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  1. Comment by Steph Gray posted on

    Amen to that.

    It's not until you get up close to those blogs that you realise just what quality there is there. Proper Ambassadors - Director-level people in any other department - writing interestingly, and off their own bat, on a regular basis from some rather fruity hotspots around the world. I wouldn't like to trade places with our man in Somalia (though a secondment to the British Virgin Islands doesn't sound all bad). In one day last week, the homepage featured stories of chance encounters on the Cairo underground, trade treaties in Ukraine, gender equality in Sudan and the Ambassador to the US' rose garden.

    And without wishing to do down another department still paddling in the shallows of blogging, really, but you see the gulf in class between the Ministerially-led BIS Blog and the freedom to write in conversational, honest, often personal, language that the FCO bloggers have earned, with occasional dips into hot water I'm sure.

    Your role in community managing that group has been tremendous - leading the internal campaign as you rightly call it. The way you've made time to document process and policy to just the right level, without sacrificing momentum, seems to have really embeded these approaches not just in one organisation, but two now.

    p.s. There's one or two more bits to the 'facelift' that ought to be blogged about in their own right one of these days...

  2. Comment by Simon Dickson posted on

    I've always said I was fortunate to be at FCO at the moment the Internet 'happened'. FCO's job was global communication; how could it not embrace a technology designed to do precisely that, instantly and at zero marginal cost?

    That isn't to say I got much active support from the upper tiers of The Office; few knew, fewer cared. But it probably sounded like something they should be experimenting with. I was given my own office at age 23, and and I was left to my own devices (literally). I mean, how much damage could I do? 🙂

    There *were* a couple of blog-esque moments in my time: I have fond memories of the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh, in late 1997, where I wrote an online newspaper for the event: every page manually coded in Notepad. Part formal event communications, part 'colour' articles, lots of photos, no 'management' oversight. Can't imagine that being permitted now.

    But on a day to day basis, the closest we came would have been the daily updating of Travel Advice notices - received via fax, and retyped manually; or the daily lists of Douglas Hurd's Ministerial engagements. Cutting edge stuff in its day, though: we were the first to do 'real time' updating, whilst most departments were posting occasional floppy disks to Norwich.

    PS it was 1995, it was a Linux server, and it was on a side table of its own. PCs hadn't yet moved under desks at that point. 🙂

  3. Comment by Ross Ferguson posted on

    Thanks Stephen.

    Being part of the lineage of digital diplomacy at the FCO has been an honour. Working with our bloggers has been fantastic and helping them transition to a new platform has been particularly rewarding.

    Now that our blogs run on open source software we have a new found flexibility that makes the question 'what to do now' a very interesting one because of all the options in front of us.

    This next chapter starts off in a fairly pedestrian manner as our bloggers and their support team learn WordPress and debug our installation and design. I say 'pedestrian' but in fact since our launch three weeks ago we've already added 12 new blogs.

    We do want more FCO bloggers but more important to us is the quality of our blogging. This means we will place a greater emphasis on good writing based on unique and authentic insights into the delivery of FCO objectives in some very challenging and exciting settings. We want a greater frequency of posting and more engagement when those who read our blogs leave comments against posts or elsewhere online.

    More, better blogging isn't an easy ambition to realise. Our bloggers are busy, busy people doing difficult jobs. We know that blogging is low on their list of priorities. But with our new platform we have set out to take the pain out of publishing and make it easier for our bloggers when they do find the time. Indeed, with WordPress some of our bloggers have been posting via their smartphones while on the move, or using photos or a video where they are quicker (and more compelling) than writing.

    Naturally some bloggers are more engaged in the medium and for some it has become an core tool of their trade. For the first time on our blog platform, we can begin to incentivise these bloggers by giving them more direct control over the functionality and presentation of their blogs. So while we can maintain a consistent user experience we can also customise to suit specific people or situations.

    I foresee many more multi-author blogs, more local language posting and 'special edition' blogs that are about events rather than personas. Indeed, I expect us to apply our WordPress platform in ways that doesn't involve blogging at all.

    This we hope will be progress. An evolution of the blogs which future digital historians will want to post about.

  4. Comment by Neil Williams posted on

    Great post Stephen. Like a trip down memory lane for me! Ross was involved even earlier - advising us and evaluating the Miliblog at ODPM.

    "paddling in the shallows of blogging"... That might be a bit harsh, but undeniably BIS has some way to go culturally to match FCO. There is a difference, though, between a Whitehall policy department and an organisaiton whose entire operation is based on devolving trust, and getting things done by talking.

    The need for a huge 'digital by default' cultural shift is something we were discussing only yesterday and are raising to the management board soon. Might cite this conversation.... your comment is not unhelpful!

  5. Comment by Public Strategist posted on

    A long long time ago, I occasionally got to read Foreign Office telegrams. There was a telex machine in the basement for receiving them (and for no other purpose), and there was none of this new fangled internet or blogging (or even email for that matter). I enjoyed reading them for their style as much as their substance. They stood out from the swamp of prose generated in the rest of Whitehall for their clarity of expression and for the sense of human voice they somehow managed to retain on even the dullest of subjects.

    I have no idea how so distinct a form of expression survived some prose version of Gresham's law where the bad drove out the good, but somehow it did. I read FCO blogs as reaping the benefit of a culture which long preceded them.

    None of that detracts from the achievements of the blogging pioneers and those who have nurtured them, but if my view is any way right, it's potentially bad news for the rest of us in departments where the culture of written expression is very different. Culture does not change quickly or easily and perhaps the challenge for BIS which Steph describes needs be met by encouraging better submissions as a step towards creating the possibility of better blogging.