Microblogs and Content: Does Anyone Care?

What happens when a personal blogging project stalls? If the expectations for the blog rest mainly with the person who came up with the idea in the first place, does anyone else notice, or care?

Telling Storeys, the microblog I created a few months ago to photograph, document and share the buildings of Birmingham has had an interesting run so far but I find myself in a quandary.

The idea started life with me striding around the city armed with just the camera on my phone, randomly snapping pictures then researching buildings with the limited resources I have (a couple of architectural guide books). I then published the photos with a description onto a Tumblr blog and using the scheduling function I would line up several posts at once, and arrange for a tweet to be automatically sent through a dedicated twitter account whenever a post goes live. The system seemed to work well.

So far I have attempted to keep things very simple: one photo and no more information under the image than absolutely necessary – name of the building, location, architect, year of construction and any other facts that I deemed to be interesting. I didn’t want the site to become too cluttered and I figured a photo and brief description was enough to pique the interest of the reader, and might encourage them to seek out further information themselves. I was hoping to inspire readers to just be a bit more interested in the architecture of the city.

Fast forward a few months and things are a little different. The more observant will have noticed that activity has slowed almost to a stop. I had a break for a couple of months, then realised I had to start spreading my remaining content out – stretching it to 3 or 4 posts a months (ish). Over the last few months, opportunities for me to photograph buildings as I walk around the city have become virtually non-existent which leaves me with no more content for the site. You see, I hadn’t ever thought that I would be finishing the year 8 months pregnant with twins (waddling a couple of hundred yards is a challenge – striding around a city taking photos is definitely off the cards).

Originally I thought Telling Storeys might tire because of the time it takes to upload photos to Tumblr and look the building up, but this, as it turns out, is the easy bit. It’s the old problem of simply not having enough content to sustain the idea.

So, what next? Well, I’m not going to be able to solve the content generation problem myself for a good few months at least. So is there an easy way that the site might self-generate (good quality) content? Should I ask people to submit images to Tumblr and just see what happens? It might be interesting to see where it takes itself.

Alternatively, should I try and find someone to help me by taking the site on for a while? With more content and more people shouting about it, I know it could do well – I had a really positive response when I set it up so it has potential.

Or finally, does anyone really mind if I take a few months off and drop back onto it when I have more time? Am I worrying too much? After all, this is a project that was created purely out of my own interest in Birmingham’s architecture. No-one is paying me to run the site, but a couple of hundred people seem interested enough to follow the tumblr and twitter accounts, so there is a certain pressure not to let them down.

I know I got myself into this, but what would you do?

Putting it another way: help!

New Media and the Future of Practice

I delivered a workshop (of sorts…) to around 30 architects at RSAW’s annual conference at Chapter Arts in Cardiff on 9th December.

The idea behind the workshop was to firstly take a look interesting web-based projects. In doing so, I hoped to get delegates to see the internet as more than just email and practice websites. Amongst other things, I shared Mapumental, FixMyStreet, GoGenieSuchTweetSorrow, Give Me Back My Broken Night, Tales of Things, and Substrakt’s BAApp.

You can view the slides for my presentation over on SlideShare.

I went on to explain how certain web tools are helping to enable community-led planning (based on the recent work I’ve been doing around Neighbourhood Planning) with Slider Studio. We looked at StickyWorld in more detail along with some other ideas that have come out of the study.

This was followed by an open discussion about technology in practice. A particularly hot topic was the idea of monitoring comments and feedback through web channels and how best to manage this. I would welcome any questions that we didn’t have time to cover in the session here. Use the comments box below.

Practice makes Perfect

I’ll be running a workshop at the RSAW conference in Cardiff on 9th December 2011. The focus of the event is very much a response to the current economic climate and a broad array of speakers will address certain themes:

  • As the recession continues to bite, how are emerging architects finding new approaches to winning and carrying out their work?
  • How are the established players reacting to the new challenges?
  • Are the old models for building architectural practices out of date?
  • Do we need to look at new, more flexible ways of making design happen?
  • Is collaboration the answer?

Having discussed with the organisers what delegates are hoping to get from the event, the focus of my session will be to look at new media and growth industries for ideas and inspiration for the future of architectural practice.

Through my afternoon breakout workshop, I’ll be showcasing some interesting and exciting projects from the creative and media industries to inspire delegates to think differently about their approach and service. I’ll be sharing my experience of using social media as a powerful communication tool and demonstrating practical examples of the ways that web-based tools can save money and add value to working practice.

If you’re an Architect or if you work in practice and would like a day of inspiration, I suggest you book yourself in. It should be a great day. All the details are over on RSAW’s regional page of RIBA.

Neighbourhood Planning – what’s next?

Over the summer I was working with Slider Studio on a StickyWorld R&D project. The TSB funded a feasibility study to investigate how the web could enable Neighbourhood Planning as part of the new Localism Bill. We learned a huge amount about the tools that could help a community group develop a plan and it gave us chance to develop StickyWorld a little further. So now we’re at the point where we’re talking to local authorities, sharing our knowledge and looking for further support for web-enabled neighbourhood planning.

Last week I went along to an event organised by Urban Vision North Staffordshire and RIBA. They brought Architects together with four local community groups to talk about how to write and develop a Neighbourhood Plan. There were useful overviews of the current status of the localism bill and changes to the planning system, as well as a step-by-step guide to Neighbourhood Planning from Dave Chetwyn. I made some (very!) rough notes during the talks which can be found here. The afternoon session was a workshop with each of the community groups discussing their neighbourhood and sharing ideas and aspirations for how their area could be improved.

It was great to see StickyWorld and other web-based tools in action thanks to Rob Annable from Axis Design who led a workshop with representatives from Burslem. Although the session was a discussion based around a printed aerial photograph, Rob was keen to transfer the ideas and (real life) sticky notes to a virtual environment to enable the conversation to continue and develop after the event. Some of the results of that workshop can be found in this dedicated StickyRoom. Rob also made good use of Bookleteer’s Story Cubes to give the discussion some structure.

If you are part of a community group and are wondering how you can get some funding to develop a neighbourhood plan to improve your area, get in touch and I’ll point you in right direction. If you’ve no idea what Neighbourhood Planning is, have a look at this post that I wrote earlier this year.

Twentieth Century Architect – John Madin

I went along with my video camera to the launch of Alan Clawley’s book dedicated to the work of Birmingham Architect John Madin. I also live blogged some of the event via MADE’s website.

To see a room of 150 people gather together to celebrate his life’s work is testament to the respect and admiration he has gathered over the years from his peers and those beyond the industry.

The book is available for purchase through RIBA Bookshop and Amazon

Twentieth Century Architects – John Madin from lorna parsons on Vimeo.

QR codes – do they have a future?

I wrote a piece over on MADEs discussion board recently about QR codes. They have been used on some of MADEs promotional material and I thought they deserved a little more explanation:

Over the last few years you may have noticed barcodes like this one appearing on flyers, posters, leaflets, books, newspapers, some of the things you buy at your local shop and even on business cards.

They are QR codes (which stands for Quick Response) and they originated in Japan in the mid 90s, but they have become popular over recent years thanks to the prevalence of mobile phones, and in particular, Smartphones (for example Blackberry, iPhone, HTC etc).

If you own a Smartphone you can use an app (some phones have an app built-in, Blackberry’s Reader for example) to scan the barcode which will quickly and efficiently link you to relevant information on a website through the web-browser on your phone. If you don’t own a smartphone it’s still possible to scan a QR code via your computer’s webcam using dedicated software.

Read the rest of the piece here

QR codes are MASSIVE in Japan. They are on everything, every commercial product. They have formed part of life, but I wonder if they have a future over here in the UK. QR codes haven’t taken off quite as well as expected, and it’s safe to say that the assumption that everyone carries a smartphone may have something to do with this.

Perhaps they’re here to stay, but it’s just going to take a while for them to get going. Who knows…. Either way, if you use QR codes in your business, bear in mind that they can’t be used by everyone, and may need some explanation and guidance on how to use them.

Why Use LinkedIn?

I did a little blog post for the fbe recently (the fbe are a national built environment networking organisation). They are making a concerted effort to use LinkedIn to support their networking events, but some of their members need a little encouragement in understanding the benefits.

….but why should I use LinkedIn?

I get asked this question a lot! All the people I work with agree that the most valuable business development is about having conversations with people you’d like to work with, so in a nutshell I use LinkedIn as a way to support the face-to-face networking I do and as a way to carry on those valuable conversations. Business development begins when you strike up a conversation with someone, it doesn’t end as soon as they’ve handed over their business card. We each have our own way of following up new contacts, but LinkedIn is a really useful and convenient step in that follow-up process.

The next question I’m usually asked is: how do you find the time? Well here’s the interesting thing, I don’t spend much time using it, but it looks like I do! I probably spend 10-15 minutes a day skimming through the headlines, seeing what people are up to, sharing a link If I have spotted something interesting, seeing if I can help anyone with anything and spotting possible new connections or interesting groups to join. That’s it. Ok, so it took a little longer to create a profile, but that’s the beauty of LinkedIn, once you’re signed up, it does much of the work for you.

You can read the full post along with some hints and tips on making sure your profile hits the mark on the fbe blog.