That Littlest Pet Shop version of The Hunger Games that I mentioned at #rethinkmedia

At the #rethinkmedia conference last week (March 25 2014 to be precise) I made the claim that my daughter had filmed a version of The Hunger Games using her Littlest Pet Shop toys. On arriving home I was put right on this and it turns out that despite making over 70 short films involving her Little Pet Shop figures (check out her ever-expanding Youtube channel), my 11 year old has never made  a version of the Hunger Games.

However, plenty of people have. Here’s one of them. No fancy animation here, just hands moving the heads of the LPS figures. Oh, and it has nearly 200k views.

What I said at the ‘Birmingham, Second City or Second Best’ debate

My colleagues Professor Diane Kemp and Bob Calver have started a series of monthly debates at Birmingham City University’s Parkside building with the first focusing on Birmingham and its status, or rather lack of status, as Second City.

My co-panellists were Pauline Geoghegan (political blogger), new CEO of Birmingham City Council Mark Rogers and Beverley Nielsen (runs the Birmingham Made Me Expo)

This isn’t a write-up to summarise the whole debate (which was robust, lively, fun) but rather just a place to dump my opening position statement. This wasn’t as delivered (neither is it properly proofed) but was more or less the angle I went for:

“So I’m a resident of the city, having been brought up about two miles that way in Alum Rock and now living in Bournville, with stop offs in Perry Barr, Stechford, Kings Heath and Stirchley in between. Briefly I even lived in Moseley. I am currently doing some research in South Birmingham and in the Castle Vale area in East Birmingham and I guess I sometimes commentate about the city on my blog. I also edit a website about the wonderfully boring suburb of Bournville in South Birmingham.

So the first thing I’d like to say something I’m sure we can all agree on, that Birmingham is not the second best city in the UK. I have it around 8th – that feels about right? London first obviously, and then the nations’ capitals (Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast), then there are some places that just feel so liveble and cool that surely they would come ahead of us. Bristol, Brighton. Leeds maybe? Where does that leave us? 8th, 9th? I actually know nothing about Manchester and have  been there no more than a handful of times in my life. Maybe that’s ahead of us as well.

But actually I’m not sure what the problem is. I live in one of the UK’s top ten cities – that’s fine by me. Maybe that’s a new slogan for Birmingham. ‘one of the UK’s top ten cities – kind of, just about’.

But don’t be mistaken for thinking I’m bad-mouthing Birmingham, because what we have here is one of most joyfully messy, complicated, refreshingly grumpy cities in the UK. I think we’re a city whose citizens never quite believe the corporate spin that we’re somehow a must-see destination for the international jet-set. I think most Brummies don’t care about Manchester getting the plaudits ahead of us.

In what way would being the second city change the lived experience of living in Birmingham. In no tangible way whatsoever. I predict that the economic impact of being officially the second city of the UK would amount to one extra cool-looking coffee shop and an almost imperceptible increase in trendy young men with beards. In short, if you’re from Alum Rock, Castle Vale, the three estates, it wouldn’t matter a jot.

But here’s what I think Birmingham is perhaps a leader in. Something the world could learn from us. We’re world-class at our continued resistance of gentrification. Despite Big City Plans, regeneration schemes, upmarket shopping centres, the city still feels kind of gritty. Even those places that seem to want a bit of gentrification never quite make it happen. I’m looking at you Stirchley.

Perhaps the best example of this is Digbeth. A few years back the then City head of planning, Clive Dutton, said that the likely scenario for Digbeth is ‘do nothing’. The money to regenerate the area just wasn’t there he said; so therefore we won’t interfere. That turned out to be a piece of planning genius. Development in that area has been incremental. Where flats have gone up there’s been an effective vocal pro-noise, pro-pub, pro-music lobby arguing that such developments should be stopped. The conversion of former industrial properties to workshops for digital/creative companies has been at a pace that reflected the modest growth that the city has seen in that sector.

The fabric of Digbeth as a place of industry hasn’t changed. I suspect those cool creatives we’d like to see more of kind of like it like that. It’s not Shoreditch, never will be. It’s really quite down to earth and welcoming. A middle-aged suburban dad of two can feel at home there. That’s how painfully uncool the place is. At the weekend Birmingham City Fans can swell its pubs. Some of those pubs still feel scary to go into. That’s good, Birmingham should be a city of slightly scary pubs. Birmingham is a city where we never quite seem to be at a tipping point where popularity results in a huge spike in house prices or business rents and therefore makes the place unaffordable for citizens or businesses.

So my message is not quite ‘do nothing’, more ‘do it in at a human scale that makes the city continue to be a liveable place’. In short, do it in a less garishly glitzy corporate manner. We know the city has to play at being a ‘global city’ because investment is important. That’s linked to jobs which is absolutely the thing we need more of here. But don’t get upset if we sound a bit ungrateful about it. We’re just not that kind of people – we’re scared if we universally declare the place to be amazing then they’ll be a rush of red-trousered hipsters eager to pay inflated property prices just to work next to a scrap yard on Fazeley street.

So those people who say our problem is ‘we don’t shout loud enough’ are quite right. We know that we have to pretend to care about being the second city but to be honest, we just don’t. Top ten? That’s fine – I’m happy with that, you should be too.”

Social Media Surgeries in Longbridge – March 11 and 26

There are two Social Media Surgeries taking place in March that are part of the research project I am running partnership with B31 Voices and Podnosh. Here’s the blurb for them.

Social Media Surgeries for Longbridge, Northfield and the wider B31 area.
B31 Voices, Podnosh and Birmingham City University are running two Social Media Surgeries at The Factory in Longbridge in March. These informal drop-in events are aimed at readers of B31 Voices who want to know more about how the web works to help support a community event or cause you are working on.

What’s a Social Media Surgery?
A social media surgery is an informal gathering of people who want to learn how to use the web to communicate, campaign or collaborate. Surgeries are deliberately relaxed. No presentations, no jargon, noone telling people what they think they should know. Instead you will sit next to someone who understands good ways to use the internet, someone who will listen to what you do, and then show you free, useful tools. If you like what you see they can also help you set up your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account.

Who can come along?
Surgeries are generally aimed at helping voluntary or community organisations, local charities, clubs or societies. We also welcome individuals working on activities that are helping to support their community.

Can I help out?
A surgery needs ‘surgeons’, someone who knows enough about using social media to help someone else. Some surgeons have spent years understanding the internet, others started learning a few months ago but want to share what they know with other community groups and active citizens. You can sign up to be a surgeon using the links below.

11th March 5:30pm – 7:00pm (use the link to sign up)
26th March 12:30pm – 2:00pm (use the link to sign up)

The Factory, 5 Devon Way (off Longbridge Lane), Longbridge, B31 2TS

More details about Social Media Surgeries can be found at:


New Knowledge Networks – active citizenship and hyperlocal publishing

I had some good news at the end of 2013. I was successful in applying to the Communities and Culture Network (CCN+) for some funding to run a project about how hyperlocal web publishers play a role in developing new networks of knowledge about their communities. Or to give it its grand title:

New Knowledge Networks in communities – the role of ‘hyperlocal’ media operations in facilitating everyday digital participation.

The project will enable me to spend some time understanding the operations of the B31 Voices blog which covers several suburbs in south Birmingham and is run by Sas and Marty Taylor with help from a small network of local writers. I’ve been interested for a while in how they operate across a range of digital platforms to gather up information from their readers and turn this into useful news and information. They seem really astute at tapping into citizens’ everyday use of social media. The new knowledge created offers a challenge, I think (and have mused on before), to ‘official’ knowledge.

Screenshot 2014-02-28 10.46.13

The project forms a bit of a sidebar to the Creative Citizens project I’m part of and hopefully will feed into my PhD research.

In terms of method, I’ve become increasingly interested in the work of Sarah Pink. She argues for new approaches to Internet/Digital ethnographies. I’m much taken with this quote from from a paper about new forms of ethnography (co-written with John Postill):

“the movement of the digital ethnographer involves traversing interrelated digital and co-present contexts, for example, sharing a bus ride with activists, a Facebook collaboration or a smartphone image over coffee”
(Postill, J and Pink, S. Social media ethnography: The digital researcher in a messy web [online]. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 145, Nov 2012: 123-134.)

In this project, the equivalent of ‘sharing a bus ride’ is to set up and run two Social Media Surgeries in B31′s patch. We’re being helped with this by Nick Booth’s company, Podnosh, who help coordinate volunteer-run social media surgeries across the UK. These take place in mid-March (I’ll write a separate ‘call to action’ post for those shortly).

Although the project is small in scope I hope it’ll have much to say about the intricate web that hyperlocals weave and the everyday active citizenship they promote. As the project progresses I’ll post occasional updates.

You can read the whole Case for Support (effectively the bid document) if you’re interested in some of the detail and academic rationale. Podnosh and B31 were brilliant in helping me bring together the bid. 


Start-up Birmingham

The Startup Britain campaign have released some new stats about how many companies were started in the UK in 2013. They have analysed data from Companies House and have produced  a nice infographic.

The headline figure for Birmingham is that 16,281 business started up. Impressive. However, that’s actually a figure for the B postcode rather than for the Birmingham local authority area. Given that Startup Britain have also released the data they used I though it worth a quick analysis.


  • In postcodes that are wholly or partly within the Birmingham local authority area there were 11,248 start-ups.
  • B postcodes in Sandwell produced 1200 start-ups.
  • Solihull had 947 start-ups.
  • The top three performing postcodes in Birmingham are Birmingham City Centre (B2), Edgbaston/Lee Bank (B15), Winson Green/Hockley (B18).
  • The fourth and fifth best performing postcodes are within the city centre (B3, B1).
  • Castle Vale had the lowest number of start-ups (35, 0.3%) .
  • Digbeth (B5) had 268 start-ups, 2.3% of the total (13th in Birmingham).

You can the acces Birmingham data and some tables here:

Top 20 Birmingham postcodes for start-ups:

Postcode start-ups % Area
B2 998 8.9% Birmingham City Centre, New Street
B15 994 8.8% Edgbaston, Lee Bank
B18 804 7.1% Winson Green, Hockley
B3 781 6.9% Birmingham City Centre, Newhall Street
B1 383 3.4% Birmingham City Centre, Broad Street (east)
B11 372 3.3% Sparkhill, Sparkbrook, Tyseley
B28 331 2.9% Hall Green
B13 311 2.8% Moseley, Billesley
B19 306 2.7% Lozells, Newtown, Birchfield
B16 305 2.7% Edgbaston, Ladywood
B12 290 2.6% Balsall Heath, Sparkbrook, Highgate
B9 274 2.4% Bordesley Green, Bordesley
B5 268 2.4% Digbeth, Highgate, Lee Bank
B23 262 2.3% Erdington, Short Heath
B24 251 2.2% Erdington, Tyburn
B21 244 2.2% Handsworth
B8 243 2.2% Washwood Heath, Ward End, Saltley
B20 226 2.0% Handsworth Wood, Handsworth, Birchfield, Perry Barr
B10 221 2.0% Small Heath
B14 198 1.8% Kings Heath, Yardley Wood, Druids Heath, Highter’s Heath, Warstock

Twitter search – finding old stuff

I was helping someone out with finding old stuff on twitter from a particular user. When I say old, I mean beyond the 3,200 limit of a single user’s tweets (that’s how many it stops at when you do that endless scrolling down on a page). I was also interested in searching hashtags used at particular times.

So this is really about searching between particular dates. The advanced Twitter search page doesn’t show how you can search for dates but you can do so by putting the following in your search:

  • from:username since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd

So the url search for @stephenfry’s old tweets would be:

Or if you want to find a hashtag, word or phrase between particular dates:

  • #digitalbritain since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd
  • digitalbritain since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd
  • “digital britain” since:yyyy-mm-dd until:yyyy-mm-dd

You can also simply adjust the url instead of using the search box. For example, the urls for the above three searches (for dates from 1st October 2009 and until 1st December 2009):

In the url you should notice that:

  • %23 is a hashtag
  • %20 is a space
  • %3A is a :
  • f=realtime is the same as clicking ‘all’ in the search (gives you everything rather than ‘top’ tweets)

Hope this helps (it serves a reminder for me if nothing else). Welcome additions/corrections in the comments


Hyperlocal Publishing in the UK – A 2013 Snapshot

UK hyperlocal map

(Again, as soon as I get my login back I’ll cross-post this to but if I don’t write it now I never will).

Last year I did some stats about how many news stories are produced by hyperlocal websites. I used the Openly Local database as the listing source and then counted the stories pushed through the RSS feeds of the sites (there was also a degree of tortuous manual counting as well. The method is described in a research paper - PDF). The big headline from that research was there’s a hyperlocal story published once every two minutes (during the day).

In summer 2013 I revisited the database and applied the same method of counting. Here are the findings. Some of these (mainly the geographic spread stuff) will be published by Ofcom in a report on ‘Internet Citizens’ in the next few weeks.

List of main findings:


  • The research draws on a list of 632 hyperlocal websites listed on the Openly Local database as of 7 June 2013.
  • 496 of these sites were ‘active’ and operating in the UK. ‘Active’ was defined as a website having posted a news story at least once in the 5 months prior to the sample period or functioned as a forum-only or wiki-based website.
  • 133 are no longer active. This figure is a mix of websites that have closed or have not published in the 5 months prior to the sample period.
  • The research sampled the news stories published by ‘active’ websites from 18-28 June 2013 (11 days).


  • During the sampling period 3482 stories were produced by 224 sites (46% of ‘active sites). The number of stories produced in the 2012 sample was 3819 items by 313 sites.
  • The average number of posts of those sites that published in the 2013 sample was 15.5 posts per site within the sample period (12.2 in 2012). The median number of posts of those sites that published was 6 (7 in 2012).
  • 260 sites (54%) produced no story during the sample period (133 in 2012).
  • 38 (8%) sites produced just one story (39 in 2012).
  • 106 (22%) sites produced 5 or less items (133 in 2012). These were responsible for 8% of the posts (9.3% in 2012).
  • 87% of news stories (58% in 2012) were produced by 20% of the sites.

Commentary: the lower number of published sites is largely down to a reduction in output from ‘Local People’ sites . These sites have undergone radical change in the last 12 months with the large network of journalists writing for them now disbanded. The lower figure from these sites might also be accounted for in a refinement of the methodology, which attempted to avoid capturing adverts that were published in the news stream.


  • Overall, an average of 13 items per hour were produced by Hyperlocal websites (15 in 2012).
  • During weekday daytimes this average rose to 22 items per hour (24 in 2012)

Geographic distribution

  • Number of sites in UK nations:
    England: 445 (+45 on 2012)
    Wales: 26 (+11)
    Scotland: 20 (+7)
    Northern Ireland: 3 (no change)
  • Number of sites in English regions:
    London: 96
    South West: 81
    South East: 73
    West Midlands: 59
    Yorkshire and Humberside: 39
    North West: 38
    East Midlands: 16
    East of England: 36
    North East: 7

Birmingham has 26 active sites (-2 on 2012) – the most in any UK authority area.

(A PDF summary of this. This report builds on data from the 2012 report ‘Hyperlocal Publishing in the UK – A Snapshot‘)