Archive for May, 2009

Social Saturday

A while back Julia Higginbottom asked on Twitter who we thought might be deserving of the hash tag #socialsaturday after their name, i.e. who uses Twitter and online networks to create and arrange very real live social situations from drinks down the pub to more formal gatherings.  These are people I’ve come across (in no particular order) who thoroughly deserve it and why:

Ben Whitehouse (@benjibrum)

As well as always being up for meeting for a pint and/or piece of cake, Ben organises the Birmingham Film Group.  He’s also a regular volunteer at the Social Media Surgeries and joined me and the We Share Stuff crew for a very sociable couple of days at the Digital Inclusion Conference, peaking with his fantastic interview of a protester in Parliament Square, That London.  He’s currently working on an emotional tour of Birmingham and, because he’s so sharing and caring, has asked for our input.  Please give him the back the love he so freely gives out with your suggestions!

Michael Grimes (@citizensheep)

He’s just utterly lovely.  So lovely, in fact, that Pete Ashton saw fit to create We Love Michael Grimes, which the Birmingham crew have been only too happy to contribute to.  Michael sees Twitter as a great social tool that can create and reinforce friendships in the real world, and wrote this incredibly touching post explaining how that’s helped him personally.  He’ll be mortified I’ve written this, just as he is when anyone sings his praises.  It’s one of the things that makes him so utterly lovely.

Shona McQuillan (@graphiquillan)

Shona can’t just organise a piss-up in a brewery, she can organise it at the drop of a hat.  A Stetson hat, that is.  First came WxWM for us Brummies not in the exodus to SXSWi, then came its bouncing baby Moseley Barcamp.  But in between the two, because Shona decided she didn’t have quite enough on her plate organising barcamps and creating beautiful art, is WxWM2: Sue Ellen’s Almighty Hangover.  It will be an almighty hangover if tonight’s tweets are anything to go by.  It’s ten hours away yet but she’s already started on the cider. Go on.

Nikki Pugh (@genzaichi) and Charlie Pinder (@pindec)

Sorry to lump these two together, as I’m sure they do amazing things separately, but they’re here for the fun and games that are BARG and the Birmingham Hack Space (along with Antonio Roberts and Midge).  Come and play!

Nick Booth (@podnosh)

A lovely, sociable guy who shares the love and knowledge with Social Media Surgeries for Birmingham charities and voluntary groups, organising the Brumbloggers into passing on their knowledge on a monthly basis.

Karen Strunks (@karenstrunks)

Getting social on global scale with her magical 4am Project, which had photographers up at that ungodly hour snapping away before, in Birmingham’s case, eating gargantuan breakfasts.  Also responsible for a Twitter Flashmob.  Karen always seems to be thinking up imaginative ideas to get people connecting online together in the real world.

I’m sure I’ve missed people out, please feel free to comment any omissions.  In fact, I’ve just thought of another one:

Me (@getgood)

Being a pale imitation of those above and jumping on the bandwagon by organising an outing to Friction Arts’ Echoes From The Edge this Saturday 31st May at 2pm, which I’ve been to before but am going back for more because I loved it so much.  Please let me know if you’d like to come!

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Will Perrin’s Kings Cross tour

Crumble castle

Will Perrin’s Kings Cross tour – Here’s a Flickr set of photos I took whilst being given a tour of Kings Cross by the lovely Will Perrin. My favourite is the above picture of Crumbles Castle, which put the bricks of local demolition to great use by creating a children’s playground with them. It really illustrated how Will has come to social media from a community activism perspective, using it and other means to make very real, physical changes to the local neighbourhood.

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I’m not a tw*t

Joanna Geary at the Journalism Leaders Forum from Chris Unitt on Vimeo.

Last week I got a little angry for a couple of reasons.  First, Will Perrin linked to an article on Hold The Front Page about hyperlocal news sites, which was full of some quite ignorant comments by the old school of journalism such as:

The only people who read such illiterate ?local? online rubbish are the halfwits who spend the wee small hours writing such tosh and railing against the unfairness of life, instead of going out and getting one.

and

…Rather than monkeying about behind a keyboard, wouldn’t they be more use going out and getting real stories rather than allowing matey down the road to continue his feud with Fred the Neighbour in full view of anyone with internet access?

Will rightfully just felt sorry for them but it made me kind of mad.  And then Chris Unitt posted the above video of Joanna Geary arguing against some quite astounding statements, and I got even madder.

So I’ve been thinking, Why?  Why do these people make me kind of angry?  I suppose it’s because they’re talking about me and bloggers like me.  And telling anyone who’ll listen that they should form some pretty negative preconceptions about me before so much as reading my work, checking my whereabouts online or talking to me.  And that seems sort of unfair – that people who listen to them won’t come to me with an open mind with a sensible amount of natural caution, but with quite a closed one thinking my medium means I’m not to be trusted.

I’m not mad (eccentric yes, mad no).  I’m not a liar (too much Catholic guilt for that). Most importantly, I’m Not Stupid. I actually don’t think I’m that unusual in being Not Stupid. A lot of bloggers are Not Stupid enough to realise filling a blog with personal gripes, neighbourhood wars, scurrilous rumours and conjecture makes for a miserable read and isn’t going to get them or their blog very far.

So us local bloggers don’t do that.  We tell stories about our community from our own personal perspective, admittedly – I have never made any claim that Digbeth is Good is completely impartial – but by in large we keep things real.  And as we go on telling local stories using our own, personalised voices people reading them get to know us, talk to us and hopefully, if we’re doing it right, trust us.

What was most interesting about the video was the opening gambit of, “I don’t trust what I read on a blog.  I may do if I know the person, but chances are I won’t know the person.” Er…chances are you will, either online or offline, especially with a hyperlocal blog.  People reading the Digbeth is Good blog may then find and befriend over Twitter or Facebook and get to know me that way.  Or they’ll meet me in the flesh – I don’t just sit at home ‘monkeying about behind a keyboard’. I go to stuff going on locally – be they Residents’ Association meetings, art launches, festivals or pub crawls (a girl’s gotta drink).  I know a surprising amount of my readers and have some sort of personal relationship with a lot of them.

I’m not saying journalists should come to my, or anyone’s blog, blindly trusting it.  Neither does Jo – she stresses that journalists should be cautious of all their sources.  Just that it would be better for both journalists and bloggers if they came to blogs with an open mind.  Because if they don’t , bloggers get tarnished with a rather dirty brush and journalists seriously miss out.

Imagine I went to a party full of strangers but, before entering, resolved to assume everyone within is a twat?  If I did that, I probably won’t find out the girl with the nibbles shares my passion for horror films, or that the host shares my morbid sense of humour, or that the guy by the drinks is the man of my dreams.  Because I’ll be too busy thinking they’re all twats, I’ll end up leaving early, alone and miserable.

That’s all I ask – for people not to assume I’m a twat before getting to know me or my work.  Is that so much?

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Link: Join us in a UK hyperlocal alliance? « Talk About Local

Join us in a UK hyperlocal alliance? « Talk About Local – Will Perrin wants to know if there’s sufficient support for this:

…we want to know if hyperlocal people in the UK are up for some sort of ?UK Hyperlocal Alliance? (working title) dedicated to a positive future for hyperlocal content in the UK. This isn?t an attempt to form a trade body or a union or a lobby group, just a simple web resource where we can sign up to a simple statement of intent, get in touch with each other and tell our stories.

Please support him by commenting!

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Social Media Surgeries in prison?

At the National Digital Inclusion conference I noticed a few tweets from attendees about people in prison using the internet.  I wasn’t actually in the conference hall at the time, so I’m not sure why this conversation started or what the original discussion was.  It just sent me slightly off on one in my head.

I’m a massive fan of Radio 4 and I remember hearing a documentary ages ago about prisoners who were given tape recorders so they could tape themselves reading bedtime stories to the children they’d been separated from.  It was a lovely project – it improved the prisoners’ literacy and helped them to continue their relationship with their loved ones whilst they were inside.

So it got me to thinking – is there no way they could be allowed to use some social media/networking tools to help with the same ends?  I voiced this to Nick Booth, who’s had some experience working with prisons and he told me that prison-based projects should fulfill these aims:

  • Increase future employability by giving prisoners skills they can use in the workplace.
  • Reduce prisoners’ inclination to reoffend by reinforcing their connections with the outside world, such as their families.

Both of which social media could help with.  Of course there are obvious obstacles, the chief one being how to retain an element of control over prisoners’ use so they don’t abuse it.

I’m sure a lot of people can think of a lot of reasons against this idea and probably think I’m bonkers for so much as suggesting it.  But for me, social media is largely about connecting people.  Which is the one thing a prisoner can’t do.  So if these tools could somehow be used to help them sustain their relationships with loved ones, which means they’ll have a support network when released, and teach them a skillset that could attract employers, it might be worth thinking about how the obvious obstacles could be overcome.

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Digbeth is Good hacked by pr0n

Not a nice experience, this.

At the last Social Media Surgery I was chatting to the lovely Ged Hughes, who’s done a brilliant job with her Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum blog – well done Ged! Anyway, she was asking me how to improve a site’s Google ranking and I explained that, as you link and get linked back to and as your online social network grows, you rise up. I then tried to use Digbeth is Good as an example: “You see, if you search for ‘Digbeth’ in Google, Digbeth is Good is the first thing to come up.”

Except it wasn’t the first thing to come up. In fact, it was nowhere to be found.  Digbeth is Good had kind of disappeared.  It was probably around this time that Ben Whitehouse took this photograph:

Nicky shows Ged Hughes the Digbeth is Good google ranking

A crisis call was shouted across the room to Pete Ashton, who did some online digging.  It seemed that searches for ‘digbeth.org’ were okay but if you searched for ‘Digbeth’ or ‘Nicky Getgood’ the site was nowhere to be found. Curiouser and curiouser.

And then he switched the stylesheet off in page view and all became clear.  It revealed a load of links in the header to all sorts of disgusting sites.  Digbeth is Good had effectively been turned into a lot of links to sexing-type spam.

Things took a bit of fixing – seeing if it was a rogue WordPress plugin by disabling them all (it wasn’t), getting rid of the links in the template and changing the FTP password, which Pete suspected they’d got into.

So now the spam has gone.  But the problem of the Google ranking hasn’t.  Seems I’ve been put into the Google naughty corner for my sins and need to do a bit of work to get out of it.  Like joining Google webmaster and putting in a ‘reconsideration request’ and other ideas on this film forwarded to me by the thoughtful Andy Mabbett.

I’m pretty annoyed about it.  I feel kind of violated (some nasty pervert’s been fiddling with my Digbeth is Good baby) and I have to waste time and energy learning how to do stuff to put it right (I need to join Google Webmaster to put in a Reconsideration Request, and to do that I have to put a verification meta tag into the template header. Erk).

But a lesson’s been learnt.  I had no idea that this could happen, I’d never heard of a template being hacked before.  So be careful of your passwords and your WordPress plugins, folks.  If the former is too easy, or the latter a nasty Trojan horse, you could end up linking to sites selling cheap, performance-enhancing drugs.  Grrrr….

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National Digital Inclusion Conference 2009

Well, it’s time for my overdue retrospective on the National Digital Inclusion Conference 27-28 April.  I was invited to join the We Share Stuff crew in delivering Social Media Surgeries in the exhibition space.  So I spent most of Monday talking to people from local authorities, charities and organisations such as The University Of The Third Age about how to use tools like blogging, Facebook and Twitter and how they could benefit their companies.

Monday evening was We Share Stuff’s Fringe event in Westminster Student Union Bar.  It was pretty much a social thing, which gave everyone a chance to meet and catch up with each other.  I got chatting to the lovely David Wilcox and we had an interesting chat about how local blogs such as Digbeth is Good can sometimes have too much of an author’s personal stamp on them for others to feel comfortable writing within them.  A kind of ‘you can live in my house but not move any of my stuff or have add ornaments of your own’ type thing.  Which gave me some food for thought.

As the drinks were downed, someone (I unsurprisingly forget who – comment if you remember) came up with the idea that we should take the conference outside of the QE2 Conference Centre and ask people on the London streets what they understood, thought and felt about digital inclusion.  I had a whale of a time Flip-filming people’s take on Digital Inclusion with Ben Whitehouse and Stuart Parker.  Chatting up strangers in the street is a great hangover cure.

My very favorite was Ben with the protester, who spoke about how online relationships are only truly productive when they’re extensions of real ones.  We could have kissed her.

I loved talking to this contractor just outside the QE2 Centre, who had never been on the internet in his life.  Despite wanting to and having access to a PC in his home, he just didn’t see the relevance of it in his working or home life to make the time to do it.  Whilst his daughter speaks to extended family over Facebook, he prefers to stick to using the phone.  Which is totally fair enough – use what you’re comfortable with.  But very interesting.

And my third favorite was Gerry the pub landlord, digitally engaged through online gambling.  Purely because he was so utterly charming and made some good points about the need to teach people skills in a way they will understand and not get fazed by the jargon and technology.

What was most interesting about the whole exercise was when I asked people what digital inclusion was, they usually didn’t know.  But when you asked them if and how they used the internet, a lot of them actually were digitally included to some extent.  Which means we are using a term that is not widely understood at the moment.  Something that needs fixing, I think.

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