Small pieces loosely joined

Avatar of Stefan Czerniawski
Stefan Czerniawski

If you don’t want to read the whole of this post, there are two simple actions to take:

  1. Go to the new Public Sector Blogs site, admire it briefly, then subscribe to updates by RSS or by email, according to your fancy
  2. Follow @PubSecBlogs on twitter which tirelessly tweets updates in real time.

These each replace their predecessors. If you followed @pubsecbloggers or subscribed to the old feeds you will have had nothing new since Google Reader closed last week – so now is the time to catch up.

But to begin at the beginning.

Once there was Public Sector Blogs, a simple but useful service which was put together by linking some basic components in a way which made the whole distinctly more than the sum of the parts. A Google Reader account brought together a disparate bunch of public sector blogs. That generated an RSS feed which was used to power a simple web site and, separately, a twitter feed. Once set up, it more or less ran itself, occasionally topped up with a few fresh blogs loaded into Reader and a few which had died being or changed direction being pruned back.

The odd thing was that nobody controlled all of it – each piece was owned and operated semi-independently of the others I don’t know how it all started or quite why it grew up that way, but I do know that Dave Briggs, Steph Gray and Paul Canning had made it happen between them – kudos to them all. And the fragmentation simply didn’t matter – until gradually it did.

The first to go was the website. Its hosting wasn’t renewed and the site quietly went away. Nobody much seemed to notice – which isn’t altogether surprising since it was the least useful bit. But then of course Reader went, and that was the end.

Or it was the chance for a new beginning. Out of that has come new Public Sector Blogs.

Screenshot from Public Sector Blogs

None of the Reader replacements, as far as I have yet discovered, directly generate a composite RSS feed in the way that Reader did. So the setup is distinctly Heath Robinson. The contributing blog feeds are curated in Feedly from which an IfThisThenThat recipe conjures up posts in a WordPress blog. The blog, of course has an RSS feed, which Twitterfeed uses to generate tweets. WordPress supports email subscriptions out of the box, but only at the level of individual posts, which isn’t what anybody wants for a stream like this, so Mailchimp is plugged in instead to produce daily summaries (and not just for Tim Lloyd).

The miracle is not that it is elegant, but that it dances at all. It’s all held together with a little bit of configuration, with virtually no coding (and absolutely no necessary coding – which is just as well, as my BASIC and FORTRAN skills from around 1978 aren’t tremendously useful here), and with virtually no money (total investment is about £8.50 for the domain name). There’s plenty of scope for improvement, both in making the flow more robust and in enhancing the value of what flows through, but that can come later. For the moment, the minimum viable product is in place.

All of that is a neat microcosm of the power of the network more generally. It is a lovely small scale example of David Weinberger’s pithy description of the wider web, small pieces loosely joined. Value comes from connecting things, and connections are easy to make if plugs and sockets are designed to fit together. There are undoubtedly slower, more expensive and more difficult ways of making all this work in a more bespoke way – and there would be benefits as well as costs in doing that. But much better to be slightly bodged, slightly inflexible – but up and running.

In the meantime, it’s an unfortunate by product of all this that neither the original URL nor the twitter account could be carried forward. So subscribe to Public Sector Blogs, follow @PubSecBlogs – and spread the word.


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