Let’s debunk some myths about the internet / world wide web

Let’s debunk some internet / web myths:

1. Social media gets in the way of human contact and communication

Forget the device or the medium. Social media opens up thousands of new channels for human contact and communication. Increasingly it is the way people communicate, and, as devices get smaller, less conspicuous, and less obvious (think Google Glass, Samsung Gear); and as good connectivity becomes ubiquitous, we will forget about the medium and just communicate. And, if you don’t find online contact satisfactory, then organise face-to-face get-togethers with your online connections.

2. Nobody needs hyperfast broadband

Hyperfast broadband (1000Mbps and above) facilitates instant exchange of data, information, and communication It allows people to talk to each other with high definition / 3D / hologramatic video, which is almost like being in the same room. And it does away with the lag that puts so many off certain aspects of web communication.

I am grateful to Sarah Baskerville for pointing me to this video which highlights the problems we would face if we had slow internet lag in all our daily activities.

Twitter Gritter

The weather is getting colder, and, even though it’s still October, there have already been some #uksnow tweets on Twitter.

Sandwell Council Gritter in Birmingham in mid-summer

When I was in the Big Society Vanguard area of Eden Valley, recently, we were talking about the real difficulties which heavy snow causes in that area, which is in England’s most sparsely populated constituency. Last winter, people were snowed in for days, cut off from services and shops, and no one was able to get through to them. And people experienced real difficulties getting information about which roads were clear, which had been gritted, and when. This caused further difficulties in that people sometimes set off on journeys and then came to a section of road that wasn’t gritted and got stuck.

During this conversation, I mentioned the “Twitter Gritter” initiative, started by the wonderful Dan Slee at Walsall Council. Last winter Dan was giving real-time information on Twitter as gritters went out about which routes were being cleared. So, I made a mental note to speak to Dan about how he does this, what technology is involved, and how it might be replicated elsewhere.

So, yesterday, on arriving at the Beyond 2010 conference in Birmingham, I spied Dan across the room, and resolved to quiz him about just how he does it. And this produced a pretty amazing revelation. Dan told me that there is no expensive technology involved. The gritter driver simply texts or emails him as they are about to set out on a route and he puts the information out on Twitter.

This is one of those examples where really simple ideas don’t get spread, when the solution is so straightforward and effective. I had assumed that more people weren’t doing it because it involved some kind of expensive solution, linking GPS devices on gritting lorries with a control centre and online mapping. But, no, some of the best ideas are the most simple ones. And this is yet another example of the ability of the internet and social media to take offline information and amplify it.

This could be another classic Big Society initiative. Dan is employed by Walsall Council, but, it seems to me that there is no reason why local volunteer co-ordinators couldn’t be appointed to receive texts or emails from gritter drivers and output the information to Twitter, Facebook, hyeprlocal websites, and text messaging networks.

We can do this, can’t we?

Social Media Surgeries – A Mutual Learning Experience

I’ve mentioned before how people often tell me they’d like to be a “Surgeon” at a Social Media Surgery, but they are scared about being asked questions they can’t answer. My response to that is always that it doesn’t matter. You can probably find the answer and it will be a mutual learning experience as you find your way to the answer together.

First Doncaster Social Media Surgery

Last night, I had personal experience of this, and it was just as challenging and rewarding as I had predicted. It was the First Doncaster Social Media Surgery, which now means we have nine regular Surgeries in Yorkshire & the Humber (with more in the planning stages). This one was a bit different from some of the others as, with the help of Rob Wilmot, who is chair of Governors at Doncaster College, as well as George Trow, the Principal, and Charlotte Hill, the Marketing Manager (who is a former colleague of mine), we held it at the College, and invited college tutors to join us, as well as the usual audience of voluntary and community organisations.

I sat down with a group of college tutors and asked them what they wanted to learn about. They said they had heard about wikis and wanted to see if they could help them in their work. At this point, I had to admit that, although I have used plenty of wikis, I have never actually set one up. So, we spent five minutes exploring other tools I am more familiar with, to see if they would meet their needs. None of them did, however, so we concluded that wikis were where it was at.

First Doncaster Social Media Surgery - 2

So, we embarked on a mutual learning process. I googled “wikis in education”, found a site that was crammed full of relevant wikis, spent some time with the tutors looking at examples to make sure they met the needs they had identified, found they did, and plunged into setting one up from scratch and populating it with some early content.

It was a genuine mutual learning process. I learned a lot out of it, the tutors involved all agreed they had found the process both informative and enjoyable, they took copious notes so they could pick up from where we left off when they got back to their own computers.

So, I now have very direct and personal experience of what I have been telling people who are nervous of becoming a “Social Media Surgeon”. I very much enjoyed it, we are all learning all the time, and I, for one, never want to fall into the trap of thinking I am “expert” at anything.


How to Amplify Your Event

Earlier this year, I ran a workshop at the “Creating Connections” conference in Huddersfield called “How to Amplify Your Event”. It’s taken a while, but I have now pulled together the notes I made for that workshop into this blog post. Sorry this makes for rather a long post, but I hope it will be of use if you are looking for ways of promoting an event. I don’t claim this to be a definitive list of the available tools, your favourite tool may not be on it, but it describes a good number of the tools I have used or seen being used.

Digital Engagement

The age of widespread digital literacy, internet use, and the rising tide of Social Media means that small organisations, if they get their message right, can have a much wider impact than they might ever have thought possible in the past. Pictures and videos tell much more powerful stories than text, and the Internet means that content can reach much wider audiences than printed material ever did.

Similarly, the digital age means that there is no longer any excuse for only talking to the people in the room at any event. Free and easy-to-use tools means that it is a relatively straightforward process to open your event up to the world, via live streamed video and audio, live blogging, instant feedback via Twitter and otherwise. Social Media means even the smallest event can become a global phenomenon.


The first step in amplifying an event is to create a hashtag for it. A hashtag is a short code which can be used as an identifier for the event, and make content from it easily searchable on a range of social media platforms. Example hashtags include #NDI10 (for the National Digital Inclusion Conference 2010) #d2020 (for Digital 20/20), or #cconns for the Creating Connections event. The presence of the # at the start of the code creates a clickable search term within many social media clients (e.g. Tweetdeck & Twhirl for Twitter) and separates the code from other, similar terms. As well as allowing for collation of content from the event. The hashtag also facilitates remote participation. For example, it allows Twitter users to see everyone’s comments on the event, whether those comments come from people they follow or not.

Live Blogging

Many events organisers encourage live blogging, which effectively allows real-time, detailed, commentary on the events in a form that is accessible outside the conference room. There are tools which are specifically designed to facilitate live blogging – including CoveritLive.com. Such tools can pull in comments made via other platforms such as Twitter, as well as allowing posting of material such as photographs, and even live video streams.

Connecting to the Outside world

There are still conference and event venues which fail to take into account the need for good wifi. If you want to Amplify your event, decent wifi connections to the outside world are essential. And, it is important to realise that standard domestic, or small office, wifi systems are no longer adequate for events. Most small wifi systems have low limits to the number of connections allowed, and they can suffer from limited bandwidth. If there are a lot of people with different wifi-enabled devices at your event, you need to allow for many connections, and, live streaming of video and audio needs a fair amount of bandwidth.

Live Video Stream


The ultimate way of broadcasting your event to the world is by effectively turning yourself into a TV channel and sending live video and audio out to the world. I am always surprised by how many people still think that this is an expensive and difficult process. In the age of social media, live video broadcasts can be done for free and using relatively cheap kit, or at least kit that you might already have in your possession for other purposes.


http://livestream.com and


are all services which allow you to stream live video and audio directly from a webcam. The easiest way of using these services is to utilise the built in webcam and microphone from a laptop computer, point them at the speakers at your event, and stream live to the world. All of them have facilities to collect input and feedback from participants in the room and remotely. http://twitcam.com is a version of the livestream service which is integrated with Twitter, and makes it very straightforward to promote the live stream via Twitter and collect feedback the same way.

http://qik.com and http://bambuser.com/ are services which allow live video and audio streaming from a video-enabled mobile phone. http://ustream.tv also has a service which allows live streaming from an iPhone (3GS & 4 only). If broadcasting from a phone, remember to ensure that you are using a wifi connection, or that, if using the mobile phone network, you have a contract with a generous data allowance. Failure to check this could result in a big addition to your mobile phone bill.

Live Audio

It IS possible to broadcast live audio from an event. http://www.iPadio.com is a service which broadcasts and archives the content of a telephone call on the web. The live facility of iPadio suffers in my opinion, however, from being of telephone call quality, which can be difficult to listen to. There are other, more techy ways of broadcasting live audio, and, if you know a community radio station, you might be able to get them involved. Personally, I think there is a gap in the market for a user-friendly application which delivers high quality, live broadcast audio on the web, as audio can often be very useful if you are trying to follow an event on the move, and are not sat at a screen.

“Vox Pops”

A popular way of amplifying an event is to record “Vox Pops”, i.e. short interviews with participants or speakers, and upload them to the web.

There are some really good, cheap video cameras on the market now, such as the Flip range, which not only record excellent quality video, but are quite cheap (upwards of £70) and easy to use. Many of them have “one button operation” and plug easily into the usb port of a computer to upload content. But, you don’t even need to buy dedicated equipment for this purpose. Many modern mobile phones will record video of sufficient quality for these purposes.

There are lots of sites which will host video on the web for free, including:


http://www.vimeo.com and


The obvious place to put such videos is Youtube, as this has the highest number of users, and you will have access to their vast audience. But Youtube has a 10 minute limit on videos, so, if you are looking to host longer film, then one of the other sites is recommended.

Audio interviews are also a popular tool. As already mentioned, iPadio is one such tool which can be used for this, and, as well as the live, telephone call-quality option, there is also the facility to upload better quality sound in the form of mp3 files to the iPadio site. Another option, which currently only works on iPhones and Google-powered (Android) phones, is http://www.audioboo.fm At the moment, there is a five-minute limit on audioboo files, but this is likely to change in the future. Audioboo works by recording high-quality audio and automatically uploading it to its own site. So, it is not live, but integrates with services such as Twitter and Facebook to promote your audio widely.

Here’s an example of an interview using audioboo  http://audioboo.fm/boos/97212-all-the-way-from-the-isle-of-wight-for-the-smtrain

Collating it all

So, there are a variety of options to Amplify your event, but, at the end of the day, you may think you will be left with content in a lot of different places, and it could be difficult to keep tabs on it all. This is where the hashtag comes into its own again.

Services such as:

http://netvibes.com and


can be used to collate your content in one place. By enter the hashtag in the boxes of these services, you can present all your event content in one place on the web.

A New Approach for the first Rotherham Social Media Surgery

First Rotherham Social Media Surgery

Today it was my second Social Media Social Surgery of the week (with two more to come next week). The first Rotherham Social Media Surgery went very well, considering that it was effectively planned and organised in 48 hours, after Paul Webster (@watfordgap) challenged me to respond to my own blog post “Social Media Surgeries, JFDI!“.

Despite the short notice, the first venture in Rotherham was a great success, aided by the fact that we tagged the Surgery on to the end of a Social Media Workshop run by Simon Duncan, the regional Third (First?) Sector ICT Champion.

So, we had a semi-captive audience of 8 people, and my fellow “Surgeons” were Paul Webster and Neil Brewitt.

This was a Surgery with a difference. It was apparent that most people present were some distance further back in their understanding of social media than those who normally come to Surgeries.  So, after consulting them on their preferences, we agreed to conduct the Surgery as a group discussion, which then finished with a case study as we helped one member set up a Twitter account. Follow @lchord on Twitter, and give them some encouragement, please.

This format worked well with this Group.  I think it is probable that we would revert to the more usual format of one-to-one, or one-to-small-group advice at future Surgeries as people’s knowledge of, and confidence in, social media grows. But, this way worked well as a kick-off in Rotherham.

Social Media Surgeries – on Radio Sheffield

Through the Digital 20/20 programme, we embarked on an ambitious programme of Social Media Surgeries towards the end of July. As well as Leeds and Huddersfield, delivered with the usual estimable team of volunteers, Ben McKenna led the first Bradford Social Media Surgery on the 20th, and then we have firsts in Rotherham, on the 21st, and Doncaster on the 28th. These are rounded off with the second North East Lincolnshire event in Grimsby on the 29th.

I appeared on Radio Sheffield on the afternoon of Tuesday 20th July (well, it makes a change from being up at the crack of dawn for the Breakfast Show), to talk about the Rotherham and Doncaster Surgeries, as well as getting a plug in for the regular Sheffield Surgery.

More details on the Social Media Surgeries can be found here: http://www.socialmediasurgery.com

The interview is below:

Social Media Surgeries – JFDI!

Leeds Social Media Surgery - July 2010

I’ve had to abort plans for two new Social Media Surgeries recently because other people got cold feet about being able to attract sufficient numbers of participants.

Now, while I wholeheartedly agree that it makes no sense to take up time and resources if no one is going to come, and I have cancelled a session myself in the past because of this, I also think that this is an activity where waiting for the perfect moment is counter-productive. My experience with Leeds Social Media Surgery, for instance, is that, even though we started there with quite low numbers, the Surgery has built its own momentum.

Going ahead and launching a surgery works so much better than waiting for the perfect moment for two reasons:

1. It gives you stories to tell. Even though you might only have a few takers at first, every episode of assistance at a Social Media Surgery is a story in itself. Surgery organisers can tell these stories as examples of the benefits people get out of attendance, and this is great publicity in the local area.

2. It builds word of mouth We have found in Leeds, as elsewhere, that people are now coming to the Surgery because they know someone else who has attended and got something positive out of it. This is a very important factor when many of the people we are trying to reach with Social Media Surgeries are (a) not necessarily online that much, and therefore relatively immune to online marketing; and (b) nervous about social media use, and thus more likely to take the next steps if they know someone else who has done the same thing.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a Social Media Surgery, I’d say, “do it!”. There may never be a perfect moment, and a slow start is better than no start at all.

Oh, and if you do start a Surgery, don’t forget to register it here http://www.socialmediasurgery.com

Is Twitter Living Biography?

Listening to Michael Palin being interviewed on Danny Baker’s radio programme on BBC Five Live this morning gave me some food for thought. He was talking about the publication of the latest volume of his diaries, and, in particular, about the process of sifting the content of his original hand-written diaries to decide what was suitable for publication.

The gist of what he was saying was that, while there is a lot of mundane trivia in the diaries, he felt it was important to include some human detail because it helps to give a rounded picture of the author.

This set me thinking. One of the things that people who have not “got” Twitter yet, is that it is “full of trivia”. They say things like “why do I want to know what you had for breakfast”. And my response to that, is that I use Twitter for serious purposes, but that some, at least, of the trivia, is what makes Twitter so engaging. I may get lots of useful information from my Twitter contacts, but, I also get to know them as people, because of the trivia which surrounds the useful information. Thus, Twitter allows me to feel that I am part of a team of people with similar objectives, many of whom I have never met face-to-face, but have a pretty good idea of what kind of people they are. And that also helps when I DO meet people face-to-face. It breaks down many of the initial social barriers which might otherwise be experienced on meeting someone for the first time.

So, this leads me to think that Twitter is living biography. No longer do we have to wait for the publication of someone’s diaries, through Twitter, we can experience their biography in real time as it happens.