“Twatted, which is the past tense of tweet”

Obviously this clip of Stewart Lee is well-watched by now but I put it here for three reasons.

The main one is that I’m curious with BBC embedded videos how long they stay online. I know that sounds a bit doubtful but I instinctively feel that a Youtube embed would always be there (or at least would be there up until the point a copyright owner noticed an infringement and took it down) but the BBC ones I feel might disappear at any moment given how some stuff seems to come and go on iPlayer. So I’ll check back now and again to see if it’s still around. Better than leaving it open in a browser window as it has been for about a month now.

[note – the BBC changed where they put it on their site and altered the embed code so I had to update this page in March 2016. I think it had been bust for a while before that]

Secondly, it starts with a terrific observation about Facebook user stats.

Thirdly, if you haven’t seen it then it’s funny, as is Stewart Lee. I saw him in Edinburgh last year while he was rehearsing the material for the series this is from and I laughed lots.

Social Media use in the West Midlands: some stats, some caution

A while back I wondered out loud if there was much research about social media use in regions or localities:


It got quite a bit of retweeting by both local goverment workers I know and by social media consultants, so it had a decent enough reach. Despite that I didn’t get a reply other than a couple saying they’d be interested themselves in the data if I found any. Of course that isn’t to say none exists, just people I know didnt have any to hand.

The reason I tweeted was twofold. Firstly I’d been looking at Dan Slee’s presentation that he gave at a national government IT event. Dan quotes quite a few stats around social media use as part of the rationale for using Social Media as part of his professional practice within a local authority. He makes this assertion:



I’m unsure of the source for the figures for facebook but presumably it’s extrapolated from the earlier quoted figure of 26 million facebook users nationally (now at 29.7m). The population of Walsall is 253,499 (2001 census). So whilst a third of the UK population uses Facebook, 88% of people in Walsall seem to use it.

That didn’t seem right.

My second reason for asking for local social media research was because I knew some was about to be completed for the West Midlands. An internal piece of research by Centro was looking at how to plan future media campaigns and how much note they should take of recent digital developments. So the research was to look at the correlation between public transport use and digital technology take-up.

My wife was key in putting the report together and she’s let me have a copy of it (PDF). Before we look at some findings let’s have some caveats although the survey is pretty confident so to speak. 2061 interviews were conducted across the West Midlands, a sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.2% at a 95% confidence level. The data was weighted to each district (of which Walsall was one) so that the same number proportion were surveyed in Walsall as they were in Birmingham. Gender split was even, class split was even (to give it the lingo: ABC1s, well-off folk and C2DEs, poor folk).

  • Caveat 1: when you get to the districts the numbers are fairly low. In Walsall the sample was 207.
  • Caveat 2: Although the survey was to a quota (it tried to ask the same amount of young people as old people), that quota was for the region as a whole. So it may be that in the districts there’s a slight unevenness across age, gender and class.
  • Caveat 3: under 16s weren’t interviewed, they never are in these things.

Oh and you have to see past all the stuff about buses. In summary, young people and old people use buses and in general they are C2DEs. But onward. Here are some findings for the West Midlands Metropolitan County only about Social Media use:

  • Of those surveyed, 41% used Facebook weekly or more often, 21% used YouTube and 6% Twitter, 2% MySpace.
  • Younger respondents were the most regular users of social networking sites especially Facebook (83%, weekly).
  • Few respondents over the age of 44 used social network sites, this was particularly the case for the over 65’s (6%)
  • Men slightly outpaced women in all forms of use of the internet, while ABC1 use was more regular than C2DE
  • Females (42%, weekly) were slightly more regular Facebook users than males (39%, weekly) while male respondents were more likely than females to use Twitter (7%) and YouTube (25%).

But what about Walsall? That 88% figure? Well the ONS tell us that only 77% of West Midlands folk are internet users (Q1 2011 data .xls file, the stat is buried in table 2) compared to a national average of 82.2%. The Centro district info (caveats above) tells us that for Walsall the figure drops to 66% (poor old Sandwell is a mere 62%). Of that 66% (167,309 people), 54% use Facebook more than once a week. The upshot is, 36% of the entire population of Walsall, about 91,000 people, access Facebook more than once a week.

That’s a lot of people. It’s not 222,00 people, it’s less than half of that, but it’s still a lot. Further, they are predominantly young people. Indeed, across the West Midlands 83% of young people who access the internet use Facebook more than once a week.

So here’s my point. The figures stack up. They’re convincing in their own right and suggest that there’s a generation that is at ease with this technology across a range of devices. For Centro it actually creates a dilemma. Bus users are old and young – both ends of the digital divide. What to do? More cool digital stuff to keep the kids happy and attract more ABC1s out of their cars? What about the OAPs, of whom only 27% have internet access?

Centro’s marketing is now fairly informed. The headline figures used by Walsall seem uninformed – they’re over-extrapolated. And I worry about that. I worry that in local government there’s a tendency to want to create solutions ahead of doing the research. Research can be dull (I’m surprised you’re still reading), but it allows for targeted interventions. I wonder how much the sometimes very  cool social media activities produced within local gov (some listed here) amount to anything more than marketing exercises. Typical of me of course but I’d like to seem a more cautionary, better informed approach. Less of the quick wins, less of the gimmicks and more solutions that target the citizens you need to reach.

I was going to talk about twitter but it’s pretty much a minority activity  (of the 207 people surveyed in Walsall only 23 used and it’s very much for young, male, ABC1s). Also tweetathons and their benefits or otherwise are discussed elsewhere.

Thanks to Mrs H for access to the stats and for making sure I made clear the confidence level of the research but also its caveats – she rocks.

Making is Connecting – book review

David Gauntlett‘s new book, Making is Connecting, makes for a useful read for anyone who wants to feel that their fiddling around on the web or growing potatoes or knitting scarves have meaning beyond being harmless pastimes.

Hang on, I think he means me. Well except for the knitting; I did try it the year before last but it turns out it requires accuracy and patience, two things I’m not good at. I do grow spuds though, on an allotment, a place that Gauntlett uses as a metaphor to explain what Web 2.0 is: “instead of individuals tending their own gardens, they come together to work collaboratively in a shared place” (p5, see also his video of his explanation).

He touches on guerilla gardening (which is actual gardening, not the metaphorical kind) as one example of an activity by which people make stuff and create connections between each other. Knitting is the more developed example and Gauntlett gives us a guide to some interesting literature on the topic and charts the growing interest in DIY culture. I guess the local knitting group Stitches and Hos isn’t untypical of the re-emergence of craft in its combination of a self-consciously hipster rhetoric with a more radical underpinning of reclaiming traditionally male spaces (the pub) and re-appropriation of a pejorative term (see also Stich ‘n’ Bitch).

DIY culture could be a reaction against commercial culture, Gaunlett argues, just as John Ruskin and William Morris railed against industrialism in the 19th century (there’s a chapter devoted to their philosophies). Gauntlett’s key point is to wrestle back the notion of Creativity from being something that concerns the few who somehow have that magical ability to produce works of high art. Everyday creativity is his concern. At this point I was reminded of a presentation I saw (PDF link) by Justin O’Connor which included the line: “‘Creativity’ emerged as key value in ‘positive liberalism’ – active intervention to ensure competitiveness and innovation” – the political economy of ‘creativity’ isn’t the focus of Gauntlett’s book but O’Connor reminds us that in policy, the term is more closely associated with regeneration than the act of making and doing.

Gauntlett has been writing about the web for a long time (Web Studies, 2000) and here he draws on his experience of creating websites in the Web 1.0 era to warn against the way in which many Web 2.0 experiences are locked down in easy-to-use packaged solutions (Apple is particularly guilty he argues). These go against the principles of the web as it was conceived and I enjoyed his discussion of making things on the web, of hand-coding and continual testing. The few blogs I’ve created have all required some messing about with the code and it’s quite pleasurable to fiddle with some CSS (having never formally been taught it) and then watch as the change you were hoping for actually happens.

For a book that talks up the benefits of a Web 2.0 world Gauntlett rightly points out that we shouldn’t presume everything is rosy in the allotment. The threat to net neutrality clearly worries him as it would shift the emphasis to consumption from creativity: “then it will have become an industrial tool, and its positive potential will be destroyed” (p184). His chapter on the literature stacked against the benefits of Web 2.0 largely serves to debunk some of the key concerns but it also served to remind me that I’ve yet to get through Sherry Turkle’s ‘Alone Together’ or Evgeny Morozov’s ‘The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate The World’. It seems the literature on Web 2.0, judging by the book titles, is diametrically opposed.

Overall this makes for an engaging read (with a very good chapter summing up Social Capital too) and Gauntlett leaves us with some key principles which he offers as tools for “thinking about everyday life, creativity, and media” (p220). Building on these principles he sets out some ‘imagined futures’ as “modest developments” rather than far-fetched scenarios. I liked the one about the future of education where the system recognises that teachers “are no longer just the holders of the ‘answer book’ but are visibly also learning new knowledge and skills in their own lives”. You listening students? I really don’t know the answers.

Making is Connecting: The Social Meaning of Creativity, from DIY and Knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0 by David Gauntlett costs about £11 – £12 in paperback.

Couple of small caveats: I have met David Gauntlett, while he was at Bournemouth University. I was part of a group of academics connected to the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice of which he was part. Also, via twitter he did directly ask me to review this book and I was happy to oblige.