The Internet is not always the answer

As you may have guessed, I love the internet, but, I’ve been thinking recently how it is not always the answer. I love radio too, and that has a role to play.

Some time ago, I was kicking around an idea about how schools could use FM radio to communicate with parents. My idea was for students and teachers to make radio programmes which could be broadcast to parents’ car radios when they arrived to drop off and pick up their kids..

And last weekend I was at BlueLightCamp when the conversation turned to communicating with people during emergency situations. I suggested it ought to be possible to set up a temporary local FM transmitter to speak to people via their radios.

Now, I must admit, I haven’t delved too far into the Ofcom regulations on local broadcasting, and, what I have seen would suggest that either of these ideas might be illegal under current legislation. But I think they are worth investigating, and, if legislation needs to be changed…..

Video Streaming via 4G

Because of the work I do live video streaming, I’ve just become a field tester for EE’s 4G mobile broadband. I only took delivery of my 4G device yesterday, but already I am impressed. I’ve only been moving around a relatively small area in Manchester, but the speeds I have been getting have been very encouraging, and, for the most part, I’ve been testing it in-doors in large buildings.


This is all particularly pleasing for me because it is another string to my bow in the live streaming work I do. Providing the venue is in a 4G coverage area, I reckon there are very few occasions when in-house wifi will beat the upload speeds I am getting with 4G, which are more than enough for a high quality video stream.


I am appealing, therefore, for more organisations to come forward and let me live stream their events and activities. It doesn’t cost a lot the  way I do it, and, now, if you’ve got 4G coverage, I can more or less guarantee the video will be of a very high quality.


Please contact me if you want to talk to me about live video streaming.


Death to the “out of office” message

Is it just me, or does anyone else find “Out of Office” email messages intensely annoying? I would argue that they are anachronistic and send out a message about the kind of people who use them.

OK, I recognise that not everybody is as comfortable with the blurring of work and private lives as I am. There are still plenty of people who like to draw clear lines between the two, and, in their cases, I suppose Out of Office messages when they are on holiday are acceptable.

But it’s not those kinds of messages I am talking about. It’s those that say someone is temporarily out of the office and unable to respond to emails. In the connected world we now live in, I think this says something about them as individuals, or perhaps their organisations, or both. I think we work better if we’re connected, if we’re in touch with our networks, and if we have information and the ability to crowdsource information and advice at our finger tips. The Out of Office message says “I am out of range, and not keeping up with what is going on”. I don’t like it, it irritates me. Let’s phase it out.

I’m being deliberately provocative here, but this is a real irritant to me. What do you think?

Free wifi a tool for Emergencies?

This is a very quick post, because it feels far too much like intruding in private grief to pump out “lessons of the Boston bombings” posts.


I’ve been banging on for years now about the need for free wifi in public spaces, especially in hospitals (see Time and again I have had to deal with criticisms from people who think I am arguing for rich people to have carte blanche to play with their expensive toys at the public’s expense.

But…. have you ever noticed how the mobile phone networks fall over when there are big crowds gathered in one place? I certainly have. And, as the Boston tragedy unfolded yesterday, there were lots of tweets about how people were struggling to get communications through on the local networks. This was then followed by “official” announcements that the networks were being closed down to prevent remote triggering of further bombs.

And then I saw tweets appealing for local businesses with wifi networks to unlock them to allow people in the area to use them to communicate with relatives to let them know they were safe.  I hope this happened.

So public wifi could be a key tool in allowing communications to continue during emergencies. This is another compelling reason why we need it in more locations.

Perhaps we can discuss this at BlueLightCamp 2013

Social Housing – Sleepwalking into the digital nightmare?

Another post inspired by a conversation on Twitter, which followed on from my previous post about disruption from the bottom up. The conversation turned to the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions having a target of 80% of Universal Credit applications being made online. This was deemed to be a much too ambitious target by a couple of people working in social housing. My response was that social landlords cannot afford to see it as too ambitious. It has to be met or they risk losing £millions in rent payments.

The other day I was talking to someone in a local authority about getting Our Digital Planet back on the road. He said to me “we’ve tried everything else, so we need to give this a go”.  And I think that’s a key point. If we accept that we need as many people as possible online (and there’s a debate to be had about that, but, in social housing terms, I think it’s an unavoidable necessity), then I believe some pretty drastic action is needed. The people who remain resistent to joining the online world are those who would be characterised as “hardest to reach”. In this, as in other arenas, I maintain there are no “hard to reach” people, if you are finding anyone hard to reach you are using the wrong tactics.

If social landlords don’t get this right, I seriously contend that they are putting millions of pounds in rents not collected in jeopardy, and that is not to speak of the hardship that many tenants will suffer. And I think it needs a lot of painstaking, patient, non-directive, work of the kind we have been undertaking in Our Digital Planet and that done by the Digital Lounge at LS14 Trust. It entails working individually with each person to find the touchpoint in their lives where they can see that digital technologies can make a difference; and it involves working with them over a sustained period to support them in their use of new technologies, not believing that a one-0ff intervention will solve everything.

I go back as well, to my oft-cited contention that people need to enjoy what they are doing if it is to become integrated with their everyday lives. And it is important to think outside the box when seeking to convince people technology has a role to play. That is why I ran the Twicket initiative. A lot more people were interested in watching a village cricket match online than might have been interested in a blogpost on why technology is good for them.

These are the things I think social housing providers need to do, urgently, in order to make sure those of their tenants still not online can make the leap:

  • provide somewhere they can go to for patient, sustained support to get online and carry on using new technologies. LS14 Trust (see video below) is a fantastic model for this kind of operation;
  • Encourage tenants to become digital champions (example project here);
  • Offer free wifi for tenants – here’s an example of a social landlord doing just that;
  • Work with other public organisations and local charities to source and refurbish computers and make them available at low cost to tenants – here’s an example of service like this;
  • Use social media to communicate with tenants;
  • Assist tenants and community organisations to use new technologies and social media to gain wider audiences for their work (like this);
  • Do interesting, innovative things with new technologies that attract attention (like Twicket);
  • Invite Our Digital Planet to your neighbourhood to launch your strategy.

I recently met Nic and Jo from LS14 Trust who are doing just the kind of patient digital inclusion work necessary. And yet they are struggling for funding. Someone needs to step in and address this.