Adventures in Radio

A couple of weeks ago we had a call to the office from a BBC radio producer asking if the creators of Votegeek would like to be interviewed for the Radio 4 programme “Click On”. After thinking about this for a femptosecond or two the answer was “Yes!”. So on Friday I found myself sitting in reception of Broadcasting house in London watching lots of probably famous people that I didn’t recognise wandering in to work. After a little while I was called up to the studio (very nice anechoic chamber and separate room with mixing desks and blinking lights) and we got on with the interview. You can Listen to the show or read the transcript below.

Simon Cox:
Now the parties policies on technology probably aren’t not going to influence who gets your vote in the election. While the digital economy bill now may become law, the debate accompanying it’s rather speedy passage through parliament revealed just how little many politicians know about technology. With the economy dominating the campaign how can you find out what your local candidates think, or even know about technology. Well the answer is votegeek, the brainchild of Alan Bell, and he is with me in the studio. Alan, what are you hoping to achieve then through your site?
Alan Bell:
Well we have got a dual aim really, one half of it is to get the geeky type personality more interested in politics, and get people to understand that politics matters to them. The second aim is to get the candidates aware that we exist and that we are voters too.
What are the issues that people are wanting to focus on with candidates, presumably it is not just about broadband speed?
No, it is a wide range of issues, we are not focussing on a single issue, but we are focussing on a single topic. So there are issues such as the use of Free Software in the public sector. Public procurement policy, digital freedom, privacy, and censorship are definitely topic areas of interest.
In terms of the candidates you have been contacting what kind of reaction have you been getting from them?
A very positive reaction from some of them, and a lack of response from others! We have had responses from all the major parties, and a number of the minor parties. I was particularly pleased with a comment from the Official Monster Raving Loony Party for instance!
Are they surprised when you contact them?
The Official Monster Raving Loony Party gentleman was yes! But I would say it is not just me and my group of helpers that are contacting people, we are asking people out there to go and find their constituency on the site, look at the candidates that are available for them to vote for, and then contact their candidates. So the message to the candidates is coming from one of their constituents. There is then a comment area where people can record emails and letters they have sent to their candidates and also responses they have received back.
So it is trying to build up a profile is it on their views on particular technology issues?
Yes, it is allowing people to share information about their candidates views.
Now Rupert, what do you think about this, I mean with the Digital Economy Bill the politicians didn’t really cover themselves in glory did they?
Rupert Goodwins:
Well following the Digital Economy Bill closely was quite an eye opener for me, because not only did it transpire that the politicians didn’t know what they were talking about, but they didn’t quite realise why it was being rushed through so quickly, and this is an important part of anyone who wants to be an active democrat because you can’t be good at democracy unless you are informed. Things like votegeek mean that we can get much more involved and force politicians to be more serious about their jobs and that is an excellent thing.
What about the way that technology is being used during the campaign, we are always hearing that this is the election where we are suddenly going to see technology really beginning to take off, have you been struck at all by way it is being used?
Well yes there was the big debate, well the first of the debates between the three candidates for Prime Minister and if you were online whilst watching that there were lots and lots and lots of people talking away on twitter, blogs and instant messaging. There was an awful lot of debate going on at the same time which never happened before. The most important thing about politics is to be involved and to be informed and technology is allowing that to happen in a new way for the first time.
Alan Bell, thanks a lot for that, and Rupert thanks to you too.

Vote Geek!

The UK is approaching the next General Election, the smart money is on it being May 6th, neatly falling between Oggcamp and UDS-M although it is just about possible that these two major events are not actually the driving reasons for a May 6th election. So who should you vote for? Who can you vote for? What do the candidates in your constituency think about issues important to the average geek? Good questions all of them, and to provide at least some of the answers we have set up a website where you can find out who is standing in your constituency and with a bit of crowd sourcing (which is where you come in) we can find out what they think. The site launched today and I am very pleased to say we have already had a comment direct from a candidate who will be standing in Hackney South and Shoreditch.
To talk techie for a second, the site is basically a WordPress blog, but not used in the traditional way, all the 650 posts for the constituencies were pre-created and don’t really have a chronological order, we are using WordPress to handle the comments, it is easy to theme and we know it can handle a lot of load.
The theme started out as a blue fixed width layout, I adapted it to a fluid layout (I hate fixed width sites) and changed it away from blue because I didn’t want to have a colour that is strongly associated with any of the parties. I was pondering the new colour options and ended up picking our new favourite colour – Aubergine! The swirly thing was done with the flame filter in the Gimp.
Most of the data about the candidates comes from if you spot any missing or incorrect information then click the candidate name to go to their page on the site and correct it there. All the constituencies get refreshed by a little python script that pulls data from the json API provided by yournextmp.
So the site has two main objectives, firstly to get geeks like me more interested in politics and more aware that they can and should contact their representatives about things that matter, and cast an informed vote. Secondly it is to make the candidates (including the all important winning candidate) aware that there are people in their area who care about issues in the general Free and Open Source arena.
So what do we need you to do now?
Well firstly if you are in the UK please go to and find your constituency. Take a look at your candidates and see what other people have written to them. Think about a question you would like to ask the people who might get your vote and then write them a letter. Leave a comment with your letter and the replies you get so other people in your area can see them too.
If you are of the tweeting/denting persuasion then please mention the site (and your comments on it) along with the #votegeek hashtag.