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Walsall illuminates its citizens using Twitter

3. March 2011 – 11:02 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Photo by Techie Kev on

As reported in the Guardian, Walsall City Council is conducting a 24 hour experiment to publicise what it does. Starting at 6.00 UK time today, four Twitter streams will be pumping out updates from nuisance neighbour reports to pest control.

The Twitter accounts @walsall24_1 to @walsall24_6 have been reserved, although at the time of writing only two seem to be tweeting — presumably the rest have been reserved to prevent spoofers setting up bogus accounts (which, to my juvenile mind, seems a bit of a shame).

The experiment follows a similar campaign by Manchester Police, who tweeted over a 24 hour period recently.

For more information, see the Walsall City Council website:

PS: There’s a free candy floss and a goldfish if you understood the pun in the title.

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Birmingham Politician Arrested for a Tweet

11. November 2010 – 18:51 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

A Birmingham councillor has been arrested for allegedly inciting violence against a newspaper columnist. As reported on Davepress, the BBC and the Guardian, and also discussed on Jon Hickman’s blog, in response to Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s appearance on Radio 5 Live Councillor Gareth Compton wrote:

“Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”

Compton has since apologised and deleted the offending tweet.

As I commented on Jon Hickman’s blog, I think this shows the unpredictability of Twitter, and how the public’s reaction can abruptly swing from ignoring a flow of mildly offensive or banal chatter to multiplying thousandfold the one tweet that a politician wishes they never wrote. It’s not easy to identify that threshold, but politicians cross it at their peril.

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Bobbies on the Tweet: Campaigning or Transparency?

15. October 2010 – 14:27 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Photo by ianfuller on Flickr

Photo by ianfuller on Flickr

Greater Manchester Police have been using Twitter to demonstrate how many incidents are reported in a day, and showing the variety of things they have to deal with, according to this article on BBC News.

Interestingly, the justification for the project — in which the force tweeted every incident it was involved in over 24 hours –  was not transparency per se, but to give an insight into what police officers do, and counter the public’s perception that policing is about “cops chasing robbers and locking them up”.  So clearly it has a strong campaigning element it, in this case aimed at changing the indicators against which police performance is measured.

Is it acceptable for public bodies to determine which information to release according to the message that they would like to put out about themselves? Put in those terms, probably not. If we want people to be active participants in public services they need to have access to quite comprehensive information that is ready when they need it and not released only when it suits the public body concerned.

However, I think it is perfectly legitimate for public services to promote understanding of the realities that face them as this is fundamental to ensuring that political participation is meaningful and yields results that are useful to policy-makers (as Paul Johnston suggested in his speech at the PEP-NET Summit). Sites like are great for promoting scrutiny of public officials (in TWFY’s case elected representatives), but anybody who is serious about making a contribution to public life needs to gain an understanding of the realities that public officials are up against, too.  If they work for you, you have to be a decent manager and be realistic in the tasks you set them!

So yes, it’s fine for public services to do this kind of public awareness work; but it must go hand in hand with real transparency and always with an eye on how it can increase understanding of public service in a way that empowers citizens.

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Member project: TalkIssues by the Democratic Society

15. April 2010 – 00:41 by Anthony Zacharzewski

As the election campaign in the UK gets up to speed, PEP-NET member the Democratic Society is working with well-known blogger Kevin Anderson and social media consultancy FutureGov to focus discussion on political issues rather than personalities.

Through a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter hashtag, the TalkIssues campaign provides information on the different parties’ policy announcements, and a space for discussion and debate.

Discussions on blog and Facebook are linked through a simple Facebook app, and Twitter updates also appear on the blog site.

The first televised debate between the party leaders is tonight (Thursday), and TalkIssues will be covering it live on Twitter and on the blog. Closer to election night (6 May), we will also be trying to arrange election meetups in various locations around the UK.

Any PEP-NET members who are interested in keeping in touch would be welcome to sign up for the Facebook page or follow the hashtag. Anthony at the Democratic Society is the person to speak to if you would like to discuss what’s happening.

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Google Buzz, Twitter and Blogs: Identifying distributed public opinions

10. February 2010 – 10:48 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The launch of Google Buzz, the search gigants attempt to get into the microblogging and status update world dominated by Twitter, yesterday again shows that the age of distributed publishing is here. People are stating their opinions and ideas openly in many different venues on the net – from Twitter to Facebook to their own weblog. But they are not limited to one of these venues, instead they regularly switch from one to the other. Therefor it is relatively hard to keep track of these statements.

As stated in some other posts on this blog before this kind of distributed opinions are arguments could be very valuable if they can be gathered efficiently and be integrated into discussion making processes. I would like to take a closer look at the first of the two conditions, the efficient scraping of the arguments and opinions, and provide a basic tool to get started with this work.

As a short demonstration of what unified search can do I quickly build this crude Yahoo Pipe (more on that later) searching through Twitter, Blogposts and comments of blogposts. Feel free to use it and take a look at the internals. This demo search shows the results for the term „Google Buzz“. Of course these results could also be in RSS format.

No lets take a look at how to build such a unified search tool with a lot more functionality.

First of all there is a need to reduce the venues and areas in which the search for statements and opinions is conduced. Just searching the whole net using a common search engine would not solve the problem as the results are out of context and have little meta information. In other words: Search engine results are very fuzzy and hard to deal with. Before starting to engineer tools to find the statements in the different venues it has to be clear which kind of meta information is needed to further work with the information found. These three questions are example for possible meta information:

  • In which venue has the statement been posted? (Blog, Twitter, Facebook etc.)

  • Was is a reaction to another statement or does is stand on their own? (Blogposts, comment, @reply etc.)

  • Where was the statement made (geographically)? (Many tools like Twitter or Google Buzz do attach geodata to posts)

After the decision of where to search for what has been taken the solution can be build. Most social web contents are public and can be search through by simple reproducing the sites own search queries. For example if you load the URL: in you browser, the Twitter search results for the term „pep-net“ will be presented to you. By adding the right parameters to the URL the search can for example be specified to just results in a 50 kilometer radius around the city of Hamburg. On the basis of this approach it is fairly easy to build unified searches covering many social web sites at once.

Building the actual search can be done using a tool like Yahoo Pipes or by implementing it into an actual programming language like PHP or Python. Using existing tools like Pipes allow for very rapid development even for a non-programmer but the final result does lack in performance. Using a programing language allows for maximal flexibility and performance but the implementation work is much harder.

This article is of course only mend to be a quick introduction to the basic concepts of unified search and its possible use in participation processes. If you are interested in this area just post a comment here.

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Web 2.0 Update: 5th Ministerial eGovernment Conference and 4th European eGovernment Awards

12. November 2009 – 16:22 by Danish Technological Institute

Much focus has been on Web 2.0 technology as an enabler for wider dissemination, awareness raising and not least participation and transparency. It is therefore interesting to see that Web 2.0 technologies are being used in various ways for a range of purposes in this year’s 5th Ministerial eGovernment Conference, 18-20 November, in Malmö (Sweden) and 4th European eGovernment Awards.

Webcast of conference sessions

The plenary sessions and three of the parallel sessions at the Ministerial eGovernment Conference will be webcast live and on demand this year from the conference website In addition the ceremony for the 4th European eGovernment Awards will most likely also be the subject of a webcast.

The programme is available on

Twitter flies over Malmö 18-20 November

In addition to RSS feed, Twitter feed is available onthe Ministerial eGovernment Conference website Participants are actively encourage to Twitter about the Informal Ministerial Meeting on eGovernment and the 5th Ministerial eGovernment Conference to use the hashtag #egov2009.

Online vote for European eGovernment Awards Public Prize

Following success of the first online vote in relation to the European eGovernment Awards 2007 in Lisbon (Portugal) the European Commission and the European eGovernment Awards Consortium decided early onto continue practicing what they preach.  The objective has been to: increase the visibility and status of public sector ICT projects in Europe; encourage good practice exchange, and; to encourage active involvement and participating in the European eGovernment Awards by the and wider stakeholder communities.

The online voting for the European eGovernment Awards Public Prize was therefore launched late this summer and closed on 11 November at 18:00 CET. Members of the community have been able to vote for their favorite cases from among the 52 European eGovernment Awards 2009 finalists.  The online vote is in addition to other ICT initiative by the awards consortium and the European Commission for a fully electronic submission process via and the remote evaluation of the received submissions by the jury in the first phase of the evaluation.

The voting is now closed but the 52 finalist cases remain published at and are open to receive members’ comments.  The winner of the Public Prize will be announced at the awards ceremony on 19 November at 18:30 – and likely to the subject of a webcast.

Virtual exhibition

For the first time the European eGovernment Awards finalist are accessible online through a virtual exhibition. The virtual exhibition can be visited on (NB: for practical reasons you have to register). Naturally an electronic version of the conference exhibition catalogue will be available on as of 19 November when the Ministerial eGovernment Conference and Exhibition opens.

Other news

Ministerial tour of European eGovernment Awards Finalist stands

A ministerial tour of the European eGovernment Awards Finalists stands will take place on 18 November 2009 at the Ministerial eGovernment Conference and Exhibition. 

Finalist country fact sheets

To enhance the promotion of the European eGovernment Awards Finalists 2009 17 country factsheets from those European countries from which finalists have been selected for the European eGovernment Awards 2009. The factsheets are published in English but will be made available in the relevant national languages in the beginning of November. The fact sheets are available with other dissemination material on

News and background

Danish Technological Institute/Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen – European eGovernment Awards Consortium Partner

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Michael Jackson Delays the Revolution!

28. June 2009 – 19:04 by Susie Ruston

Last week many popular news sites (CNN, BBC, techradar etc.) reporting the unexpected death of pop legend Michael Jackson caused a world-wide slow down of the Internet which caused many popular engagement channels such as Twitter to crash! 

His death generated the most tweets per second on Twitter since Barack Obama was elected president. In fact many of my friends in remote locations at festivals such as Glastonbury (UK) learned of the shocking news through SMS and Twitter on their mobiles, Blackberry’s and iPhones as cyberspace began to go into frenzy.

This event raised many fundamental issues about the capacity of the internet that is critical to participation and democracy, as well as highlighting the global difference in how countries trust official and unofficial sources of information 

For example, the “Michael Jackson outage” on the net (caused by the West accessing many ‘official’ sources of trusted information) resulted in many users who were finding the tool critical for organising protest in Iran unable to access their usual sources of ‘unofficial’ information, thereby effectively delaying demonstrations. 

Ironically, despite the mainly unsuccessful efforts of the Iranian regime to shut down participation in the form of protests by denying citizens access to technology, it was actually the West who temporarily (albeit unintentionally) succeeded in achieving this feat through its overuse.

A clash of hunger for knowledge from official sources vs. the need to organize knowledge against official sources does raise interesting contrasts and demonstrates how far new media has the ability to focus our thoughts and actions in a modern world.

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Is the Internet a democratic media?

18. June 2009 – 11:44 by Centre for E-Government

Recent events in Iran show that the Internet is a form of media which can be used to support communication in democratic processes. However, the Internet is also a place where anonymous people can express discriminating opinions. At the end of the day, ICTs are the tools people make of them.

Jens Jessen claims in ZeitOnline that the Internet has been idealised by people who want to change democratic processes by including all users who want to participate. However, the Internet is a form of media that can also be used by undemocratic states to promote their ideologies. Some Internet services cooperate with dictatorships for controlling flow of information. Consequently, the Internet is not democratic by definition; it can become a place supporting democratic movements, but anonymous discussions may also have certain side effects. When all people participate, the quality of political discourse might actually worsen, as facts and opinions tend to merge in the online discussion panels. Quality is measured by hits and not by content, says Jessen. ( Trent Reznor, frontman of NineInchNails, partly shares Jessen’s point of view, “Anyway, we’re in a world where the mainstream social networks want any and all people to boost user numbers for the big selloff and are not concerned with the quality of experience.” (

The collective intelligence has already been questioned and criticised. (The Cult of the Amateur; Do eParticipation and Transparency really lead to better democracy?) A positive example of Crowdsourcing has been implemented by The Guardian as readers are asked to examine documents about the expenses of British MPs. (Investigate your MP’s expenses) Also, the ongoing events in Iran show the impact of the Internet community. Even though the political discourse might or might not be reach the desired quality, at least it’s happening. The Internet and other ICTs give people, who have never been part of economic and educational elite, the chance to participate in political discourse, making ICTs the base of democratic participation. (democratisation of technology)

Internet supports democratic movements in Iran

After the government of Iran took control over most of the media, citizens who didn’t share the official opinions found refuge online. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have already been of importance in political campaigns in Iran as […] Moussavi campaign managers organized supporters, planned gatherings and garnered support through Facebook pages dedicated to the Reformist candidate.“ (

Now, after the elections, the Iranian opposition and international journalism rely on these platforms. “If you want to get the latest on the opposition protests in Iran, you should be reading blogs, watching YouTube or following Twitter updates from Tehran, minute-by-minute.” ( The lack of information from established news networks is of course also criticised in social media. “The New York Times’ Brian Stelter, a dedicated tweeter himself, even reported that folks weren’t only using Twitter to report about Iran, but to complain about CNN’s failure to report (using, of course, the Twitter hashtag #CNNfail)” (

The operators of social media are aware of their responsibility in Iran. Scott Rubin, spokesman of YouTube, compares the events in Iran to the Velvet Revolution, “I’m likening this to the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic where all these barriers are placed in front of people and they keep marching. Only this time it’s happening online and it’s happening on YouTube. […] By using YouTube, Iranian citizens are having their voices heard, their faces seen and their story gets told around the world without filtering. The real story of this election is being told by the citizen.” (BBCnews)

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, states that communication-platform remains independent and supports democratic participation. The State Dept does not have access to our decision making process. […] When we worked with our network provider to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network. […]We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event.” (BBCnews) To show their support for the opposition of Iran, users of Twitter colour their avatars green. ( A single click can make a political statement.

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Where are the eParticipants?

21. April 2009 – 09:46 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The rise of social media and social networking as part of it brought both advantages and problems to eParticipation projects. On the one hand online time is limited for each potential participant of an eParticipation effort, which means the more time a person spends on Facebook, Twitter etc. the less time will be available for the eParticipation project. On the other hand social media has gone mainstream, which means that even more people are used to publishing their thoughts and opinions online, which in turn may also help to get people involved in eParticipation. It is not significant whether one or the other force is stronger as eParticipation projects need to find their audience where it is already active on the web. Keeping this point in mind the following information on the fastest growing social sites can help to plan and organize an online campaign to recruit participants for eParticipation projects. regularly looks into the growth and development of social sites. They have identified the fastest growing social sites and also points out some trends besides the raw numbers. Facebook and Twitter are still growing at enormous rates. The year-over-year growth of Twitter in March 09 was more than 2.500 percent. Facebook attracted almost 70 million visitors in March alone.

Besides these top players the social network of social networks Ning is believed to be the second fastest growing social networking site, with now more than one million individual networks on it. Its traffic grew 283 percent year-over-year. On the business end of the spectrum LinkedIn reaches 15.8 Million people in the US where it the third largest network behind Myspace and Facebook. The full report can be viewed on the site.

Two of the named networks seem to be of special interest for eParticipation projects. The massive growth of Twitter and the fact that the rich ecosystem surrounding it allows for novel and targeted actions makes it an interesting choice for an online campaign. The online discourse about the Future of the University of Hamburg tries to make use of this potential. The second one would be Ning. This site is not one social network but a platform which allows users to setup their own ones. Therefore Ning hosts networks about almost any topic or set of persons. This circumstance can be used to directly address certain target and interest groups. Examples would be networks on Sustainable Urban Development or government related ones like govloop.

In summary social media sites should be part of the online campaigns done to attract participants to eParticipation projects and allow for targeted actions on a topic or regional basis.

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Technology use in the 2009 South African elections

20. April 2009 – 13:44 by Danish Technological Institute

by Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, Danish Technological Institute

Much has been reported about the successful campaigning, fund raising and support canvassing by the 2008 Obama election campaign. Still the use of ICT to increase electoral participation, campaigning, consultation and voting is not a uniquely US phenomena. A multitude of eParticipation and eDemocracy initiatives exist. Ranging from eVoting in Estonia’s and Geneva’s national and regional elections, gender budgeting in Freiburg, consultation on local issues in Malmö to the political influence of bloggers in China or in the 2008 election crisis in Kenya. Information communication technology (ICT) in other words plays an increasingly important role in society.

As South Africans go to the polling stations on 22 April 2009, campaigning is being played out in traditional media (TV, radio, print), on the internet, on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, in text messages/sms’s with street banners and in rallies across the country.

A full 173 parties – 134 at national level plus 39 purely provincial parties – are officially registered for the 2009 elections. Of these the four main ones are (alphabetic order):

  • ANC – African National Congress and currently in power with the support, in a tripartite alliance, of the smaller South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
  • COPE – Congress of the People in 2008 by formed members of the ANC
  • DA – Democratic Alliance and currently the official opposition
  • IFP – Inkatha Freedom Party a mainly regional party centered on the province of KwaZulu-Natal

Each of the main parties makes use of ICT in some form and in variety of ways and degrees. The table below outlines the use of websites and social networks (or Web2.0 technologies). Read the rest of this entry »