.io project, which aims to document and provide access to all of the Open Source libraries in the world. This is a hugely ambitious project. We’re very excited for Ben and wish him all the luck — we’ll be watching his progress closely.

    So all change for the new year in our Better Cities practice. There will be lots more to share on our progress in the coming months.


    Image: Helen Alfvegren (CC-by/2.0).

    Post updated 20th December with news that Rachel is joining as our Sales & Partnership Manager.

  2. Goodbye to some old friends

    That's All Folks by William MurphyWe recently shared news of some substantial funding from Omidyar Network, and the goals which that funding will help us to achieve.

    Those goals are quite ambitious, and we’re going to have to focus hard on a number of core projects to meet them. Consequently, we’ve made the hard decision to let go of a few of our other sites; sites which need time and attention, but which won’t help us towards meeting those key aims.

    A bit of background

    mySociety has built loads of websites during its time: it’s the way we’ve historically worked. When we started up, we just wanted to make cool civic sites that would do useful things; if we could get the funding, and someone was willing to build them, we’d go for it.

    All of the projects we launched were based on pretty sound ideas; all of them strove to empower people and open up democracy in one way or another.

    But, as we’ve become a more mature organisation, with responsibilities towards our partners and funders, that scattergun approach doesn’t fly any more. Running a website, no matter how small and self-sufficient it is, requires some investment, in terms of maintenance, user support, and updating, and sadly, right now we can’t maintain everything to a level that keeps it useful and functional for users.

    The keepers

    Over a decade since mySociety first started, some of those early sites have proved their worth. They’ve grown and matured with us. Here in the UK, our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow has over 400,000 visitors a month, and sites like TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet and WriteToThem have become UK institutions in their own right.

    Alaveteli, the software which underpins WhatDoTheyKnow, has been adopted in 21 countries; the FixMyStreet Platform is being used in 11, with both set to increase as we concentrate on reaching out to international partners over the next few years.

    Additionally, we’ll be continuing to strengthen our international work with the Poplus federation, developing and supporting the use of Poplus Components and the Pombola platform.

    These projects are core to our Omidyar Network funding and the results we’ve promised to deliver from it.

    Goodbye to these

    Along the way, though, there have been some projects which, for one reason or another, have not gained quite as much traction.

    You might say they were before their time: Pledgebank, for example, predates Groupon, Kickstarter and similar pledging concepts.

    In some cases, the world moved on: most MPs now have their own channels for contacting constituents online, so HearFromYourMP isn’t quite as vital.

    In others, we simply don’t have the necessary resources that the project needs: FixMyTransport is a good example of that.

    It’s been a difficult decision, but if we are to focus on our targets for the coming years, we can no longer afford to dedicate ourselves to these sites. To that end, we’ll shortly be retiring:

    Pledgebank

    In February, Pledgebank will stop accepting new pledges, although users will still be able to sign up for existing ones until the end of June. We’ll be emailing all owners of pledges to let them know that the site will close at that time.

    FixMyTransport

    From the 1st of March, you’ll no longer be able to create a report on FixMyTransport. If you are running an active campaign or problem report, we’ll email to let you know of the site’s closure, which is planned for the end of June.

    HearFromYourMP

    MPs can continue to use HearFromYourMP to send newsletters to their constituents, but we’ll be letting them know that the service will be retired before the General Election.

    ScenicOrNot

    In February, ScenicOrNot will be mothballed so that users can no longer rate photographs. We’ll be keeping the leaderboard intact and developers will still be able to use the site’s data.

    The future?

    It’s not without regret that we’ll be saying goodbye to these sites – each and every one of them is based on a sound idea that fell well within mySociety’s remit to provide civic and democratic digital tools.

    Like most mySociety sites, the code of all of the above is Open Source and you are welcome to pick it up and adapt it to your needs. We’d be delighted if there was interest, from other individuals or groups, in running something similar, based on our code.

    Image credit: William Murphy (CC)