The last few weeks, I’ve been breaking our normal tradition of launching things the minute they are made (Matthew usually does this in 5 minute long release cycles). This hasn’t been deliberate, just the two things were quite hard to actual check properly and get out the door.
The first was the new UKCOD site (the parent charity that runs mySociety). It took a while to finish after I set up the infrastructure, while the trustees wrote and approved all the content. Thanks very much to Ayesha and Sym for the design brilliance. Also thanks to Mediawiki (the Wikipedia software) which the site is based on – although it isn’t a wiki, it is configured so only UKCOD people can edit it. You can see just how much Mediawiki can be skinned and made to look like a normal site. It is a useful, simple CMS that lots of people already know how to use.
I’m really pleased the UKCOD site is now there. I (speaking personally) think it is super important that mySociety and UKCOD are transparent organisations, and that we should demonstrate openness by being open ourselves. If there is anything else you’d like to know, please do ask – and we’ll either tell you, or explain why we can’t or won’t do so.
The second is the WriteToThem 2006 statistics. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone we’ve put them live yet – we’ll be doing publicity for it later in the week. Meanwhile have a look and send us any comments. This took ages to get out the door because I wanted to make sure the statistics were accurate, and presented in a way that wouldn’t be misleading. Let me know where I’ve failed.
Right, now off to singing…
UK Citizens Online Democracy (UKCOD) is the charity that runs mySociety. Shockingly for an organisation that works on online projects, its own website has not been high on its priority list.
Thanks to the prodding and work of the mySociety developers and volunteers this embarrassing deficiency has now been rectified, and UKCOD is today proud to announce the launch of its own simple but hopefully informative website at http://www.ukcod.org.uk/. We aim to provide transparent and clear information on our organisation’s structure, its history, projects, finances, and the people involved.
We expect this to generate as many questions as it answers. Do please let us know if we’ve missed anything, or if there’s anything else you would like to know.
Chairman, UK Citizens Online Democracy
For a few years people have been saying “Do you accept donations?” At first we didn’t because we were so small that we feared the effort put into setting up donations might not be worth the cost of accepting them. But we’ve just hit our third birthday and people seem to like what we do. So if you want mySociety to keep doing democratically useful new things, or if you’d like to show your appreciation for the work done by the amazing developers and volunteers, please drop us a few pennies.
mySociety started in very late 2003 by running a call for project ideas ideas. We were delighted and overwhelmed by the response – over 250 projects were submitted and vetted by our users. With those users help we picked five, and plotted to raise funds from charitable trusts and funds: we didn’t have any money of our own.
Before we could so much as put an application in the post, we were strongly encouraged to bid for some money as part of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s e-innovations scheme. We were told that we’d been granted it in March 2004, and we actually got it and started building stuff in October 2004.
Over the course of 2005 we built a variety of sites, some big like WriteToThem and PledgeBank, other small and experimental like Placeopedia. It’s been a great time beavering away with our core team and our volunteers together, but by last autumn we’d come to a simple realisation – our original plan: get ideas, raise money, build sites was over. We needed to work out what to do next.
Fortunately at the same time the e-innovations project was coming to an end. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister seemed to like our work a lot (they even gave us a prize) and offered us one final chunk of money, something over £100,000, before the strings were cut permamently. The purpose of this money is simple – we are going to use it to generate some revenue streams by selling spin-offs to local government, the voluntary sector, plus anyone who can use their own versions of sites like PledgeBank.
mySociety remains a not-for-profit project, run out of out parent charity UKCOD. We will keep making sure that everything is free to use for citizens, and we hope that by doing a bit of business we can ensure that our democratic tools and services grow and flourish in the years ahead.
There is one final question that needs answering: what happened to GiveItAway, our final launch project? Well, the short answer is that in the intervening two years Freecycle became huge, and we didn’t want to compete against a successful social venture. Instead we decided that we’d offer GiveItAway to local authorities, offering to install it on their recycling and rubbish collection web pages, giving people the option of giving stuff away to local charities and community groups before it goes in the skip. If you think this is something your local authority should be doing, get in touch with us, and them!
It’s very quiet today. I’ve been updating the projects page now that HearFromYourMP is truly launched. This means we’ve built all the original launch projects, except GiveItAway (more about what is happening with that another time). And it’s over a year since mySociety began. I feel exhausted, and definitely need to take some holiday – I was going to go to Egypt last month, but moved house instead.
This week was usability week. Or was that last week, I’ve got confused. Anyway, Tom made about a million tickets with little usability tweaks to all the sites. Most of these have been put in now, but there’s still lots to do. Good software is about polish polish polish polish, and more polish. I could spend another few years just polishing these sites without making any more.
I’ve also been doing a bit of work on “cobranding”. An ugly marketing term, but there you go. We’ve had a Cheltenham version of WriteToThem for some time. As well as local government, we’re also looking at campaigns groups. So we’ve done a version for AnimalAid, which they’ll be using from their website soon. Apart from the logo and colours, cobranding has some benefits for the user. It’ll make them think they haven’t changed website, and be less disconcerting. In particular, it’ll take them back to other campaigns actions when they’re done.