Category Archives: social media

The BBC, Regional News and Sport, and Hyperlocal Blogs

This is the second in a pair of posts about my recent meeting with Robin Morley, the BBC‘s Social media lead for the English Regions. The first, “The BBC, Open Content and Wikipedia“, was published yesterday.

Many BBC regional news items currently have “From other news sites” sections, which link to reports of the same stories, from other news providers, including traditional newspapers and others. For example, this report of a happy outcome to missing child case from Smethwick has stories from the West Midlands Police, the Rugby Advertiser, Manchester (!) Wired, Huffington Post UK and the Birmingham Mail:

Screenshot of the 'From other news sites' section of the news story linked to above

However, these sections don’t yet include hyperlocal blogs. Indeed, the BBC say:

In general, our rules tend to give greater weight to national and international sources over regional or local ones.

At my suggestion, Robin has graciously agreed to consider requests from reputable hyperlocal websites, to have links to their news stories included in such sections. This, if I say so myself, is a major coup for hyperlocal blogging.

Interested hyperlocal bloggers (in England only, for now, as that’s the extent of Robin’s remit) are therefore invited to submit details of their blog, with links to a couple of their recent news stories, including original content (no churnalism, please) in a comment below, for consideration by Robin. I must emphasise that, while he’s kindly agreed to consider including such links, no promises have been made. The emphasis is on news stories, not lobbying or party-political pieces. Submissions blatantly failing to meet these criteria will not be published here.

To start things off, here are two modest stories from my local blog, The B44 (disclosure: I wrote the first of them), covering parts of Great Barr and Kingstanding in that postcode district.

Do you write for a hyperlocal blog? What are your best news exclusives? It’s up to us to demonstrate to Robin and his colleagues that suitable content exists.

I’ll report back on the outcome.

The BBC, Open Content and Wikipedia

I had a really interesting meeting with Robin Morley, the BBC‘s Social media lead for the English Regions, a couple of weeks ago. After he gave me a very interesting tour of their premises in Birmingham’s Mailbox (where, in its former guise as Royal Mail’s Birmingham head office, my father Trevor had an office), he described to me the work he does.

We then discussed how his London colleagues insert automatically content from Wikipedia, into the BBC website’s pages on wildlife (example: Barn Owl), and on music (example, of course, ). I contributed to the former by writing markup to make them emit the ‘species’ microformat, of which I’m also the author.

Screen capture of BBC article on Pink Floyd, linked to in post

BBC article on Pink Floyd, including Wikipedia content (links to original article)

They are able to do this because all of Wikipedia’s content is available under a . In other words, anyone can reuse it, for free.

I suggested to Robin that his news staff could similarly reuse Wikipedia content. For example, the article “Birmingham Assay Office silver name plaque stolen“:

screen shot of BBC article linked to from this post

BBC Birmingham & Black Country article on a theft from Birmingham Assay Office (links to original article)

could use text from Wikipedia in a pullout (a sub-section, or box at the side of the article) which might say:

The Birmingham Assay Office is one of the four remaining assay offices in the United Kingdom.

It opened on 31 August 1773 and initially operated from three rooms in the King’s Head Inn on New Street employing only four staff and was only operating on a Tuesday. The first customer on that day was Matthew Boulton. The hallmark of the Birmingham Assay Office is the Anchor.

Services provided by the office include nickel testing, metal analysis, plating thickness determination, bullion certification, consultancy and gem certification.

Text in this section copyright Wikipedia authors, licenced

All that would be required would be for credit to Wikipedia to be given, and the pullout text (but not the whole BBC article) to be made available under the same open licence, as above.

This could be done on articles about all sorts of topics: people, places, organisations, events and more, as well as sports reports.

Robin seemed to like the idea, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he and his colleagues make use of Wikipedia content.

Update: Another post, “The BBC, Regional News and Sport, and Hyperlocal Blogs” about something else we discussed at our our meeting, is now published.

Idea: A tool to make it easy to subscribe to web-based lists of Twitter accounts

Here’s an idea: a tool (which could be web based, or a browser plug in, or a mobile app; or a feature added to existing Twitter clients such as TweetDeck), which would take the URL of a page with a list of links to people’s Twitter profiles, like the one at http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/twitter, which I set up and maintained in a previous career,

Part of Birmingham City Council's list of Twitter accounts, showing those of parks' rangers

and either subscribe the operator to them all, or do that and then create a Twitter list containing them all.

Optionally, it could first present a checklist, from which individual accounts could be selected, or removed.

Would someone like to make this happen?

The Prime Minister, Social Media Surgeries and Me

The Prime Minster, David Cameron, really likes me. He’s just given me a “Big Society” award.

Well, not just me, but the whole Social Media Surgery movement, of which I’m proud to be a part. I’ve been standing on the shoulders of, and often shoulder-to-shoulder with, giants.

It all started in 2008, when a couple of very clever friends of mine, Pete Ashton and Nick Booth, decided to hold an event, in Birmingham, to which anyone from a not-for-profit organisation was invited, and where they would get free assistance in using the web, and especially social media tools, to promote or conduct their socially-useful activities, with “no boring speeches or jargon”.

The event — dubbed a Social Media Surgery —  went so well that they decided to repeat it regularly, and as soon as I head about it, I offered my assistance. I’ve been involved ever since.

Over the last three or four years, as well as the original and on-going Central Birmingham surgery, I’ve helped at Social Media Surgeries in Aston, Coventry, Digbeth, Dudley, Perry Barr, Stourbridge and elsewhere, I’ve also set up and run sessions near where I live in Oscott, north Birmingham, and in Walsall, and more impromptu Social Media Surgery sessions at unconferences like LibCamp.

I’m not alone. Surgeries directly spun off from what we do in Birmingham have been held in over 50 towns and cites, in pubs, community halls and cafes, on trains, and in tents at country fairs, and in several other countries.


Me, in my cool shades, helping at Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery in July 2011. © Gavin Wray, CC-BY-NC-SA

Literally hundreds of organisations have benefited. I personally have helped bereavement counselling services, organic fair-traders, residents’ associations, target-shooting rifle clubs, arts festival organisers, parks’ friends groups, model railway clubs, Oxfam supporters, art galleries, cyclists’ groups, hospices, local historians, and many others, to use Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr, Google Docs, and a host of other online tools. I’ve even taught a few to edit OpenStreetMap or edit Wikipedia, and to avoid conflicts of interest when doing the latter, by declaring them and not being overly promotional.

It’s been one of the most rewarding of the many voluntary activities I’ve performed. And as a result of all our work, we have now received the aforesaid award.

The Prime Minster said:

This is an excellent initiative — such a simple idea and yet so effective. The popularity of these surgeries and the fact that they have inspired so many others across the country to follow in their footsteps, is testament to its brilliance.

Congratulations to Nick and all the volunteers who have shared their time and expertise to help so many local groups make the most of the internet to support their community.

If you work or volunteer for a non-profit organisation, why not pop along to your nearest surgery? And if you already use such tools, even a little, why not pop along and offer to share your knowledge? If there isn’t a surgery near you, why not set one up?

On the other hand, your work is commercial (or you work for a not-for-profit organisation, but require additional or more intensive support), that’s part of what I do for a living. I’d be happy to hear from you.

I should also comment on the name of the award, since the surgeries have been running long before the current government came to power and before their “Big Society” brand was heard of, and would be held even if neither of those two things had occurred. We do this because we want to give to the community and help those who are prepared to try to improve their world, not because of a political ideology.

In closing, my thanks and congratulations, to my fellow surgery managers and surgeons (many of whom have written blog posts about receiving the award), especially those who’ve helped at the surgeries I’ve run and to the patients, whose appreciation and continued use of what we’ve shown them, make it all worthwhile.

Bullet points from UK Govcamp 2012

I spent Friday and Saturday at UKGovCamp2012, a splendid unconference, in London, for people interested in the use of digital technologies in local and national government. Or “Glasto for Geeks” as it has famously been described. My friend and fellow attendee Dan Slee has suggested that we all blog a list of 20 thoughts we brought away from the event. I’m happy to oblige.

Steph Gray planning sessions at UKGovCamp 2012. Picture by David J Pearson; some rights reserved.

  1. Our national and London rail systems are overpriced, and the former’s ticketing is ridiculously over-complicated.
  2. It’s a good idea to walk (or cycle) through London, rather then getting the tube. You’ll see great architecture and public art, and get a better impression of how the various districts are laid out. But wear sensible shoes.
  3. Geeks do have great senses of humour. Especially those at our generous hosts and butt of jokes, Microsoft.
  4. There is still a lot of uncertainty about Open Data — what’s it for, what do we want, how should we use it. This is good, because — despite some valid concerns about the centralisation of innovation more generally — there is still room for us to innovate with Open Data.
  5. There are a lot of Brompton bikes in London. I’m determined to take mine on a future trip.
  6. We need better systems in place for using social media in responding to emergency situations. Expect some exciting news about a new project I and some fellow attendees are planning, soon.
  7. Anke Holst does not appear old enough to have a teenage child.
  8. When beta.gov.uk comes out of beta, and current .go.uk domains are “retired”, it’s really, really important that existing links to them, from external sites, still work. And by work, I mean go to relevant content, not a home page. As a very wise man once said, “Cool URIs don’t change“.
  9. It’s possible to spend one or two days at an event with good friends, and still fail to manage to say hello to them. Apologies if that’s you.
  10. Open Data and Freedom of Information are the two are opposite sides of the same coin. If an organisation has people responsible for Open Data and FoI and those people are not either the same, or closely linked, then that organisation has a problem.
  11. Terence Eden is not only (with ) a generous host, but also an impressively entertaining speaker. If his day job fails (it won’t) he has a viable alternative career in stand-up observational comedy. I went to his QR code session not only to learn, but to enjoy.
  12. If you ask them, people who share will kindly change their settings, so others can tag them.
  13. If you put three expert™ Wikipedia editors together in a room you will get at least four interpretations of the Conflict of Interest policy.
  14. Twitter still rocks. Its so ubiquitous (to us) that we forget that; and that some people still don’t get it.
  15. There are — contrary to popular perception — people working in Government who are keen to and do, make the images they produce available under open licences, so that others may reuse them. OpenAttribute may be useful to them.
  16. I want a Scottevest!
  17. People like having the #ukgc12 bookmarks curated on Pinboard.
  18. People recently turned, or thinking of becoming, freelance need more advice and help, and perhaps a support network.
  19. If our wonderful organisers Dave Briggs and Steph Gray are “the Lennon and McCartney of gov digital people”, who is going to be The Frog Chorus?
  20. Beer tastes even better when it’s free. Thank you, kind sponsors.

See you there next year!

The BBC’s fundamental misunderstanding of copyright

On 6 August, I sent a complaint to the BBC:

Your reporting of this evening’s riot in Tottenham included photographs which you said, were “from Twitter”.

You may have found them via that website but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached.

You have done this with other recent news stories such as the Oslo attacks.

This is not acceptable.

In future, please give proper credit to photographers.

Here’s their reply, with my annotations and emboldening:

Dear Mr MABBETT [I’ve no idea why thay capitalised that — AM]

Reference CAS-918869-HR7W5Y

Thank you for your contact.

I understand you were unhappy that pictures from Twitter are used on BBC programmes as you feel it may be a breach of copyright.

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. The BBC is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.

I appreciate you feel the BBC shouldn’t be using pictures from Twitter [I didn’t say that — AM] and so I’ve registered your comment on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers as well as the programme makers and producers of ‘BBC News’.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

I’m speechless.

Update: I’ve sent a follow-up complaint to the BBC, you can see it below.

Update: Please note this comment, by Chris Hamilton, BBC News Social Media Editor.

Update: I have now received a further response from the BBC; quoted below with my reply to it.

Update: On 18 August, I received another response from the BBC; also quoted below.

Can you make a Freedom of Information request via Twitter?

I subscribe to a mailing list on United Kingdom Freedom of Information issues. Ironically, it doesn’t seem to have public archives, so I’m not going to name it here, and the quotes below are therefore anonymised.

One of the regular participants recently posted this:

The just published ICO newsletter contains the following :

The ICO has also been asked whether a request in a tweet that only refers to an authority in an @mention, for example @ICOnews, is really directed to and received by that authority. The ICO’s view is that it is. Twitter allows the authority to check for @mentions of itself, and so it has in effect received that request, even though it was not sent directly to the authority like an email or letter.

Armchair auditors at work

Which has led to a series of comments and questions, which I’ve read with a growing sense of disbelief. Some are shown below, with my replies:

Does that mean that an FOI request pinned to a public notice board in a library has been received as we can check that just as easily as an @mention? What about letters to the local rag ? Is there a logical difference here?
Yes; there is a logical difference. The council chooses to operate a Twitter account, thereby creating a reasonable expectation that it will communicate via that channel.
How on Earth do you respond in 140 characters or fewer?
You post the response on your website, and tweet the URL.
How long would @mentions be stored on an authority’s feed?
Irrelevant. They’re permanently on Twitter.com — all you need to do is to bookmark them.
What happens if Twitter suddenly implodes and you no longer have access to it?
In the unlikely event that Twitter permanently disappears in the 28 days you have in which to reply, you’d reaonably be able to say that you were prevented from replying. How much money do you want to put on that happening?
Most users will have a [pseudonym] type user name […] so couldn’t it be argued in the majority of cases that they have not provided their name and the request isn’t valid anyway?
A request is not invalid just because a pseudonym (a uniquely identifying pseudonym) is used.
Why stop at Twitter? There are a myriad of different social media on the web.
Indeed. And FoI requests addressed to an eligible organisation’s self-created presence on them should be answered, as they would if received by e-mail or post.

It would be nice to see FoI officers in councils, universities and other public bodies discussing innovative ways in which to make information available, rather than finding reasons not to.

Image credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎ via Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany.

Tips for Unconference newbies

This post was renamed from ‘Tips for LocalGovCamp newbies‘ in April 2012, to make it more easily findable

I’m delighted to be going to LocalGovCamp on Saturday; my second event of that title and one of many unconferences I’ve attended in recent years. I hope to see you there.

Coral Musgrove asked me, on Twitter, for advice for unconference newbies.

I’ve come up with the following, which apply equally to any unconference:

  • Don’t expect to be able to go to every session. Sessions are run in parallel, and though a few may be repeated, most aren’t. So if you want to go to two that are happening at the same time, buddy up with someone with the same desire, and agree to go to one each then share your learning. Also…
  • Follow the event’s tag/ hashtag (e.g. #LocalGovCamp) on Twitter, , on SlideShare and on Delicious [Update: Delicious became awful when it relaunched, I now use Pinboard]. (The same applies if you don’t have a ticket for the event — better luck next time!) The sessions you couldn’t attend (and those you did) will most likely be blogged about, by the presenter or attendees. Which leads to…
  • Be prepared to blog about the event yourself, in the following day or two and…
  • If you can, tweet about the event while it happens, and at the same time…
  • Ask questions. Unconference sessions are conversations, not lectures. And if you can…
  • Speak about your own experiences and knowledge, chip in, and share what you have. Unconferences (unlike most traditional conferences) are for sharing.
  • Evangelise about the event when you get back to work…
  • Get your colleagues, and bosses, to read the most relevant blog posts.
  • Find about similar events near to you. If there are none…
  • Think about running your own unconference, or a smaller event, or even a social media surgery. Others will help you!

But most of all have fun! You’re probably attending the unconference in your own time; and it’s a social event as much as it is about work.

Please add any other tips in the comments, below.

Wi-Fi checklist for unconference or hack-day organisers

Do you want to see your event branded a #WiFi #FAIL on Twitter?

In the last couple of years, I’ve been to or worked at a lot of unconferences, hack-days, social media cafes, social media surgeries, “tweet-ups” and similar events. I’ve had great fun, speaking at several, organising HyperWM & BrewCamp and facilitating ShropCamp. Unfortunately, at some of the events I’ve attended, the provision of Wi-Fi has been, shall we say, problematic. By which I mean awful. That’s frustrating for attendees and a right pain in the proverbial for those seen as responsible.

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

For some reason, the public sector (with honourable exceptions) don’t seem as capable of providing usable Wi-Fi as the private sector. If small independent coffee shops can get this right, then councils and colleges should be able to.

So here, for people organising hack-days, unconferences, and similar happenings, is a Wi-Fi checklist, based on the problems I’ve encountered as an event organiser and as a participant:

wifi

  • Make sure the staff at the venue know in advance that you will be needing Wi-Fi, and that your event depends on it working properly. If you’re paying for the venue, make it part of the deal, and have your requirements, in writing, signed off.
  • Check that the Wi-Fi is secure. If it isn’t, will your audience be prepared to use it? Will you?
  • Make sure your contact at the venue knows how the Wi-Fi works, what passwords are required and whether guest accounts need to be set up, and what the passwords and account IDs are.
  • Explain that your audience will need access to sites the venue may have blocked, such as Twitter, You Tube, WordPress.com, Google Docs and so on. And yes, I’ve known public sector organisations where all of those were blocked.
  • Before the event, test the Wi-Fi yourself, making sure you visit such sites.
  • Test the Wi-Fi on multiple devices, including non-Windows laptops and smart phones — one venue I visited had Wi-Fi that would only work on Windows devices.
  • If you’re providing each participant with a guest account, make sure it will work on multiple devices simultaneously; or provide spare accounts. I went to one event where I needed to use two devices, but my guest account would only support a single log-in.
  • Check that the Wi-Fi works where you will be meeting, including any breakout rooms — I’ve been to one event where people wanting to use Wi-Fi had to leave the meeting room and work in a stairwell.
  • Check the bandwidth. 4Mbps download and 500 Kbps upload may be adequate at home, but with dozens of people downloading — and hopefully uploading media —  at once, it will soon start to feel like a dial-up connection.
  • Know who to contact, and where to get hold of them, if the Wi-Fi goes down during the event. Make sure they don’t plan to be away for part of the day, and get a second contact if you can.
  • Have a 3G dongle on hand, equally tested (can you get a signal in your rural basement meeting room?), for any live presentations.
  • Plan how you will run things if the Wi-Fi (or the dongle) does die. Have archived copies of any websites you want to demonstrate, or video of live interactions, on a local hard drive. Have a spare speaker in the room, or a later speaker prepared to move up the running order at short notice (or at least learn some good jokes), in case a planned video-conference speaker disappears into the ether.
  • Provide ample power sockets and extension leads. It’s no use having Wi-Fi if people’s devices are dead by mid-afternoon.
  • On the day of the event, arrive in ample time and check that the Wi-Fi is on and working properly.
  • Relax and enjoy your event!

What other Wi-Fi related tips do you suggest?

One of the things I’ll be doing as part of my new freelance career is helping organisations to plan and run events; and live-blogging them. How can I help with yours?

An open letter to Iain (M) Banks: please give Twitter a try

Dear Iain,

We met this evening at your talk to the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, part of their 40th birthday celebrations. While you were signing my copy of ‘The Spheres’, the limited edition booklet they’ve produced, of your short stories, I asked why you’re not (yet) on Twitter. You said, and I have to paraphrase, that “it’s just like work — I do text entry for a living” and that you “don’t want to be too easily contactable; to be connected all the time” as you like to go walking in the woods.

Well, with the greatest of respect, you’re wrong. Using Twitter is not writing, in the sense of your day-job. It’s more like talking, in that your comments can be instantaneous, requiring no planning or copy-editing, and there’s no plot development or characters to invent. It’s something you do on the fly, in (virtual) company, not to a deadline and locked in a garret. Think of it as being like sending an SMS text message to lots of people at once.

Twitter is all about conversations. And it will let you carry on those conversations as much or as little as you want to, and as often and whenever you want to. There will be no intrusion because you will be in complete control. You can turn off e-mail and mobile phone notifications, and block people who annoy you.

It’s quite clear that you absolutely love talking to your readers. You spent more time on the question and answer part of this evening, than you did giving your talk. You hardly stopped smiling. For each question, your answer was filled with tangential anecdotes and asides. You even ran over time. And the same thing happened on the previous occasion when I saw you speak, as your alter-ego Iain Banks.

John Jarrold‘s article about you in the Novacon 40 programme says you are “garrulous and fast of thought”, “interested in everything” and “love chatting”.

And all that means you’d really, really enjoy Twitter.

Plenty of other authors use Twitter, effectively, and seem to enjoy it. They include Neil Gaiman, Stephen Moffat, Polly Samson, Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow and many more. Oh, and me. None of them — apart from me — has anything to prove any more, nor needs to work hard at selling their wares, so they must find some other benefit in tweeting. They all have a mutually-beneficial relationship with their readers, but are not enslaved by them. I’m sure at least one of those is in your address book, so why not call them up, or drop them a line, and ask them what they think?

I make my living by helping people make the best use of online communications, so I’ll make you an offer: I’ll give you an hour or two of my time, on Skype or the phone (or in person the next time you’re in Birmingham), and help you get Twitter set up and running. I’ll find you some good software to use (because Twitter’s own website is pants). I’ll explain the culture (no, not that culture!) of tweeting, and I’ll suggest some accounts to follow, which I think will interest you. You needn’t pay me. If you don’t like it after, say a month or six weeks (I’ll wager that’s not going to be the case), you can say goodbye and kill the account, and tell everyone to mock me. If you do like it, you can mention me in your next book (a credit, or name a character after me). Or you can commission me to do the same job for a charity of your choice.

Why don’t you give it a go?