Category Archives: Thoughts

Recognition for The Lichfield Blog just keeps on growing…

When I first got involved in The Lichfield Blog back in February this year I had no idea that six months later I’d be writing a business plan for a brand new social enterprise.

The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09
The Lichfield Blog banner up at Fuse Acoustic '09

I never thought I’d be looking at stats showing an average of 11,000 visitors each month (equivalent to over 10% of Lichfield District’s population* and a third of the circulation of leading print weekly, the Lichfield Mercury). Nor did I imagine it would spur such cool things as Lichfield Social Media Cafe and Lichfield Social Media Surgeries (both still in planning). I would have laughed if you’d have told me I’d be live-streaming local artists at Lichfield’s Fuse Festival. A look of disbelief would accompany the thought of our MP, Mike Fabricant advertising on the site.

I knew we’d do lots of very cool things with it – as seems to be customary now my brain buzzed with ideas for exciting developments as soon as I saw it. I’m taken aback by the way things have played out though.

When I first started working freelance in November 2007 my aim was to be a leader in my industry. The heavy involvement in The Lichfield Blog and the recognition it’s seen has proven to me that I’m starting to achieve that.

That recognition has seen a massive boost over the past few weeks for two big reasons. The first is securing Michael Fabricant MP as an advertiser on the blog. He was our third advertiser and (we think) the first MP to advertise on a hyperlocal media site. Rick Waghorn of Addiply (the ad system we use) took the opportunity to shout about it that very afternoon at NewsInnovation London. I saw the tweets rolling in and I could barely contain my elation at having made such an impact.

Second reason, and the inspiration for this post, is that today Lichfield District Council have (after I sent them a cheeky tweet) changed their “Local Newspapers” section to “Local Media” and included The Lichfield Blog. They’re even syndicating us! I’m still undecided as to whether to check the other 353 local government district web sites to see if Lichfield is the only one to do so…

Both of these also come after what I consider to be a huge compliment from Birmingham Mail who recently started syndicating us along with our friends, Tamworth Blog and local blogger, Brownhill’s Bob. I call this traditional and new media meeting and getting along nicely – aka a sneak peak into the future of local media.

I know this is just the start though. All this has been achieved with the only expenditure being less than £100 and the time of a small team of dedicated and passionate volunteers (I say only, but it takes a lot of time). With the extra help and support we’re hoping to get as part of our future plans it’s obvious to me that The Lichfield Blog is going to move on leaps and bounds.

I can’t wait!

* based on data from the Office for National Statistics.

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Citizen journalism: Friend or foe to traditional media?

Recently I’ve become involved in a relative new project, The Lichfield Blog. As you may gather from the name it’s a blog, about Lichfield.

I’m really proud to be part of something that has such a switched on and engaged little team behind it.

It was especially gratifying to watch as the story of a fire in one of Lichfield’s pubs quickly made it onto the blog just 3 hours after the initial call to the emergency services. Obviously we were lucky to have one of our team walk past at the right moment with a camera phone – a photo quickly made it’s way on to Twitter and a few tweets later the post was up.

The blog’s creator, Ross, made a call to the fire service about the incident and learned that no-one else had picked up on the story yet. It seemed we had beaten the local media. Having seen other, more high-profile, stories break on Twitter that doesn’t surprise me but it did make me think about all this “newspapers are dead” talk.

The blog has a few hundred visitors now, which is great, but it’s never going to kill the newspapers in Lichfield. I wouldn’t want it to either – there are plenty of people throughout the world, not just in Lichfield, who like to read a paper.

So the question isn’t, “are newspapers going to die?”, but rather “how can newspapers use citizen journalism?”

A good example is the Pancake Race in Lichfield. Nick Brickett has been providing photography for The Lichfield Blog, his first assignment being the traditional Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race. His photos of the event made their way onto the Express & Star web site (ironically, as I write this, said web site is down!)

This could be the way journalism is going. Another great example is Channel 4 News (who my Twitter followers will know full well I admire).

Their coverage of the Schiphol plane crash was very much driven by Twitter. I sat in front of Tweetdeck and watched it all unfold in front of my eyes, from them picking up the story, contacting an eye witness to putting a Twit on the lunch time news. It was a first for them and possibly for journalism in the UK.

Krishnan Guru-Murphy of Channel 4 News says that Twitter is “just another way of finding people and talking“.

I suspect some journalists will treat services like Twitter and citizen journalism in general as a threat rather than an asset. I’ve heard of publications shutting down because they just can’t sustain themselves for much longer (obviously the ‘crunch’ doesn’t help) but instead of shutting down, I believe they should adapt and grow with the times.

And let’s face it, it’s cheaper to do it online!

Do you think the internet is a threat to traditional media, or should traditional media adapt and embrace services like Twitter as sources for news?

Is Google deliberately pricing itself out of payment processing?

I was one of many who were shocked yesterday when Google announced the changes in Checkout processing fees. They’ve also announced that AdWords spend will no londer fund free processing of transactions.

In fact, it turns out the new fees are almost identical to PayPal’s fees.

Plenty of sellers have been complaining about the move but is it a deliberate attempt by Google to get rid of them?

The previous fees were very, very low and along with the free processing offer based on AdWords spend, Google Checkout was a very attractive alternative to the well-established PayPal.

Could this all have been a ruse to get testers for Checkout, though? It’s possible that Google was simply entering in at such a low price to deliberately get thousands of e-commerce sites on board to test the waters.

Now they’ve decided they don’t want to be in the market afterall they’re deliberately matching PayPal’s prices knowing that PayPal is a better service. It becomes a no-brainer for Checkout customers to switch to PayPal or another service.

So, nonsensical pricing structure, or deliberate exit strategy?

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The tablet that knows you’ve swallowed it

Photo credit: kjarrett

Photo credit: kjarrett

When my Dad – a sufferer of Pick’s Disease – was still living at home, there was always concern about whether he was remembering to take the many tablets he was prescribed.

There were many times where he’d be trying to figure out which day it was and therefore which partition he should open on his very handy seven-day pill dispenser.

Now, though, forgetting to take pills might not be a problem any longer, thanks to advancements in technology.

GigaOm has gone through a bunch of biotech offerings, including an edible microchip that sends a signal to a sensor placed on the skin to indicate that it is being digested.

I bet Jonah wouldn’t mind one of those microchips!

The actual implementation of such technology probably has a lot of factors to consider but it could be hugely useful to Dementia sufferers like my Dad.

Imagine, by mid-morning, having a text message saying “Looks like your Dad forgot his Aricept today. Better check that out.”

Ten minutes later, the pill is being swallowed and doing it’s job.

Brilliant.

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Does nationalism matter?

 

Image courtesy of geishaboy500
Image courtesy of geishaboy500

I was walking past Lichfield police station today, watching their grubby Union Jack flapping around in the wind and I wondered why the Lichfield District Council building just down the road didn’t also have a Union Jack proudly waving around.

In fact, why don’t all Government buildings have a Union Jack?

I’m kind of a nationalist – in the sense that I like to feel like I’m part of something, like I belong – but not in the defensive ‘screw everyone else, let’s be completely independent’ sense.

One of my favourite phrases is “no involvement, no commitment” because I think applies to so many things. I’m of the mind that a greater sense of nationality (similar to what the U.S. seems to have) would help society to function more cohesively. Maybe flying the flag is one part of that.

What do you think? Does nationalism matter? Should Government buildings fly the flag? Do you fly the flag?

 

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IE8: Saviour of the Semantic Web, or Usability Nightmare?

I’ve been pushing web standards for years, so the news that Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer 8 will support W3C guidelines by default is very welcome from where I’m sitting.

There is one problem, though. They’ve announced that sites including CNN, Facebook and MySpace won’t work correctly. Users of the browser will have to choose to view these sites in “Compatibility View”. That sounds painful. It smacks of the “cancel or allow” ‘safety‘ feature in Vista.

It’s great that Microsoft are finally supporting standards. It’s long overdue and it should give the many standards ignorant web developers in the world a good kick up the arse.

Can you hear the “but” coming?

BUT… what are users going to do when, after upgrading to IE8, their favourite sites stop working? Some won’t even know there are alternative browsers and will think it’s a problem with their PC. Cue lots of restarts, calls to broadband providers and flicking through the Yellow Pages.

Though admirable, could Microsoft’s harsh line just frustrate IE users and web developers? Could this move fuel more browser-switching?

This Will Stop You Having Regrets

My Mom once told me that jealousy is a wasted emotion. It’s true, and it helped to open my eyes. That and show me another trait I’ve inherited from my Dad.

In a similar vein I’ve always thought that having regrets is pointless. Instead, learning from our mistakes is better. To that end I’ve always mantained that I don’t have regrets. Now watch this video (via Chris Brogan):

It made me think about all those things that we know we need to do, or should do, but just don’t. And how we eventually end up having regrets just because we didn’t have the self-discipline to do anything about it.

I realised, though, that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have regrets. Rather, we should acknowledge them but make sure we learn from them at the same time. To this end I’ve decided (in true self-help tradition, with me being such a big fan ‘n’ all) to acknowledge five regrets and start thinking about how to avoid the same mistakes again.

Here goes, in no particular order, my five biggest regrets;

  1. Not spending enough time with my family
  2. Allowing myself to get so stressed for the past eighteen months
  3. Loosing someone who was very special to me
  4. Letting work become far more important than my social life
  5. Keeping myself to myself

Those might sound quite big, and they probably are, in all honesty, but they’re not impossible to fix.

So, here’s five ways I’m going to avoid making those same mistakes again;

  1. Make time to go and see family, even if just for a cuppa and a chat.
  2. Take lots of breaks instead of working constantly and never ‘switching off’.
  3. Never take those around me for granted, always be aware of how they impact my life.
  4. Go out and enjoy the company of friends, even if I don’t ‘feel like it’. It will always seem like the best idea once I’m out.
  5. Be honest and stop bottling things up (inherited from Mom). It’s good to talk.

And for all those people who think this kind of thing is all a bit lame, just remember one thing you regret and then ask youself, honestly, if you could have done anything different. Think of all those things you’ve been meaning to do, or dreamed of doing, and imagine what will happen if you don’t do them. Will you regret it?

Feels Like Home

It’s funny how you get that ‘feels like home’ feeling.

Come Wednesday I’ll have lived (apart from a short stint from March to October of this year) in Lichfield for 3 years.

Today, I’m back at my parents house where I lived for 20 years. The house I was very nearly born in.

I feel incredibly comfortable here and I’ve only just really noticed it. I’m instantly more relaxed than I am back at my flat. Maybe I should work here every day.

What is that? Is that some deep psychological instinct going on? I dunno, but I like it.

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