Social Media Train Phase 2

Last year, I had a bizarre idea which came to fruition. Now, I’ve got another one, which may, or may not, go in the same direction.

In February 2010, I ran the Social Media Train event (see here and here). This started off with what I thought was a silly idea, and ended up, on a snowy February day, with a large group of people turning up for an unconference in Sheffield and then piling onto a train to do stuff with social media as the vehicle rattled it’s way to Huddersfield and back.

The genesis of this idea was my frustration at spending a lot of time on that particular train route, which, in the winter, rattles for 90 minutes through the dark, seemingly stopping at every small village in the Pennines. I suppose it was about putting to bed one of my pet hates, or even fears, and enlisting the support of my social media networks in doing so. Hopefully, those who came got something out of it too.

So, this idea has a similar root. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that another pet hate of mine is Wakefield Kirkgate station . I have dubbed it the worst station in the country, although I think somewhere else was officially given that title (if so, I can’t believe the judges ever visited Wakefield Kirkgate). Some people think I am joking about Wakefield Kirkgate, but, it’s neglected, wind-swept, desolate environment is a stark reality, particularly to the woman who was raped there in 2008.

So, like last year’s Penistone Line journey, This idea involves trains, social media, and slaying some demons. And, there’s a serious point to it as well. I have no idea what the people of Wakefield are doing to tackle the problems of Westgate station, I have chatted to some people in the council, and I know there are plans afoot, although whether these have withstood the public sector funding cuts, I don’t know. But, if we can do a little bit to help kick start a process of a wider public awareness of the state of the station, and, perhaps, encourage others to take an interest in its future, then we will have done some good. Maybe we won’t do any of this, but we could have a good time any way.

As I’m writing this, I haven’t actually been to the station for several months, and I certainly haven’t checked out how feasible what I am proposing is. I will do that soon, but, meanwhile, here goes. I am proposing that we hold an event at the station on the Pecha Kucha format (Leeds colleagues will know this as the Betta Kultcha format). These events are fun and informal evenings where a succession of speakers present to 20 slides which move on at 15 or 20 second intervals. They are quirky and ribald, with lots of audience participation. I think it is just the sort of event to brighten up a horrible environment and start the process of getting people to change their attitudes about a place.

Now, as I say, I have some work to do to work out the practicalities of this. When I initially thought about it, my idea was to run the event on the central platform island, on a warm spring / summer’s evening. But, then I thought, if we’re doing slide presentations, we need power. I don’t know if we could bring power to that part of the station (anyone got a portable generator?). There are buildings on the site, but I have got an idea that they are unsafe and not able to be used. And, of course, even if we solve the power issue, there is the weather.

Still, I am going to press on and see if all this is feasible. If I did it, would anyone come?

Social Media Surgery Tour

Thanks to the lovely people at the RSA I am about to embark on a Social Media Surgeries tour, mainly of the North of England, but a couple that fall outside that definition.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know what a Social Media Surgery is. If you haven’t then go away for a bit and read what the amazing Nick Booth, who really invented the Social Media Surgery, has to say about them. In essence, a Social Media Surgery is an informal session when nice people who understand how to use social media get together with people from voluntary & community and arts organisations to help them start out or improve their usage of free internet tools to communicate their messages and reach out to people they want to work with.

I’ve agreed with the RSA a list of places where we want to establish new Social Media Surgeries. This list is based on places where myself or RSA staff (or both) have contacts who we are fairly confident will take the Surgeries on, develop them, and make them a regular feature of the local infrastructure. There are nine venues on the list at the moment, and we are still looking for a tenth, so feel free to volunteer your area, if you think you can make it work. We are also open to persuasion to change the list if someone can make a compelling case for their area, but, this is where we are starting, and, if an area wants to join the list, somewhere else will have to drop out.

  • Blackburn
  • Darlington
  • Grimsby
  • Harrogate
  • Hull
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester (for community groups & RSA members)
  • Mansfield
  • Peterborough (not in the north of England)

The plans for nearly all the areas are not very well advanced as yet, so if you’ve got ideas for where and how we should do it in your area, please pitch in. In any case, we really need as many volunteer “surgeons” (advisers) as possible. Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like this before, a key feature of Social Media Surgeries is that surgeons and “patients” often learn together, and we very often manage to ensure that two surgeons can work together so a more experience surgeon can help a new-comer out.

The important part about all this, is that these Surgeries need to be sustainable. I’ll probably only be able to help with setting up the first (and perhaps a second) event. Experience with the Surgeries that Nick has set up in Birmingham, and that I have worked on in Yorkshire, suggest that it needs at least one enthusiastic lead surgeon (and preferably a group) to take on the organising of the surgeries and coordinating surgeons diaries, venue etc in each area. I don’t want to raise expectations in areas and dash them by not being able to sustain an on-going regular event, so please bear that in mind when volunteering to pile in.

Well, if all that has not put you off, please comment below if you want to be involved in a Surgery in your area.

Towards the Social App Store

It’s time to dive in and get on with this. This post, or versions of it, will appear elsewhere on the internet, so I apologise if you get fed up of seeing it.

We need to get on with developing the Social App Store. This was not my idea. If anyone kicked it off, it was probably David Wilcox in posts like this and this, but I am looking to take it forward, with help from David and others such as Dave Briggs and Steve Dale mainly because I have been fortunate enough to receive a small amount of money from the wonderful people at UnLtd to help oil a few wheels.

David does a really good job of explaining the concept of the Social App Store in the posts cited above. In brief, what we are seeking to do is to bring together some tools that help connect people in communities and assist them to work together for mutual good. These are tools that help people:

  • build platforms for collaboration;
  • “amplify” their work to spread their practice; and
  • reach out to new members.

While this concept is internet-based, it is not necessarily exclusively about the internet. Some of the tools will be designed to bring people together online to work together, but many will simply be guides to doing things offline that are hosted online because it’s the cheapest and most efficient way of distribution.

There are lots of things out there which fulfil part or all of this task. But, we believe that there is nothing that does the complete task, and there is a need for this gap to be filled. In an era of tightened public spending and entreaties for people to band together to improve their communities, it is vital that we make the most of free and cheap online tools to ensure that people and groups can avoid re-inventing wheels, learn from what each other is doing, and attract new people to join them. And, of course, any such tool suite needs to include guides to helping people get online and information about online etiquette.

One of the key gaps is in the area of the kinds of tools that bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds. This is what those of us in the Big Society in the North group have been exploring with the Community Noticeboards idea. We must never run away with the ideas either that everyone is comfortable operating online, or that all of those who are not online can easily be converted into digital residents. The internet is, however, a powerful tool for powering background operations that make things work in the real world, and we need to make more of this principle.

This, then, is an iterative process. If anyone wants to put substantial amounts of money into it, that would be very welcome. However, this seems an unlikely occurrence at the moment, so we need to build gradually and incrementally.

Please add your comments below on what you think about this idea. If you can point the way to existing resources which could form part of the App Store, that would be extremely useful. If you’d like to join this, as yet loose and informal, team that is working on this, that would also be fantastic.

So Just What *Is* It about Facebook?

Another day, another Social Media Surgery.

Leeds Social Media Surgery - January 2011

And, once again, that sinking feeling when someone asks about help with Facebook. Now, I know, Facebook is by far the most popular social networking platform out there, and I’d be very surprised if there was ever a Social Media Surgery where at least one question about it wasn’t asked. So, why is that I don’t like it, and why do my views seem to be shared by nearly everyone I know who is serious about social media? And, when I say “serious” I mean who wants to use social media for socially progressive purposes.

I often tell people I don’t like Facebook, but I often find it hard to pinpoint just why. So, here are some reasons why I think Facebook makes me feel uneasy:

  • Privacy issues: Although it appears that Facebook is moving towards addressing some of the privacy concerns that people have about it, particularly in relation to young people, it is not there yet, and its historical reluctance on this front leaves a bad taste;
  • Stupid games: To be honest I haven’t seen any of the stupid Facebook games for ages, I seem to have been successful in blocking them from my stream. HOORAY!
  • Poking and throwing sheep; I just don’t get it.

Actually, those are the only tangible reasons I can think of at the moment. Are they enough? I suppose underlying all this is that I, and other social media surgeons, know that Facebook is, for the foreseeable future, going to be the social media channel with the greatest potential for reaching a wide audience, but, that reaching that audience involves side-stepping lots of trivial rubbish which clouds serious intent.

What are your reasons for hating Facebook, or should I just get over it?

Leeds Social Media Surgery - January 2011 #2