There’s a common theme to a lot of mySociety sites: enter your postcode, see something that relates to you.
From FaxYourMP—the mySociety project so old it predates mySociety itself (paradox!)—through to TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet, and WriteToThem, as well as a few of our commercial projects like Mapumental and Better Care, we’ve discovered that asking for a visitor’s location is a super effective way of unlocking clear, relevant information for them to act on.
So perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that, while doing some regular monitoring of traffic on this website, we noticed a fairly significant number of people attempting to search for things like postcodes, MP names, and the topics of recent debates.
Random sample of search terms, July–December 2017 animal sentience corbyn germany CR0 2RH theresa may EN3 5PB fire ruth davidson HG5 0UH eu withdrawal bill diane abbott
By default, the search box on this site delivered results from our blog post archive (it goes all the way back to 2004 don’t you know!)… which is pretty much what you’d expect if you know how we do things here at mySociety. We have this centralised website to talk about ourselves as an organisation; then each of our projects such as TheyWorkForYou or FixMyStreet is its own separate site.
But, looking at these search terms, it was pretty clear that an awful lot of people don’t know that… and, when you think about it, why should they?
The most obvious solution would just have been to direct visitors towards the individual sites, so they could repeat their searches there. Job done.
But we figured, why inconvenience you? If you’ve made it this far, we owe it to you to get you the information you need as quickly as possible.
Handily, we’ve got rather good at detecting valid postcodes when our users enter them, so programmatically noticing when a user was searching for a location wasn’t hard. And equally handily, TheyWorkForYou offers a powerful API that lets developers exchange a user’s postcode for detailed data about the boundaries and representatives at that location.
What do you get when you combine the two? Automatic search suggestions for TheyWorkForYou, FixMyStreet, and WriteToThem, when you enter your postcode on www.mysociety.org.
The search page is also aware of the most frequently searched-for MPs on our site, and will offer a direct link to their TheyWorkForYou profile if you search for their names.
And finally, if you search for something other than a postcode, we give you a single-click way to repeat your search, automatically, on TheyWorkForYou, opening up decades of parliamentary transcripts to you, with a single tap of your finger.
It’s not a big, glamorous feature. But it’s something we know will come in useful for the few hundred people who search our site every week—possibly without their ever noticing this little bit of hand-holding as we steer them across to the site they didn’t even know they wanted. And most importantly, it should introduce a few more people to the wealth of data we hold about the decision-makers in their lives.
Header image, Flickr user Plenuntje, CC BY-SA 2.0
If you’re a teacher, looking to spend the Easter holidays planning lessons, our latest news could save you a little time.
mySociety has collaborated with the Citizenship Foundation on the creation of materials for use in schools.
These activities, written and tested in consultation with teachers, introduce students to concepts of democracy, citizenship and community. A number of the materials also show students how they can use mySociety websites such as WriteToThem, WhatDoTheyKnow or FixMyStreet to bring about change.
We hope that you will find these activities useful. They span years 1 to 13, will fit into a variety of curricula from Politics to Geography, and are completely free to download and use. Access them here – and please do pass the word on to your teacher colleagues.
Veronika has just updated us on the recent success of their NapisteJim.cz portal, clone of WriteToThem:
“The context: Last week, the Lower house of the Parliament had on table amendments to Lottery Act. Something very important was accomplished in this amendment (bigger rights for villages and cities in gambling regulation) but it also contained several very controversial paragraphs. Most notably, the Act commanded Internet providers to block ALL commercials and advertisements of lottery companies that are not registered in Czech Republic, moreover, under fine 10 million CZK.
This is 1) technically imposible (e.g. when working with Google AdSense and similar), 2) it creates grounds for further Internet censorship. Mainly the internet community rised up in protest which they expressed in several different ways which included e.g. internet petition but ALSO, thanks to our application, personal e-mail appeals to MPs. Again, more than 1 000 e-mails were sent!
The result: MPs decided to divide the amendment in parts on which they voted separately… the controversial paragraphs did not pass through, and still the good achievements were approved. We could not dream better result in this issue!”
Congratulations to the entire team! It looks like the traffic to the site, as well as amount of sent e-mails are very encouraging, so we hope to see more exciting updates in the future!
We have posted that the Czech parliament data still needed to be incorporated in the development of scraping process of KohoVolit.eu structure. Jaroslav posted an update yesterday stating that this part of work, mainly the part for the data of Lower House of Czech Parliament is ready now:
“The updater scraping the data from the Lower house of Parliament of Czech republic and storing them into KohoVolit.eu database structure is ready now. The downloaded and processed information include MPs data (personal data, image, contact information, assistants, office), constituencies, groups (political groups, committees, commissions, etc.), membership of the MPs in those groups and roles they stand. All those data will be updated nightly from the official website of Czech parliament.”
Now the team will focus on main functionality of WTT site and ensure that the list of office addresses and constituencies associated to the right representatives, as well as contact details of MP’s is complete and ready to use.
KohoVolit.eu team has also talked to representatives of SME.sk – major news portal in Slovakia. It looks like the news portal is interested in the integration of local WriteToThem clone into the SME.sk website.
“They are interested in an easy way to immediately write to the politician directly from the article where he is mentioned. We expect to insert the writing form also to their web and create a simple widget for inserting to articles that refers to the form. Thus readers can write to a particular politician directly from the SME portal. More advanced features like search of the best representative to write to or browsing in sent messages marked as public and the respective politicians’ answers will be available only on our main site.”
As mentioned by Jaroslav in his original post, integration will take place in May, when the Slovak clone of the site will be completed.
Jaroslav from KohoVolit.eu team has posted an update on their local clone of WriteToThem portal. The team has decided upon names of the local domains:
“Among a dozen of candidates the classics won – the domains being registered this week are NapisteJim.cz and NapisteIm.sk which means exactly “write to them” in Czech and in Slovak language. So, together with the Lithuanian ParasykJiems.lt and UK WriteToThem.com the family of “write to them” named sites is growing to at least four. (I wonder why the UK version is on .com domain.)”
Team is working on development of of the scrapers and updaters for two chambers of Czech parliament and hopes to finalise the Czech site at the end of April. Slovak part of the portal is planned to be completed in May.
“The election system to Czech parliament is weird… quasi local based, quazi party based combines regional and state-wide components.
Basically people vote mostly for parties and their leaders, but they can vote only for candidates in their region. So when they hypotethically want to write to specific MP, they might want to write to one of their regional MPs because they are probably closest to the problem they are dealing with. But they might also want to write to one of the ‘faces’ of the political party, because it was actually him/her they voted for even though not directly. Or they might want to write specific committee (defence, finance, education etc.) even though there is not anyone from their region…”
Facing the above mentioned challenge the team has decided upon the following:
“For identifying the region, we decided to use Google maps and the API they provide. This means that when person enters even very incomplete adress we get information about which region or which part of the city it is in. If anyone has interesting experiences with this and want to share, please do:-)
But the really tricky part comes when discussing when (which step) and where (graphically) put the option for so to say ‘advanced search’ according to parties or committees, so it’s not disturbing those that want to use regional key and it’s easy to find for those that prefer other ways of identifying… comments are welcome:-)”
Yes, do let us know what you think is the best way forward or get in touch with the team directly on their blog.
Yesterday we have witnessed the official launch of parasykjiems.lt, Lithuanian clone of WriteToThem. The first launch of the site happened on the 13th of January, though not on its own domain and the site was not fully functional yet. Users could send the requests to their local MP’s but did not receive responses. Now, it’s possible.
I spoke to Darius Damalakas today about the feedback on the new website. He mentioned writing to his local MP about a street, which required attention of his local authorities. The response he has received was positive, promising to include the street in the plans of street repairs for 2011. So Darius considers it a good sign for the start of the project.
When asked about promotion, Darius responded honestly. They still need to finish uploading all the data on Vilnius to be able to give the promotional activities a big push. The local Transparency International team has promised support on that. They also plan to use their Facebook fan page for that very purpose.
Darius is meeting the members of their mailing list tomorrow to discuss the past and the future of their work and to pin down next steps so I am sure we will learn about those from their blog. One major consequence of the launch will be the development of a generic platform to be used by other regions. The details on that development and cooperation between few countries will become clear quite soon and I will share them with you.
For now, let’s celebrate the new website and please, if you have worked on something similar in the past, do let us know. Darius would love to share experiences and learn from others!
This time a quick update on work of KohoVolit.eu, in Jaroslav’s words:
“I am designing and implementing API in these days – it is an interface that will make all our data accessible to other sites. Our applications will access the database by this way as well. A pilot implementation of API is expected in a couple of days.
Concerning WTT – while waiting for Lithuanian beta to be refactored and internationalisation ready, we discussed the first step of writing to MPs – “find your representatives” for our countries with Michal. We are going to utilize Google Maps API for turning the (maybe incomplete) addresses given by users to the respective administrative regions that MPs are responsible for. This helps to save us from building a huge database of all addresses in our countries.”
If you have any tips or thoughts on that, do let us know!
As a result of the meeting in Belgrade KohoVolit.eu team will be joining the international team of developers working on cloning of the WriteToThem website in several countries of Central and Eastern Europe based on the Lithuanian beta site. Jaroslav has also sent us the requirements his team can forsee at the stage of the process:
“The features that are definitely needed in WTT for our countries are openness to implement a custom search of representatives to write to and a possibility of sending the message to more than one representative.
Another one is a customizable form for writing of the message – we have already discussed it with Darius at Saturday night and it is pretty simple to achieve by Django templating system. This can be employed also to template the initial message body and other generated e-mails.
Generally, the process of selecting the right representatives might be usefull to have separated from writing and sending of the message to such extent that allows implementation of the search in a different language. The results would be passed to the second step (writing of the message) in URL or in HTTP request by the POST method.”
We will keep you posted!
Update: You can read about it on the new KohoVolit.eu blog in English! We are really, really happy to see this new blog! Go and say hi to the team on their own site;)