Blogging for the CultureHive Digital Academy

DMA-logo1I’m currently working for a new project run by the Arts Marketing Association called the CultureHive Digital Academy, which is an initiative aiming to innovate in digital learning. It’s run by Carol Jones, recently of Chapter, who also teaches the RWCMD in Cardiff.

The Academy’s model is to encourage its fellows to learn through rapid innovation, experimentation and reflective learning. They are encouraged to develop initiative ideas, implement and evaluate them, then reflect on their experiences through the Academy blog. This participatory education programme consists of online action learning sets and regular sessions with a mentor, and I was asked to be one of those mentors in the summer of 2014.

From September 2014, I’ve been meeting with fellows via Google Hangouts and Skype, helping them to think through the programme and develop their learning from the programme.  So far, I’ve been working with; Amy Rushby, who works in digital marketing for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Ruth Catlow, a digital artist and leader at the digital arts collective Furtherfield in Finsbury Park, London and Jamie Eastman and Jamie Wooldridge, who work at Live at Lica, a University based multi arts venue in Lancaster.

The programme leaders have asked me to reflect on my experience as a mentor through the programme’s blog, and today I published my first post, which is about establishing the purposes for setting up a digital media initiative, and ideation, the process of generating and combining ideas for solutions. You can read my post, Thinking through digital innovation before you start creating initiatives on the CultureHive Digital Academy website.

I’m chuffed to have been asked to continue being a part of this exciting initiative when the next batch of fellows join later in 2015, and I’ll continue blogging about my insights into what the fellows have needed to tackle during their mentoring sessions with me over the next year and as long as I’m involved with the programme. You’ll be able to access an archive of my posts into the future. Enjoy!

WordPress i Bawb: selecting plugins and themes for Welsh translation

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Fersiwn Cymraeg o’r cofnod hwn

NativeHQ and Nico Translation are beginning a large project called WordPress i Bawb (WordPress for Everyone) in which we will release useful components of the WordPress content management system in the Welsh language over several months.

Although the main WordPress system has been available in Welsh for many years (thanks to Rhos Prys, Iwan Standley and others) there remain swathes of good plugins and themes which are not.

There are hundreds of such plugins and themes for WordPress, authored by professionals around the world. Our main question is, which ones are the most useful for website managers who wish to provide content and services in Welsh? Obviously we have a good idea of what we’d like to see from our experience of building and running websites and of training people in how to use them.

But now we are giving the opportunity for you to influence our decisions and suggest plugins and themes for the final list. We are asking publicly in order to learn, and help others learn, about useful WordPress functionality.

We are focusing on the following four types of website:

  1. local news blogs / papurau bro
  2. small ecommerce ventures
  3. personal blogs
  4. online communities and social networks

We’ll also consider the following criteria:

  • Purpose
  • Relevance to Welsh language users
  • Number of terms
  • Reliability
  • Popularity

Do you run, or are you looking to run, a Welsh-language or multilingual website in one of these categories? Which plugins and themes would you like to see translated into Welsh? Why? Please leave a comment below. If you really don’t want to comment, you can email carl@nativehq.com instead.

All work will be released under the GPL licence to support and encourage freedom of re-use. There is the potential that wordpress.com and other blogging services will use our translations too.

Please note that we cannot promise to accept your suggestions.

This work is supported by a grant from Welsh Government’s Welsh Language Technology and Digital Media Fund.

The above photo is of the WordCamp Cardiff 2009 t-shirt.

WordPress i Bawb: dethol ategion a themâu i’w cyfieithu

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English language version of this post

Mae NativeHQ a chwmni Nico yn dechrau ar brosiect mawr o’r enw WordPress i Bawb lle byddwn yn rhyddhau cydrannau defnyddiol ar gyfer system rheoli cynnwys WordPress yn Gymraeg dros gyfnod o sawl mis.

Er bod prif system WordPress ar gael yn Gymraeg ers blynyddoedd (diolch i Rhos Prys, Iwan Standley ac eraill) mae dal i fod llwythi o ategion a themâu da sydd ddim ar gael yn Gymraeg eto.

Mae cannoedd o ategion a themâu ar gyfer WordPress, a ddatblygwyd gan arbenigwyr o gwmpas y byd. Y prif gwestiwn yw, pa rai sydd fwyaf defnyddiol i reolwyr gwefannau sydd eisiau darparu cynnwys a gwasanaethau yn Gymraeg? Yn amlwg rydym yn gwybod eisoes pa rai rydym eisiau eu gweld o’n profiad ni o adeiladu a rhedeg gwefannau a hyfforddi pobl i’w defnyddio nhw.

Ond nawr rydym yn rhoi’r cyfle i chi ddylanwadu ar ein penderfyniadau ac awgrymu ategion a themâu ar gyfer y rhestr derfynol. Rydym yn gofyn yn gyhoeddus er mwyn dysgu, a hwyluso dysgu ymhlith eraill, am nodweddion WordPress defnyddiol.

Rydym yn canolbwyntio ar y pedwar math o wefan isod:

  1. blogiau newyddion lleol / papurau bro
  2. mentrau efasnach bach
  3. blogiau personol
  4. cymunedau ar-lein a rhwydweithiau cymdeithasol

Rydym yn ystyried y meini prawf isod:

  • Pwrpas
  • Perthnasedd i ddefnyddwyr Cymraeg
  • Nifer y termau
  • Dibynadwyedd
  • Poblogrwydd

Ydych chi’n rhedeg, neu’n bwriadu rhedeg, gwefan Gymraeg neu amlieithog o dan un o’r categorïau? Pa ategion a themâu yr hoffech chi eu gweld yn cael eu cyfieithu i’r Gymraeg? Pam? Gadewch sylw isod os gwelwch yn dda. Os nad ydych chi eisiau gadael sylw, gallech e-bostio carl@nativehq.com yn lle.

Byddwn ni’n rhyddhau popeth o dan drwydded GPL er mwyn cefnogi ac annog ailddefnyddio rhydd. Mae potensial y bydd wordpress.com a gwasanaethau blogio eraill yn defnyddio ein cyfieithiadau hefyd.

Nodir nad oes modd addo y byddwn ni’n derbyn eich awgrymiadau.

Cefnogir y gwaith trwy grant oddi wrth Gronfa Technoleg a Chyfryngau Digidol Cymraeg Llywodraeth Cymru.

Llun o’r crys-t WordCamp Caerdydd 2009

Theatre Café’s website: Text Library and multilingualism

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Company of Angels is a theatre company based in London, England which produces plays for and about young people. I received a phone call from them a few months ago asking if NativeHQ could build a custom website for Theatre Café, a pan-European festival where new texts and their translations are performed script-in-hand.

This website is now live at www.theatrecafe.eu.

There were several aims for this website. It had last for years to come and be extensible enough to serve events in Leeds, Berlin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam in 2014 and 2015 as well as subsequent events. An event is an opportunity for anybody to preview the work of new emerging playwrights and translators. Theatre practitioners use it to find collaborators and texts for future productions. Hence an events calendar was vital. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is a Texts Library for browsing the available scripts, navigable by title, country, languages in which the text is available, and number of cast members. On top of all this the interface had to be available in four languages: English, German, Dutch and Norwegian although the variety of languages represented by the texts is far greater.

Like many of our projects Theatre Café’s website was built in WordPress, which continues to be a reliable and flexible content management system capable of handling these unorthodox features. Importantly the client retains freedom to maintain the website in the future in any way they choose, without software licence fees. This could be regarded as the ‘If you love somebody set them free’ principle of free and open source software.

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If you’re wondering how the Texts Library was achieved, it makes heavy use of custom post types which is a very useful WordPress feature for when posts or pages are insufficient. On the dashboard there are now dedicated post types for texts and for authors. Texts can be viewed singly. Alternatively the text library, an author or language is then automatically rendered to the visitor according to a template using user search criteria and interface language choice. We are very pleased with the result and would like to credit Marc Heatley Design for partnering with NativeHQ on this unusual project.

Gwefan Theatre Café: Llyfrgell Destunau ac amlieithrwydd

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Company of Angels ydy cwmni theatr yn Llundain, Lloegr sydd yn cynhyrchu dramâu am ac i bobl ifanc. Derbyniais alwad ffôn oddi wrthynt ychydig fisoedd yn ôl yn gofyn os allai NativeHQ adeiladu gwefan ar gyfer Theatre Café, gŵyl ar draws Ewrop lle mae testunau newydd a’i cyfieithiadau yn cael eu perfformio sgript-mewn-llaw.

Mae’r wefan bellach yn fyw ar www.theatrecafe.eu.

Roedd sawl amcan ar gyfer y wefan. Roedd rhaid iddi hi barhau am flynyddoedd i ddod a bod yn ddigon estynadwy er mwyn gwasanaethu digwyddiadau yn Leeds, Berlin, Frankfurt ac Amsterdam yn 2014 a 2015 yn ogystal â digwyddiadau wedyn. Digwyddiad ydy cyfle i unrhyw un i ragweld gwaith dramodwyr a chyfieithwyr newydd. Mae ymarferwyr theatr yn ei ddefnyddio er mwyn canfod cyd-weithwyr a thestunau ar gyfer cynhyrchiadau yn y dyfodol. Felly roedd calendr o ddigwyddiadau yn hanfodol. Y nodwedd fwyaf trawiadol efallai yw’r Llyfrgell Destunau ar gyfer pori’r sgriptiau sydd ar gael, sy’n chwiliadwy ar sail teitl, gwlad, ieithoedd sydd ar gael a nifer o aelodau o’r cast. Yn ogystal roedd rhaid i ni gynnig y rhyngwyneb mewn pedair iaith: Saesneg, Almaeneg, Iseldireg a Norwyeg ond mae amrywiaeth ehangach o ieithoedd yn y testunau.

Fel llawer o ein prosiectau adeiladwyd gwefan Theatre Café yn WordPress sydd dal yn ddibynadwy a hygyrch fel system rheoli cynnwys sy’n ddigon galluog i ddarparu’r nodweddion arferol yma. Mae’n bwysig bod y client yn cadw’r rhyddid i gynnal a chadw’r wefan yn y dyfodol mewn unrhyw ffordd maent yn ei ddewis, heb ffioedd trwydded meddalwedd. Gall ddweud taw hynny yw’r egwyddor ‘Os ydych chi’n caru rhywun gadewch iddo fod yn rhydd’ yn y maes meddalwedd rydd a chod agored.

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Os ydych chi’n pendroni sut wnaethon ni adeiladu’r Llyfrgell Destunau, mae hi’n defnyddio mathau o gofnodion wedi’i addasu (byddai term gwell yn handi) – nodwedd WordPress defnyddio pan mae cofnodion neu dudalennau yn anaddas. Ar y bwrdd gwaith mae mathau penodol o gofnod ar gyfer testunau ac awduron. Gall weld unrhyw destun penodol. Fel arall mae’r Llyfrgell, awdur neu iaith yn cael ei rendro yn awtomatig i’r ymwelydd yn ôl templed ar sail meini prawf chwilio a dewis iaith ryngwyneb. Rydym yn hapus iawn gyda’r canlyniad ac eisiau cydnabod Marc Heatley Design am bartneru gyda NativeHQ ar y prosiect anarferol hwn.

Scratchr: towards an ‘open source’ for live performance

For a few months we have been designing, developing and growing an online platform and community called Scratchr in close collaboration with the team at Battersea Arts Centre, London.

Do watch the above video as it explains more about the scratch process the BAC team have been refining for several years, in which an artist has the valuable opportunity to try out work with an audience of participants who then help shape it. As a means of making art, the scratch process is more like a conversation than a one-way broadcast. If you know NativeHQ then you’ll have guessed that this mentality of conversation-not-broadcast and process-as-product twigged our interest straightaway! The brief which led to the nascent Scratchr software platform and community started out as a question: how do we take the offline scratch process into online? In other words how can we reimagine and support the outworking of the scratch process using digital technology?

It’s still very early in the life of Scratchr. Like the artistic process, it’s a co-creation with the community of people that is forming there. I like the idea of giving people a broad description ‘it’s a platform for artistic collaboration and idea development’ and letting them work it out in wonderful ways. We do need some guidelines on what features are intended for what purpose. But we don’t want to prescribe exactly how it’s used. One never prescribes to an artist.

Check out the Scratch Blog for a couple of recent highlights. See also: the Digital R&D Fund blog post about Scratchr.

A friend recently asked us if we could have done something similar with Facebook or a pre-existing platform. I would say ‘no’. It would have been very difficult to change people’s perceptions of such a general-purpose platform and also bend the software to our will. That’s why we took the decision to build using WordPress multi-site and BuddyPress. We are not tied as a company to this software other than the fact we like it and know it to be flexible. Still, it has taken a lot of coaxing to have it perform exactly as we want it and it would be rash to say that’s it’s all there even now (the beta test group is testament to this). The decision to take this more difficult route wasn’t about picking up more development work – if we could have picked a platform which allowed us to begin even more rapidly then we would have! But we felt that the requirements of Scratchr were unique. (Thanks go to Marc Heatley for invaluable work with us on this.)

WordPress and BuddyPress are released under the GPL which is a free software licence – in other words, the software gives us freedom to copy it, modify it and use it for any purpose, independently of the software developers. The principles and licence underlying the software itself are also happily in keeping with our aim of being unrestrictive to BAC as a client and to embrace the results of good collaboration around the globe. I mean, it would seem odd to pick proprietary restrictive software for a project that celebrates collaboration, freedom and openness.

If you’ll permit I’m going to offer some half-developed thoughts that have resulted from this project – and grown from previous work we’ve done with theatre and live performance.

Many people would agree that another valid term for free software is ‘open source’. Now, there is something in the way the artists are using Scratchr which could be described as ‘open source theatre’ or ‘open source art’. In other words, they are sharing the process, they are inviting collaboration, they are not as ‘closed’ as theatre and live performance can sometimes be. Maybe some of them wouldn’t mind if you borrowed their ideas and adapted them (but that’s a tentative observation rather than a piece of advice). But I’m still trying to resolve what it means to use the term ‘open source’ in this context.

As I’ve alluded above, the discussion as relates to software is very well advanced. For example there are four specific freedoms associated with the GPL and such licences have allowed for a galaxy of innovation from GNU/Linux to Firefox to Raspberry Pi to cloud computing. In the world of content such as text, video and images there is a parallel in Creative Commons and GFDL licences which enable reuse with conditions – leading to amazing projects like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap.

But software and content are very different from live performance and its various offspring. In the world of theatre and live performance the conventions and rules of play for ‘open source’ are still being worked out. Sure, you could share a script or a planning document under Creative Commons BY-SA and many artists have done. But that doesn’t feel to me as if the potential for widespread collaboration has been fully realised. I appreciate that the original principle behind free software was user freedom but I think that this also changes the culture in the field and in the industry; it changes the way people and companies create.

A hallmark of success could be new forms of work that have never been seen before. We see this happening in other fields. Journalists are grappling with what the internet can do to improve their work to make reporting and analysis more collaborative – and to better serve society (hopefully). Businesses, filmmakers, musicians and other content creators are experimenting with crowd funding platforms like Kickstarter which promise to give us a wider variety of products and innovations.

What then is open source theatre? What would be the Firefox or the Wikipedia of live performance? I’m not necessarily referring to the scale of Wikipedia but to the fact that it’s living proof of newer forms of collaboration. If we believe that such a thing as open source theatre is possible and opens up new opportunities for more people to participate, what would that look like?

National Rural Touring Forum and the quickest way to start blogging #ruraltouring

I’m working with National Rural Touring Forum at the moment. In their words they’re:

the organisation that represents a number of mainly rural touring schemes and rural arts development agencies across England and Wales. Our touring scheme members work with local communities to promote high quality arts events and experiences in local venues.

Just wanted to say a quick word about one aspect of my work which is the new NRTF blog at nrtf.wordpress.com.

Part of my brief was to help the organisation to help its members in the use of digital media when organising gigs and events in villages and rural communities.

While already equipped with a website I thought there was a need for somewhere where we could quickly post news, videos, images and notes from the conference. We also wanted to allow comments and sharing of the posts around the web.

We had to get it online quickly in time for the beginning of the conference. So this time I opted to use wordpress.com.

The blog could have been hosted and accessible from their main domain, in the background running WordPress code from wordpress.org. I am no stranger to installing WordPress code, running completely independently, with all the customisation and design flexibility that brings.

But rather than spend time discussing and planning that and going back and forth with visual design and other issues, I just set the blog up on wordpress.com and added some team members as users so they can post.

I think far too often people agonise over all kinds of comparatively small issues (branding, design tweaks, everything under one domain, what could be possible with the technology) at the expense of the THING which just has to be DONE and available.

In the long run we can still do many things.

Maybe we want to lose ‘wordpress’ from the address to have a more branded name – but make sure any inbound links don’t break. In that case we can use WordPress’ paid service to redirect a subdomain (such as blog.nrtf.org.uk, just an example) to the blog on Automattic’s company servers. Any visitor will not know any differently, other than the neat domain name.

Alternatively, if NRTF build a new website (hopefully using an open source system such as WordPress itself or maybe Drupal) they might decide to include a blog as a section. In that case we can export the content from the posts on the existing WordPress blog and import them on to the new website. Unlike many other web services, WordPress is very good at letting you export your data and move it elsewhere. (Dear web services: if you love someone, please set them free.) We could post one final entry on the existing blog with a link to the new home and a brief explanation.

Or we can just carry on with the blog as it is.

I’m happy that the NRTF team are up and running with a blog, which is probably the quickest way to publish long-form content on the web. They also have freedom, they are not locked into this system, which is important.

The annual gathering of NRTF is about to start in Caerleon, Newport. The hashtag is #ruraltouring. I’m doing three presentations and a social media surgery. So I’ll be pretty busy – but please make sure you say hi to me if you’re attending!