DIGITAL LIST: 10 things on the web that caught my eye

Back in the day when the social web seemed new case studies and examples emerged like roadsigns in the fog. Rarely and eagerly sought. 

Today, things are different and what was once rare is now expected. Such is the pace of change. So, here’s a crack at rounding-up some of the good things in one place before they get lost. Some you may know. Some may be new. I’ve veered away from posting the sort of content I’m helping to share on comms2point0. That’s more case studies, data and think pieces.

  1. Celtic fans respond with cocoa pops to online Turkish fans who threaten to stab them

Turkish football fans have carved out a reputation for trouble in the past with knife attacks on rival supporters. So, when Fenerbache drew Celtic in Europe some armchair hooligans took selfies with knives threatening violence.

The response from the Celtic supporters was rather sharp. They could have threatened even greater violence in response. Instead they used the Simpsons-inspired hashtag #thatsnotaknife to respond with an arms race of their own. They took masked selfies with household objects including a spoon, a banana and a box of cocoa pops. As an example of an organic self-organised campaign it’s brilliant.

scot2

Original link: Daily Telegraph.

2. Star Wars scenes as album covers

I’m really no Star Wars nerd. I really couldn’t tell you the name of the bar Hans Solo walked into in Return of the Jedi. Or was it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? But this collection of mock retro album covers really is a fabulous thing of design.

tat

Original link: cnet.com.

3. Australian batsmen Chris Rodgers and Steve Smith head through the Long Room at Lord’s

Another Ashes series and another victory for England. As ever, the two sides went head-to-head ov er social media to see who could produce the best content. Video emerged as a key battleground. Here’ is a clip of the two batsmen coming off the field through the historic Long Room. It works for me for being real-time, slightly geurilla, unpolished but giving behind-the-scenes content. It was shared almost 200-times giving a tidy digital footprint.

Original link: @homeofcricket.

4. The Humans of New York Facebook page

There are two sides to the internet. The good and the bad. The Humans of New York Facebook page is everything that’s good about the internet. It started as a photography project by a photographer. As he took the pictures the powerful human stories behind them came tumbling out. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes cry. Always they tell a story with humanity. This summer the page has visited Pakistan and Iran. Two countries whose web presence in my timeline is shrouded in darkness. The Humans of New York page let some sunshine in.

pakistan

Original link Humans of New York Facebook page.

5. The Homes of Football

As the Humans of New York is to cities the Homes of Football Twitter is to football. Roy Stuart Clarke has been taking pictures of the sport for more than 20 years. He’s not interested in the action. It’s what happens away from the pitch that he’s more interested in.

Original link: @homesoffootball.

6. Pages from Ceefax… revived

Back in the day you had two choices. You went to the paper shop and bought a paper and maybe they something on Stoke City. Or you used ceefax and turned to p312. It was the internet of the day and how I loved it. But then its faster and slicker younger brother the web came along and turned our heads. But a geek in a bedroom has rebuilt Ceefax and has taken a live news stream so you can watch today’s news again. Slowly.

ceefax

Original link: pagesfromceefax.net

7. The Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page

This is as close to a perfect public sector Facebook page as its possible to get. Public servants talking like humans. There’s wit, humour and drama. All of it points towards the fact that there isn’t much crime there but if there is they are ready to strike.

scilly

Original link: Isles of Scilly Police Facebook page.

8. dorsetforyou.com’s social media directory

As new sites are created it’s sometimes hard to keep track of ones that have been started. That great Facebook page. What was it called again? Councils across Dorset – there’s seven of them – do collaboration while others just talk about it. They have a shared website and they’ve got a shared A-Z where people can find social sites from across the region.

dorsetOriginal link: dorsetforyou.com 

9. The Official North Korea Instagram

Access to the life under the Pyongyang regime is closely restricted. But bizarrely, one of the few routes is via Instagram. The official North Korean government account @northkorea_dprk_today is one route that’s open. Propaganda posters, pictures of crops and smiling people prevail along with lengthy narratives in support of the socialist utopia. If you want to get a flavour of what the USSR would be like on social media it’s here. A historic oddity. No pictures of starvation or opponents getting machine gunned, however.

insta

Original link: @northkorea_dprk_today.

10. RNLI crew rescue a man from a sinking ship 

When the RNLI go to work they do it miles from view with no-one really to see. The trouble is that people love to see what they get up to. This footage from the onboard camera is raw and unedited but was seen by almost 3,000 on the Facebook page and more via mainstream media. This demonstrates the benefit of sharing the sweets by sharing access to those on the ground as well as the usefulness of video.

rnli

Original link: Peterhead RNLI.

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LISTEN BETTER: Why the Tyranny of Public Notices Should End – and What To Do About It

6548458467_5888953d4f_oIt’s an obscenity that even as libraries close and care is cut that there is a £67.85 million back-door subsidy paid by local government to newspapers.

A what? And how much?

This is the true cost of councils being forced by law to pay over-the-odds for public notices tucked away in the back of printed newspapers being read by fewer and fewer people.

It is a throwback, a misguided sweetener to the newspaper industry and comes from the days when the local paper was the only show in town.

What are public notices? They’re announcements of where double yellow lines are to be painted, who has applied for a taxi licence and an application from a pub licensee for a late night opening licence. It is the bread and butter of a community.

Should they be communicated and publicised? Absolutely.

Can it be done without swingeing annual charges? Yes.

Being forced over a barrel to pay to communicate through local newspapers is the last throwback to a world before the internet.

It is wrong.

It flies in the face of government policy.

It is print-by-default in a digital-by-default world.

It must stop.

This is why and here is how we can do it.

The Government department in charge of local government has asked for ‘councils, newspapers and others’ to take a new look at how public notices are distributed. Any solution is dead in the water unless councils are stopped being made to pay for expensive print notices – or even pay for digital ones.

Really? Councils have to communicate like this?

Yes. Bonkers, isn’t it? There is a raft of legislation that mean that councils must take out newspaper ads before they take certain decisions. The aim is to publicise and encourage people to come forward with comment and opinion. Getting people involved is absolutely a good thing. The more people are informed and take part in the decision making process the better.

Her Majesty’s Government’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher has written eloquently about this being the digital century. I’d agree with that. In the digital century people find out about what is happening through networks and the web. Not through small ads. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you bought a local newspaper? When was the last public notice you read? And can you remember what it was about?

What is the state of local government?

In short, perilous. Every penny counts and in Town Halls up and down the land small sums of money and budget decisions are being argued about. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts 1.1 million job losses by 2019 across the public sector. Birmingham City Council Leader Albert Bore has talked of the ‘end of local government as we know it.’ Government funding cuts to local government are touching 40 per cent and spending power is falling by 25 per cent according to a critical National Audit Office report which observes that the Department for Communities and Local Government doesn’t understand the impact of cuts.

In other words, cuts are being made and every penny counts. Which is why being forced to spend on newspaper ads is wrong.

But how much do the public notices cost?

Think tank Local Government Information Unit – LGiU – calculated that in 2012 public notices in newspapers were costing £67.85 million. Public Notices: The Case for Radical Reform: Part One’ shows that this is on average £181,000 per authority. In some cases, the report says, public notices incurred a rate three times as expensive as normal display ads and reaching over £20 per column centimetre in some publications.

“This is a lot of money, especially when councils are trying desperately to !nd savings. It is also an outdated system that has been left behind by technological advances. The current system provides no feedback to councils and ignores the fact that the audience is moving away from printed newspapers, to a varied digital media landscape.

“LGiU believes change is necessary in the following areas: councils should be free to decide where is best to place public notices, more work needs to be done to de-jargon and standardise the content of public notices,  councils who do publish notices online should o”er users an email subscription service, allowing users to opt-in to receive public notices, hyperlocal, neighbourhood websites, as well as traditional local media news sites, should be encouraged to carry feeds of council notices the government should look into the possibility of supporting the development of a central online portal for publishing public notices.

  • Public Notices: The Case for Radical Reform: Part One. LGiU.

 

But who reads newspapers these days?

Some people do. Ofcom in their annual Communications Market Report says that adults in the UK spend 15 minutes a day reading newspapers or looking at newspaper sites. For some people, they keep them informed. But these figures are dropping.

In comparison, adults spend 36 minutes on websites or apps and 26 minutes on social media. The breakdown is here.

In Walsall, where I worked in local government communications, the local paper the Express & Star in 2013 sold around 10,000 copies of the Walsall edition in a borough of more than 269,323 people. The newspaper industry says that between two and five people read each paid-for copy. For the sake of argument, if that was three people per copy that means 11 per cent of Walsall get to see the public notice. That’s if everyone reads the paper from cover-to-cover. That’s not a reason for paid-for public notices in print.

The figures are replicated across the country according to database JICREG with 67,759 copies of the Birmingham Mail on a Friday in a city of 2,440,986. In Greater Manchester, this is 126,293 on their busiest day for the Manchester Evening News in a population of 2,685,400. In Glasgow, the Evening Times reaches 33,397 in a population 2,850,000. The online readership of these three newspapers will be far higher but figures are difficult to obtain. None of these newspapers show public notices when you enter the search term in their websites.

I’ve heard the anachronistic argument that somehow only newspapers can be trusted to publish public notice content. Somehow the act of handing over 200 words and paying through the nose for it to appear in the back of newspapers that few people in a borough read afford some undefined magic propertiies. This is, of course, balderdash.

The days when newspapers are the only means of communicating have ended. They are one of a number of channels. The requirement to take out public notice ads with them should end. Sometimes, they’ll be the best way of communicating. But that decision should be de-centralised down to the local authority.

 

Four ways public notices breach Government advice

It wouldn’t be so bad if the current millstone doesn’t go against Government advice. But it does.

The 2011 DCLG  Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity is the legal yardstick. Here’s what it says:

It says publicity should be cost effective – that’s section 2. Print notices are not.

It says that they should be ‘value for money.’ Print notices are not. That’s section 10.

It says that advertising shouldn’t subsidise voluntary, public or commercial organisations. That’s section 13. That’s what print notices do.

It also says that public relations guidance should be sought before embarking on expensive publicity. That’s section 14.

 

And a few other ways it breaches Government policy

The Cabinet Office published the excellent and aspirational Government Digital Strategy in 2013.

“In just over 2 decades the internet has become a huge part of our everyday lives. Today 82 per cent of adults in the UK are online. Completing transactions online has become second nature, with more and more of us going online for shopping, banking, information and entertainment. Why? Because online services tend to be quicker, more convenient and cheaper to use.

“But until now government services have stood out by their failure to keep up with the digital age. While many sectors now deliver their services online as a matter of course, our use of digital public services lags far behind that of the private sector.

“Government has got to do better. This Digital Efficiency Report suggests that transactions online can already be 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than postal and as much as 50 times cheaper than face-to-face .

“By going digital by default, the government could save between £1.7 and £1.8 billion each year. But this isn’t just about saving money – the public increasingly expects to access services quickly and conveniently, at times and in ways that suit them. We will not leave anyone behind but we will use digital technology to drive better services and lower costs.”

  • Frances Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office

 

This is all excellent stuff. It articulates exactly why local government should be digital by default and not be held back by the anachronism of print public notices.

 

And bloggers too…?

Bloggers are able to attend public meetings and video, blog and post realtime updates. This is a good thing and opens up the whole often very dull decision making process to public scrutiny. This is an excellent step from DCLG. They hailed it as: ‘a boost for local democracy and the independent free press, councils in England were brought into the 21st century.’

That freedom should be opened up for bloggers too. How can they carry data from public notices alongside the mainstream Press?

 

So what would all this look like?

Information can be communicated effectively using the web. It could be added to a council page. An RSS feed or a widget could allow others – newspapers, broadcasters or bloggers – provided free-of-charge to carry the feed on their own pages.

Of course, if there was a pressing business case for print advertising this could happen too. But that’s the thing. Rather than being a print-by-default position it should be one of several channels.

This already happens in two places. Firstly, the TellmeScotland website aggregates and distributes public notice alerts through text and email.

Secondly, in ice and snow a more geurilla approach sees gritting updates aggregated and distributed in the West Midlands. On Twiitter, the hashtag #wmgrit is used by authorities in the region. A coveritLive widget here can be re-used on websites.

So what next?

There are bright people in local government who can produce the answer. Some of them are in the localgovdigital group although relying on a handful of volunteers in the sector is not the answer.

Maybe this is for larger bodies to support with time and resources. Communications teams should take the lead and work with web to come up with solutions. Maybe, that’s SOCITM, LGComms, the LGA and others coming together with local government officers.

Whatever the future. in 2015, the current situation which sees an enforced subsidy through paid-for ads to wealthy newspaper groups should not form part of the answer.

So, how do we do this?


CAMPAIGN JUSTICE: What Journalism 2.0 Looks Like and What You Can Learn

(5) Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 110418It was around 2010 and as depressing conversations with a reporter go this one took quite some beating.

I was in local government communications and we had started to post gritting updates in real time on Twitter. We were talking with our residents directly without going through the Priesthood of journalists.

“The thing is,” the reporter said, “When you post your updates to Twitter, newsdesk want you to give us a call as well, so we know.”

I declined. I pointed out that they needed to be on Twitter themselves. I shook my head in despair.

Despair

I started in newspapers in the early 1990s and spent 12 years as a journalist. I still love them despite themselves and despite a further eight years in a local government communications team.

There was a time when I despaired of local newspapers utterly. Declining newsrooms, re-locating to ‘hubs’ far away and shedding staff still make me shake my head.

But just recently, I’ve had cause to think that maybe the penny is dropping and that newspapers really can use the social web and create journalism that will be relevant to the channels of the future.

Telling a story with the web

Making brilliant use of the web are the Evening Mail in Birmingham. They are telling the story of the Birmingham pub bombings which killed 21 people 40 years ago today. They are doing so with imagination and passion. The incident remains an unhealed wound in the city. Nobody has been brought to justice for it. Six people were imprisoned wrongly.

They are using thunderclap to gather support for the case to be re-opened. You sign-up using a social channel and agree to share a message.

For audio, they recreated the IRA telephone call to the Evening Mail offices which came minutes before the explosion.

Birmingham pub bombings We name the man who masterminded the atrocity - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 102057

For images, they created a gallery of news images from the time from their archive.

On Twitter, they used the hashtag #justiceforthe21 and #BirminghamPubBombings to promote the call to bring people to justice.

On the web, the posted the news story in which they name the man, now dead, they allege is responsible for the attack.

On Facebook, they shared content and drew scores of responses.

Also on the web, they hosted as as if real time recreation of the 24-hours leading up to the incident. Anecdotes and snaps of life from those who were living their last day. It is a docudrama told in realtime and you can see it here.   

Birmingham pub bombings Minute by minute - 24 hours that changed our city forever - Birmingham Mail - Google Chrome 21112014 103025

This is what future journalism looks like. Story telling on a range of platforms. It’s sharable and commentable and has a purpose. But above all it is human. I just can’t tell you how much I like this.

They still make me shake my head do newspapers. The public subsidy they get through the government insisting local government pay them for print small ads for public notices at a time of 85 per cent internet connectivity is plain wrong.

But the Evening Mail have shown peerlessly how to tell powerful stories on the web. This really does tower over anything else I’ve seen in the 21 years I’ve been involved with local journalism. Sincere congratulations to them. Buy shoe polish and make sure your suits are pressed. You’ll need them for the awards.

Brilliant work and the lessons to take

This is brilliant work. Genuinely brilliant. This is using the social web to tell a very human story. It’s powerful. It’s moving. But it has a sense of purpose. The purpose is to mobilise public support for a specific aim. It is is to press for justice.

Yet there are lessons here for the public sector where I now work. Just recently the #housingday initiative saw a 24-hour campaign which saw housing people talk about the jobs they do and the people they serve. Very soon #ourday will do a similar task for local government. I’m an advocate for them. They tell hundreds of stories that tell a bigger story. They empower people. They connect people too.

But wouldn’t it be something if that wall of noise was made easier to follow with a live blog? And wouldn’t it be something if there was one single call to action, whatever that was? What is the biggest issue facing housing? Or local government?

What would that campaign be?

Wouldn’t it be something if that energy was pointed at something?


FUTURE CODE: Are web developers today’s news photographer?

359759173_9c5939d67f_bA major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.

As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.

It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.

Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.

In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.

He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.

Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:

“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.

“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.

“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.

“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”

So in summary, web developers are critical.

When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.

What are the lessons for local government comms people?

It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.

It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.

So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?


CHANNEL SHIFT: Picking the right voice to tell the council news story

You know the good thing about listening to different voices? Sometimes you get a different perspective.

That’s certainly true of Adrian Short, a web developer, who has written two excellent posts that comms people really do need to read. The first How to Fix Council News you can read here. It deals with a frustration that very few councils do council news on the web terribly well.

At best it’s a cut and pasted press release.

The second piece from Adrian is a 12 commandments for council news. It’s good thought provoking stuff and like the first post I don’t agree with all of it there’s enough there to think and reflect about.

Here are a few extracts:

Too long, too dull and far too pleased with itself. Little more than an exercise in vanity publishing. Irrelevant to the vast majority of people.

What’s this? 400 words on a benefit fraud case that didn’t even result in a prison sentence, complete with lengthy quotations from the magistrate and the lead councillor.

Now here’s 700 words on an upgrade to the council’s IT system that won’t be noticed by a single resident.

Sadly this useful information is presented, like the rest, in a turgid press release style. Residents are asked to plough through a huge slab of words that’s hard to scan for the essential details. The text is laden with contrived quotations from people no-one knows that rarely do anything more than state the obvious. It finishes without a call to action. It’s a wonder that anyone bothers at all.

There’s more points in the second blog post of commandments:

News is for residents. Press releases are for journalists. Thou shalt mark the distinction and honour it in all thy labours.

Thy reader is not an Editor and does not require his Notes. Likewise, his news shalt end when it ends, not when he espies “ENDS”.

Every comms person should read this stuff. Even if you don’t agree with all of it, it’ll make you think.

What is true is that council news is often steeped in the traditions of print. Many press officers a drawn from newspapers which makes sense as for decades newspapers and the council newsletter have been a prime source of information. The press release is tailored for the newspaper. It has a snappy intro, a quote from the relevant elected member and notes for editors. For newspapers it works. For the web, less so.

What’s needed is one approach for print, a different approach for the web and a different approach for each social media platform.

News is print + web + social media. Each of these needs a different voice.

Trying to bolt one format onto each of those doesn’t work.

So, how long before someone gets hired for their Twitter skills alone rather than their ability to write a press release?

Creative Commons credits

Reading newspaper http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/4659576761/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Newspaper iphone http://www.flickr.com/photos/yjv/4123045194/


SLIDESHARE: Case studies on connecting people using social media


Once upon a time clip art was once cutting edge.

No, really. It was.

Back in 1997, the first Walsall Council website sported a dancing light bulb.

No, really. It did.

There’s also a notice telling people that the website was under construction (it’s slide number two on the presentation embedded in this post.) If you’re on a mobile device the embed may not be showing. If that’s the case the link is here.

We need to evolve, learn and innovate. Nothing demonstrates that better than the late 90s webpage frozen in time showing Billy the Bulb and one giant leap for a council website. Time has moved on and we need to too.

At the Socitm Learning from Better Connected event at Manchester there was plenty of examples of innovation.

Not least the forward-thinking webteam who ripped up the rule book and re-designed the liverpool.gov.uk website based on what people want rather than what officers think people want.

Here’s my preasentation that I’ve posted to Slideshare.

Included on it are:

Some stats on internet use.

Some stats on the mobile web.

A quick map of the Walsall media landscape 2011 and 2005.

A quick case study on engaging with the community through Flickr.

A quick case study on two hyperlocal sites: WV11.co.uk and Pelsall Common People.

How a countryside ranger can tweet from the sharp end.

Some stats on Walsall 24 which saw us live tweet for 24 hours in real time.

All good stuff for 2011, but you can bet your bottom dollar in 13 years time when we’ll All have robot butlers it’ll seem a bit tame and dancing lightbulbesque.

Quite right, too.


CAKE TAPE: What cake and mixtapes can offer local government

'Mmmmmm, cake.'

Birthdays are natures way of telling you to eat more cake.

Marvellous, but what exactly does a slice of carrot cake have to say about local government?

Actually, quite a lot. So do mixtapes as a session heard at the excellent Localgovcamp Yorkshire and Humberside revealed.

Why? Two things. First, because it’s all about messing about on a project in your own time so you can learn by your mistakes.

Second, it’s about doing something in a fun, interesting, creative way.

Why Cake? As a wheeze I built a cake blog based on a rash of pictures of cake tweeted by friends from Twitter. It taught me how to crowdsource, how to use WordPress and where a decent piece of carrot cake can be found in the charming Shropshire village of Ludlow (At the Green Cafe since you were wondering. The review is here.) Stuart Harrison (@pezholio on Twitter) then raised the bar with a beer blog.

The excellent Sarah Lay picked up the baton and created a cake map. She got to know about Googlemaps as a result.

Mixtapes? Same principle. A tweet by Sarah sparked a series of blogs, a Flickr group and a Tumblr site. Why? Because mixtapes even in a digital world spark happy memories of taping the top 40 and crafting a tape to say ‘thank you!’ or even ‘actually, I quite fancy you.’

There was even a mixtape built by song contributions at the barcamp built with the help of Janet Davis (@janetedavis).

So what do cakes and tapes teach? In short, go away and experiment in your own time. You can learn. You can do fun things. Then you can transfer some of those ideas to your day job.

Amongst web developers, there is a useful saying: ‘fail forward.’ If you are going to fail, make sure you learn something about it so you can take things just that bit further next time. Messing about on a scheme allows you to do just that, risk free.

Links: Nice ideas that have emerged by messing around…