Sun, Sea and Social Media



Saturday 16th August 2014

11am to 5pm

Filey Beach, North Yorkshire


the internet

Join us on Filey Beach, or online on Saturday 16th August for an extravaganza of social media, digital inclusion, and general internet capers by the sea.

This is event is sponsored by Coast and Country Housing Limited.

Register here

Sun, Sea and Social Media is:

  • a social media adventure, featuring a number of experienced social media users who will document their journeys to Filey and their activities on the day;
  • a social media surgery, offering real-time, practical advice to people on the beach on how to get the best out of using social media to enhance their holiday and beach experience;
  • a digital inclusion event, helping people new to the internet get online by demonstrating what enormous fun can be had on the internet;
  • a demonstrator, showcasing the power of new technologies in a beach setting, including a LIVE linkup with the Costa del Sol in Spain; and
  • a lot of fun! featuring live streamed beach cricket, knobbly knees contests, sandcastle championships, and other beach-based shenanigans

Join in the fun on Filey Beach any time between 11 and 5. Or follow the action online using the hashtag #smbeach with occasional live video at


any queries

tweet @johnpopham

Register here

photo credit Paul Stephenson on Flickr

Social Media and Social Change – reaching the people at the top

This is a response to a plaintive tweet from Shirley Ayres reproduced above. I share Shirley’s frustration. We’ve been using social media for getting on for 10 years now. It is not new, but many organisations still treat it as a weird innovation to be distrusted and feared. This is costing them money and causing their service users to suffer.

Many of us have been chipping away at this fear and reluctance, usually from the bottom-up. Where we have failed in large part is in getting to the people at the top, those still wedded to old-style command-and-control management methodologies; those who were already in a senior position before the first computer entered their workplace; and those who still get their PAs to print off their emails. This has to change.

I’m going to do something about this. And this is what:

  • I’m going to try to crystallise the informal community of social good innovators I am connected to via Twitter – I suggest an online community (maybe a Ning) acting as a resource bank for innovation good practice, a source of mutual support, and a rallying point for action;
  • I am going to work with this community of people to try to get us speaking slots at big conferences where the senior people go. I am thinking of conferences like SOLACE and ADASS ;
  • I am going to lobby for funding for this network. Shirley has a really good idea where this can come from below.

Who’s up for this approach? Maybe it’s all happening already. If it is, please let me now. Duplicated effort wold be wasteful.

Introducing the WOW Bus

OK, this is a working title for a project I am working on, and I need your help.

Our Digital Planet - Bristol

If you follow my work, you’ll be familiar with Our Digital Planet, the touring exhibition, which visits, city centres, engages people through images of internet use, and then coaxes them to get online. Now, I’m working on a project (working title, the WOW Bus) which will do something similar, but fully mobile; able to go anywhere.

The project is at funding application stage. I am working in partnership with a largeish organisation which is putting a chunk of its own resources in and applying, with me, for funding to make the project happen. The plan is for the organisation to use the bus with its own clients, and for myself and others to use it at other times.

I am really excited about this. This needs to be done quickly, and I need to explore a range of options. Which is why I am asking for your support.

I believe in being ambitious. Maybe we’ll have to scale things down, but I’d like this to be a combination of Eastella’s Brilliant Bus, the John Lennon Bus, Peabody Trust’s Digivan, and New York City Housing Authority’s Digital Vans. We want it to create a buzz when it arrives in an area. It will flood the surrounding environment with free wifi and inspire people to explore the digital world. It will be the WOW Bus, because it will be a mobile Window on the World, but also, because people will say “wow!” when they see it.

We are going to explore all options, including buying and equipping a new vehicle. But, I know there are all sorts of vehicles out there which could, with a little tweaking and adaptation, become the WOW Bus at much lower cost. If you have such a vehicle, or know of one, please get in touch. If you can help in any way, drop me a line at or tweet me at @johnpopham.

Please help to make the WOW Bus a reality.

New York City Housing Authority Digital Van from

Rural Community Broadband Fund


Over the past year, or so, I have been working with James Saunby of Grey Sky Consulting on a number of bids to the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. We’ve been working with communities, local authorities, and other partners in areas which are defined as in the “last 10%” in terms of broadband connectivity. In this context, the last 10% means those areas which are unlikely to be served by the upgrades which are being rolled out via the main BDUK programme, wherein Government, local authorities and the European Union are investing in extending Next Generation Access (connectivity upwards of 24Mbps) beyond the areas deemed commercially viable by the main players. The BDUK programme will bring better connections to those who are located between the 66% of properties judged commercially viable and 90% (on average) of the population.

James and I have been working with communities and partners in Cheshire, Durham, Tees Valley, Kirklees and Cumbria. To date, we’ve had 100% success rate in getting bids through the Expression of Interest Stage, and the only project to have reached contract stage under the Rural Community Broadband Fund is led by Grey Sky in Rothbury, Northumberland (read more about this here). It has been great to work with some of the communities which had been in danger of left behind by the 21st Century, and set them on the road to benefitting from the same new technologies which urban residents now take for granted. It’s not a straightforward task. The technical challenges are one thing; the mindset of people who have never had the internet and don’t necessarily see a reason for having it, is perhaps an even tougher obstacle.

The current round of the Rural Community Broadband fund is scheduled to be the last. And, on Friday last week, we heard that the deadline (originally intended to be 24th May) has been extended to 17th June (although, at the time of writing the website has not been updated to reflect this). This could be the last chance for communities in the last 10% to have a crack at getting greatly enhanced broadband.

So, if you would like to work with James and myself to get better broadband please get in touch. But, do it quickly, there is not much time left.

Communicating the pace of technological change

Returning to my theme of that murky world I inhabit a lot of the time between the uber-geeks and the digitally excluded, I want to focus in how people view the pace of technological change.

Our Digital Planet in Glasgow

A couple of things have happened recently that have given me cause to think about this theme. One was a discussion with someone who would not accept that his 8 year-old computer was in any way obsolete. He complained about it being slow, but blamed most of the problems on his poor internet connection. This, indeed, was an issue, but the computer itself compounded the problem by being painfully slow. He insisted that he machine was “state of the art” when he bought it. Which may have been true, in 2005.

Then there was the group being consulted with over improvements to their very poor broadband service in a rural area. This was one of the more difficult consultations I have done on this subject, largely because it was in an area where public money was spent on installing a wireless network solution a number of years ago. That solution has never really worked as it should, has failed to find sufficient customers, and it now offers only marginal improvements over fixed line connections in the area, although it does provide connectivity to a few people who can’t get any kind of service at all over their fixed line. But, of course, when the wireless network was installed, all sorts of promises were made about how it would transform the lives of the people connecting to it. Most of these have not been fulfilled. But it has shaped residents’s views about people coming into their area and making promises about connectivity and makes it difficult to get through to them that technology has moved on and better solutions are available.


These were just two incidents among many, but the issue of person being convinced his 8 year-old computer is still state-of-the-art, and the community’s dissatisfaction with its years-old wireless network, crystallised some thoughts for me. I spend a lot of time working with people who have never used new technologies in a consistent manner in their lives. Their frames of reference are with other things that are important to them. And, in most other spheres of life, things don’t change as rapidly as they do in the worlds of computing and the internet. Thus, the man with the 8 year-old computer had a car that was more than 8 years old, and was still perfectly serviceable. The community with the obsolete wireless network lived in centuries-old stone-built houses that will provide homes for more centuries into the future. Computers and internet connections can be expensive, and, for many people, having made that outlay, they expect it to work for them for a very long time. The fact that it doesn’t is another factor in turning people off from using new technologies, it can be confusing to them, and it can prevent them from becoming familiar with new applications and more efficient ways of doing things.

So, as part of our digital inclusion efforts, we need to work harder to communicate the pace of technological change to people. And, and this may seem counter-intuitive, but we need to make this change less scary to people. And we need to ameliorate the pace of change by finding new ways of people extending the life of their old technology.  These are key digital inclusion challenges.

Leeds Snowcial Media Surgery

A Story of New Technology, Immediacy and the Olympics

This is a story of modern technology.

Last Wednesday, I spent a very enjoyable day travelling round parts of Lincolnshire on a mobile library, encouraging people to get involved in the campaign for better broadband in their area, and showing them some of the things they might do with a better connection.

I then drove home through rural Lincolnshire, heading for the A1. I was driving a borrowed car, which doesn’t have a DAB radio, and, as I’ve had years of listening to Radio 5 Live on various forms of digital platforms, I find medium wave pretty hard on the ear these days, so I was listening to the Olympics coverage via internet radio on my iPad, plugged into the car radio. As most of the areas I was driving through in the early part of the journey were pretty rural, the signal kept dropping out, and there was lots of buffering. As I got onto the A1, Bradley Wiggins’s attempt at a gold medal began. Not long after this, I pulled into a service station, but, the cycle race was reaching its climax, so I sat in the car for about 10 minutes until it was confirmed that Bradley Wiggins had, indeed, achieved his gold medal. Then, just as I was about to switch the radio off and head into the service station, the presenter said “it’s 10 past 4”. I looked at the clock on the car dashboard and saw that it read 4:25. The buffering had actually resulted in a 15-minute delay in the coverage I was listening to, and I reflected on the irony that I had sat there gripped by the “live” coverage of an event that had actually taken place 15 minutes earlier.

This might have been an extreme case, but digital technologies do result in all sorts of delays. Is anything ever live any more?

The IslandGovCamp Odyssey

I’m thinking there should be a klaxon going off at this point and a flashing banner, reading DAFT IDEA.

But… here goes anywhere.

Announcing the IslandGovCamp Odyssey… or, at least running it up a flagpole to see who salutes.


Image shamelessly stolen from the IslandGovCamp Facebook page

I’ve never met Sweyn Hunter in person, but I’ve talked a lot to him online, mainly on Twitter, and he seems like a good guy to me. His day job is in IT at Orkney Council, but he also loves cricket and The Archers, so we have quite a lot in common really. It was over cricket that we first connected, as he was a great supporter of #twicket, the world’s first live online broadcast of a village cricket match that I ran (with a lot of help from others) on Easter Monday last year.

Any way, for some time now, Sweyn has been planning IslandGovCamp, an unconference for people working in the governance of islands (and those with an interest). I love this idea, and really want to attend, particularly, as Sweyn says, it makes perfect sense for me to be there live-streaming the event to people on other islands who can’t make it. Perhaps I can help some people find their way to making things easier when they are prevented from travelling by the presence of stretches of water in the way.

So, as I say, I really want to be at IslandGovCamp, which is taking place on 26th and 27th May, but Orkney is a very long way from me, probably about 600 miles, and there’s a stretch of water in-between too. And I’m operating on a limited budget. So, here’s a potential solution, but, before I dive in, I need to know how much support there for the proposed course of action.

Random Welsh Beach

Oh, and there are at least 4 other people who want to make the trip as well. I’m not going to name them here, because some, at least, of them have regular office jobs, and I’m not sure if they’ve all got permission to make the trip.

So – this is the idea:

Jumping in and laying cards on the table….. I reckon if we do this in the preferred way, it will probably cost around £1,000. My proposal is to crowd-fund this cost. The money would be for a week’s hire of a campervan, food and subsistence, site fees, ferry crossing, etc.

The proposal is for a Social Media Odyssey from the Midlands / North of England to Orkney. I’ve done something similar with “Can’t Get Online Week” last November (see, that was 1300 miles, or a similar distance to Orkney and back, and that was modeled, in part, on Christian Payne‘s epic trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats in November 201o.

So, can we get five (or so) people in a campervan, trek up the country to Orkney, documenting our progress as we go, and stopping off to do interesting social media things on the way? I’m thinking we might take three days to get there, stopping to meet people and doing things like:

  • a social media surgery
  • a half-day unconference; and
  • a lightning talks session

as we go.

So, what do you think? Is this a wild and wacky idea? Would you like to see it happen? If we did it would you chip in some money to help us raise £1000? Would it be a mad waste of resources? Could you offer support in kind in any way to help us reduce the costs? Are there companies out there who might sponsor us in exchange for a high profile during the journey?

And, if you did chip in, what would you get? I’m open to suggestions on this, but, here are some ideas:

  • It will be fun and you’ll get to share in the enjoyment;
  • We’ll do some useful events and live-stream them, so you might learn something;
  • You’ll get to watch IslandGovCamp on live-stream as this might be the only way I have of getting there;
  • …… please make any other suggestions in the comments below.

IslandGovCamp is only 7 weeks away, so, if this is going to happen we need to make a decision pretty soon. The first step will be to set up a crowd-funding site, but, I’m not even going to do that unless I know there is some support out there.

The Can’t Get Online Tales

I’ve been thinking about ways to keep the Can’t Get Online campaign going, now the week has ended. The problems the Week highlighted have not gone away, although I hope it did something to help bring solutions closer.

Some time ago, I read an article about the novel and movie plot lines which would be ruined had their narratives taken place after the invention of the mobile phone. But that doesn’t apply in many rural areas. Without a mobile signal, people cannot be tracked down or interrupted, or call for help.

The most important part of Can’t Get Online Week, for me, was the collection of stories people had to tell about the problems that not being able to get online presented them with. I think stories are powerful tools for engagement. So, I present a couple of “Can’t Get Online” Tales for your enjoyment or critique. And please feel free to post your own.

Little Red Riding Hood and the lack of network signal

As Little Red Riding Hood makes her way through the forest her parents hear stories on the news about a wolf loose in the neighbourhood. Their frantic calls fail to alert Red, however, as their is no signal coverage in the forest. As Red arrives at Grandma’s cottage, a brief moment of connection flashes a warning text message on her phone, but it is too late to stop the wolf slamming the door shut behind her and gobbling her up.

Later the wolf slopes off to sleep off his huge, undigested meal, but makes the mistake of heading for the local hill-top which has line-of-sight to a distant phone mast. The hunter is alerted by Red Riding Hood’s phone ringing in the wolf’s belly and cuts him open to release Red and her grandma.

Jack and The Beans-Talk-Talk

Jack’s mother tries to research the likely selling price of the family cow on the internet, but, frustrated by her slow connection, she sends Jack off to market, telling him to “get what he can”. When Jack returns with the magic beans, his mother attempts to go online to find out what they are, but the answers take too long to download. so she throws the beans out of the window in frustration.

The next morning, Jack climbs up the beanstalk, but finds there is no mobile signal in the giant’s castle, so is unable to tell anyone else what he has found. Later, as he hides in terror from the enraged giant, a brief moment of connection causes the text message signal on his phone to sound loudly in his pocket, giving away his location to the giant, and forcing him to flee, leading to the denouement of the tale, with the cutting down of the beanstalk with giant crashing to the ground, before Jack has had a chance to steal any of the treasure in the castle.

Do you have your own Can’t Get Online tale?

Can’t Get Online Week – The Amazing WiBE

I don’t usually endorse products, but, during Can’t Get Online Week, I experienced something which really knocked me sideways. In the run up to the week, Richard Dix of Rural Broadband contacted me to ask if I would like a loan of a WiBE (Wireless Broadband Extender) for the week. I gratefully accepted his offer, but did so with a degree of skepticism. I had read some of the publicity about the WiBE which seemed to make unfeasible claims about its ability to get mobile broadband signals in places where no other device could get one, but I was willing to give it a go, as some of the places I was due to visit during the week would offer it a real challenge.

So, as I was leaving the second event of day 2 at Sedgeford, Norfolk, Richard handed over the box containing the WiBE and I wired it into the car to make the Can’t Get Online Week vehicle truly internet enabled.

WiBE in @citycarclub carI also took possession of a second WiBE to hand over to Lindsey Annison for testing in the Cyberbarn and other remote parts of Cumbria, and Chris Conder had already received hers through the post, and was putting it through its paces around north Lancashire.

My initial impression was that the WiBE was getting an impressively stable signal in the car as I drove from Norfolk to Birmingham, but I didn’t really get a chance to put it through its paces until I reached the Cyberbarn in Warcop on the Wednesday evening. There, in a village where mobile signals are at best patchy, and half the households can get no broadband connection at all via landlines, the WiBE registered between 2 and 3Mbps in different locations.

But, the really impressive performance came on Thursday afternoon, at the Goats on the Roof Cafe. Jumping into the car after an impassioned meeting at Byers Green in County Durham, I headed up the A1, past Newcastle, turned off, and trusted the SatNav to take me to the right place. I was having doubts as the roads got windier and narrower, and seemed to go on for ever. But, then I saw the Goats on the Roof sign.

Goats on the roof sign

But, even then, there was a bit of doubt, as this led me on to a single-track road which seemed to take a long while to navigate. Then a reservoir came into view, with a wooden building in the foreground, which I was relieved to discover was the cafe in question.

Goats on the Roof CafeAs you can see, it was getting dark, and, unfortunately, I was not to be fortunate enough to see any actual goats on the roof. As I got out of the car, I thought that this had to be the most remote venue of the week, there wasn’t a house to be seen for miles.

Any way, I soon learned that the internet connectivity for the cafe, and for 11 other households in the area, was provided by the Fontburn Internet Project whose members share a 3Mbps connection which is bounced around the hills by wireless means.

At this point, I plugged in the WiBE, fully expecting it not to work at all, as, not only is there no landline connection at Goats on the Roof, I was told that no one gets a mobile signal out there. And this is where I, and everyone else present, reeled in astonishment, as the WiBE pulled in a signal in excess of 4Mbps. Here’s the proof.

Goats on the roof speedtest

And so, in an area where no one gets a mobile signal, and no one can watch youtube or BBC iPlayer, we were able to do a live video Skype call with Richard Dix and I was able to play “Frozen Planet” on iPlayer.

As the Speed Test says, the WiBE had turned Fontburn from one of the more difficult connectivity areas in the country, to one which was suddenly “Faster than 52% of GB”.

And, since then, Chris and Lindsey have been out testing their WiBE’s in remote areas, and getting similarly remarkable results. You can see some of Chris’s tests on Fibre the Dog’s Bambuser channel here.

So, there it is. I was honestly amazed with what the WiBE could do. I am not sure it is a long term solution for internet access, but, if it can take people, in an instant, from having no internet connection at all, to having 4Mbps, it has got to be worth checking out.

More about the WiBE here


Just as an addition to this post, I checked out the mobile broadband coverage map for Goats on the Roof. It shows no signal coverage at all on the Three network.

Three Network Coverage for Goats on the Roof

Can’t Get Online Week – Some first reflections

I’m probably going to write a lot of reflections on Can’t Get Online Week. This is the first, relatively immediate reaction.

Can't Get Online - Moorsholm

Last week, I drove more than 1300 miles visiting communities that struggle to get internet connections and feel cut off from the modern world. I started off in the New Forest and reached north Northumberland, before turning south to finish the week in Yorkshire, where I live. But what did I learn, apart from the fact that England is a big country? Well, I think there were a number of main lessons:

  • The tipping point has come – no one thinks internet access is not essential any more;
  • Poor connectivity can be an accident of economics as well as geography. Some less remote communities struggle through lack of investment in connectivity infrastructure because they have traditionally not been seen as lucrative markets;
  • There are very many communities where the maximum achievable connectivity through landlines is 0.5Mbps, and still more where it is much worse;
  • There is very little awareness in many communities of the County Broadband Plans being drawn up by local authorities and their partners; and, where there is awareness, people either cannot afford to wait for them to work their way through, or don’t believe they will ever reach their communities;
  • People are suffering NOW from poor connectivity. Young people are failing in school through not being able to do online homework; business people are having to maintain expensive urban properties to get connectivity; villages are being depopulated; and property prices are falling;
  • many rural communities know nothing about the successes of their counterparts elsewhere in taking their own steps to improve connectivity because the only available source of information is online, and they cannot access it.

Here’s A.J. whose education is directly suffering through poor broadband. He will not get a second chance at his school days  

And Steve Clarke, in Essex, was typical of the business people I met who are having real problems

But, I am an optimist, and what I am really optimistic about, following Can’t Get Online Week, is community spirit. At some of the events I convened, their were neighbours who had never spoken to each other before, who not only started a dialogue, drawn together by their mutual lack of broadband, but finished the meeting vowing to work together to do something about it. I think lack of broadband can be a galvanising issue for community spirit, and I hope I have been able to play a small part in planting a few sparks to that end.

We need to do something about this issue, and it needs to be done quickly before the urban / rural divide gets wider. If you can help me with practical action, then please get in touch with me by any of the methods here.

In the run up to Can’t Get Online Week, I appeared on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, Radio 5 Live’s “Outriders” and was interviewed by the Guardian and the Huddersfield Examiner. During the week, I appeared on BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio Lancashire, Stray FM, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC TV’s “Look North”, and an online video for “Farmers’ Weekly”. Can’t Get Online Week was featured in countless local papers and specialist publications.

Can’t Get Online Week secured the support of Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, and was tweeted about by Stephen Fry.

I have a model now (following on from Twicket, the world’s first live broadcast of a village cricket match) for using Social Media campaigns to raise the profile of issues and campaigns to national, regional and local prominence. Please contact me if you’d like me to do the same for you.