1. FixMyStreet: celebrating our users’ eloquence

    Beautifully crafted prose: it’s not generally the first thing on your mind when you’re contacting the council about potholes, overflowing bins, or a faulty streetlight.

    And yet, some FixMyStreet users clearly take a certain delight in the art. Today, we’d like to bring you ten FixMyStreet reports that go above and beyond the usual calibre of citizen-to-council communication, and ascend almost to the level of… dare we say, art?

    1. The clanking manhole

     Eric Konon

    Image: Eric Konon (CC)

    Last night I conjured a horde of Spartan warriors smashing their shields with copies of the Highway Code. I believe that’s what they call an involuntary metaphor.

    Michael bought a flat near the main road. He didn’t mind, until one day, a manhole started clanking… and clanking… Read the whole report here.

    2. The missing road sign

    Chris in Plymouth

    Image: Chris in Plymouth (CC)

    The posts designed to proudly hold aloft the road name, guiding lost wanderers towards their destination, stand forlornly, relics from a forgotten age, their purpose lost to the mists of time.

    The initial report is nothing out of the ordinary – it’s in the updates that this Hythe resident starts really going to town. Read the whole report here.

    3. Roland Rat

    Image by Gareth

    Image: Gareth (CC)

    Ten days on, he stinks and if he gets any flatter from vehicles running over him, I’ll stick a stamp on him and post him.

    A concerned citizen of Appledore left a dead rat in situ, just to see what would happen. Read the full report here.

    4. Superdog

    Melanie Cook

    Image: Melanie Cook (CC)

    Maybe laid by a new breed of super dog. It is still steaming and has been there for weeks.

    Need we explain the context for this one? In fact, there’s little more to it than you see quoted above, but with imagery like that, who needs reams of prose? See the whole report here.

    5. Battling gulls of Cardiff

    John HaslamImage: John Haslam (CC)

    Splattered birds on the road, presumably […] too exhausted after battling with piercing the hardy black plastic, to get to the riches within, to attempt fly away to safety.

    This anonymous user was fed up with seeing residents put food out in their rubbish, attracting gulls. Read the whole report here.

    6. With a little imagination, any street fault can be a boon

    Ben Osteen

    Image: Ben Osteen (CC)

    I have had my windows open fantasising that I am living on an Italian Piazza with an enormous fountain at its centre.

    One Fulham resident reports a leak; a commenter urges them not to fix it. See the full report here.

    7. Are clowns made of balloons?

    Steve Wilhelm

    Image: Steve Wilhelm (CC)

    It looks like a clown has exploded

    In an otherwise standard report, a Nottingham resident pulls out this extraordinary turn of phrase to describe the detritus left after a water balloon fight. Read the full report here.

    8. Happy Easter

    Kate Hiscock

    Image: Kate Hiscock (CC)

    PLEASE stop moving the bin. PLEASE keep it in ONE place *next* to the path. Not a meter away from the path, not two meters away from the path and not in the daffodils against the wall, but actually next to the path where people can reach it.

    Actually, it’s not the main body of this Coldstream report itself; it’s more the polite sign-off coming straight after a rant. Very British. Read the full report here.

    9. A poor, innocent mini roundabout sign

    James ButlerImage: James Butler (CC)

    If I didn’t know better, I’d worry [it] had been done by the Incredible Hulk after someone had made him very angry.

    This Brighton mini roundabout sign has a few worries. Read the full report here.

    10. Stinky bin

    Henry Lydecker

    Image: Henry Lydecker (CC)

    A bin here smells like the devil’s halitosis

    Another wonderful turn of phrase from a Plymouth FixMyStreet user in this short, but amply descriptive, post. See the full report here.

    You don’t have to be a great author to make a report on FixMyStreet

    Your prose may not be as purple as in the examples above, but that doesn’t matter.

    In fact, if you keep reports clear, polite, and accurate, you’ll still run a good chance of getting things fixed.

    Giving council workers – and FixMyStreet readers – a good laugh? That’s optional.

    Make a report on FixMyStreet now

  2. Advent calendar

    mySociety Christmas countdown

    December 23rd


    Santa's Chocolate Coin Mint by Johnathan_W

    If you haven’t got a penny,

    A ha’penny will do,

    If you haven’t got a ha’penny,

    Then God bless you.

    We wish you all a merry and prosperous Christmas – and for those of you who are already feeling quite prosperous enough, may we point you in the direction of our charitable donations page?

    mySociety’s work is made possible by donations of all sizes and from all sorts of people. Those donations help fund all the online projects we create; projects that give easy access to your civic and democratic rights. If that’s important to you, show your appreciation, and we promise we’ll make the best use of every penny.

    Thank you for sticking with us through this month-long post. We hope you’ve found it interesting and we wish you the very merriest of Christmases.

    We hope you’ll continue to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ – see our Contacts page to find individual projects’ social media links.

    December 22nd

    Santa Watching by LadyDragonflyCC

    What’s behind the door? A letter to Santa.

    Dear Santa,

    We think we’ve been pretty good this year. We’ve tried to keep our local neighbourhood clean, help with problems, and aid those in need, so we’re hoping there are a few presents coming our way.

    If you can fit them down the chimney, here’s what we’re dreaming of:

    More publicly available data Of course, we were delighted to hear in Mr Osborne’s autumn statement that all sorts of previously-inaccessible data will be opened up.

    We’re wondering whether this new era will also answer any of our FixMyStreet geodata wishes. Santa, if you could allocate an elf to this one, we’d be ever so pleased.

    Globalisation …in the nicest possible way, of course. This year has seen us work in places previously untouched by the hand of mySociety, including Kenya and the Philippines. And we continue to give help to those who wish to replicate our projects in their own countries, from FixMyStreet in Norway to WhatDoTheyKnow in Germany.

    Santa, please could you fix it for us to continue working with dedicated and motivated people all around the world?

    A mySociety Masters degree We’re lucky enough to have a team of talented and knowledgeable developers, and we hope we will be recruiting more in the coming year. It’s not always an easy task to find the kind of people we need – after all, mySociety is not your average workplace – so we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably easiest to make our own.

    Back in February, Tom started thinking about a Masters in Public Technology. It’s still something we’re very much hoping for. Santa, is it true you have friends in academic circles?

    FixMyTransport buy-in – from everyone! Regular users of FixMyTransport will have noticed that there are different kinds of response from the transport operators: lovely, fulsome, helpful ones, and formulaic ones. Or, worse still, complete refusal to engage.

    Santa, if you get the chance, please could you tell the operators a little secret? Just tell them what those savvier ones already know – that FixMyTransport represents a chance to show off some fantastic customer service. And with 25,000 visitors to the site every week, that message is soon spread far and wide.


  3. Report submission edits

    A number of people report dog fouling through FixMyStreet, using slightly more… colloquial language. A number of councils have strict obscenity filters, blocking anything containing swearing. As I’m a pragmatist and not that interested in campaigning against councils blocking legitimate emails from their citizens (feel free!), FixMyStreet simply changes any “dog shit” reference to “dog poo”. This works well for everyone.

    Recently, the infamous Intellectual Property Manager from Portakabin™ Limited got in touch to complain about a couple of reports on FixMyStreet containing the words “portacabin” or “portaloo”. Again, as a pragmatist, I’m not really interested in whether users using trade marks or trade mark variants in a generic way on a problem report actually constitutes trade mark infringment (actually, I’d guess not), I just want legal people to go away and not waste our precious resources. So from now on, any report containing portakabin or similar will become [portable cabin], and portaloo will become [portable loo].

    For anyone who’s interested, this is accomplished through a simple regular expression, that looks for porta followed by 0 or more spaces, then cabin, kabin, or loo, and sticks “ble” in the middle.

  4. mySociety in the spotlight

    Felt inclined today to Google mySociety and came up with 746,000 search results. Not bad. Being a new volunteer with mySociety I was intrigued by reading about the organisation and its work from various angles, in newspaper articles, blogs and even seeing a couple of video clips. The word is out there so no need to take drastic measures like in the Charlie Brooker experiment!

    As you may know, mySociety recently celebrated its fifth birthday, something that made a few headlines. The ambition appears to be to keep on going for at least as many, finances permitting. I certainly hope that something can be worked out – real and potential work is a plentiful and output is making a difference from an e-democracy perspective.

    Tom (founder and director of mySociety) has already written a blog post about how to best use mySociety sites, the best way to get started is to … get in touch. If you are just interested in keeping an eye on what’s going on, there are numerous email alerts on all the sites with the possibility to sign up for keyword alerts. And of course to set up RSS-feeds.

    My research on mySociety trivia revealed that projects are not always used quite as intended. For example, Francis Irving (web developer at mySociety) informed journalism.co.uk that early on somebody used WriteToThem to get their boiler moved in their council house – it had been in their living room for years. Also that somebody reported some dumped boxes of mozzarella on FixMyStreet. Don’t want to give you any ideas but it appeared to have rectified the problems …

  5. HassleMe offers insights into psychology of human motivation (and enteraining obscenities)

    A few Christmases ago Chris Lightfoot and Etienne Pollard built a little throwaway website called HassleMe.co.uk as a one-day coding challenge. The purposes of HassleMe was to let people nag themselves into doing things that needed doing by arranging to be sent automated emails.

    The genius of HassleMe lay in the timing of the responses. Instead of it mailing users exactly 5 days or 2 weeks after they subscribed, it mails people approximately when they ask. As a consequence you never know when the mail’s going to arrive, making it strangely more effective as a nag.

    After Chris died the site sat running on his server for a couple of years, and mySociety didn’t have access to it. Last week Francis migrated the site to our own machines with the help of Pete Stevens from Mythic Beasts. When Francis looked at the database he saw that there were 16,000 hassles that users had agreed could be made public. However, the feature to show them was never built.

    Now it has been added on this page, and makes for a fascinating, often foul mouthed insight into what it is that people need to motivate themselves to do. There are thousands of examples, each stranger than the next, so just hit refresh for more. And please do paste and favourites as comments to this post.

    PS And as always, if you like any of mySociety’s services, or even just find the comments amusing, please donate – we’re a charity!

  6. My favourite ever pledges on PledgeBank

    Which are yours?

    Bakul-Library – it’s just awesome, that they used PledgeBank, that they got a 1000 people, and that they’re going to make a new library in India because of it.

    deathpenalty – Not because it was effective, and not because I agree with it. But because I disagree with it, and because of the reaction it got from left-wingers not used to seeing other points of view. PledgeBank is for anyone.

    walkout – PledgeBank offline. These school students got together to march against war (whatever or yippeee), but just LOOK at how many text message sign ups there were. Tom saw in London an illegally flyposted flyer.

    First1000 – I mean, they may be crazy libertarians, but ONE THOUSAND PEOPLE are going to move house. OK loads won’t move. But hundreds will.

    tunepiano – It’s about fun and joy, not just politics and worthiness (bit of a worthy example to make that point I know, but it is a piano!)

  7. Battle your way to Sedgefield!

    It’s a Saturday, so I’m not going to talk about anything serious like our new TheyWorkForYou API. Matthew has just told you all about that much better than I could.

    No instead, obviously what you need is a game to play. And none of those new-fangled flash things. You need a good old text game. And that buzzing feeling of revenge for overpowering MPs of your choice.

    Welcome to MP fight!
    Battle your way to Sedgefield! A game, by Francis Irving
    Built using the TheyWorkForYou API http://www.theyworkforyou.com/api
    Type 'q', 'quit' or 'exit' at any time to finish.
    Enter your postcode.

    Play MP fight! Start good old telnet (type “telnet” in Start | Run on Windows, or use the command line on Macs or Linux), connect to seagrass.goatchurch.org.uk on port 646. Or try Chris‘ web version, although it just doesn’t have the same retro charm.

    Post your experience score and how far you got in the comments below. If it’s too easy, try a friend’s postcode. Maybe in Scotland. It’s hard to get out of Scotland.