There’s a huge audience in Facebook and I am fascinated as to how we can feed democratic information into Facebook as efficiently as pictures of kittens falling off things. It turns out it’s pretty easy.
My other work as a Trustee of The Indigo Trust involves making grants to projects in sub-Saharan Africa, including parliamentary monitoring projects in Kenya, South Africa and Ghana. And in Africa, for many people Facebook on their phone IS the internet. So i thought i would try it out at home and see if other hyperlocal sites might be interested in trying it.
I used the Frank Dobson MP as a demonstrator because he is my MP, his patch ocvers Kings Cross and he is resolutely not engaged in digital media (his office last year asked me to send a fax). So I felt there was nothing to lose. I created a new Facebook page called ‘Frank Dobson in Parliament‘. To get content for the page I went to Frank Dobson’s page on They Work for You and scrolled down a screen or two until i go to ‘Most Recent Appearances’. There on the screen, opposite the title ‘Most Recent Appearances’ is a small orange box that says ‘RSS’. Right click over that box and copy the link and it is a feed of what Frank says and does in the House that appears in Hansard, the official record (he does a lot more than this of course as an MP but this is the independently recorded bit).
Then I went to Facebook and typed ‘RSS Graffiti’ into the search box, this takes me to the page of an app called RSS Graffiti which takes an RSS feed and inserts it into a Facebook page for you. I set set up a new publishing plan with the RSS feed from They Work for You as the source and the Frank Dobson in Parliament Facebook page previously created as the target. And that is more or less it – just wait for Hansard to record the MP saying or asking something and then it updates in the page. This might take a few days. Robot Dobson has been running since just before Xmas and mainly has Franks questioning of the HS2 proposals that will impact heavily in his seat.
The feed seems to update at varying times of day, roughly first thing in the working day or about 1400 – I don’t know if this is driven by parliament or by MySociety volunteers or RSS Graffiti.
Now i am aware that only masochists will faithfully read all the updates. But what it does do is give a simple starting point for the interested to share stuff with their friends. That is to say, the first step is to get this stuff into Facebook easily, the second step is then for aficionados to share it in the right way at the right time of day to act as a point of discussion. And make it as interesting as a kitten falling off something.
I am not claiming that this will solve the problems of democratic engagement, but it’s a part of the jigsaw. And an experiment, I label it clearly as such to avoid any confusion.
To cover off the rest of Kings Cross, which sits in two constituencies I have just created a robot Emily Thornberry in Parliament too – Emily though not very digital, is not as offline as Frank and more active in Parliament/Hansard. Her feed is just starting to tick through into Facebook as I post this blog.
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