Au Revoir Ampp3d

Sure it had a stupid name and couldn’t possibly be accused of presenting a neutral point of view with how it presented the data but I am very sorry to see Ampp3d close it’s doors at Trinity Mirror.

There is no doubt it was a massive influence on my team at ONS when it came to our discussions about digital first formats. At times our approach to visuals on social media was clearly inspired (nay stolen) from the experiments of the team at Ampp3d. In fact to such an extent that their editor was compelled to comment on it 😉

Internal discussions about content decisions around our personas often referenced an Ampp3d vs FT approach to such an extent that it has become a common shorthand within our team.

The initial pitch for Visual.ONS was for an experimental platform for visual data journalism i.e. a ‘politically neutral Ammp3d.’. We studied the blogposts Martin Belam and William Turrell  shared about setting the site up and included details from that directly in to the brief for DXW who built Visual.ONS for us.

Members of the Ampp3d team, particularly Federica, have also been unfailingly helpful to us in providing feedback on our work on building a new ONS website. This support has been incredibly useful and we really do appreciate it.

I don’t know any of the team personally away from Twitter but I follow many of them and always enjoy their interactions with each other – it always seemed like a close-knit group (including some members of the Us Vs Th3m team I think).

One thing I learned from following this team was just how much grief women get on Twitter – particularly it seems female journalists with any opinion at all. Like most people I was of course aware of the misogynistic streak throughout Twitter but I’d never seen it so clearly and so regularly before and was consistently amazed at how well they handled the abuse.

Other people will write blogposts that better sum up the influence Ampp3d etc had on digital journalism in the UK – I am not qualified to do that. I will just say thank you for the inspiration, for demonstrating there was an audience for data journalism beyond the broadsheets and for the ever entertaining social media channels. Shouldn’t have stopped the daily newsletter though 🙂

Social Media Diet

I always overload myself with challenges in January – it is a scatter gun approach – I work on the basis if I try loads of things something might sneak through and stick for the month.

This year was no exception. I tried the following;

– No drinking [success]
– Stay clean shaven [fail]
– Cook (rather than microwave) 5 nights a week [success]
– Do 10,000 steps a day [getting there]
– Stop reading the Metro [success]
– Launch a podcast [total fail]
– Go on a social media ‘diet’ [tbd]

So what did this ‘diet’ entail? Well to be honest I doubt anybody else will have noticed but I gave myself a set of ‘guidelines’ for the month;

1. No tweets about my commute or public transport
2. No (this became less) stream of consciousness tweeting
3. Ditch the negativity
4. Tweet when you have something to say not to say something
5. More work – or work adjacent – tweeting
6. Be more helpful
7. More RTing (of more people)
8. Stop updating Facebook

It is worth saying that for me social media is pretty much just Twitter and Facebook now. I don’t use Google+ at all anymore and never really contributed elsewhere (like Instagram though I am thinking about it.)

Apart from the first day back at work (I blame the shock of the return) I have stayed true to not commenting on my transport experiences. It turns out this helps considerably with (3) as well. While I have never been one to talk about my breakfast or upload images of my lunch any filter between my thoughts and my Twitter account has crumbled over the years and I regularly tweeted just for something to do. This has been a hard habit to break and (2) and (4) have been tough. I tend to separate stand-alone tweets from conversations. The latter I continue as ever really – though perhaps I do take a second longer to decide whether to enter in to it now.

The work focus thing has been easy as there is a lot going on and that isn’t going to change any time soon – I am also intending to ramp up my professional blogging again.

Am I actually helpful online? I don’t know but I do believe in the inherent generosity of my social media community and want to do a better job of contributing to that as I worry I have been taking more than giving recently.

The RTing thing is part of that – for some reason I have quite a few followers now (2500ish I think) so I am trying to give some of the brilliant people I follow a boost – whether they want it or not 😉 ThinkUp helps with this.

I haven’t made an update to Facebook in January. I still participate in conversations there and I have no intention of quitting it – I’ll probably continue to use it for my photos – but this seems to be a change that might stick.

I did give in to negativity at least once when I was moaning about some issues with an event – this was born of genuine annoyance but also quite a bit of back pain and it kicked up quite a bit of trouble so I need to work harder at that.

My plan is to continue this experiment into February at least – I am assuming my Twitter usage will go through the roof when I am in Texas for SXSW so that might be the big test of this but until then this is the path I am on and hopefully I will get better at it.

If anybody is wondering ‘why?’ I’m doing this I wish I had a decent answer! Sometimes a change is as good as a rest is the best I can come up with!

Social media solace

I find myself writing about social media a lot at the moment and I just wanted to acknowledge that. It is something I’ve shied away from a bit in recent times as it has become less and less a part of my daily work responsibilities. Also in recent years I’d begun to despair a little of the direction it seemed to have taken and the amount of potential that was spurned.

The thing is though despite all that social media is often my ’happy place’. That tranquil spot in my brain I can go to quiet the doubts and worries I have about the other aspects of my job.

I have a level of confidence surrounding my understanding and abilities in social media that is sadly lacking in other aspects of the many and varied things I do that makes up my job. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the fact that my role is multi-faceted and I’m enjoying the challenge. Sometimes the switch from talking about editorial formats to open data standards to finance is more than a little headache inducing but show me a job that isn’t now and then.

The thing is at it’s very core this job is bloody *hard*. The scale of what needs doing genuinely gives me sleepless nights sometimes. Some of the technological challenges are migraine worthy and the policy aspect is no picnic either. Plus there is the scrutiny – I’ve never felt quite so under the microscope.

I look at the Product Managers I know at GDS and see what they have taken on and wonder if I have that drive and vision that they needed to make GOV.UK happen. I’m not really someone prone to self-doubt. I approach most things with a rather self depreciating confidence but lately? Well lately I’ve been writing a lot about social media.

The great thing is that this is a shared burden and in many ways I get the lightest corner. Laura and Sam are taking much of the metaphorical weight.

I think we are getting somewhere. That “darkest before the dawn” has never felt more on the money than the last couple of weeks.

In the mean time you can expect more blogposts about social media here. Maybe something with a tenuous link to superheroes next 🙂

Different strokes for different folks

In my ’principles’ I talk a little about not ’crossing the streams’ and as that happened a little this week after my (very) little mention on the Guardian website I thought I’d expand on what that means to me.

On Twitter (and to a lesser extent G+ and Linkedin) I basically reflect the tone of voice and attitude I use in the office.

I *try* not to swear, avoid really controversial topics (some of this is due to being a civil servant as well), talk about work and work related stuff, try and support colleagues and peers, ask for help if I need it. But like in the office I also moan about my commute, talk about the rugby, recommend TV shows to people, tell the occasional story of crazy nights out, countdown to my holidays and on occasion tap people up for favours and sponsorship. Now not everyone is like this in the office I know and not all offices are receptive to people like me (just look at my job history on LinkedIn!) but even as I’ve become more senior I haven’t really changed.

I take the piss a bit out of friends and engage in friendly back and forth. Generally I keep it pretty light though and at least vaguely professional.

Over on Facebook it is quite different. There it is much more of a mix between a night out in the pub and the kind of pretty harsh mickey taking that dominated football changing rooms for the years I played.

I’m more likely to go in to rant mode, actively disagree with people and openly discuss my politics and beliefs over there. The big difference is that on Facebook pretty much all my friends are a more old time definition of the word. The main factor being they’ve known me for years and been (very) drunk with me.

Some people know both sides of me (especially my old Jisc colleagues) but for the most part people in my life are in one camp or the other the majority of the time and that works for me. I’m not saying it would/could/should work for anyone else but my personal experience has been that this has kept me relatively sane these last seven years or so!

Social Media Principles in Practice

I’ve been a reasonably heavy user of social media pretty much from day one. I was an early advocate of using it as a comms channel, in the workplace and have written various guidelines, policies and strategies about how best to make use of it. The funny thing is that over the years I have rarely been in the driving seat of corporate Twitter accounts. I have overseen social media staff, and currently have a great team, and I have been around to help out but despite all my bluster I am rarely the one in the hot seat.

That changed last night though when a major website outage led to a number of us facing a late night and I decided that I could probably handle Twitter to keep people informed and answer any questions. That would allow my social media team to escape at a reasonable hour as well – they deserved it after handling the outage brilliantly during business hours.

I was like a teenager getting the keys to his old mans car [I assume – I never did learn to drive.]


Tim Harford, who has been a critic of the site in the past but for the most part an even handed one, did us a major favour by adding an element of humour to the situation in an early tweet. People were unhappy but there was a very British dark comedy element to many of their complaints.


I made a bit of a snap decision that I would work with that tone rather than play it completely straight. The opportunity to put my social media principles in to practice was too good an opportunity to miss and so..


There was really no going back at that point. As an organisation we aren’t really known for our self-depreciating humour. I tried to make sure I kept the actual information updates going.


Though as you can see even these dull tweets attracted commentary.

Sometimes I had a little more fun.


But I tried to add a little value and share some links to sites that people didn’t seem to be as aware of as they should/could have been.


A few people seemed to think it was a decent approach.




I managed to send my final tweet of the evening at 21.55 from a train just before heading in to the Severn Tunnel.


The reality is that it was my colleagues who were pulling out all the stops to get the website back up and running who were doing the real work and mainly what I was doing was trying to offer a bit of a morale boost and distraction.

I have to be honest these couple of hours late in to the evening have been a bit of a recent highlight for me personally. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed doing this sort of thing – and the fact it was in a difficult situation seemed to help rather than hinder. I am not sure I would recommend following my example – I do wonder if the fact I was already pretty worn out contributed to my willingness to be a little more irreverent than usual!

So how did I stack up to my ‘principles’?

1. Be myself.
Well I certainly allowed my personality to shine through for better or worse.

2. Be honest.

3. Be helpful.
I tried to be.

4. Practice the equivalent of the ‘law of two feet’.
Wasn’t really appropriate in this case.

5. Don’t engage trolls.
Actually I did avoid one or two ‘mentions’. They weren’t so much trolling as leading questions.

6. Don’t sweat the numbers. It is quality not quantity.
Wasn’t really appropriate in this case (though I got a lot of RTs, favourites and follows!).

7. Mistakes happen. Admit them. Move on.
That was kind of the entire point!

8. Share and share alike.
I tried to do this as best as I could.

9. Don’t cross the streams.
This was hard as I was running my own Twitter account alongside and was getting tired!

10. Have fun.
I genuinely did.

Not too bad even if I do say so myself. Though I think I’ll leave it to the professionals in future and consider this a special guest appearance.