The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

Coping with complexity: Integrated status updates using UnionBook, Facebook, Twitter and Blogs

The increasing diversity in the world of information and communications technology poses new challenges to trade unionists.

The announcement this month that Google intends to compete with Microsoft with an operating system of its own (to be known as Chrome OS) is only the latest expression of this.

Smartphones already have several platforms, making it increasingly difficult to come up with one-size-fits-all solutions. A union that wants its members to be able to follow the latest news on a small screen device needs to be thinking about how to implement that on an iPhone, in Windows Mobile, Palm's Web OS, Google's Android, or Symbian.

The rise and rise of Mozilla Firefox means that it is no longer acceptable for unions to create websites that only work in Internet Explorer. (Amazingly, until very recently the union-owned bank Unity Trust would not allow online banking to work in anything other than the Microsoft browser.) It is likely that Google's own browser, Chrome, will eventually win larger market share, complicating things further.

This increasing diversity is also found in the brand-new notion of one's status online. For the millions of Facebook users, this is a key feature of the social network.

With the emergence of Twitter, which consists of nothing more than one's status, things begin to get complicated. Do you update your status on Facebook and copy that somehow to Twitter? That's already twice as much work. And if you have a blog, how could you incorporate that status there as well?

Fortunately, there are new ways to overcome these obstacles and to exploit diversity to make our work online more effective.

For example, with the plethora of competing operating systems for mobile phones, some have suggested that we not attempt to create individual applications for each one, but instead focus on universally-readable news feeds using RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

With multiple web browsers now a reality, unions and everyone else should be building standards-compliant websites that work in any browser.

And there are now ways to change one's status online with a single click, triggering updates to multiple platforms.

Let's start with UnionBook, the new social networking site for trade unionists. UnionBook has its own microblogging function known as the Wire.

UnionBook's Wire messages can be automatically streamed to Twitter. And there's a Twitter plug in for Facebook which turns tweets into one's Facebook status. Twitter also offers a JavaScript plugin that will work with any blog or website.

The result is that when I post an update to the Wire on UnionBook, the short text is automatically shown to my followers on Twitter, appears as my status on Facebook, and is displayed on the front page of my blog.

As some people look at my blog but have never heard of Twitter, or may be Facebook addicts but are not yet signed up to UnionBook, this is a great way to reach everyone.

The Internet is becoming an increasingly diverse environment with new tools appearing all the time. Getting our message out requires us to find tools that are efficient and effective -- such as RSS, standards-compliant sites that work in all browsers, and integrated status updates using UnionBook, Twitter and Facebook.


Hi Eric,

While you are correct that more people are using Firefox and alternative browsers, unions also need to ensure their website render with obsolete browsers such as IE6. Simply put, most people use old, out of date browsers, or use IE (over 70%). This is certainly a problem I faced with my union's website, where people complained it didn't appear properly. I checked and discovered it was because they were using IE6, instead of IE7 or IE8, or Firefox.