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Author Archives: Jon Kingsbury

europecommons

Today, Nesta and our partners launch EuropeCommons.org. The site is a catalogue of civic software and services across Europe that help governments work better. By capturing applications and information about how and where they’ve been deployed, and with what impact, we want to encourage greater collaboration and reuse of civic solutions.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we’d like people to adopt the spirit of Proudly Found Elsewhere…

To do this, EuropeCommons will strive to understand what services have been deployed, what evidence there is of the service working, and how easy it is technically to deploy it elsewhere.

We are looking for digital tools and services that:

  • Have a civic focus, are aimed at improving the lives of citizens.
  • Are relatively mature. They should be deployed or used in at least one location.
  • Ideally provide evidence of use and effectiveness. The intent is to create a high quality dataset over time.

The range of tools and services is broad, from Drupal (which we think displays great potential to be adopted cheaply by local councils) through to sites that show where fruit can be harvested from city-owned trees.

Ironically, the idea of sharing good civic digital services is not itself new. There is an existing European site, but it’s difficult to navigate and doesn’t seem to focus on usage. EuropeCommons aims to fix this and make it easy to understand what works in practice.

The site is in beta, so please help us improve it – tweet us @europecommons. And we’d love to hear of your examples of great digital services (from anywhere)that you’d like to share or see live near you.

Jon

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I’m not easily impressed with live streamed games of hide and seek. To me, they have never seemed to live up to the promise of the first internet-age, genre-busting programme Wanted (full disclosure – a TV show I worked on with Channel 4 TV back in 1997).

That is, until now. I’ve just spent the last hour following 3 trackers hurtling around the streets of Sheffield. They’re playing I’d Hide You, a game of run-around designed for mobile 4G. Designed by Blast Theory and part of the wonderful Doc/Fest.

I'd Hide You

I’d Hide You

The game was piloted in Manchester last year at FutureEverything, but this year is being enhanced by a partnership with EE (yes, the mobile phone company with 23m UK subscribers). EE are providing 4G broadband across the city centre to allow the game to stream at broadcast quality on the internet.

The online experience of watching the runners hunt each other down and being able to participate by snapping photos of them and scoring points is addictive and there’s real interactivity too – online users can communicate with runners via text.

This research piece, called Digital Art² is the first of the new generation of Digital R&D Fund for the Arts projects, a collaboration between Nesta, the Arts Council England and the AHRC. The production partners are Doc/Fest, Blast Theory, EE, C3RI and Sheffield Hallam University. It seeks to investigate what is needed to connect audiences and artists and to understand what constitutes a stage for art in an interactive and digital context.

Testing how digital allows for interaction between live performance and online audiences is not a new theme for the fund. Last year, theatre company Punchdrunk piloted matching online audiences with venue audiences during their sell-out production, Sleep No More. The lessons from that project can be found here.

I don’t know whether this type of interactive broadcast would stand up to millions of viewers online – would the generous amount of runner attention given to audiences be scaleable? But what is striking is how fantastic the streaming quality is and how the audience at home can be integral to the performance. This is a creative insight into how 4G might be used in the future for arts organisations to directly engage with large numbers people beyond their geographic venue. And it’s great that the arts world are working with a major phone company to innovate.

Don’t wait to catch it though. I’d Hide You runs on June 14th and 15th only, from 8pm BST. Enjoy.

Jon

When we began our programme Destination Local – designed to understand and to stimulate activity in the UK’s nascent hyperlocal media industry – there was a lot of assertion and very little hard evidence about its potential.

In March, we published Kantar Media’s research into the scale and nature of demand for hyperlocal services. This showed that they are popular and that consumption is being driven by the take-up of smartphones and tablets.

And last week, we published the first research on the size of the UK’s hyperlocal advertising market, produced by Oliver and Ohlbaum.

Understanding the potential for advertising is crucial. For any hyperlocal service to sustain itself beyond being a socially-important, amateur pursuit it must cover its costs and advertising has been the traditional way of raising revenue in order to do this. At the other end of the spectrum, traditional local media players – perhaps TV companies or local newspapers – trying to respond to audiences going online, will want to know how big an advertising market they are competing for.

The research we have published does not provide heartening reading for hyperlocal media services. First of all, it suggests that big brands will place their ads on location-based platforms rather than spend money with geographically-specific services. Facebook and Google are much more likely to collect advertising spend by providing content relevant to your location than, say, a blog about Birmingham.

Secondly, the research asked small, local businesses from around the UK if they spend their advertising budgets with local hyperlocal publishers. Some do, but out of a total advertising spend of nearly a billion pounds, little more than a few tens of millions go the way of hyperlocals. And this, the report forecasts, is unlikely to increase significantly anytime soon.

The findings suggest to us that traditional local and regional media providers may be better placed. Those able to sell advertising space across media (TV, Radio, Print and online), especially using existing sales teams, will be more successful as they are able to appeal to a broader range of advertisers than those who just run hyperlocal websites.

But this research, alongside what we know about consumer demand, points to two basic challenges for “native” stand-alone hyperlocal media providers.  The first, “How to get audience attention?” and the second, “How to make it pay?”

There have been lots of attempts at making hyperlocal media pay, often to no avail. Our landscape report Here and Now gives some great examples. But the right business models are yet to be found. Is now the time to talk about market failure and to ask, if some form of intervention was found to be appropriate, what form might it take?

While running our Destination Local programme, we often debate about the scope and nature of hyperlocal media. It’s such a new term that a number of very different types of service get described as hyperlocal, usually depending on who we talk to.

For example, hyperlocal media has been described as very local citizen journalism, hand crafted news stories or campaigns for change operating at a very local level. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the semi-automatically produced services that can offer local content to anyone in the world from a central technology platform. Some dispute this as hyperlocal, suggesting that, say, Twitter or Google is too divorced from the local geographical place its content refers to for it to be considered authentic hyper local.

For the record, we have a working definition:

“Online news or content services pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community” which will do for the time being until there is a bit more consensus.

But, despite its global aspirations, one of the services which I think qualifies as hyper local media is Waze. This mobile app provides up to date traffic information to help drivers plan and iterate their car journey.

It operates like a regular satnav, but with an important difference – it gets its information from its community of drivers, in real-time, as they encounter problems on the roads. In this way, Waze operates as a dynamic collective awareness platform fed by both a personal and common interest, to make navigating our crowded roads easier (and consequently reduce carbon emissions). Users have no obligation to report traffic hold-ups to others, but they do so (presumably) on the basis of collective benefit and karma. One day, after all, they might be the ones benefiting from advance warning about jams.

Is Waze journalism? Certainly not. But it does meet some of the characteristics of hyper local media at its best. Timely, useful (and importantly) communal information about a geographical location which can help people make informed choices about their lives.

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Last week the government launched a ground-breaking online service – www.gov.uk – that replaced two previous sites, Directgov and BusinessLink.

I think that the ease of use, findability of information and accessibility makes it world-class. Together with the revolutionary www.data.gov.uk which is a repository for public, open data, this puts the United Kingdom at the forefront of global innovation when delivering central government digital services.

So, the product itself is innovative and, more importantly, useful.

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