Postbureaucrat

Personal blogging by Steph Gray, founder of Helpful Digital and erstwhile bureaucrat

Unblocking the Blockers

OK, it’s time to be a bit subversive.

Social Media Test Suite survey

We have the Civil Service guidance on participation online, and yet in organisations across the UK, public servants and others are being prevented from engaging online at work thanks to restrictions placed on their internet access by their IT providers. Some of these are well-intentioned: designed to prevent malicious attacks through unguarded use of attachments to webmail messages. Some are questionable, but understandable, like blocking access to webmail to prevent leaking of sensitive material. But often, they’re just bloody-minded and a symptom of a lack of understanding that social networks, wikis and online video are increasingly important tools that people need to access from work in order to their jobs properly. As one person told me today: “It’s OK, I can call up X to get temporary access to that site, but still, it makes me feel subversive, like I’m doing something out of the ordinary which isn’t a real part of my job”. We won’t get anywhere with digital engagement unless we start treating colleagues as trustworthy adults.

(Note to managers: if people abuse the access they’re offered, discipline them according to the acceptable use policy they’ve signed up to. If you’re not aware of how they’re spending their time at work, why on earth not?)

So let’s try and build a picture of access to social media tools from the workplace. Please run my social media test suite survey from your workplace machine and let’s see who the blockers are. I’m happy to publish here, or in the survey results you can see when you complete the survey, any appropriate explanations or justifications from IT providers. I know there can be good reasons for limiting access, and we should separate those from the bad ones.

Finally, as it says on the front page of the survey, don’t attempt the survey if you have the misfortune of working somewhere really prehistoric and draconian: if even attempting to access social media sites will get you in trouble, please don’t.

UPDATE: the results are in.

Related posts on this blog

25 comments on “Unblocking the Blockers

  1. Tim Davies says:

    Steph – this is fantastic.

    Have you got a list of the sites included in your test at the moment?

    And will there be an easy way to share the outcome data? I’d love to use something like this with local authorities in an action learning set I’m just about to start running.

    One extra option though it may be worth adding to survey responses is ‘I can see the site – but it’s just displaying as plain text’ as I’ve encountered quite a few environments in which, for example, a Ning website or even Facebook is not blocked, but the static.ning.com domain, or fbcdn.com (Content Delivery Network for FB I think…) domains are blocked so the site displays with no images or CSS files loaded.

  2. Steph Steph says:

    Tim – absolutely, there’s a link at the end of the survey to see the table of all the results so far, which could be cut and pasted into a spreadsheet if anyone so wishes. I’m loathe to put the link here now because I want people to go through and run the tests to contribute to the dataset!

    I’ll take a look at the option you mentioned maybe a ‘There was the following problem: ______’ option might be useful on the questions.

  3. This is excellent stuff, how long are you intending on keeping it open.

  4. […] his post about access to social media and then run his access test […]

  5. Great tool, Steph. In a recent ministerial correspondence I raised the issue of social media access as one of my primary concerns for 2009… or should I say 1995 🙂

  6. Look forward to the results. Though I have a good relationship with the IT guys, and they understand our side of things pretty well, it frustrates me no end that we have to ask for each site to be whitelisted one by one… Madness.

  7. Mike Ellis says:

    Nice idea, and well implemented.

    We had this problem (and to the best of my knowledge, it still is a massive problem) at NMSI, which includes The Science Museum, Railway Museum and Media Museum. I was Head of Web for a number of years – trying to keep up with media developments when you can’t see them is…challenging…

    I’ve just emailed their head of IT to see if he’ll take part 🙂

  8. anon says:

    Birmingham City Council have told staff that they are going to block access to social networking sites between 10am-12noon and 2-4pm for everyone other than people who have special approval as part of there jobs from the end of January. They already block access to Flicker for most people

  9. Jon Worth says:

    Had to take this test Steph just to test it out, although my entry is not very handy for your stats. I’ll forward it to a bunch of people.

  10. […] advocate Steph Gray is trying to find out how many work computer users in the UK have access to social media blocked for personal or […]

  11. Staggeringly inspired, Steph! I shall share this at work and see what happens. Speechless, this is superb…

  12. […] Steph Gray, the community manager at DIUS, has decided to start fighting corporate decisions to close down access to social media by creating this social media test suite. Here is his blurb: So let’s try and build a picture of access to social media tools from the workplace. Please run my social media test suite survey from your workplace machine and let’s see who the blockers are. I’m happy to publish here, or in the survey results you can see when you complete the survey, any appropriate explanations or justifications from IT providers. I know there can be good reasons for limiting access, and we should separate those from the bad ones. […]

  13. […] this from the Washington Post to me – It may cheer Steph up a little to know that he’s not fighting a purely British problem…. “Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in […]

  14. […] all for a great response to the Social Media Test Suite survey – in just over a week, 55 people helped out sharing data about the internet access policies of 35 […]

  15. […] Gray at DIUS has developed a handy little tool for detecting which social media applications have been blocked at […]

  16. […] on Twitter) blog, Helpul Technology. He has provided some very interesting results to his ‘Who Blocks – Social Media Test Suite‘ survey of Local […]

  17. […] the results of a little skunkworks project he ran to answer this question. As he describes in his original post, his objective was to: We have the Civil Service guidance on participation online, and yet in […]

  18. Ian Watson says:

    This is a welcome initiative which I hope will stimulate a change in attitudes. I’ve given it a plug on our website (http://www.iriss.ac.uk/node/718) and in our webwatch column in a mag called Care Appointments.

  19. Pirsey says:

    This is quite a up-to-date information. I’ll share it on Delicious.

  20. Robin Street says:

    Hi, A very useful tool that I have just asked some 29 local authities across the Yorkshire & Humber region to run as I’m working on a region wide project using social media in regulatory services. Several of the authorities have come back to me with a problem with the test and the twitter page. Instead of loading withing the box it hijacks the browser and displays a full page and you can’t then return to the test. Perhaps you could add an option as per Yahoo with a new page or tab ann return.

    Thanks

  21. Steph Steph says:

    Interesting – thanks Robin. I’ll take a look.

  22. Paul Hart says:

    Hi Steph,
    I remember this survey from a while back, we’re wanting to re-produce something similar to gauge where we’re at in 2011 in Scotland. Can you share how you did the survey? Hand crafted? Survey Monkey etc?

    thanks
    paul

    1. Steph Steph says:

      Yes, it was using a survey tool I built years ago, but which is sadly now neglected. You can still see the survey form (if you want to rip out any of the questionnaire) at: http://www.helpfultechnology.com/survey/survey.php?sid=344799

      For starters, I’d look to include Google Docs in the suite now, as that often seems to be blocked in local government…

      1. Paul Hart says:

        Thanks Steph, very helpful – I’m also going to include URL shorteners in the test, as was noted by one of your participants. There much more common these days.

        YouTube have this speed test page (if you can access it that is!) – http://www.youtube.com/my_speed