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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

RSS vs Twitter in local government: a serious imbalance?

The Tortoise and the Hare, illustrated by Milo...Image via Wikipedia

eGovernment Register reports today on 'social media' use in local councils (LAs), noting that work by Liz Azyan published on her blog at LGEOResearch.com shows it at:

Number
% of LAs
Facebook
48
11%
Twitter
128
30%
YouTube
63
15%
RSS
122
28%
Web dev blogs/feeds
6
1%

Now I would argue that RSS is a bit misclassified here as 'social media'. That's one interpretation of it but another is as a data feed. That's what the Mash The State campaign is about, having feeds which can be 'auto-discovered' and are machine readable.

What shocked me in these numbers is that Twitter has in a few months been adopted by more councils than RSS over many years. You have to ask as well what 'RSS' use is being reported. Is it merely a feed of press releases extolling the greatness of the council as opposed to, say, planning applications or sports events? Mash The State's campaign is actually about the incredibly modest goal of all councils have a PR RSS feed by the end of this year. The bar has been set low by a campaign group: this speaks volumes.

So why is Mash The State modestly and quietly plodding along but Twitter shooting off and quickly overtaking? Fashion, what else could it be?

Local government webbies have spotted this trend and worked on that because it's easier and, frankly, because Twitter is in the news and can be thus more easily portrayed as a 'must-have'. It's 'low-hanging fruit', an 'easy win'.

It's not just Twitter. Web development blogs can be incredibly useful for webbie teams to get feedback on site development - that's why companies from Google to last.fm run them. But they require that bit extra of time and resources, and planning and arguing (and understanding) for their usefulness. So why are they so rare and why is there no research or group arguing for them or people demonstrating their ROI and giving them momentum?

Same goes for Facebook and YouTube (and the absent Myspace and Bebo): their collective use far outweighs Twitter so why are they much less prominent?

There's another danger here which is that which being prey to fashion has for the longer-term embedding of web in local government.

For councilors and many council staff (plus service users), who want to see and experience clear benefit, the potential for (open source) applications such as those being developed by #rewired state and #youngrewiredstate is far greater to my mind than it is from Twitter. But in the political and PR battle for the attention of Lgov webbies, especially its movers and shakers, are they losing attention and therefore potentially funding and other resources, like developer time?

These numbers should make Lgov people stop and think hard about what we're doing and where the priorities are. Yes Twitter is great and I love it but let's not just cheer what they say about the progress of social media and quote the Twitter number, let's look at the laggards and ask what we can do to get those numbers up to where they should be.
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