Social Media; what is it good for?

Specifically, how can we build business value using social media in all its forms.

Lots of smart folk have been discussing the business models (esp Alan Patrick, Seth Godin, Fred Wilson, and Sean Park) and the use of social media (esp danah boyd, Chris BroganTara Hunt, and our own Nigel Legg), you could even check out my GReader shared stream or Friendfeed to see who I’ve been reading in particular.

This particular post was triggered by two events here in Bristol. The first was the launch of the Brrism Social Media Cafe, the second was a local Federation of Small Business event. Both were good in that they were fundamentally starting from outside the echo-chamber.

As a lapsed academic with a research background in systems theory, business processes and change management I think I have a useful perspective to consider these new tools. I’m also not promoting my own business solution so perhaps offer a degree of ‘independence’. I’m lucky in that I have the freedom to experiment and to try and span organisational & industry boundaries to figure out how these tools can be used.

And they are just tools. This may be heretical, but despite all the Gen-Y / Digital Native stuff, I don’t think social media is re-wiring our brains. That probably last took place around 60,000 years ago and even if it is taking place now, its a process that’ll take several biological generations (rather than internet generations which can take place over a weekend).

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future, 1973, Ref. Wikipedia

Yes, the technology is remarkable, even amazing and close enough to Arthur C Clarke’s description of ‘magic’ as to be the best description in most circumstances. Even the humble SMS, when you actually try to break it down to fundmental processes, software and hardware, is magic.

So what can we do with this ‘magic’?

There was definitely more understanding of the community building potential for social media tools at the Brrism event (even the ‘money’ group spent most time talking about community & method rather than purpose) while the FSB folks were still making the leap from social media as a ‘free’ version of traditional marketing. However, all the talk about community, social, conversation, and similar terms took me back to a Young IoD event I went to a couple of years ago.

The speaker was Nick Drake-Knight and he has a very clear sales process. Nick advocated RapportUnderstandDemonstrateRecommend – Close. I think this provides an excellent strategy for social media usage in business, actually its a great strategy for being social in business. Over the next few days post my thoughts on how to do this and relating to real experiences that I’ve had.

Supersonic cafe

[Disclosure: I was attending last night’s Science Cafe in my role as Manager of Science City Bristol.]

At last night’s Science Cafe, a broad group of Bristolians heard about CFD, Pitch drips, carbon footprint of cows, and road spray from lorries; all from a talk about a 1,000mph rocket car!

Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia
Pitch drop experiment on Wikipedia

Computational Fluid Dynamics is the particular research discipline of Dr Clare Wood and Dr Ben Evans from Cardiff University. Clare began with a basic introduction to CFD, some of the history of the Navier-Stokes equations and the other uses they get put to. This was where the Pitch Drop came in; an experiment started in 1930 to measure the viscosity of pitch (which looks like a solid), there have been 8 drips of pitch since then as it very slowly flows into the catching beaker. Unfortunately, no one has ever witnessed a pitch-drip, there was a technical hiccup with the video feed [requires Windows Media Player] on the last drop (28 November, 2000). Clare also talked about ‘proper’ science and using CFD to model blood flow in hearts and the bio-medical applications.

Ben then picked up the topic and began talking about the pressure waves that develop as you move from sub-sonic through to super-sonic. A major challenge is the incredible pressure that will occur around the rear wheels as the third shock wave develops. This is potentially so strong it could physically lift the back-end of the car into the air, obviously a bad thing at 1,000mph!

There’s a limit to what can be done with the mini-winglets that are being used to trim the car aerodynamically, so Ben and the CFD team are leading the engineering design changes to the rear suspension & underside to try and reduce these pressure waves to make the car safe to drive. There was some more about the research development of new CFD algorithms and the promo-video (embedded at the end of this post).

After a short break, the Q&A began. The first question was about the environmental impact of a 1,000mph rocket car with follow up comments about the 19th Century’ness of a fast car. Although this wasn’t Ben’s area of specific expertise its obviously something that comes up fairly regularly. An environmental economist (or something like that) has looked at the car, the project and worked out their carbon footprint for the whole 4 year project. Apparently it comes to around 4 cows farting for a year; now I’d never entered the term “cow fart” into Google before this morning (who would) but it seems quite a research topic, even the Telegraph are reporting it!

As to the choice of a rocket car (rather than a green car); this had been intended from the outset to be an engineering adventure. The car & the 1,000mpt target are almost incidental, the primary aim is to get children (and the young at heart) excited about science & engineering and thinking about careers in the sciences. Rockets are still exciting to young kids!

The topics moved around and one that came up was the legacy of the project, what will we have after the final run (other than a very expensive museum exhibit)? Ben explained that much of the research involved in the CFD modelling is directly transferable. The example he used was how spray is formed at the back of lorries in the rain. One of the challenges of Bloodhound is the generation of a dust spray from the wheels and shock wave, and modelling how this mix of air & particles grows and affects the car. The same physics are (they think) involved in road spray from lorries, but no one has developed a good model of how spray forms and moves around the lorry. When you drive into this spray, in overtaking for example, it can be a real safety hazard, by modelling this and proposing different designs for the lorries, they might be able to reduce this spray and improve road safety.

There were tons of other questions (about an hour’s worth), it was a really great evening. Thanks to John and At-Bristol for hosting and to Bob Foster for his Science Cafe website where I found out about the event from Bob’s Calendar.

Free Bristol

Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008
Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008

To a packed (and hot) Rosalind Franklin room in At-Bristol, Chris Anderson (Editor of Wire, Author of Long Tail & now Free) gave a really good overview of the premise of the “Free” economy, Fremium, marginal costs and the impact of Moore’s Law on abundance & scarcity.  That was for around 25mins, he then did a Q&A session for 30 min before retiring to sign copies of his (not free) book.

I was lucky enough to ask a question which went loosely around, in this new economy of free, what is the value of geography (Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Beijing, Bristol)? Chris answered partly by describing two companies he’s just launched. For one the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) came from MIT, for the other the CTO was online and after 6 months Chris discovered that he was a High School drop out with a self-taught knowledge of Arduino in Tijuana. Chris also talked a bit about choosing to live in a place and then finding the best talent for solving a problem, which probably isn’t in your company, City or probably even country.

On stage and in the couple minutes he spent outlining his answer, this made a degree of sense but something wasn’t quite right, and it was only on the walk home that I worked through some thoughts; hence this post (it goes on a bit, sorry).

Whilst the human brain is an undoubted marvel of flexibility and adaptability, in evolutionary terms its design is around 5,800 years old. The last major version change was about 1.5 million years ago when it tripled in size, and the last genetic upgrades were around 37,000 years ago and 5,800 years ago. However, given that the internet isn’t 50 years old yet (and probably under 30), it’s a wonder that our heads don’t just explode trying to cope.

As an aside, I’ve worked for the last few years with a company in Toronto and for a while helping them build a partnership with an organisation in Vancouver; headshifting across 8 time zones is disproportionately harder than just working a 20-hour day. Even funnier is what happens when you try to physically do what the internet allows virtually and travel around the world in 23 hours, as Jeremy Clarkson found out (with a slight cheat on the international dateline – YouTube from 8:05 onwards in particular).

The point is that we’ve evolved to be local, social creatures (see the Dunbar number) and it’s only by a design fluke that we can even begin to cope with the internet. Which brings me back to geography by way of Seth Godin, we like to be in a tribe of similar people. Of course tribes can be online but fundamentally we like to meet people in real life. Its no coincidence that most digital start-ups are around the Silicon Valley area; that’s where all the other digital start-ups are. If you want to be in movies you go to Hollywood; if you want to be in finance you go to London, etc. Of course there are thriving start-up, film and finance industries outside those locations <plug>not least Bristol which has been recognised as one of the most innovative cities globally by McKinsey & the World Economic Forum, over a quarter of the global wildlife film making originate out of Bristol and the finance sector is the largest in the UK outside London</plug>.

And perhaps that’s the value of local. You can build trusted relationships with all the key partners to build a successful business and still compete globally on the ideas & products that are generated.

In my new part-time role as Manager of Science City Bristol, I was talking this morning with Martin Coulthard about the developments of the Bristol Enterprise Network over the next few months. He was making the valid point that Science City Bristol doesn’t have a ‘neat’ strapline or twitter pitch. But I’m not sure it needs one. To get back to Chris again, in the world of free and virtually frictionless transactions, we need to find the added value of being in the Bristol / Bath city region and being into science. That might be (probably is) different for each of the many tribes in and around the area.

For a bit of fun I tried “what is a science city” as a search term; WolframAlpha was completely stumped, Google found most of the UK Science Cities but didn’t really provide an answer, and Bing didn’t really do much better. I can’t promise to develop a complete answer myself, but I do think there is some great added value to be delivered.

Thanks to Andrew Kelly for running this as part of the ongoing Festival of Ideas.

[Clarification: I booked and paid for this Festival of Ideas’s talk as Managing Partner of jbsh LLP, before discussions about being the Manager of Science City Bristol; I just happened to ask a question about geography in the new economy. These are my thoughts on Chris’ response.]

Entrepreneur Gardening

This is a re-post from the Open Coffee Bristol blog.

postbear, 16 January 2009
postbear, 16 January 2009

This morning’s Open Coffee Club meeting took place in the very pleasant surroundings of The Boston Tea Party‘s garden. A lovely summer’s morning complemented the positive ideas being discussed in the light of HP Lab’s partial pull out of their Bristol facility.

Stephen Maudsley was first after me but headed up to the first floor before I could catch him, meanwhile Dave Simpson from Engine House Solutions (holding site) arrived and we began chatting while Stephen explored the upper reaches of TBTP. I first met Dave at the Bristol leg of the FOWA tour, where he was launching his web development and software company.

StephenM soon found us and we began talking about the start-up scene and different requirements of growing companies for executive support as well as cash. Around then Steve Cayzer arrived and we began to discuss his ideas for launching a new venture based on some of his research into environmental computing and ways to underpin the low carbon economy.

A quick flurry introduced Brian Dorricott with his newly launched Meteorical, Andrew Wray from Bristol University’s enterprise support team, Andy Seaborne (also thinking about launching an enterprise semantic knowledge application) and Nadya Anscombe (freelance science & technology journalist). Introductions, connections, business opportunities and much coffee ensued.

Thanks to all for a great morning of stimulating discussions and opportunities to be explored.

The next Open Coffee is the Demo Session, Tues 30 June at eOffice, please sign up on Eventbrite (http://opencoffeedemo30june.eventbrite.com) so we’ve some idea on numbers.

If you have a company / product / service that you’ve developed (or are thinking about) and would like constructive comments & ideas, please sign up as a presenter and we’d love to help contribute to your success.

Design, faster than a bullet

[This is a re-post from the Bristol Design Festival blog where I’m guest blogging the festival. And updated with better graphics thanks to Mike.]

Just back from a cracking talk by Mike Turner, Senior Designer on the Bloodhound SSC project. [Full disclosure, I’m a member of the Bloodhound SSC 1K Club; everything I say is highly biased, I think this is a fantastic project to be based in Bristol. 🙂 ]

The talk was introduced by Bob Mytton, Chair of the West of England Design Forum.

Mike began with a bit of background on his career so far, from trains to cars to JCB diggers. This last culminated with JCB’s DieselMax project, to design a diesel that would go over 350mph. Speed was definitely in Mike’s future!

Although Bloodhound is an “Engineering Adventure”, their tagline, it’s ambition is to:
1. To create a national surge in the popularity of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects
2. To create an iconic project requiring extreme research and technology whilst simultaneously providing the means to enable the student population to join in the adventure
3. To achieve the first 1000 mph record on land

Mike quickly moved on to his core specialty of designing the outer surface, the bit that interacts with the air flow. Beginning with the outline design concept, Mike developed a refined shape for the car. This went to the team at Swansea University that were handling the CFD work. The results from the CFD, together with the engineering structural & package development (steering, suspension, controls, Andy Green, etc) were then fed into the next design cycle with Mike.

In the Q&A afterwards Mike was quizzed on the time the CFD added to the design cycle time. When they first started each CFD run was taking a couple of weeks (to run the numbers, check them and be confident of the answers). After going public with the project they were picking up additional computing support, each run was around a day.

The main challenges are to make the whole car as strong as possible (without increasing the weight too much); as slippery as possible for a Eurofighter jet engine with a solid fuel rocket strapped to it; as stable as possible in a straight line (without being so stable that Andy can’t direct it at all); and keep it on the ground (without turning into a 1,000mph plough).

So no conflicting pressures for Andy to juggle in his design decisions!

For all the CFD modeling, I was particularly struck by the comment that Mike put up from Ron Ayers, Chief Aerodynamicist on appreciating the designer’s eye for form & proportion “if it looks right, it probably is right”.

yewenyi, 16 April 2007
yewenyi, 16 April 2007

As an aside, it was Ron’s earlier work developing the Bristol Bloodhound Surface to Air Missile that gave rise to the project code name.

The Q&A was lively with Mike fielding questions for at least half an hour and staying around for another half hour as people continued to discuss the car, the design activity, and a bunch of technical questions that demonstrated real interest and enthusiasm.

A fantastic evening, thanks to the Bristol Design Festival and West of England Design Forum for organising.

Grafikea – the good, the bad & the WTF?!

[This is a re-post from the Bristol Design Festival where I’m a guest blogger – check out the original and all the other action over their blog.]

LACK SIDE TableAlong with a couple hundred others, I thoroughly enjoyed the Bristol Design Festival’s launch party last night, however, I was taking a specific interest in the Grafikea entries. As in previous years, the standard was excellent with some ingenious and occasionally subversive uses for a simple LACK Side Table from your friendly blue and yellow purveyor of Scandinavian style.

For those that haven’t seen Grafikea before, the rules are quite simple. You purchase a table (as on the right) and then, according to the official rules:

Let your creativity run wild and modify the table.

And that’s pretty much it.

The results are quite astounding.

Before the prizes were announced I took a walk around the entries and a few leapt out at me. Apologies for the photos, I was using my camera phone, I’m sure better quality press-pics are available; even better, get down to the Old Fire Station and see for yourself! 🙂

IMAG0070One of the first that caught my eye was a very Bristolian scene of the SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, all on a coffee table! There were even a few fishes in the Severn that younger visitors seemed particularly entranced by.

I later discovered that this table (together with another 5) was designed and made by the ASD classes at Kingsweston School. This particular one was from Oak Class.

IMAG0078There were a number that had been decorated with graphics and very well executed designs (as you’d expect) along with the quirky and fun. I quite liked the ‘Coffee Table, Coffee Table’ and ‘Table to Die For’. On the quirky and subversive was this inverted table-come planter. Another table that caught my eye was ‘Exhibit yourself’ which had completely deconstructed the table and turned it into a pole-dancing platform!

There were only a couple that didn’t really do anything for me. One had some licorice allsorts spilled across and lacquered, another with digestive biscuits, I also wasn’t entirely convinced by the loud speakers & Mp3. Just my personal opinion.

The WFT award this year definitely went to ‘Shadows of a Table’ – you have to go along and see this in person! No photo can do it justice,part Alien, part Necromicon it positively broods in the corner looking down on the other tables and viewers alike.

And the winners are: (these are the official competition winners in two categories, Junior and Grafikea)

Junior

Beware the Table First Prize went to this entry from St Bede’s Catholic College. Transforming their table into a weird and ferocious monster. This is right by the entrance so keep an eye out at ankle level!
Delectable Second Prize went to Delectable from Lime Class at Kingsweston School. I had a long chat with one of the Specialist Teachers about the ASD Unit and how all the kids had contributed to designing their tables. In total there are 6 tables from Kingsweston showing creativity and ingenuity.

In addition to Delectable & the Bristol Bridge, there are 4 other tables from the other classes in the ASD unit. I’ll let you find them in the exhibits, suffice to say that you have to look at the identification cards to know they’re from Kingsweston, the quality is that high.

You Scream We Scream Also from St Bede’s this beach scene obviously captured the imagination along with Third place. Perhaps the title of ‘You Scream, We Scream’ helped.

Grafikea

Entemology First Prize went to a stunning entry from Helen Ward; Entomology. Each of the butterflies is cut from coloured paper and laid out as you might expect in any Victorian collectors house or museum.

My apologies to Helen for the poor quality photo, please visit the exhibition to see the exquisite detail that has gone into this table and also take a look at her website for more images and additional background on the artisan paper and history behind the butterflies.

Cork Second Prize went Cork from Jack Patient, a fun table surrounded by colourful corks.
Production Line Error This entry, entitled ‘Production Line Error’ from Dave Stannard won Third Place. A quirky mix-up between a table and chair.

Congratulations to everyone that took part, all the tables are available to buy from the artists so head down to the Old Fire Station for the opportunity to take home some local art!

Should I pay or should I go?

Single by The Clash from the album Combat Rock
Single by The Clash from the album Combat Rock

I had a really good discussion with Jack & Nigel in the Watershed a couple nights back. Jack’s launching a new venture and wanted some advice. Nigel and I pitched in our thoughts, as did Micheal when he turned up a bit later.

Jack’s key question was around the business model. How much of his know-how did he give away on the website and how what did he charge for?

Essentially, Jack is building a personal brand as so many of us are.

In many ways Jack and I (and most consultancy businesses) are in similar positions, we’re trading on our expertise and ability to do stuff that’s really important to a business at specific moments in time. We also really enjoy what we do, which makes it easy to have a discussion with someone about how they could develop new ideas for their product / service, or how they could structure their business for growth, or find funding.

The challenge is when to do this over a pint in the Watershed (other pubs & coffee shops are available but good food, beer and free wifi is a tough act to beat) and when to sit down in a closed room and start billing. For me, the test is if we’re discussing specific costed solutions for your business, or if we’re having an advisory chat about business models, sources of funding, networks of finance, etc.

Jack also had a question over scalability, this was a question for Chris Garrett at OpenCoffee Demo where he presented a thriving agency with lots of work and skills, but no core IP. That’s changing for good reason, and they’re developing a system for location based alerts and friend finding but with an interesting difference (more when it’s launched). For the rest of us, once you’re billing 24/7 at the maximum rate the market will stand, you’re maxed out. The solution usually is to hire more mini-me‘s.

But people are paying for your insight, not the intern’s.

So what can you do?

  • Keep building your tribes, they are your evangelist marketeers, global ideas pool, potential clients, and probably friends
  • Keep building your know-how, your secret sauce (this is what people are paying for); read widely, participate in conversations, innovate up the food chain
  • Look out for scalability: collect your stories / experiences /ideas, if you’re a coder write some code that you regularly re-use and license it as a development tool, if you’re a designer/creative put some designs on T-shirts / mugs / etc (traditionally it’s called merchandising, bands have done this for ages),
  • Rinse & repeat

Don’t get stuck in a rut of securing clients, delivering, billing, securing clients, delivering, billing without any scalability or building any know-how; someone will come along that is faster / smarter / cheaper / cooler than you and you need a defensible position.

How are you building know-how and scalability?

Show me the Money – BSSP

Mariano Kamp, July 2008
Mariano Kamp, July 2008

In my earlier post, I revealed some analysis that I’d asked Nigel to undertake and my interpretation of that analysis. Here I offer some thoughts on what actions businesses might take away from this.

The first thing to note is that unless you’re a Bank or car company, Government support for you probably won’t change that dramatically.

For the genuine start up, life is still going to be pretty tough until you can show some revenue. The good news is that there is lots you can do yourself that doesn’t involve lots of cost. Start blogging about your service/industry, join the Twitter conversation, keep an eye on the enterprise networks around you, get out there and meet people. The tools to support good old fashioned networking and business development have never been better or cheaper (and you can’t get cheaper than free).

If there isn’t a suitable enterprise network around you, start one. BEN is a great network around Bristol but tends towards established companies, so I set up an OpenCoffee Club, OpenCoffee is a ready made template that’s free and globally recognised. So long as you’re building an entrepreneur support & growth network and not just pimping your product/service you’ll find folks are generally happy to support you.

For the company that has some revenue, or the promise of imminent revenue there are a couple of interesting options.

The first is the range of grants available for R&D from SWRDA (South West Regional Development Agency). These are to part-fund small and close to market R&D (typically £5k to £50k) with a specific focus on small companies. You identify a project value and SWRDA provides a portion of that, usually between 40% and 60%.

  1. Proof of Market Projects test the commercial potential of an innovative idea for a new technology, lasting no more than 9 months. The output should be a thorough and professional analysis of the scale of the market opportunity. Grants of £5,000 – £20,000 are available to small and medium sized businesses.
  2. Micro Projects are small scale development projects lasting no longer than 12 months. The output should be a simple prototype of a novel or innovative product or process. Aid of £5,000 – £20,000 for all micro businesses covering 45% of eligible costs is available.
  3. Research Projects involve planned research or critical investigation into the feasibility of new products or processes, lasting between 6 and 18 months. The result of the project could be new scientific or technical knowledge that may be commercially exploited. Grants of £20,000 – £100,000 for micro and small businesses covering 60% of eligible costs are available.

There are also Development grants and two Exceptional grant levels >£100k. The development grants are only 35% and the exceptional grants aren’t really aimed at the small business or start-up entrepreneur.

Next up are more general business expansion funding. A couple of days ago SWRDA announced their South West Loans Fund. This is £10m of funding for small businesses that have been refused credit elsewhere. A good slug of that cash comes from Europe (£6.25m) so the focus is on the more deprived parts of the South West (Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly get £5m), but businesses from across the South West are eligible.

All grant applications have to address two very different needs. Yours and the funders. Having written plenty of successful business grants for funding, research or collaboration myself, knowing how to frame your business innovation so that it appeals to public sector funding is more art than science.

Although most of the cash is coming from SWRDA, BSSP means you access it through Business Link who will provide you with Information, Diagnose your needs, and Broker connections to the right bits of SWRDA’s Innovation team.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there is evidence that banks are beginning to open up to good companies under the Enterprise Finance Guarantee. For business growth finance this is probably your best bet, and you’ll have to have tried (and failed) here before you approach SWRDA for a South West Loans Fund application.

Then there are the equity funding options from SWAIN, Catalyst Venture Partners, Eden Ventures, and those are just the main ones in the South West. There are other independent Angel investors and networks in London that are investing.

So as ever, there are quite a few options. I’ve only cover some here, those I feel are most relevant to the small business or start up entrepreneur. The full list of support products is available in a pdf from SWRDA.

Business Support Simplification – an analysis

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix
Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Is it possible for a Government to provide simple support to businesses?

Well the UK Government thinks it is, but recognises that it hasn’t been very good at the simple part. A few years ago some wag pointed out that there were over 3,000 different grants, programmes, schemes, advice networks, etc (nobody really knew the exact number), and that it was something of a mess. In the 2006 Budget the Government promised to reduce this to around 100. The latest plan is to get this down to 30.

As Dan Martin over at businesszone.co.uk more recently pointed out, this simple list of 30 has already become less simple.

As part of an application to the recent SWRDA post for Head of Business Innovation, I thought I’d revisit BSSP from a more strategic perspective. While I have dealt directly with several of the individual ‘products’ (as they’re called) and have been involved in various briefing and discussion around the rest, I’ve not formally reviewed the whole documentation associated with these changes.

Enter Nigel Legg at Katugas Lex. I emailed over three documents: Solutions for business: supporting success, The economic drivers of Government-funded business support: supporting analysis for ‘Solutions for business: supporting success’ and the South West Regional Development Agency’s Regional Economic Strategy. I asked Nigel to see what the key themes and constructs that emerged from within these three documents, but didn’t set any specific boundaries or expectations.

After a couple of days Nigel emailed to say he’d finished and invited me round for a presentation and discussion.

A note on the analysis method before getting into the findings. Each document was broken down and repeating words found, for each document the top 30 to 40 words were included in the supporting excel report. These words were then grouped to identify key themes with around 13 per document. Because of the way the statistics works, you don’t receive an absolute measure of thematic importance. For example, with the Economic Drivers the most connected theme was “business” with “market” being 73% as connected as “business” and “information” being 50% as connected as “business”. So you do get a very good internal feel for the focus and thrust of the document, Nigel also included a combined report of all three documents.

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support
The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

As you’d expect the dominant themes are around business, support, innovation, economics with a heavier weighting towards regional and south west for the SWRDA document. What was more interesting was what wasn’t there.

The market was clearly front and centre in the economic justification. Innovation is clearly linked to productivity and there’s a reasonable focus on benefits (through examples). Unfortunately “profit” or “finance” didn’t make the ranking for any of the documents.

Providing information is clearly seen as a benefit and service to inform the businesses understanding of the market and various support available. As I understand it this is a core function of the Business Links through their IDB (Infomation, Diagnosis & Brokerage).

Despite having a whole chapter on Skills (Chapter 3), they don’t show up as a key theme. The two main ‘products’ here are Train to Gain and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Hidden away is a very interesting sounding service “Coaching for High Growth”.

The actual semanic map of the BSSP document wasn’t that surprising on its own. The main focus was around businesses and economic achievement, with a sizable grouping around Government Support, the schemes themselves and eligibility.

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
Its worth noting at the outset that the SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy goes much wider than business innovation or government support for businesses. There were quite sizable thematic groupings around people and future communities and their connection to the broad economy of the region. There was also consideration on the challenges and changes associated with growth.

The focus in general has moved away from a historical focus on employment toward productivity (at least as far as business is concerned). Interestingly, important and business are closely linked themes.

Possibly the most noticeable shift between the two maps is the disappearances of “market”, “innovation” and “enterprise” as top level themes.

Some thoughts

  • Personally I would have liked to have seen more evidence of developing market understanding and providing solutions to problems in the market.
  • I’d also have liked to see more emphasis on developing the higher skills for entrepreneurship and innovation (principally team building).
  • The emphasis on innovation & enterprise at the national level is excellent, as is the lack government focus on specific sectors (though this has already changed with the various sector bail-outs).
  • It would have been nice to see more innovation & enterprise focus in the SWRDA RES, but moving from an employment focus to productivity is a start

Getting interactive around Bristol’s historic harbourside

An interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885
Take an interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885

Sam and I stopped by the Watershed yesterday to try out a new blend of storytelling and technology. Picking up our PDAs and donning in-ear headphones, we were invited to step back in time and experience a slice of Bristol circa 1885.

Over the next 90 minutes we walked around the historic waterfront area (starting at the Watershed, round to the Arnolfini, over the swing bridge, down to the SS Great Britain, back over to the Gasworks, ending up at Canon’s Marsh Amphitheatre) as our stories unfolded.

Sam followed the story of the unlucky Maude trying to escape her evil Uncle, whilst I stumbled over a murder to solve with the help of a nearby galley boy. As their respective stories unfolded we dodged some of Bristol’s seedier characters outside the old jail where hangings regularly took place and helped load cargo ships with Guinness, bananas and timber for the colonies.

Sam had several mini games throughout her journey and by successfully completing each, Maude’s story progressed.

My murder mystery was a proper whodunit with half a dozen likely contenders. Having worked out the full story, I then had to decide whether to turn the guilty party in (knowing the hangman’s noose would be waiting) or let them escape to America…

All really good fun, and surprisingly informative about Bristol’s history without being a dull audio tour, “Press 5 for more information about street vendors…”

Back in the Watershed we had a chat with Tom Bennett, the guy behind Interactive Places, about the experience and what the future holds.

Tom is working out of the Pervasive Media Studio and that pervasive, locative technology was integral to the walk (a GPS PDA worn pendant style with in-ear headphones). By and large, however, the technology was almost invisible, there were only a couple of times that the technology ‘got in the way’. Sam’s lost its GPS fix once and one of her games didn’t want to finish; both times sorted themselves out within minutes and everything else worked fine.

In addition to providing a great afternoon stroll, Tom really wanted to know how people got on with the system and what they’d like more of in the next version.

Both Sam and I wanted more direct engagement in the storyline with some element of multi-threading, like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80’s to mid-90’s. That is certainly in Tom’s plan but he also pointed out that some people has asked for more history & background to be included, whilst others had asked for more mini-games and side plots. So lots of opportunities!

If you want to spend a great hour and a half wandering around Bristol’s Habourside and help out one of our upcoming innovative entrepreneurs, then pop along to the Watershed anytime between 11am and 5pm until Sunday, 26 April and say “Hi” to Tom.