Freesteel Blog » goes on strike goes on strike

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 at 12:32 am Written by:

Sometime after the discovery of the International Year of the Potato, there was a late night vote of 1 to 0 with 0 abstentions to put the project on strike, because nobody loves it.

The UN_document wikipedia template has been diverted to the UN Documentation Centre. The front page links to this blog post. And the full output of the parser, which will still continue to run, remains in this directory.

If there is an objective measure of respect for a website, it can be expressed by the number and quality of links that come into it. Aside from the couple hundred structured wikipedia links which I did myself, now harmlessly disabled, the exhaustive list of links to is as follows:

  • A large handful from my blog and another blog which I write for
  • A spam report page on wikipedia
  • A link most of the way down on the Cambridge University Model United Nations Society research page which doesn’t even work
  • Two [1] [2] references from blogs about Hack Day in June
  • A minor note at the bottom of someone else’s blog post in July
  • One minuscule sentence somewhere lost in a blog posting in September
  • The page for my scheduled talk at Pycon 2007
  • A talk by “net-political troublemaker extraordinaire” Stefan Magdalinski in October where he mentioned the site in detail (I know because I went down to London especially), but where the write-up links to everything else but it
  • A link I put in for BarcampUKGovweb under my own name
  • er…
  • That’s it.

Clearly, in spite of my best efforts (and I’ve left out all the blow-by-blow details), I’ve not got what it takes. And nobody who has what it takes has made themselves available.

This site stays down until further notice, except when I want to look at it, or I want to show it to someone, or I am on my way to barcamp, which I guess is the same thing. I wrote the whole original parser for for no credit, which obviously matured into no social capital of the kind that can be used to influence people. This one is definitely sitting out in an unhappy place.

Feel free to contact me through the comment system on this blog post, or email, which so far has never used.

Messages I do not want to hear include:
(a) “You’re too impatient. You haven’t given this enough time+effort”;
(b) “You’re no good at connecting with people. Try a little more persuading and a little less ranting”;
(c) “You’re being completely unreasonable. You have no right to do this with the work of so many other people.”

Messages I would prefer to hear include:
(a) “It does seem odd and unfair how little has come out of it in six months, even though you have jumped at every opportunity you could think of”;
(b) “You have proven to be far less capable of generating publicity than at programming. I’m pretty good at doing publicity. Maybe there’s stuff I can do which doesn’t involve beginning with a lecture about all the things you’re doing wrong”;
(c) “I can see why you have been driven to go on strike. I thought I was quite interested in the project, but now I realize I have never once put a link to it on my blog or tried to get to know the project better. Frankly, I’m not sure why that is. And if can’t decode exactly why I’ve felt this apathetic, I don’t see why should be able to.”

Anything else remotely productive or encouraging will be gratefully received, although I am primarily looking for tangible offers from people who can convince me they will actually do something. I plan on this lasting at least a couple of months. Maybe a year. Or until I experience a change in mood. But, believe me, if I can get this far on what has basically been zero encouragement, my moods can be pretty stable over long periods.


  • 1. Jack replies at 20th November 2007, 1:09 am :


    Here are some strategies:

    1. Spread the word about UNdemocracy among UN watchers, particularly those who do stuff online. By this I mean researchers at university departments and think tanks. Tell them why UNdemocracy gives them the opportunity to reference UN proceedings in a way that is not possible with the official UN website. UNdemocracy should become the target of everyone’s citations of UN proceedings. How to do this? Well, come up with a one-page user guide which explains why UNdemocracy ‘reaches the parts that other UN websites don’t’.

    2. Think of another name. UNdemocracy to me contains too much of an overt value judgment – i.e. that the UN is not ‘democratic’ and therefore a ‘bad thing’. Your objective should be to make a tool that changes the relationship between citizens and the UN by opening the UN up to a new level of public scrutiny and debate. But at the moment UNdemocracy loses credibility by appearing shallowly anti-UN.

    3. Raise some foundation money to hire some researchers to do some headline-grabbing analysis drawing on the functionality of the site. I might be able to help with this.

    Anyway, sounds like you’ve been letting the bad weather get to you. Hope you feel better before too long.

    Btw, I think (a) and (b) are perfectly reasonable responses to your present sulk. The notion of ‘build it and they shall come’ is misguided.


  • 2. Tomas replies at 20th November 2007, 9:09 pm :

    I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear but I thought you might hear a bit of encouragement. Your site was one of the best sites for reasearching UN and stuff, especially useful for MUN research.
    I m in charge of quite a small MUN sciety but I’ve recommended it to the ones I could.


  • 3. su replies at 21st November 2007, 2:24 am :

    Agree w/ Tomas..I’m so disappointed! It was a great sight, good idea, I was so excited when I discovered it 🙁

  • 4. Mikel Maron replies at 21st November 2007, 5:53 pm :

    Wow, what to say?

    Personally I think it would be more effective for your objectives to keep the current functionality as it is and keep it running, but put up a visible notice asking for increased visibility and programming help. It might still stay quiet for some time, but I think for the UN in particular, this work is ahead of its time.

    Besides the too brief mention in that blog post, I’ve tried to help promote the site a lot. I’ve mentioned UNDemocracy in several conference talks, including one where I met you and told you excitedly how cool it is. I’ve promoted UNDemocracy on email lists internal to the UN, and gotten a very favorable response. Trust me — people within the UN have noticed, but they are an extremely slow moving organization, they need patience. And I suggested you submit a proposal to the Web4Dev conference in Nairobi, which you prudently declined due to unnecessary carbon emissions .. but my point is that the opportunities are there.

    Things take time. I promoted GeoRSS through worldKit for two years before anyone noticed. Why? Because I was convinced it was the right way to go. And in the end, it’s been adopted as the standard for the GeoWeb. Anything worth doing takes time to build critical mass, but you have to find rewards along the way, like just enjoying the work and incorporating the results in your own projects. And like I said, the UN is an especially slow moving beast, and not especially sexy, so this is going to take some patience.

    I’d hate to see UNDemocracy continue on strike. If you don’t want to maintain it, would you consider allowing others to help out in the interim?

  • 5. Rob replies at 24th November 2007, 2:06 am :

    Julian, hope you are ok. From personal experience on the NZ site I know that these projects take a lot of mental and emotional energy from those creating them.

    I want to thank you for all the work you have done so far related to UK and UN politics. More importantly I want to thank you for being an inspiration for me to start getting involved in this sort of work. Your ability to show people what is possible and inspire others is probably having wider repercussions than you realize. I believe the system is emergent from the contributions of all 6 billion of us. Each of us that starts doing things differently has ripple effects across the rest. Hard to measure, but maybe it’s the doing that counts, outcomes are really beyond our personal control.

  • 6. Brain Off » Progres&hellip replies at 25th November 2007, 7:20 pm :

    […] poised to grow rapidly. I’m going to add imagery from Merano when I have the chance. I’m disappointed that […]

  • 7. Paul Currion replies at 28th November 2007, 12:04 pm :

    Perhaps you could add the link from my site on July 4. However I freely admit that not that many people read my blog, and those that do tend to be a bit… specialised. Also, I got my facts wrong and misattributed it to Sam Smith, but then corrected it thanks to Sam. Looking back, I said

    projects like these make the workings of the UN more accessible, and therefore more transparent… The question is, how can we leverage this type of information in our day-to-day work? What does it mean if we expose the workings of the organisation to more scrutiny?

    I agree with most of what has been said above, so I guess that my own question would be more strategic – who did you hope to reach with it? The reality is that most people aren’t that interested by the workings of the UN, largely because it is such a distant and opaque organisation.

    I read and agreed with your post on the purpose of UNdemocracy, but I think you might have been developing a product for which there is no demand. Now I agree that there should be demand, but the question that seems most pertinent in light of your frustration is, how might one create that demand, and amongst which constituency?

  • 8. Sesas replies at 20th December 2007, 10:59 am :

    wow! that is what we need for democracy! easy access to gov data. So let me get this straight, you have a parser that monitors the United Nation website for changes and organiza the data published into categories for a better view, right?
    Does this parser work for any gov website? that would be really cool and useful to many country. i would be interested in the italian version of it.
    What programming language did you use?

    thx for the idea, and I’m sorry that you’re on strike, you surely don’t deserve it.

  • 9. » What I learned fr&hellip replies at 29th January 2008, 12:45 am :

    […] (it is always deferred) but never debates invasion of Iraq. Unfortunately, Julian Todd at unDemocracy is still on strike. – Peter Hain’s recent fall from gr […]

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