What I learned at Thinking Digital Manchester 2015

I spent a few days earlier this month at my first ‘pure’ training conference for a while. Thinking Digital “brings together people curious about how technology is shaping our future”. That means it’s a day of great talks by interesting people about tech, arts and the future. Having run successfully for eight years in Gateshead, the organisers decided to hold an offshoot event in Manchester and I went along for the first time on Tuesday.

Some of the things I learned included:

There are many videos from previous talks already available.

The previous day, I took part in an afternoon workshop about vlogging — producing short video, primarily on mobile. According to the workshop trainer, the human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text! Clearly, useful & engaging visual content is something that could be massively useful to our community & I’d like to find ways of using it effectively.

As proof of what I learned, I produced the video at the start of this post from the main conference day which took “only” 2-3 hours of editing on unfamiliar software. Hopefully that will become a lot quicker as I develop ability – and style!

Unsurprisingly, I also met all sorts of interesting people at Thinking Digital — from technologists, to creative makers and those who were simply curious about the future.

Do go along to Thinking Digital the next time it’s near you — even if it doesn’t seem directly relevant to your work, it’ll be an inspiring day with plenty to take away and consider in your day to day life.

The spirit of BarCamp is alive and well in Manchester – #BCMCR5

Excuse how overdue this blog post is… but how awesome was BarCamp Manchester?! It seems the spirit of BarCamp is alive and well in our city and that’s reassuring. With so much focus on tech startups, venture capital and, frankly, short-term money making, I’d begun to wonder whether the geek community that helped drive much of Manchester’s meteoric rise as a place to do digital was beginning to get squeezed out. Where were the hackers who hacked for hacking’s sake?

So I admit, it was with a slightly sceptical mind that I approached BarCampManchester5 – held in TechHub ManchesterSpacePort, I was fully expecting a weekend of being pitched at and recruited.

I was completely wrong (and maybe exaggerating just a tad).

BarCamp Manchester had all the great things about a BarCamp – in abundance.

SpacePort proved to be a fantastic venue with the organisers having negotiated with the residents who generously let us use the space. Sheila Bird Group also allowed the use of the space next door on the same floor which allowed for an incredible number of simultaneous sessions. There was plenty of food – perhaps a little too much, despite the organisers serious efforts to control waste. And there was WiFi. My word was there good WiFi, thanks to SpacePort residents Telcom. There were even plenty of projectors for most of the spaces which has often been a big problem in the past.

But most importantly, there were the people. At the opening plenary, it turned out to be a 50/50 split between newbies and old hands, which is a pretty good mix for what’s arguably a niche event.

My day at BarCamp Manchester was pretty varied. I kicked it off listening to the Ian “The” Forrester himself discuss, “what is a geek?”. Although I’ve heard it many times before, it’s always satisfying to see the group reach the same conclusion.

Later, I enjoyed the event’s unofficial keynote:

…yes, it was Ian again! But this time, being interviewed by friend and colleague Tim. I caught most of it on video so I’ll get around to uploading it eventually.

I was pretty impressed at Ian’s candid responses and Tim‘s interviewing skill makes me think David Frost’s shoes will soon be filled.

I also surprised myself by running a session. Tim and I had chatted earlier in the day about sharing some of our thoughts on how to grow new business without using typical “sales” tactics. We’re really keen to promote what feels like the “right” way to do business – a way that we, and customers, are both happy with  – rather than the typical “used car salesman” approach that is the touchstone for many commodity businesses.

So towards the end of the first day, we managed to cobble something together.

Our main thrust was to “optimise for happiness” – meaning, do the thing that will make your serious potential customer happy in the long run. There’s a lot more to it – I even came up with a tweetable quote – and maybe I’ll write something specific in due course. But BarCamp Manchester was a brilliant place to try this out.

Of course, no BarCamp in Manchester could be complete without games. Following the charmingly ridiculous SlideShare karaoke (and the pizza mountain), I instigated a lolworthy game of charades. But that was only the appetiser: the main course was werewolf!

Werewolf is a brilliant game – sometimes an acquired taste, but everyone seemed to get into it pretty quickly. With a mix competitive, experienced players and people who’d never played before, it was bound to be heady.

Someone even captured a timelapse of the multiple games in play:

In conclusion, BarCamp Manchester was pretty great and well-exceeded my expectations. I loved catching up with old friends and meeting new people, learning new things and even giving a talk. Werewolf was well worth it and it’s just a shame I couldn’t come back the next day. If you missed it, catch up on the event’s social media shares.

Congratulations to the organising team – Claire, Shaf, Ian – and a huge thank you to everyone who made this possible. Roll on BarCamp Manchester 6…

Bike festivals coming up – 30 Days of Biking: Day 24

The Manchester Evening News today announced that there had been an 83% increase in people cycling in Manchester over the last 10 years, according to the census.

Now, the MEN is not the most bike-friendly newspaper, but the headline is welcome as a way to get even more people out on the roads. Digging deeper, the statistics are a little flawed and actually, the proportion of people who get to work by bike is still barely 2%. There is a long way to go.

Therefore, it’s great to see that there are some exciting events coming up that I hope will inspire even more people to get out on their bike and catch the cycling bug whilst the weather gets milder.

First up, it’s the Chorlton Big Green Happening this Saturday 26 April. Amongst an array of green-themed stalls and shows, this rather odd contraption will be turning up:

There will also be a number of cycle-specific stalls including TfGM who will be giving out local maps, information and freebies and Dovetail Bikes who are showing off their bikes made out of bamboo. Based on the Bambike frame, bamboo bikes are light yet sturdy. I’m a fan of steel personally, but I’m very keen to have a go.

The event will also see a special performance by The Spokes, the inclusive bicycle dance troupe who I’ve mentioned before.

Be sure to catch them at 4pm at St Clements Church, Edge Lane.

Talking of The Spokes, they’re running an event of their own! The North West Velo Fest  kicks off on Friday 16 May and runs for 10 days to Monday 26 May 2014.

Described as a grassroots cycling festival, the Velo Fest is in its third year and set to be the best yet. Some of the fun and friendly activities lined up already include the Ministry of Silly Pedals (think a school sports day – but on bicycles), a pedal-powered party and an evening ride out (probably) to a pub.

There’s more, of course and like previous years, The Spokes are bringing together other cycling groups under the Velo Fest banner to encourage as wide a spread of things to do as possible.

Events are just starting to be announced, so keep an eye on their Facebook page and invite all your friends.

Macclesfield – on the leading edge of digital

Until recently, my only knowledge of Macclesfield was of an unfortunately named supplies shop. And, of course, I’d heard the rumours about a Bond-villain style mansion owned by a certain global mega-agency.

But in fact, I’ve learned that Macclesfield is a burgeoning digital and creative hub.

Set amongst the leafy lanes of Cheshire, the town of Macclesfield has attracted some high-profile names such as Matmi and become an attractive choice for growing businesses like Abstraktion. It’s less than half an hour from Manchester and on the fast line to London too.

So last Wednesday, the cosy surrounds of Inca Cafe Bar played host to some of the leading digital and creative businesses in the area. My occasional cycling buddy Martin invited me and Chris Marsh down to his event Digital Edge, to meet some of the leading digital businesses and give our perspective on the future of the cloud.

Digital Edge is a fun event. About 30 of us packed out the venue, where Claire the owner was serving up local beer, cider, tasty toasties and stew. Good honest grub. And that, for me, really set the tone. Martin had asked us to serve on a ‘panel’, but essentially it was a two-way conversation throughout; an inquisitive, intelligent audience really testing our knowledge about cloud computing and debating our opinions about the future.

We were pretty conscious of turning up to an event like this and not knowing anyone, but there were friendly faces and, of course, Martin kept everything running smoothly – including plying me with some 6% cider from Somerset. And with a crowd that size, it’s actually a chance to talk to everyone that turns up, rather than whipping round quickly collecting business cards.

So is Macclesfield the new Silicon Roundabout? Well apart from the sheer fatuousness of that statement, there is something going on in the cobbled streets of this market town that’s making an impact around the world. We’ll be going back whenever we can to learn more.

Sign-up to Digital Edge on meetup.com and follow them on Twitter: @digitaledgemacc.

Make Twitter work for you – Digital Skills Workshop at the Cornerhouse

I recently did some training at the Cornerhouse on Twitter, as part of the Digital Skills Workshops they run. If you don’t know about these, they’re a great series of events where industry professionals come in and share their advice on making the most of digital platforms. The series is marketed towards those who work for an arts organisation, are a freelancer in the creative sector or a student – but all are welcome.

Briefly, my session was aimed at existing Twitter users who wanted to make the most of the platform. I covered a few basic principles and then outlined my top tips for effective tweeting. I also outlined some of my favourite tools for effective management of tweets.

I’m doing another workshop again this Monday – but it’s already sold out! So I thought I’d share my slides from last time. You can also read a write-up of the last session.

Naturally, I’ll be tweaking and updating what I do so if you’re booked, make sure you do still come along ;) The best part of these workshops is the Q&A and last time, we had this throughout which made for a very relaxed and informal approach.

International Park(ing) Day hits Manchester’s Northern Quarter

We need more green space. It’s one of the things about this great city that is perhaps slightly lacking. Every time a building is knocked down or another spare plot becomes available, it seems to be transformed into yet another car park rather than a space for people to relax and enjoy.

To draw attention to this, Manchester Friends of the Earth are taking part in International Park(ing) Day by “transforming a city centre parking space to make it sociable, fun and colourful.”

Park(ing) Day on Thomas Street (photo by @bikefabulous)Setting up their picnic on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter, they welcome all visitors for a game of chess and maybe even afternoon tea. We’ll be popping down with our friends from Tweed Ride UK to say hello at about 4.30 pm so do come along. Here’s a map of where to find them.

<rant> It’s a real shame that there are just so many car parks in Manchester, yet drivers still struggle for space. It’s also bit embarrassing that major cultural happenings happen on car parks rather than nicer spaces – Chinese New Year on the car park in Chinatown. Manchester Pride on the car park in the village. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if we had proper city centre parks to host these on?

We don’t really know who makes these decisions, but whether it’s the property owner, Manchester City Council or CityCo (who recently got bike racks installed in Stevenson Square!), creating yet more car parking spaces can seem to be a priority over greening this beautiful urban village. We’re not anti-car, but sometimes you’ve gotta look around and think “enough is enough”. There’s plenty of car parking on the fringes of the city centre and maybe the opportunities right in the centre should be prioritised for those who really need it… </rant>

Parking PosterWhat do you think? Do we need to work towards a better balance between grey space and green space or are we getting it right in Manchester? Leave a comment below.

Good coffee, good ride: Northern Coffee Tour 2011

Coffee and cycling go hand-in-hand. In our opinion, you can’t beat a cup of joe in the morning for that kick you need before getting on your bike to ride to work or to play. And the north is home to some of the finest independent coffee shops in the UK, many of which are cycle-friendly.

And through chatting with our friends and fellow bike-lovers North Tea Power on Twitter, we’ve found out about an event happening this weekend that combines these two things. It’s the Northern Coffee Tour 2011 and it’s happening this Saturday 17 September, taking in four coffee shops across three cities on two wheels in one day.

Northern Coffee Tour 2011 poster

Setting off at an eye-wateringly early 8 am from Leeds’s Laynes Espresso, caffeinated riders will pedal across the Pennines to Manchester where they’ll stop first at North Tea Power in the Northern Quarter before continuing to Coffee Fix in Gatley. Travelling (probably) along the ship canal and aside the Mersey, the final caffeine injection will be at Liverpool’s Bold Street Coffee.

The 140 kilometre (86 mile) epic ride is organised by the Bold Street Bicycle Club (Facebook) and open to all. Laynes are also laying on eggs on toast for those starting from Leeds and no doubt the other participating coffee shops will welcome riders in their own unique way.

Unfortunately, we’re not around this weekend as we’re decamping to Salford for BarCamp MediaCityUK. However, there are around 30 people confirmed on the Facebook event, so it should be a good run.

Get involved and sign-up for the whole ride, or turn up for one of the intermediate legs by checking out the route map. And if you can’t get along, you can follow all the action on Twitter by searching for #northerncoffeetour.

Upcoming Manchester rides

Mr R.J. Tate

There’s always some cycling action going on in Manchester. Here’s a couple of upcoming organised rides that might be of interest:

First up, the Chorlton Wanderers are keeping up their year-round schedule with a 45 mile circular ride from Chorlton to Peover Heath on 11 September. The route is mostly flat and on road, but there will be “short stretches of tracks and canal banks” and will include the customary stop for lunch at the Dog Inn.

I rode with the Wanderers for the first time last month and found them to be a hugely friendly bunch with experienced ride organisers that took care to look after all riders, including me when I had an incident with a wasp! Drop them a line via their website to let them know you’re coming along and to be added to their mailing list.

Also, I Bike MCR are now running regular monthly road rides and their second ride is coming up on 25 September. As yet, the destination is unannounced but keep an eye on their website and their Facebook event for more details.

I Bike MCR are “a grassroots cycling community in Manchester” and, amongst other things, they co-ordinate Critical Mass, the monthly Friday evening cycle ride through the centre of Manchester. More about this months Critical Mass in another post…

These are just a couple of the rides coming up. Are you running any rides or have you heard of stuff coming up that we should feature? Get in touch and drop a comment below.

Five ideas for using the new Foursquare brand pages for your business or organisation

Foursquare logoToday, Foursquare launched the ability for anyone to create their own ‘brand’ page on Foursquare. This means that brands or organisations can now quickly set up a presence on the rapidly growing location based network, and share their tips and advice about what to do and where to go.

Let’s take a quick step back – remember, Foursquare is more than just a game or a tool to announce your location. It’s a social recommendation engine: it lets people find out where their trusted friends and contacts hang out and allows them to share tips and advice about places, from where’s good to eat, to special offers. I wrote a blog post primer on this titled How to win Foursquare friends and influence people.

Why is this new? Until recently, Foursquare had a lengthy and manual process for approving your brand on Foursquare and many organisations nominated an individual to be followed instead who could be their ambassador.

Now, to create a Foursquare brand page, all you need is your brand’s Twitter account, some logos, at least five tips and in about half an hour, you could be up and running and being featured in Foursquare’s page gallery. I had a go this afternoon setting up a page for #smc_mcr in Manchester and came up with some ideas for you to harness the power of Foursquare pages.

Creating a page is a bit like using making a Facebook page. You log in with your own personal Foursquare account and then create the Foursquare brand page. You can then ‘act as’ that Foursquare brand page while setting up the page and leaving tips.

Just one word of warning: if your brand or organisation already has a Twitter account linked to a personal Foursquare account, you won’t be able to create a Foursquare page for it using that Twitter account. If this happens, just un-associate (dissociate!) the brand Twitter account from the existing Foursquare account before you try and create a page.

So, once you’ve got your page set up, what can you use it for? Pages let you do two things: leave tips at locations and ‘check-in’ to a location as a brand. Here’s some ideas for how you can use both:

1. Invite users to your stores or physical location

Foursquare’s all about recommending places, so why not recommend your own? Leave a tip inviting someone to pop in for a cuppa, browse your shop or have a chat. Digital technology often works best when it enables unexpected positive real-world interaction, so make it happen. Even if they don’t take you up on that offer, at least people will remember that there’s a physical location nearby.

It’s even better if you’ve registered any relevant locations and have added “Special Offers”. Also, some cities like Manchester, have a scheme which means that venues can opt-in to allow people to use their toilets for free. This is another idea for a tip and invaluable to know if you need to spend a penny in town!

A note about tips: your tips pop-up on someone’s screen when they check-in nearby, if they’re following you. They also pop-up if they’re not following you, but only if there are no other unread tips from their friends nearby.

Make sure you check-in whenever you visit one of your venues or offices too.

2. Leave tips about things you already like doing

Being on Foursquare is means you’re part of a community of people sharing advice, so get involved. As a brand or organisation, are there fun places that your staff or employees like to hang out? Where do you go for lunch, or a drink after work? Tell Foursquare and tell us why – is it a cheap place to get your daily bread or does it have a great vibe to wind down after a long day in the office?

You could also leave tips relevant to the type of location. For example, is there a really useful information resource that someone should check out?

This is a great way to engage in the general conversation – after all, it’s what most people on Foursquare tend to do. If you have staff parties or outings, then you can check-in to those venues using the Foursquare app. It’s a good way of showing that you represent real people who do ordinary things. And, it’s a great way to spread the love in your local neighbourhood.

3. Holding an event? Let everyone know how to get involved

This is a no-brainer: if you’re having an event that people might be interested in, let them know by dropping a tip at the location. It’s a simple way to promote your event and spread the word to those who might not even know you’re doing something in the area. When the event starts, you can also check-in to the location as a page and tweet that you’re there and it’s going ahead.

This is especially good for community-based events or non-profits, but equally for one-off visits to town by brands like pop-up fashion sales or book-signings. Make sure you add a web link and a Twitter hashtag to your tips and check-ins, so someone can tweet it straightaway.

4. Avoid disparaging tips about competitors (leave that to the punters!)

“My burritos are better than their burritos”. While this may be true, it’s not really the place of a brand or organisation to leave negative comments about the competition. Yes, there are negative tips on Foursquare, but what individual users do is up to them (and will carry far more weight than seeing effectively a self-serving tip.

5. Go global

With Foursquare, your brand or organisation can have a presence way beyond the locality you’re based. Say you’re a non-profit sponsoring projects overseas: leave a tip near there letting local users know how you’ve helped and how they can get involved. If you’re a manufacturing brand or cottage industry, why not leave tips near where you source your raw materials? Or, if you’re a sports team with a global following, let people know where you can meet other fans.

It could be interesting for those local users to know just how far something travels and where it’s used, and it helps raise awareness of your online brand. And of course, if you go travelling or exploring new places, check-in as your brand wherever you go and say what you’ve seen and how it influences your business.

In conclusion, try to make your use of Foursquare relevant, quirky and interesting: plain, irrelevant ad-spam is an instant turn-off and can lead to a negative response on Twitter.

Also, set up your page quickly! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect: I’ve no doubt that we’ll see these pages mushroom, just like they do on Facebook, and it’s best to put something up quicker than it is to wait around to see what happens.

Go ahead and try setting up your brand page now. Do you have any other good ideas for how to use Foursquare pages? Leave a comment below.

NQ4 calling – memories of a wannabe radio host

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be on the radio.

One of the first gadgets I remember owning was a Fisher-Price tape player and recorder, with which I spent hours recording fake radio shows and “mixing” in tracks that I’d play from my dad’s HiFi system. As I got older, I wasn’t tuning into the Top 40 on Radio 1, but instead the soothing voice of Clive Bull doing late night on London’s LBC 1152 AM would accompany me as I drifted off to sleep.

LBC 97.3 - Clive Bull photocard

My love affair with speech radio has continued on and off since then, and as creating and recording audio has become easier, I continued to dabble, but without any real training. A radio experience day at a community radio station in Norfolk gave me a chance to try out what it’d be like running a show, but it seemed like hard work.

What I really wanted to do was just… talk. Talk, to myself, to listeners, to friends about anything that might interest me. I didn’t want to have to learn to drive a desk, or think too hard about when to fade in music or the technicalities of capturing a voice. But I did want to make fun, interesting and compelling content in easy to digest clips that don’t drag on.

That’s why I really enjoyed the recent Omniversity course, Radio Production for Pod and Cloud Casts. Armed with just my iPhone and my Mac, I enjoyed a hugely hands-on day with Barney (aka Doodlebug Presents) and other coursemates where we learned just how quick and easy it could be to grab people for sound clips, edit and stitch together some conversations and polish it all off in a neat little package – easily published online.

Course leader Barney has a wealth of hands-on experience producing audio for the web and other channels. His relaxed yet knowledgeable style makes this course a pleasure. Taking advantage of World Record Store day happenings just around the corner meant that we produced a fun and interesting podcast of a very topical event, so everything we did had real and immediate relevance. It was a real buzz and gave me the perfect template for other podcasts I might do, both personally and professionally.

Check out the first MadLab podcast that we did about World Record Store Day.
[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.996544&w=425&h=350&fv=]

… and a more recent piece I threw together ahead of attending Carmen as part of Opera North’s blogging event.

Thankfully, the Omniversity is running the course again on June 11. It’s an all-day thing, with lunch included in the price, so if you’ve got an interest in producing a piece of radio and “exploring the theatre of the mind”, check it out.