Saturday, May 26, 2012

The beauty of Salford and Wormwood Scrubs

Wormwood Scrubs and Salford don't sound like visual treats. I visited them both last week, and, maybe the sunshine helped, but they were looking quite glamourous.

First of all, the Scrubs - not the prison, but the area to the north of it where you can wander round and be thankful for your freedom.

Last time I went there, a few years ago, it was just scrubby. Now they've planted some trees and the wide open spaces are broken up with this kind of place:

It's amazing how far you can get away from people and traffic, when you're just a five minute walk from the Westway and Wood Lane. 

Salford's Media City, which you can arrive at in a clean, efficient tram, is a model of new development. The waterways sparkle, and there was even some organised swimming going on. This is what you can see from the top of the new BBC building.

Inside, it's light and clean, with these fancy booths to sit in and a huge atrium in the middle to look down into: 

It feels like a prosperous new European city. Well, I suppose it is, in a way. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Facebook revisited

Filming with Emily Maitlis last week for updated Facebook doc on BBC2 last night, Inside Facebook: Zuckerberg's $100 Billion Gamble.

Catch it on iPlayer here.

Some nice tweets from last night:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

No shortcut to building an audience on Twitter

Can you build a Twitter audience without tweeting?

Answer: not really, or at least, not with as little work as I'd been hoping.

I set up six accounts and fed them, through Twitterfeed, with news stories relating to six big tech companies. I also set up a blog to cross-promote them (but pretty much ignored it after the first couple of weeks). 

Here's what happened to follower numbers for the six accounts over the year: 
There's a generally upward trend, and my Facebook News account (orange) is the most successful, but only acquired a pathetic 50 followers. Google News (green) enjoyed fast growth for about a week about half way through the year, but then fell back again - I don't know what was going on there.

I've had more success with some accounts I've started to cover news of my local area. And I feel more interested in them, which may be a critical difference. But even the tech accounts, to which I subscribe on my personal Twitter account, haven't been a complete waste of time.  They aggregate news about companies I like to know about, so just by following them, I learn things I might otherwise have missed.

I suspect other people are having more success with automated Twitter feeds. There is (or was) one for UK media news with a few thousand followers, but I can't find it now.

Here's a report about the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal also coming to the conclusion (albeit on a quite different scale) that you can't really build an audience without some genuine human input:

"Full-time, human hosting of a brand’s main Twitter account is unquestionably a better approach, said Zach Seward, the main voice behind the Wall Street Journal's @WSJ account. 
The @WSJ account has been run by people since January 2010, Seward said. “The metrics went up considerably and almost immediately after switching from automated to personal. We’ve seen the same effect with several other accounts.”

Here's how to set up an automated Twitter feed, by someone who knows a lot more than me. Next week will mark the full year of this experiment. I'll write about my local Twitter accounts next, and why I think they may work better than these ones if I give them a little tender loving care. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oh sorry, haven't you been to the Olympics yet?

The route to the Olympic Park was bleak and empty, warmed only by an army of smiling volunteers pointing the way. We passed one who used his loudhailer to wish us a nice day at a range of six feet. Just testing, he said. This was London Prepares. Not the Olympics but a tryout to make sure everything was working and everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing.

We didn't get Olympic tickets, so I applied for this instead. London Prepares was sold out too by the time I looked - except Wheelchair Tennis. So, encouraged by the price (£5 a ticket), I signed up, and today arrived with my family at West Ham tube station.

The email had promised a walk with "great views of the Olympic Park and brand new public art installations". I'd describe it as a trek through an industrial wasteland. The only art we saw was graffiti.

When we arrived at the venue, we were greeted by another volunteer army: the British army, doing the airport security routine with a lot more charm and enthusiasm that you get at Heathrow.

More walking: all the way through the Olympic Park to the far end, past the big stadium (no, sorry, you can't have a look inside as you haven't got the right pass), past the funny sculpture thingy, past various other stadia (?) in different shapes and textures and then across a motorway to our venue, called Eton Manor.

Wheelchair tennis had started. We took our seats among about a thousand people in a 5000-seater venue. It was chilly and drizzly, but the tennis was fiercely competitive, entertaining, and evidently a big deal. At least this was an Olympic sport for which we thought we knew the rules. We didn't: in wheelchair tennis you can return the ball after it has bounced twice.

Between matches, a long queue formed at the catering truck, the only place where you could get food or drink within half a mile.

Eventually rain stopped play and there was nowhere to shelter except the Prayer and Quiet Room (below), discovered by a few lucky souls. In here it was actually warm, the perfect place to wait for tennis to resume. But soon the peace was disturbed by an official who told us to leave. People protested that they were praying for the weather to improve, but she wasn't impressed and we left without much fuss. 

It's hard to know how much the place will improve before the real thing. More catering, I assume, or there'll be big problems. Better weather, I hope. It's a really big site with some impressive looking constructions, but they seem to have been dumped onto an industrial landscape which is only starting to  get a sense of its new identity. In the end, if the sport is entertaining, I don't think that will matter as much as it did on our damp, rather anti-climactic day.

OK, it wasn't the Olympics, but surely we have earned some sort of bragging rights for having been there and seen some sport already?

We left, and found lunch in the nearby Westfield Centre at Stratford. It was packed. I hate to think how crowded it will be during the Olympics. If you can buy shares in it, that might be a good idea.