Why co-ops and social enterprises should avoid publishing Word files

I sometimes ask other co-ops and social enterprises to publish things as web pages, PDFs, ODFs or basically any standard format instead of Microsoft Word Doc files.

Doc files have the practical problem that they look different even in different versions of Microsoft Word, but also, Microsoft is not a co-operative (a private-sector firm oft accused of bring a monopolist, in fact!), whereas PDF, ODF and so on are more co-operatively developed, so I feel that we should support the better alternatives.

The usual first move is to PDFs. I don’t like them as much as web pages (it’s a file to download and open in an app or plugin, rather than something I can just read without interrupting my flow), but the process is basically the same. Just upload a PDF where you would have uploaded a Doc.

Occasionally, I get a reply saying that PDF is no better than Word because Adobe are also a private-sector supplier and therefore not much different from Microsoft (not as big, though?), while doc files are an ISO standard too.

I’m careful to suggest using ISO PDFs rather than Adobe PDFs. Although PDF started with Adobe, it was given to an independent ISO process (currently co-chaired by someone from Microsoft, which amuses me) and so software to read it has been developed by a wide range of people, including our co-op in a small part. You can find some non-Adobe software for reading PDFs at http://pdfreaders.org – there is also alternative PDF creation software, such as that built-in to libreoffice, but I don’t know of a good similar listing for them.

Microsoft have only given part of Doc (called Docx) to the ISO process and there is a limited range of other readers for it, which suffer the same “different on every version” problem as Word as far as I’ve seen. There’s also the added complication that Microsoft Office reportedly won’t comply with the Strict standard before Office 2013…

More widely, Microsoft are so un-cooperative that they don’t seem to want to share a marketplace with anyone else and have been hauled in front of regulators numerous times for monopoly offences. They seem to be on their way there again.

So Adobe is not great (does its best to continue marketing and extending PDF as if it had sole control), but Microsoft is much worse.

ISO ODF and web pages are other possibilities. The ODF standards are mainly developed by the democratic non-profit Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, while web standards are mainly developed by an unincorporated trade consortium, the W3C. While they are not themselves co-operatives, co-operatives can be members of both of those.

So, whatever the problem, please prefer to publish web pages, PDF or ODF files, rather than Microsoft Word Doc files.

Posted in Cooperatives, Education, Training and Information, Web Development | 3 Comments

Seize the Media! @theBoyler @coopsutd

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1 Angel Square

So when I arrived on Thursday (ten minutes early despite a cancelled train, thanks to help from the cooperative fellow traveller mentioned last post), I was in time to go to a workshop on media cooperatives led by @theBoyler.

It wasn’t what I expected. It seemed to concentrate on the opportunity presented by the current awful state of news media companies in many countries and the technology-driven changes to their businesses. For example, WordPress is a viable way to start – online first, then move into print later.

There are already news co-ops in places where there would be no local news media. The challenge well be how to overcome what I’d call “spoiling” or “scorched earth” tactics from departing media companies.

Some local news media owners are looking for a way out. One obvious one is to turn a local title into a minor variation on a regional-or-worse service or publication, maybe by selling it to a bigger media business. That loses some audience but many will put up with it, so it avoids creating an obvious gap in the market for more truly local reporting.

Much else was covered and the audience suggested tons of examples. I’m not sure we reached many firm conclusions, but there seem quite a few examples to learn from (Morning Star, taz, …) and Dave Boyle’s work is continuing…

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The @coopsutd Journey

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I’m on my way back from Cooperatives United. I haven’t quite posted as much as I planned (just a few microblogs/tweets) because the event was so much bigger and busier than I expected!

So I’m writing this on my (6 hour) journey home. We’ve attended Congress before and it was nothing like that. I was expecting something maybe 50% larger than last time and this seemed more like 300%. I wonder if Cooperatives UK have some numbers… Maybe it reflects the growing strength of the cooperative economy that they reported in the summer just gone.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised on the journey from Norfolk. I made a brief informal travellers’ co-op with an actor from Micawber Theatre company (tickets on sale now for shows in Ipswich and London) to overcome the challenge of East Midlands Trains. Unprompted by me, he blamed the shocking service on the big train businesses being unaccountable to passengers.

Maybe that’s it. Cooperatives are accountable and people are ready for more responsible post-capitalist businesses. That’s why coops are doing well now and Cooperatives United was such a lively event.

I’ll write more tomorrow. Now if you’ll excuse me, we’ve got to get off and change carriages because East Midlands Trains couldn’t be bothered to tell us the train divides at Nottingham until long after we boarded!

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International Credit Union Day 2012: Members Matter Most

Credit Unions are financial co-operatives where a community’s savings are used to fund other community borrowing and both savers and borrowers can become members. Thursday 18 October 2012 is International Credit Union Day, as well as being in the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives.

This year’s theme is “Members Matter Most” which was suggested from Ireland. In the UK, there will be events including one at Westminster with speeches from Damian Hind MP, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions and Simon Hughes MP, its Vice Chair.

I’m a member of my local credit union. I can pay in at my bank or any PayPoint and withdraw by bank transfer. If you’re fed up with the fat cat plc bankers, there’s no better time to Move Your Money in general and Find Your Credit Union (international visitors, start at WOCCU) in particular, is there?

Posted in Community, Cooperatives, Membership | Leave a comment

I’ve got anti-spam, so why am I still seeing some spam?

So you’ve got lots of shiny spam-detection software (not eyetests or similar rubbish) installed but are still getting some spam on your email and your website? Why aren’t your spam detectors and preventative measures effective at dealing with it?

Basically, the spam detectors are pretty effective, but it’s a problem of scale. The underlying problem is that there’s so much spam now – something like 73% of email is spam just now (I suspect the web is worse). I expect much of the rest is legitimate robots too, like newsletters, automated billing, or notifications about social network activity.

So, we want to trap the spam, while letting humans and good robots through. We can’t use physical ability tests because there are both human spammers who are paid to spam trickier sites manually, and people like me who fail things like Google’s “human” test because we use technology to overcome our physical limitations: there are now robots that are better than me at voice recognition or passing eyetests!

We try to design websites so that the return on investment for spammers is too low (don’t give untrusted users outgoing links automatically, basically). Even so, when we’re using some popular software like WordPress, our site settings don’t give them a return, but most stupid automatic spammers don’t bother to check and still have a go.

After that, the main things we’re trying are rules of thumb to trap spammers (which is usually enough to filter out 90% or so) and to group sites together in informal co-operative spam-fighting networks like blogspam.net, so that once a spammer is spotted, they should get blocked on lots of sites (which blocks a bit over half of the remaining 10%).

Sadly, the rest gets shown to humans for decision. Real comments are so few and far between now that we really don’t want to risk turning real people away and killing discussions.

We used to go after spammers who got shown to humans, but there are now too many spammers and too many service providers who won’t kick spammers off their services: the spammers pay them and we don’t: all we could do was waste their money in support, so they stopped offering any support to non-customers. Is that a flaw in the co-operative nature of the Internet? Can we overcome it? Wish I knew…

Posted in Cooperatives, Education, Training and Information, Wordpress and Blogs | 2 Comments

Elected as @theCooperative member delegate

Thank you to the co-operative group Cambridge and East Anglia area for electing me as their member delegate to the national half-yearly meeting and annual general meeting. Please tell me what you’d like me to do (such as comment here or there’s a private contact form on my website), else I’ll do what seems best at the time.

Thanks also to our co-op for allowing me the time to do this and for helping with the process. Co-ops do different. :-)

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Business As Mutual conference, Anglia Ruskin Uni, 12 Sep

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Here’s a summary of what happened at this conference. Opening address. Keynote from Nick Hurd MP, @minforcivsoc. “Lot less money around.” Called canals and rivers trust the biggest social enterprise. Blames lack of large social enterprises on culture, leadership and access to capital. First Big Society Capital investments announced tomorrow. Questions (and responses) about what had changed in commissioning (determination?), something about accountability in health I think but I didn’t hear (more public scrutiny), other models besides worker-led (gov is agnostic, but that’s just the type of mutuals so far), and capital renewal (gov is challenging the banks with Big Society Bank).

This is going to get a bit long, so click through to our site to read what the other the speakers had to say and what that block of flats in the picture has to do with it…

Continue reading

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We have moved!

With immediate effect, our co-op is now at:

12 Canada Road, Erith DA8 2HE

Please send any official post there instead of Somerset, because the forwarding is slow and I expect it to miss a few items.

Our telephone numbers and email addresses remain the same, of course. It’s still best to use the contact form on our website.

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Co-operatives Fortnight, an interview with me!

For Co-operatives Fortnight this year (finished 7 July I think), I was a guest on the CyberUnions show. It was titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like in a Workplace” and you can download it as a podcast from http://s.coop/q1af

Because it’s an interview, it’s not a comprehensive introduction to co-ops or free software businesses: more like some highlights around topics that interested the trade union activists who present the show. There’s at least two points where chunks of the call seem to have been replaced by road noise (not from my microphone!). The web page for the show does fill in the gaps, give people a chance to comment and ask more, of course.

As mentioned at the end of the show, we recorded it using jitsi, which uses XMPP (Jabber) to connect the calls. It seems OK, but I’m more familiar with the SIP-based linphone which now does conference calling. If anyone has tips on how to get better sound quality from jitsi recordings, I’m sure they’d love to know. We could only get jitsi to record mp3 files and there didn’t seem an easy way for each participant to record only their own microphone, which is better for later editing.

Take a listen and ask on the show notes if you’ve any questions, please. Also, maybe you’ll have some questions for the union activists, or would like to suggest a guest they could interview about creating radical social change?

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Bibliohack London

Well this isn’t Edinburgh. This is London calling. More from kohacon later.

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Today I was at OKFN’s bibliohack . There were several interesting projects there and it was a good opportunity to get back into coding, metadata and APIs after thinking about conference practicalities for too long.

BibSoup and its biblioserver software was my chosen hack. I didn’t really make the most of it because I had to workaround broken wifi drivers that I hadn’t noticed before, and I had to fix a broken java install that I did know about. BibSoup is mostly python and I think web.py, but it uses elasticsearch which is java. Oh and it’s python 2.7 with virtualenv which is, erm, entertaining to get working on debian 6.0, as far as I can tell: I installed python2.7 from testing, backport python-virtualenv and I don’t think anything broke.

The approach to a hackfest was very different to kohacon’s. Whereas people at kohacon hackfest were gathered around tables, moving to the talks table(s) when there was a talk they wanted, bibliohack started off classroom-style and didn’t gather into workgroups until after coffee. The so-called “non-coders” were shunted off elsewhere after the welcome to do I-don’t-know-what (maybe Library Co-op will write about it) and weren’t seen again until the day’s end.

There were some nudging comments about being able to hack late into the night, which I’m not sure is healthy if you’ve done a full day. I left feeling a bit unsettled and disconnected from reality, although I got what I wanted from it – playing with some new tech that we can maybe do good things with: thanks OKFN!

Posted in Koha | Tagged | 1 Comment