I’m a great supporter of the Birmingham Music Archive, and have long been discussing types of social media and other work that could contribute to their archiving of Birmingham based music and related culture. One idea I came up with was to map people’s music emotional attachments. Not just musicians or venues or bands, but mangers, personalities, shops, companies, collectives and hang-outs. We opened a public Google Map and asked people to contribute. That map is still open for contributions, but the first result of it is now produced — an A1 poster of memories:
It contains over 200 records, placed on the map by contributors. Zoom in, or see a detail:
It’s available to buy on my Zazzle store, with my other map-based artworks.
Here’s a pipe I’ve created that attempts to marshal the content from hyperlocal blogging in Birmingham and allow people only to subscribe to feeds that interest them. This is a piece of investigation and experimentation that I’ve been able to find the time to do thanks to Will Perrin and his hyperlocal blogging initiative Talk About Local. Will also helped define the reason why it would be useful to do — for what he called “lazy journalists”.
Lazy here is used in the same way that it might be used — in praise — of a computer programmer; that is, lazy means you’ll work hard at setting yourself up right to make sure you get everything you need easily later on. Will got to the crux of the argument by saying that journalists interested in a subject — let’s say noise abatement issues — could easily find examples of those at a local level outside the areas they physically know.
So this is a run through of the decisions made in building it (and what other options could work), it’s no more than a prototype at this stage so comments and improvements are very welcome. However if you would rather just get stuck into the pipe itself, head on over.
Psychogeography can be sort of explained as the geography of emotion, the relation between place and feeling.
The first attempt to formalise it was in the 50′s by various Lettritsts and while they were concentrating firmly on the urban (and architecture in particular) the idea was something that continued and was further worked on by Guy Debord in Critique of Urban Geography.
I’ve long been of the opinion that the social web, the blog especially was an ideal canvas for this sort of activity — allowing as it does fast and free publication of thoughts and also, increasingly, opportunities to “tag” the locations easily. Recently though I’ve been thinking more and more about just how perfect our internet of feelings and thoughts was for the study of emotion and location. As I had re-iterated to me at the recent Cultural Mappings Symposium — place is the great unifier and connector of all sorts of data, mapping allows juxtaposition of otherwise unrelated items, and that reveals the questions we should be answering.
A problem with psychogeography as defined by Debourd and the Situtationists is that in order to prepare reports on areas the pyschogeographer (as opposed to the wandering flâneur) must submit themselves to the dérive — a kind of deliberately directionless route with attempts to let emotion act as the guide.
“the dérive, or drift, was defined by the situationists as the ‘technique of locomotion without a goal’, in which ‘one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’. The dérive acted as something of a model for the ‘playful creation’ of all human relationships.” (‘The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age’ by Sadie Plant)
The dérive attempts to mirror the movement of the residents or users of the area — and to disorientate the pyschogeographer to document emotion rather than topography. It is doomed in this attempt as the observer by his/her very nature is not experiencing the emotion of the inhabitant. This is analogous perhaps to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (there some pairs of properties on a sub-atomic level that cannot both be know — by measuring one you alter the other), as by becoming a supposedly dispassionate observer you cannot experience the emotions as they are commonly felt.
Psychogeography has stumbled in and out of fashion, and become sidelined as a worthwhile pursuit, referenced more often as a thread in fictions than as a pure study — where in fact the relation between emotion and place is one of the most important pieces of information going.
It’s what I’m calling Conversational Psychogeography — the applying of psychogeographical method to the conversations that take place online.
There are two strands to this:
On Friday I gave a talk to Pete Ashton‘s Metapod Connect course. It was a gentle introduction to how memes can work on the web, and how the culture around them creates other (some would say…) more useful things too.
This is a recording of the the talk (complete with the odd giggle, a few interjections and a tiny bit of mobile phone interference) alongside the slides I used.
Last week I used a Sweetcron installation, a red pen, some cardboard and scissors to build The Twitterlizer (excuse the American spelling). It aggregates mentions of the phrase “digitally included” from across the social web, YouTube, flickr, 12 seconds, blogs, Twitter — especially Twitter, if you’re logged in to Twitter it will even tweet for you with one click.
The aim is to use it to persuade other people to help someone else understand something on the web, and we’re using Twitter as the main thrust because it is so simple. It’s a little trite, and people will in no way really be “digitally included” just because they’ve tweeted — but it’s a start and a start of a helping relationship. If you’re happy to show someone Twitter, you’ll be happy to show them all sorts of useful stuff — and hopefully they’ll be happy to ask for help.
It’s all part of the social enterprise I’m involved with — We Share Stuff — we believe that using IT to share experiences and make connections is a far better way to get people able to use the technology than any formal training or certificate. Social interaction is a much bigger driver than a job using a spreadsheet.
We’re running an event at the National Digital Inclusion Conference – Mon 27th and Tues 28th – in London. So if you’re going to that please stop by and say hello. If you’re interested in digital inclusion but can’t afford the (very high) cost of attendance then we’re also hosting a FREE fringe event on the Monday evening in Westminster, come along and meet us, hopefully as many interested delegates as we can grab, and others who are interested in really doing something to share their knowledge and experience. See more details on www.twitterlizer.com.
If you can’t make it to London, then give us a tweet, and digitally include someone too.
First written May ’09, updated (slightly) April ’11.
Although listening is the most important way of using Twitter for a brand or organisation, you’ll want to do some actual tweeting too — or it’s not a conversation. Here are some generic tips on how this can work well, based on my work with a number of organisations. Again, I’ll assume that you’ve got a basic idea what Twitter is and got an account. I’ll use the example of a theatre venue here, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about, but the principles should be applicable across organisations.
Twitter is all about adding value to other people – on a personal level you get this value back in kind (your questions answered, or being entertained), for a business you would hope that it’s a loss leader for sales (like making the seats in your venue nicer than the absolute basic). In order to make valuable and useful tweets it’s good to think about the “value” of each tweet that the organisation makes — they should be (at least one of):
*The “entertaining” tweets are very attached to people’s personalities — brands don’t have personalities, but the tweeters do. It can depend on the size or your organisation, and the number of people tweeting from it as to how you can best get the personality out.
For a very small organisation, one person bands especially, showing the personality can be quite easy to do — if one person is doing all the tweeting it will happen quite naturally. But if one person is responsible for Twitter in a larger organisation, what happens then they are on holiday or at weekends? If your Twitter contacts get used to a certain level of updates or response, a dead period can break trust — people will drift off and get information elsewhere. Because of this it’s important to share out the responsibility of Twitter (both monitoring and responding), there are a number of different strategies.
One, employed to good effect by Channel Four News (@channel4news) is to decide on an organisational tone of voice — theirs is lightly conspiratorial, and friendly — but then not say at all who is actually tweeting. I would suspect that one of the broadcast assistants is put “on Twitter duty” each day. This is useful for a very well know organisation, but it is a barrier to conversation — Channel Four News don’t have to work hard to build contacts or answer difficult customers (or deliver information), they are there to create a friendly atmosphere and to extend the culture/community around the programmes, they don’t need to build personal relationships.
Another way of letting the personality though is to “sign” some of the tweets — this works well for the asides, the entertaining nonsense that builds networks. By signing the tweets I mean tweeting messages that are linked to real people — you could do this my leaving a name/initials after a circumflex at the end of the tweet (“just seen something odd ^jon”) or better still link the organisation’s tweets to the Twitters of individual people one their own accounts. This can be done technically (by services like GroupTweet or ConnectTweet, or by bespoke filters — I’ve used Yahoo Pipes and Twitterfeed for this purpose) and can work really well when people are already using Twitter for themselves.
An example of a use of GroupTweet is the Twitter stream of my radio show The Big Paws (@thebigpaws) — we use normal (“unsigned”) tweets for information, and GroupTweet fed direct messages from our own accounts for “asides”. GroupTweet has a slight technical issue in that you can’t follow people outside the organisation with the account (as it works by retweeting direct messages), ConnectTweet uses #hashtags, which solves that but does leave brand tweets also in the originators account.
Whichever method you choose it’s still up to all tweeters to understand what’s appropriate to say on behalf of the brand or organisation — but this is no different to them speaking in public offline, and you trust them to do that, right? Spamming isn’t a good idea, everyone must understand that.
Here are a few tips of how to structure tweets, what to include and a few common pitfalls to be aware of:
This is really the same question; each tweet exists separately and due to the ambient and transient nature of how people read Twitter there isn’t really a too much or a wrong time — as long a each tweet is adding something to the people who read it. The tweeter has to ask themselves “why should anyone care about this?” — friends will put up with things from you that people you’re hoping to communicate with as a brand won’t. Tweet useful and interesting stuff and people will want to engage, don’t and they won’t.
As ever any questions, improvements or suggestions are welcome — these can only be very broad tips because each organisation is different, but I hope they’re useful. I’m very happy to talk to you about specific cases (and I’m @bounder btw).
Birmingham is getting a real reputation for being a place where social media doesn’t only happen, it organises and does things that are intended to create social good. From the Social Media Surgeries (developed from a concept used by Pete Ashton by Nick Booth to something almost the whole of the blogging community takes part in) to specially created social enterprises like We Share Stuff (which aims to use social media to help with digital inclusion) there seems to be a collective aim to use the technologies to help as many people as possible. The reputation has spread wide enough for Swedish journalist Axel Andén to come here just to see what we get up to and our motivations.
One of the largest projects has been our volunteer-created online consultation for Birmingham City Council’s Big City Plan — the work which Axel called “constructive activism”.
The Big City Plan is one part of a larger plan by the council for the future of Birmingham, but it has been heavily promoted as being about “the next twenty years” of the City Centre (and by extension has an impact on the rest of the city). Over Christmas and stretching into early February 2009 the official consultation period on the draft plan (referred to by the council as the “Work In Progress Document”) happened — there were high profile events, advertising hoardings, taxi advertising and even (which I can’t really understand) awards awarded to a draft plan.
Yet there wasn’t really an online version that worked in a good and social way — which lead myself and a group of bloggers to spend huge amounts of our once free time creating a comment-able version of the document that also used plain English.
The Big City Talk site (still live although comments are closed) collected comments and passed them through the official channels, and managed to work without unduly antagonising the Council — whose work it tried to help (although by its existence was perhaps implicitly criticising).
Since the creation, process and reasoning are perhaps interesting for differing reasons I’ve decided to blog about the whole thing in a series of posts:
Which I’ll post in order as I write them.
Freedom Town is in Sierra Leone, but it’s also the name of an art project connecting schools in Birmingham (UK) with schools in Freedom Town. It’s being run by the education department of Birmingham’s Town Hall & Symphony Hall, along with a local artist and will feature the associate musicians of the organisation. The aim is to eventually enable the schools to collaborate — and a website is the ideal tool to achieve that.
I’ve really enjoyed building it, and working with the team to make sure they understand how best to use it.
The website is just starting to be used by the children this week, and they seem to be having fun already — as well as blogging for themselves (moderated by their teachers) they are being encouraged to comment on the posts of others and also write about how they are finding the project.
Some of the first work they’re doing is to make sure their School’s homepage on the site is up-to-date, and they’re also thinking about how the site should look (it has been purposely left very plain, so they can change it to suit themselves).
Technically the site is a instalaltion of WordPress, with plugins and tweaks to handle the expected use of video and audio later in the project and also the moderation issues of having hundreds of young people posting. So far it seems to be working well, and the children have found blogging quite easy. I’ll post a link to the site when it really gets going — looking forward to reading and hearing the results.
Twitter is now pretty much established as the place where news can break most quickly — when news happens it’s becoming more and more likely a Twitterer will be somewhere nearby, or be one of the first to hear it.
But unless it’s huge World news whether you hear it quickly (or at all) is dependant on who you’re following. If you’re not following the “newsmaker” then you’ll wait until someone you do follow mentions it, or until a blog or even a newspaper picks it up (queue the “Twitter is fast at news” news story). There have been some attempts to use search or trends to help the process along, so you can follow one Twitter account that will notify you when a story reaches a critical mass — thing is for the more niche story that may never happen. Which is where the idea behind onBirmingham comes in.
The onBirmingham Twitter account retweets (with attribution) direct messages sent to it — from people that the account is following. Like this:
It rests on building up a network of “newsmakers” around Birmingham, who have a nose for news and an itchy Twitter finger. onBirmingham will only follow those it trusts, and if they use the service to spam, then they’ll be unfollowed — it’s as simple as that.
So follow onBirmingham to get the news, and if you’d like to help make the news send the account an @ message and it’ll follow you back. And we’ll see how well it works.
Pantomimes have taken a good couple of hundred years to evolve from ballet and variety acts, they’ve at times been four-hour sprawling shows with a lavish ballroom scene. These days they’re more likely to be a string of doubles-entendre hung loosely over a plot that gives a TV personality a chance to expand his or her range beyond looking fetching in swimwear.
In their heyday they were so engrained into the British culture that it would have been hard to imagine any media outlet that didn’t shoehorn its presenters into an in-joke laden panto – to the delight of the audience and also the schedulers that could fill up hours of festive programming. That they’d also turned into a fiesta of cross-dressing, was just a bonus.
They may not be as culturally relevant now, but the traditions are well-established and they are even starting to see signs of a post-modernist revival.
Panto is an ideal format for a community project, as it has well established traditions – and just a few basic plots. If a show is Robin Hood, Puss in Boots or Alladin the audience know that the basic plot will be boy meets girl, boy gets girl, while thwarting “baddie”. Maybe it’ll be the girl that does the thwarting, or maybe (Beauty and the Beast) the baddie will be our own prejudice that looks are more important than personality. Whatever, there’ll be slapstick, there’ll be a slushy dance scene and something will be quite obviously behind someone else – while they are seemingly doomed never to catch a glimpse of it.