1. Sites built on mySociety’s code

    Lovely Resistors by Windell Oskay

    DIY mySociety is all about making our code – and our experience – available to people who want to build similar websites in their own countries. We thought it would be helpful to list some examples of sites already using mySociety code, so you can see the variety of different possible outcomes.

    It might seem like a simple task, but identifying sites in this way isn’t as straightforward as you might think – we don’t always know when people pick up our open source code! If we’ve missed any, please do comment below and we’ll add them.

    There are also many sites around the world which were directly, or indirectly, “inspired by” ours. In these cases, the site’s owners have written their own code from scratch. That’s a subject – and a list – for another post. For now, here are all the international sites using mySociety’s code that we know about.

    Alaveteli: our Right-to-Know Platform

    WhatDoTheyKnow.com – our original Freedom of Information site
    FYI.org.nz  – New Zealand Freedom of Information site
    Pravodaznam – Bosnia and Herzegovina Freedom of Information site
    Queremossaber.br – Brazil Freedom of Information site
    Informatazyrtare.org – Albania Freedom of Information site
    Tuderechoasaber.es – Spain Freedom of Information site
    AskTheEU – Europe Freedom of Information site

    Get the Alaveteli code here.

    FixMyStreet: our fault-reporting Platform

    FixMyStreet.com – our original fault-reporting site
    Fiksgatami – Norway FixMyStreet
    FixOurCity – Chennai FixMyStreet
    FixMyStreet.br – Brazil FixMyStreet, based on both our code and FixMyStreet.ca from Canada

    Get the FixMyStreet code here

    Parliamentary monitoring and access to elected representatives

    TheyWorkForYou – our original parliamentary monitoring site
    WriteToThem – our original ‘contact your representative’ site
    Mzalendo – Kenya parliamentary monitoring site
    Open Australia – Australia parliamentary monitoring site
    Kildare Street – Ireland parliamentary monitoring site
    Parlamany – Egypt parliamentary monitoring site
    Mejlis – Tunisia parliamentary monitoring site


    A community of people, waiting to help

    Inspired by the examples above? If you’re thinking of going ahead and building your own site, we’re here to support you with our easy-to-understand guidebooks and our friendly mailing lists. In our online communities you’ll find many of the people who built the sites listed here. There’s no-one better to ask questions, because they’ve been through the process themselves, from early conception right up to completion.

    If you are one of those people who has been through the whole process of building, launching and running a site like these (with or without our codebase), and lived to tell the tale, please shout in the comments below. And especially if you’re open to people approaching with questions. Perhaps add a note to say where you prefer to have those conversations – whether that’s via your favourite mailing lists, Twitter, email or simply in the comments to this post.


    One last thought – it’s interesting to see that our code can be used for areas as small as a single city (FixMyStreet Chennai) or as large as a confederation of states (AskTheEU.org). In short, it’s scalable! How will you use it?


    Image by Windell Oskay, used with thanks under the Creative Commons licence.

  2. What is DIY mySociety?

    We Can Help You Get There - original image by Mark Hillary

    We asked mySociety’s Director, Tom Steinberg, a few questions. His answers help to explain DIY mySociety: what it is, why we created it, and who it’s for.

    Can you briefly explain DIY mySociety?

    DIY mySociety is the over-arching name for mySociety’s goal of making it really easy to set up versions of the websites we run, in countries, cities and regions around the world.

    DIY mySociety consists of writings, software and face-to-face meetings that are all about helping people to get websites like WhatDoTheyKnow.com, FixMyStreet.com and TheyWorkForYou.com running wherever they are wanted, and customised to do the widely varying jobs that are required.

    mySociety is a British institution and your sites deal with British politics. What is the motivation for this initiative?

    mySociety started as a British NGO, a small group of staff and volunteers who built websites to help people in Britain become more powerful.

    Over the last eight years we built a range of sites that worked in Britain, and that people around the world saw and wanted to copy. For a long time mySociety didn’t take many active steps to help other people, but in the last three years we’ve started working seriously to help people around the world.

    Now we at mySociety think of ourselves as more of a global organisation, and we have friends with mySociety-inspired projects on every continent. But we’ve still not really done all we can to help people successfully run sites like those which we pioneered, and DIY mySociety is all about showing our intention to get really good at helping other people.

    But there are already lots of mySociety-type sites in the world – do people really need your help?

    Whilst there has been a huge explosion of digital democracy and transparency tools, there are still a huge number of countries, almost certainly a majority, where no such tools exist at all.

    Even more serious than this is that we have seen people build copies of our tools without an understanding of the cultural or technical complexities that lie behind their surfaces. These sites normally struggle and frequently die as a consequence.

    We believe that despite the massive variance between countries, almost everywhere probably has problems and needs that can be supported by some kinds of good quality democratic or transparency related web tools.

    We want to help people to understand what they need to do to have the best shot to make something that will work where they are.

    Surely, different countries have such different political systems that you can’t possibly offer ‘one size fits all’ codebases?

    If you look at all the different websites out there that are like TheyWorkForYou.com (our parliamentary monitoring site) you will find that they are almost all built on different codebases – barely two projects share any code at all.

    This is, in my view, an appalling waste of time, money and knowledge about what works.

    Of course countries vary, and Parliaments most definitely do. But think how widely the companies vary that use Microsoft Office to carry out their work: almost every business in the rich world uses them, no matter what they do.

    Good enough tools for monitoring parliaments will be customisable for widely varying parliaments, and they will save everyone involved precious time and money that can be spend on pushing for changes that matter.

    What exactly can DIY mySociety offer?

    We offer four kinds of service which we hope will be of use to people around the world.

    • General knowledge – via this blog,  Twitter and our project homepages
    • Someone to ask questions to –  in general, or on one of the specific projects
    • Guides to read – currently on Alaveteli, FixMyStreet Platform and TheyWorkForYou
    • Code to install and reuse

    Who is it for?

    We want to help anyone, anywhere who thinks that mySociety-style democracy or transparency websites (and apps) might make a positive difference where they are.

    We’re setting things up so that we can be just as much help to a completely non-technical amateur as we are to a seasoned technical professional.

    What should I do first if I’m interested in setting up a site like one of yours?

    If you already know which project is right for you, join the appropriate mailing list and say hello [see links to the right of this page].

    If you don’t know which project might be most appropriate for you, drop us an email and we can talk it through with you.

    How can I help spread the word?

    The most valuable thing you can do is tell us what you want to know, or what you think other people want to know. That way we can work more effectively to help people understand how we can help.


    Image by Mark Hillary, used with thanks.

  3. Who Is Your Audience?

    Today we consider another of the deep questions that must lie behind any site: who is your audience?

    This is, again, a seemingly simple question, but which often exposes a lot of unchecked assumptions or faulty thinking. In part this is because it’s really two questions, often confused, closely related, but with very different answers: Who can use your site, and Who will use it.

    The difference is subtle, but worth thinking through, because too often people don’t take the time to figure this out and end up with the opposite to what they hope for.

    You’re never going to get a site that everybody will use, but you want to build a site that anybody can use.

    Too many people aim at everybody ((I’ve seen proposals that expect 90% of the adult population of their country to be using their site within a year)), and end up with something that’s only usable by lawyers, or journalists, or political wonks, or FOI geeks, or people who are already activist supporters of whatever you’re trying to do.

    Those people should certainly be part of your audience, but your job is to go much broader than that ((unless you’re explicitly targeting only that niche, in which case you’re almost certainly not part of my target audience here.)). To be successful your site needs to be usable by people who aren’t already your supporters, who don’t understand all your technical language or the inner workings of your political, governmental, or legal structures, and (more importantly) don’t want to understand that, and shouldn’t need to.

    It is, of course, much harder to build sites like that. But that’s what we’re here to discuss. I’m sure we’ll return to some of these deep metaphysical questions from time to time, but next week we’re going to get into much more practical hands-on User Experience issues.