It’s now official: Video Chat produces “all the feels”

This is a follow up to my post about the potential power of Facebook’s Portal to be a force for digital inclusion. I’m still not sure about whether, given Facebook’s track record on privacy, these devices will be welcomed in everyone’s homes, but I do believe that, on the face of it, at least, they do appear to be a game-changer for video conferencing. In fact, I am wondering why I am calling it “video conferencing”. In the context of something like Portal, I reckon that video conferencing sounds like a very corporate, business-like term, whereas Portal, as the advertising for it makes clear, is about bringing people together. It’s about joy and sharing. For years, I have advocated greater use of video chat to bring people together and reduce loneliness and isolation, and I have met resistance from people who have told me that such mechanisms are impersonal. But the Portal advertising, which features The Muppets, is clearly focused on emotion, empathy, love and friendship. And I was prompted to write this piece by seeing an advert for Vodafone’s new 5G service, which, again, focused on the emotional impact of connecting people via video. Here it is:

This advert focuses on Grandparents telling their grandchild bedtime stories via hologram. It’s a story told with an obvious tug on the heartstrings. So, it seems to me that big business now believes that emotions can be projected across the internet, and thus used to sell their products. And it has always seemed strange to me that people who have probably grown up weeping over films at the cinema and on TV, and perhaps eagerly awaiting the next retailer’s Christmas Advert, don’t think that one-to-one video could have anything to do with emotion.

The time has come to dispense with those notions of video chat being impersonal. They are standing in the way of taking practical action to deal with loneliness and isolation. When I did a piece of work for the Centre for Ageing Better a few years ago I met Greta and Arnold who were getting daily updates on the progress of their young greatgrandchildren via WhatsApp, and Joyce who had reconnected with her family across the Atlantic after a 40-year break via Skype.  I still love the CNA Speaking Exchange which pairs students learning English in Brazil with isolated older people in the USA. I will leave you with an inspiraitional video from that project. I am still looking for funding to run something similar involving UK older citizens.

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A Portal to Digital Inclusion?

So, Digital Inclusion colleagues, what do we think of Portal by Facebook? If you haven’t seen it, basically it’s a video conferencing kit, which comes in four different forms, the Portal TV, which plugs into your TV and sits on top of the set, the Portal, a 10 inch, Digital Photo frame-like device with video calling and Alexa built-in, the Portal mini, basically the same thing but 8 inches, and the Portal+, which gaves the same funcitonality in a device with an HD, 15.6 inch screen which pivots to differing orientations. One of the differences it is offering compared to other video conferencing set ups is that the camera follows the person around the room, and the microphones are designed to pick up the voice wherever it comes from. The marketing around it has focused on images of people, particularly older people, using it to communicate with their families in other parts of the world.

I have written in the past that I think video conferencing has an important, and largely unacknowledged, part to play in digital inclusion. I wrote here about the idea of Serendipity Screens, and here about Technology-Enabled Nattering. Video conferencing has been around since the advent of the internet, or even before, but it has yet to hit the mainstream, and it still hasn’t broken through to any great extent into the realm of family communications with the older generations. Will Portal be the device (or devices) to break through? Certiainly I think linking it to the TV will appeal to some who have not seen any reason for owning a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. And the photo frame-like devices may also break through with the non-technology owner. Portal uses WhatsApp to make its video calls, and you can only call people who have WhatsApp or Facebook accounts. We all know there are lots of privacy concerns around Facebook and its associated companies, so some will steer clear of Portal because of that. Facebook appears to be trying to address some of those issues by providing sliding covers for the cameras in the devices which offers some degree of comfort that they are not watching us all the time.

In all aspects of technology development there usually comes along a device or an app that suddenly transforms people’s attitudes and then everybody wants one. The example I often cite is the iPod, which was by far not the first mp3 player, but Apple adapted the concept in ways that made them must-haves to the mass market. Whether the Portal is the iPod of video conferencing remains to be seen, but it is interesting to see that some of the approaches to video which myself and other digital inclusion advocates have been promoting for years are being used to promote this set of devices.

Is Portal really a game-changer for digital inclusion?

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What a long trip to Cornwall taught me about the need for online access to events

Last week I was in Cornwall. A long way from home for me. I was there because I was delivering some Digital Inclusion training to the staff of Coastline Housing on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing. Cornwall is somewhere I have visited a handful of times for professional reasons over my working career, and I have also been there for holidays 3 or 4 times. Distance is a relative thing. Cornwall is a long way to travel for me, living in West Yorkshire, but it may not be so far for you wherever you are reading this. The geography of Britain means that the North of England can feel a long way from the seat of power in London, but, in the North of England, at least we have the advantage of some relatively fast connections to get to London and elsewhere (don’t get me started on HS2, though). Cornwall, on the other hand, is a peninsula. I was reminded during one of the sessions I ran, that Redruth, where we were, is 3 hours away from Bristol. So, you might travel to Bristol and think you are in the South West of England, but you can keep going for another 3 to 4 hours and still not fall into the sea. To get there, I took a train to Leeds, then spent 6 and-a-half hours on another train to Plymouth, and then another 90 minutes on a train from Plymouth to Redruth. If you live in Redruth and want to visit London, it will take you 5 hours on the train. It’s a long way from London, the Midlands, or the North of England to Plymouth, but the train gets there relatively quickly. Once the train leaves Plymouth and heads over the River Tamar into Cornwall it moves a lot more slowly and stops at every little rural station.

I could have flown to Cornwall, it takes not much more than an hour to fly from Manchester to Newquay. But Newquay is still quite a long way from Redruth and the logistics of getting from one place to the other proved difficult. So, after considering all the options, I decided to treat the challenge of spending nearly 9 hours (each way) on trains as an opportunity to get some work done. And I resolved not to complain about it, reasoning that this was an everyday occurrence for the people I was travelling to work with. But, during one of the sessions that I ran in Redruth, participants talked about how their geographic location hinders them; how they find it hard to get to conferences and events; and one particular story about a good practice visit to the North of England involving two hire cars and a plane journey. So, it seems, that even living day-to-day in a “remote” location doesn’t mean you can take the travel difficulties in your stride. In fact it probably means that you just don’t have access to a lot of opportunities that others take for granted.

None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who lives and works in a rural area, or somewhere else at distance from the main sources of population. It is a real issue. And yet it is an issue to which we have the solution. But it is a solution which is still not being used anywhere near as widely and effectively as it could be. Scroll back to earlier in the same week, I was in London (yes that place, the centre of power in Britain) live-streaming the Patients’ Association AGM (video below). That organisation commissioned me because they wanted to take their first steps towards ensuring that their business is accessible by their members wherever they are in the country. In an era when we have the ability to reach beyond the rooms we are in and invite others to join our discussions, why are so many organisations still resistant? This is a genuine question. I’ve been live-streaming events for close on ten years now but there are still too many organisations who don’t want to open up their events in this way. Not only that, but it’s very evident that if you live-stream an event in the evening or at a weekend you get a lot more engagement. And I think that is because people don’t feel able to watch live-streams while sat at their desk in the office. It’s not true that engaging with an event through a screen is the same as being in the room, but it is a good option if you can’t be there. I think people erect unnecessary barriers to engagement with events online, and I think we need to break down those barriers. I’ve long believed that the ability to reach out to anywhere in the world using the internet should change the way we work. In the context of organisations such as the Patients’ Association, their mission is to involve people in influencing how health services are delivered, and that is more effectively done if they are reaching out to members wherever they are.

So I believe that we need to drive a big culture change. The first is in organisations who need to see that involving people who are not in the room is a major aid to their work. Beyond that, climate change means that we need to reduce the need to travel to events, and we can lower travel and accommodation budgets. Now I know that a lot of organisations make some or all of their income from running events, but I also believe that there will always be people who want to be in the room, and if live-streaming an event proves to depress numbers attending, then incentives should be offered to attendees.

The second element of culture change is that organisations should be encouraging their staff to seek out and watch live streams of events as alternatives to attending them. And sitting at your desk watching a live-streamed event should be seen as a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing.

And finally, we need to break down the reluctance that many people seem to have in engaging with live-streamed events. People are quite happy to watch “X-Factor”, “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The Great British Bakeoff” on TV and get immersed in the action, but they treat not being in the room at a conference as meaning it is not worth bothering with. Now, there may be a challenge here to event organisers to make their events more engaging, but that would benefit those in the room as much as it would those watching online.

Put yourself in the shoes of people living or working in areas where travel to most events is difficult or impossible. They are missing out on so many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. And I speak as someone who regularly complains that events being held in London makes them inaccessible to those of us in the North of England. We owe it to those people to open up those events to remote participation. I want to go further than live streaming. I want to have rooms full of people in different parts of the country interacting with each other and providing active input into events. There are so many possibilities but we are being held back from realising their potential. So I am looking for partners to help me develop a comprehensive service to make crucial events in the public and non-profit sectors truly open and interactive. Contact me if you want to be part of this.

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Dementia Choices Action Network (D-CAN) – Starting out using video to share

Last week I was very fortunate to be involved, as videographer and digital storyteller, in the inaugural National Assembly of the Dementia Care Choices Action Network (D-CAN). D-CAN brings together a number of stakeholder organisations with an interest in Dementia with NHS England and Improvement, Alzheimer’s Society, the Coalition for Collaborative Care and others, including people living with Dementia. A key aim of the network is to embed the principles of Universal Personalised Care (UPC) into the practice of supporting people with Dementia across the Health, Social Care, and voluntary and community sectors. D-CAN aims to provide a space wherein innovative practice and lived experience can inform practice at all levels.

i am pleased and excited that D-CAN has begun by recognising the power of video in disseminating messages and ensuring that members can learn from each other. Members want to break down the walls that exist between professional disciplines, between different organisations, between organisations and patients, and between people in the room at meetings and those who can’t be there. And it is this latter aspect that I want to talk about here. I have long believed that the public and non-profit sectors are failing to take advantage of the tools that the internet has given us to communicate beyond normal boundaries. Particularly where organisations are seeking to communicate messages and engage people in their work, it seems self-evident to me that using online video and social media will spread their reach far beyond the walls of the room they are in. That this is happening far too infrequently is a great source of frustration. Ian Donaghy, who hosted the Assembly, mentioned a number of online video resources during his comments, and he asked the audience who was aware of them. Very few of them were, and this is telling.

Stepping away from the direct field of Dementia for a moment, I am going to cite the case of Molly Watt. Molly is an inspirational young woman who lives with Usher Syndrome (which causes deaf / blindness). She has created her own Foundation, works as an accessiblity consultant, and uses online video and social media to document her life and how she uses new technologies to live as full a life as possible despite her limited vision and hearing. I know that she has provided inspiration for many others living with the same condition and given them confidence to overcome the barriers they face to achieving their ambitions. Peter Berry was diagnosed with Early Onset Dementia at the age of 50. He has made more than 100 of his weekly video diaries documenting the challenges of living with his condition. Usually his diaries are just him and his camera, but he has occasionally involved his wife, his daughter, and friends to give a perspective on what it’s like living with someone who has Peter’s conditon. A few years ago I was videographer at two North Wales Dementia Meetups. At the first event I interviewed a number of people in the audience who were living with Dementia. Several of them told me that their diagnosis had left them depressed and despondent. A year later, at the second event, some of those people were on the platform telling their stories and recounting how the first event had given them inspiration to turn their lives around and take positive actions to overcome the limitations of their condition.

OK, so the last example is about inspiration coming from the people you directly interact with, but there cannot be any denying that online video amplifies and spreads the ability to learn from how others do things. And that these lessons are all the more powerful when they come from people like you, living daily with the condition you live with than from official sources.

The fact that D-CAN is making some steps towards recognising that online video has a role to play in connecting people beyond physical meetings is, to me, a great, positive step forward. I believe we need to build on this step and roll the use of video into further meetings and into helping those living with Dementia to learn from each other. And we need to extend this practice into many other areas and many other conditions.

The growth of the internet has brought with it an explosion in the use of online video. More than a year ago, a report was published which showed that young people watch Netflix more than they watch the BBC. The millions of hours of online video which exist represent a major learning opportunity that, by and large, our public institutions are not making adequate use of. And they need to be seeding this resource with their own content that people can draw on. I am hopeful that D-CAN can be part of this process.

All the video from the first National Assembly of D-CAN can be viewed here. The video below, of the delegate interviews starts with Christopher Richmond, who lives with Dementia himself, telling his story. This is just the kind of thing I want to be able to support more of.

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Is Local Radio the Route to Digital Inclusion?

I’ve been doing increasing amounts of local radio in recent months. I’ve been appearing regularly on BBC Radio Leeds, on the Breakfast Show as the New Technologies “Professional” (usually a 10-minute slot) and, once a month, on the Big Yorkshire Phone-in, doing “Tech Hour” in the afternoon. I’ve also done a few slots this year on BBC Radios Sheffield, Derby and York. One of the reasons I like doing this is that I have become increasingly convinced that radio is the route to reach digitally excluded people. I have been searching for some time for tools to reach people who are not online at scale, when you are just an individual freelancer like me, and not a big organisation with a substantial budget. If you are reading this then you will be well aware of the powerful reach of social media and of tools like YouTube, but digitally excluded people don’t use these channels, so where can you reach significant numbers of them?

I don’t think it’s giving any secrets away to say that the demographics of the audience of BBC local radio stations tends to be weighted towards the older age group, and it follows that a proportion of them will be digitally excluded. The listeners’ questions when I am on the air tend to range between the very basic to the guy who wanted to ramp up the RAM on his Android phone. On one occasion, as I was leaving the studio after doing “Tech Hour”, the producer called me over to tell me she had a lady on the phone who hadn’t managed to get through while I was on air, but she wanted advice on where to get started on tech as she had never used a computer or smartphone. I suggested that she start with her local library; the lady didn’t know if she had a local library; the producer Googled it for her, and found that there was one, but it was open restricted hours and staffed by volunteers. I don’t know if it was anything I said on the radio that inspired her to want to get online, or that it just happened that she was spurred to do something by hearing the programme, but this is just the kind of person that I think local radio can reach.

I will continue doing what I can to reach out to people over the airwaves and, hopefully, to convince some that the world of digital technologies is not at all scary and will enhance their lives. I think radio is a powerful tool to reach digitally exluded people. If any other radio stations want to work with me on this, please get in touch.

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Does Brexit Mean People are Getting to Know their Politicians Better?

I have often been shocked at how dis-engaged many people are from the political processes which influence their lives. I have frequently had conversations with people which reveal that they know little or nothing about the politicians who represent them, or the systems that control so many aspects of their lives.

As you probably know, I am a big advocate of storytelling, and, in the political context, I believe that those politicians who tell their own stories are more likely to connect with the public. I think there are a number of politicians who have done this well over recent years, but they are in a very small minority, and, to most voters, the back story of most of their representatives is a mystery. And yet, the majority of people (still, just about) cast their vote every few years, with, it seems to me, limited knowledge of who they are voting for.

And it works both ways, for every politician who has a heart-warming story to tell which is likely to endear them to voters, there are others whose story would be likely to turn people off voting for them if they only knew it.

And so to Brexit. I think Brexit has put more politicians in the limelight that has previously been the case, and this has made me wonder if it means that more of the public is getting to know them. Of course there are still those who take little notice of the news, and in particular political news, but I find it hard to believe that political news has not seeped into a lot more people’s consciousness over recent months.

So, has Brexit resulted in more people knowing who more politicians are, understanding what motivates them, and what their background is? If so, will it make any difference to people’s voting intentions?

What do you think?

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Could you Sponsor a Live-Stream?

Photo by Duncan Morrow

 

I am looking for sponsors. Does your organisation want to raise its profile in the Public, Charitable, or non-profit sectors?

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I specialise in high-quality, low-cost, live video streaming for non-profit organisations. Not all organisations in these sectors can afford even the low prices I charge to stream their events. So, are you a company or other organisation that wants to raise its profile in the sector? Why not consider sponsoring a live stream for a non-profit event? This can be an event  that your organisation is already present at, or it might be something you want your audience to be able to watch, or it could just be in a market where you want to get involved.

Please get in touch for a chat about how we might work together.

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27,000 people at a Local Authority Committee Meeting?

At the recent #NotWestminster event I asked if any local authorities were streaming meetings via Facebook. No one present knew of any, and quite a few people there expressed doubts that doing so would be a good idea as they would be fearful of the kind of comments that would come in during meetings.

And then, yesterday, my attention was drawn to a Facebook Live stream of Luton Council’s Development Control meeting, which was actually being done by the local BBC radio station, BBC Three Counties.

Now, this meeting was very high profile, as the main item on the agenda was a proposed development which included the building of a new stadium for Luton Town Football Club. But, nevertheless, it illustrates my point that this is something that local authorities should consider, as the level of engagement during the meeting would be higher than if they continue to stream via self-contained platforms.

Yesterday’s meeting was broadcast in two halves.

Part one is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 19,000 views and attracted 1,655 comments.

Part two is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 27,000 views and attracted 2,936 comments.

Now I know this meeting is a special case. But I still contend that using Facebook Live to stream Council meetings has to be tried as a way of engaging the public in council business. I can help you do this. If you’d like my help, please get in touch.

After all, there aren’t many Council committee rooms that could accommodate 27,000 members of the public.

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Live Streaming as a Fund-Raising Technique?

I don’t want to draw attention to it, so no links, but, did you know that the so-called “Yellow Vests” who have been protesting in pursuit of their aim of a “No Deal” Brexit in London and elsewhere in the UK have been live video streaming all their activities and using their live streams to solicit donations to their cause? As I understand it they have been raising substantial sums for their cause this way, and effectively funding themselves to spend their time on the streets of Westminster and other cities rather than doing another job.

This makes me think. Could we use this technique for a socially useful purposes? What do you think? Any ideas?

On a, slightly un-related note. I came across this video of a live-streaming “factory” in China. This is basically a large house where young women live and work shifts live streaming themselves. As I understand it there is nothing necessarily sexual in this, they effectively offer themselves as friends to lonely people, mainly young men, who are sitting at home in their bedrooms with no one else to talk to. And they make a living out of it. What do you think of this?

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Lessons from a Connected Christmas

Is it too late to wish you a Merry Christmas? Well, I hope you had a good one.

I’ve been running a number of Connected Christmas events this year using the pretext of a Christmas party to try to turn older people on to the benefits of having new technologies in their lives.

This is always a difficult and challenging task, but I have to admit that this year it appears to have been particularly challenging; and I suspect I won’t do Connected Christmas in quite the same way in future years. I still want to use the opportunity of the approach of Christmas to highlight social isolation and loneliness amongst older people, and the role that new technology can possibly play in addressing this, but I am increasingly coming to the point of view that Connected Christmas needs to be a stage of the process which needs to start much earlier than Christmas.

This year the proportion of people I engage with who say “not interested….  new technologies are not part of my life” is higher than it has ever been in the past. Now I think a lot of it is part of a trend, in that it’s something that has been developing for years now, that the people who are truly digitally excluded are increasingly the hard-core who are super resistant to having new technologies in their lives. It’s not just a question of lack of skills and a lack of interest, it’s an active resistance. And I would like to add a word of congratulations here to the mainstream media. Thank you newspapers, thank you TV and radio stations, you have done a brilliant job of making sure a whole generation is excluded from the Internet. The amount of times I come across the comment that I don’t want anything to do with that because it’s all about fraud, or if I go on the Internet I’m going to get scammed.

But another possibly related issue that I keep coming across is older people who say to me that “that kind of stuff is the bane of my life. My children and my grandchildren are on it all the time and it means I can’t get them to talk to me”.  I try to counter that attitude by saying to people that, if you learn how to use those things yourself and you engage with them, then you will have something in common, you will share interests and you will be able to join in the conversations your family members are having online. I’m struggling to get that message through however, and I am increasingly coming to believe that digital technologies are increasing the generation gap because younger people are immersed in a world that their older relatives are not participating in, and, in many cases the older people are actively resisting opportunities to join in.

I find this frustrating and baffling to a degree. But I don’t think it is unsurmountable. A while ago, I wrote a piece about “Technology-Enabled Nattering” because I believe that what older people really want to do it chat with each other. And when I say “chat”, I mean it in the original sense of the word, not its internet incarnation which involves doing a lot of typing or key-pressing. That’s why I am still looking for funding (anyone, please?) to run some pilot projects which get people talking to each other on a regular basis via video conferencing. And, I want to throw out a challenge here. I think devices like Alexa and Google Home offer the opportunity for social networks to move beyond typing and photographic-based interactions and towards real conversations, involving voices not keyboards. That way older people need no longer be excluded from their younger relatives’ social media interactions. Done right, this approach could mean a real breaking down of the digital divide between the generations. What do you think of this idea, please comment down below.

I hope you have a great New Year. I leave you with a video I recorded just before Christmas, which encapsulates my idea that we should form support groups to crowdfund the purchase of tablets to connect lonely older people to friends and family. What do you think of that idea?