Reading Borough Council on Twitter

It looks as if Reading Borough Council have expanded their Twitter presence with two new channels: @Street_care and @readingcouncil. These join @FundingAdvice, launched in July 2009 to help voluntary organisations.

@ReadingCouncil, with a suitably burgundy background, have made a tentative start, commencing tweeting on 26 October and posting their second (and last) tweet a couple of days later.

Perhaps understandably, Reading tweeps have demonstrated little interest thus far; the number of followers at the time of writing stood at 44. These followers include Councillor Daisy Benson, arguably the most prolific user of social media in local government, and @readinglabour. Both welcomed RBC’s arrival on Twitter.

A few more daily tweets, including efforts to respond to queries (as a council should), and I’d expect followers and lists to soar. The Twitter team ought also to think about snapping up @readingboroughcouncil (to stay on the safe side), and perhaps attending a local tweetup or two when the time is right.

@Street_care, the Twitter profile of RBC’s Streetcare Team, is faring slightly less well in popularity, with 26 followers. Three tweets over a week or so (including an RT) is not an ideal start.

Are they ready? I see local Twitter users TwitPiccing filthy pavements and overflowing bins – and nudging the Streetcare Team to take urgent action. I see YouTube videos of scurrying rats. I hope that they up the ante a little.

What are your thoughts on the Council’s use of Twitter?

What are Reading councillors tweeting about?

In a recent post, I revealed that roughly a quarter of Reading councillors maintain a blog and just under one-third are on Twitter.

Following this entry, I created a Twitter list of Reading councillors atReadingRoars/reading-councillors (it seemed like a natural next step).

Now I’ve gone a little further. For fun, I’ve created a “word cloud” of Reading councillor tweets, as shown in the image below (not interactive, unfortunately). This is generated from tweets posted over the past 24 hours (there haven’t been that many).

So what do you think?

Reading councillor word cloud

This is how I did it:

  1. Created a Twitter List of Reading councillor Twitter accounts;
  2. Submitted the list to Twitter Lists 2 RSS for converting into RSS;
  3. Added the RSS feed to Wordle. The font I selected was “Kenyan Coffee”, in homage to Workhouse Coffee’s Kenyan coffee tasting Sunday.

Social media survey: One-quarter of Reading councillors have a blog

I have been amazed by the number ofsignificant Reading organisations joining Twitter in recent months (institutions that have included Reading Buses, @reading_buses, and Thames Valley Police, @ThamesVP), the broadening adoption of the #rdg hashtag (looking much like an airport code andfast becominga newbrand identity for the town), and the continued successes that are Reading Geek Night and Thames Valley Social Media Club. All impressive.

All this has left me wondering: where does local politics fit into thisexpanding phenomenon? How active are Reading councillors – they who work for us -in social media?

Using the simplest of tools only (Google, Twitter’s people search and Facebook Search), I set out to uncover who’s using what to get closer to their constituents.

As I didn’t spend considerable amounts of time trawling the web for pages, posts and profiles, the results – listed in full below – are not likely to befully accurate. But then anything missed is not easily findable, and of limited public interest.

So here is whatI discovered: of the 46 borough councillors in Reading, 11 maintain blogs (24%), 14 are on Twitter (30%) andfour have public Facebook pages (9%). Four councillors span allthree – blog, Twitter and Facebook.

What do you think? Surprised or not surprised?

Of course, thisresearch only scratches the surface and could lead to further digging (if the interest is there). How frequently do our local political Twitterati post updates? How many Twitter followers do they have? Do they reply to questions posted by local residents? Do blogging councillors prefer WordPress or Blogger? Are any on LinkedIn? or Foursquare? Not all questions are pertinent, but interesting nonetheless.

With Reading’s first local social media electionprobably not far off, perhaps it would be worthwhile to revist this every so often. At the moment we have four social media rock stars (Daisy, Rachel, Gareth and Rob). Expect this club to grow. Things could get interesting over the next eight months.

And now the results in full (shout if I’ve missed somebody):




Political activists and councillors who tweet in Reading

There has been much media excitement over Twitter in recent weeks. The T word is rapidly becoming a household name.

It has yet to catch on with local political activists and councillors, however.

A bit of quick research on my part has revealed that the following only are tweeting:

Glenn Goodall (Lib Dem councillor) is less than convinced, describing it as “a little pointless“.

Martin Salter MP is also unenthusiastic, though it will reportedly be much easier for Labour Party MPs to engage with constituents using Twitter with the recent launch of a new CMS. I will then have more scrolling to do on this MPs who tweet page (currently there are just 15).

Have I missed anyone locally?

Luddite debate intensifies

The Tech Savvy/Luddite debate is hotting up.

The Evening Post published an article this morning on Richard Willis’ blog entry, Tech Savvy or Luddite?, featuring a comparison by the councillor of local parliamentary candidates and MPs’ online activities. Martin Salter MP didn’t score very highly in this analysis and was labelled a “Luddite”.

In response, Martin suggested to the Evening Post that the blogosphere is “the last refuge for tragic insomniacs who lack social skills”. Strong words.

Obviously, I don’t agree with that view (not fully, as I could use more sleep).

The way I see it, Martin doesn’t have to blog, especially if he feels uncomfortable with the idea (though I have an inkling he might be good at it, as he has a way with words – whether you agree with them or not), or set up a Facebook profile or group. Ultimately, blogging and/or Facebook don’t work for everyone.

The opportunity to engage online mustn’t be ignored, however. There is an array of tools to consider, with new ones emerging all the time. If blogging doesn’t feel right, then look for an alternative (keeping objectives and target audience in mind).

The increasingly significant Twitter, for example, is dead simple to use: no need to worry about constructing long articles with links, images and so forth. A simple sentence can be fashioned and sent in seconds (e.g. “I am meeting x and y”). No technical knowledge required. And it’s hip (or hipper), with Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry joining the party recently. Meanwhile, published their first “tweet” four days ago – and now have 118 followers.

Other responses to the “Luddite” story were published as follows:

It’s probably worth stressing at this point that we mustn’t get too carried away! As Richard Willis himself said, “It’s just a bit of fun”.

Local political bloggers debate: who’s best?

A promising new local blog has surfaced on my blog radar: Reading List.

The blog has a local politics theme. Its Lib Dem author, “Oranjepan” , who I strongly suspect is also responsible for the political blog Not Yet Out Of The Woods, explained:

I’m immensely annoyed about the coverage of local politics in this bijou borough of ours, so I’ve decided to start up this blog in order to create a space for a balanced commentary of events.

Frankly there have been lots of claims made about which side is better than the rest at using teh interwebs to communicate their messages best, but I’m not convinced by any of them. Willis, Griffiths and Jones go hammer and tongs at it pushing their usual agendas, but I’d like to see them explaining what difference they think their online presence has made, or is it just an outlet to express their own frustrations?

Oranjepan was referring to opinions initially published by independent councillor Tony Jones (December 2008) and more recently by Tory councillor Richard Willis (January 2009), before Jane Griffiths joined the debate.

Richard considered the online presence of local parliamentary candidates and current MPs on his blog, Richard Willis’s Blog, launched last December. In his entry Tech Savvy or Luddite?, Richard compares sites by Rob Wilson MP, Gareth Epps, Anneliese Dodds, Rob White, Alok Sharma, Patrick Murray and Martin Salter MP.

I can’t say that I agree with all that Richard wrote (is Anneliese Dodds’ “microscopic font” “noteworthy”? And where is the link pointing to such a page?), but it’s nevertheless interesting to see such analysis emerge.

The use of social media by local politicians is worthy of further and more comprehensive independent study, I believe, to include also Richard’s blog (which features a rather grainy image of the councillor and no Search), as well as other websites of note, such as the satirical muckspReading.

How we can make Reading a truly cultural town

Reading residents are being asked by Reading Borough Council what they think the town needs to make it a “truly cultural” city.

Interested parties can share theirviews during an eventheld on Tuesday 29 July at Reading’s Town Hall, or alternatively submit themvia the council’s website.Ultimately, a new Cultural Strategy will be produced.

So, how can we make Reading a truly cultural city?

First of all, Reading is not a city. It’s a town.

Secondly,what is meant by”cultural” and “truly cultural”? Culture is a word that’s not easily definable. It includes music and cinema, art and literature. We also have “consumer culture” and “binge-drinking culture” (bothhighly evident in the town).

There arealso more obscuremanifestations of culture, such asflash-mobbing andspraying on public walls (both rightly or wrongly). As such, any expression or product of human work and thought could be seen as culture.

Following on from this, what does “truly cultural” actually mean? What is it that we want to achieve? How will we know when we get there (how can we measure this)?

It could be argued that with local “treasures” such as the world-famous Reading Festival, Reading Water Fest, Reading Fringe Festival, Reading Museum, Rising Sun Arts Centre, South Street Arts Centre, Hexagon and Progress Theatre, Reading is culturally rich already. The town’s”art scene” is commended in backpacker bibles The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, with particular mention of Reading Festival and (curiously) WOMAD (indeed, very little else is said about the town).

Would truly cultural mean more events? A greater diversity of cultural expressions?

Keeping it simple, I believe that morecould always be done toencourage the development of”culture” in the town, with a particular emphasis on keeping it local (local themes, local artists etc.).

Here are some ideas:

Put on another annual festival (or two). Choose from the following:

  • Music, arts and dance. Yes, a WOMAD replacement. WOMAD was a terrific event that Reading formerly hosted, now staged in Wiltshire. Please let’s have an equally strong festival to take its place. Evening Post readers appear to agree, with 59% of website poll respondents voting that they would go toWOMAD this year -but only if it was in Reading.
  • Film.An annual film festival showing independent productions (especially locally made) and offering prizes would be brilliant.
  • Digital. Brighton has one (with workshops, discussions and networking opportunities) – let’s have one for Reading, too. I can see it being very successful, as Reading is home to exciting technology startups as well as established players such as Microsoft and Oracle Corporation.
  • Food. Gastronomy has really taken off in Britain in recent years as a passion. We have gastropubs, celebrity chefs and food markets all fuelling the nation’s appetite.In Reading we have a farmers’ market and organic market (Global Cafe). Let’s develop these into a food extravaganza showcasing food from the region (such as meat and dairyproducts, and beer). We could also promote Reading food overseas (and help destroy the perception that all English food is awful!).
  • Fashion. I don’t know too much about this (as you can probably tell by looking at pics of me on this blog), but I’m awarethat it has a huge and growingfollowing, thanks to the likes of Gok Wan, Trinny and Susannah, and erm…
  • Literature. Put the reading back in Reading.
  • Urban art. Banksy is big.Let’s have a graffiti competition in the town (usingwallsproduced for this purpose) to determine who’s the top tagger.

Create a cleaner, greener and nicerenvironment. By this I mean:

  • More pedestrianisation and green spaces. Reclaim Reading’s streets for the people! Much has been achieved in this area already, which is very encouraging. I’d expect this would draw more people out of their houses anddevelop new connections. It should also attract more street artists.
  • Commission pieces of art by local artists. I’d love to see morefeaturesin Reading town centre. Atpresent,the retailaspect is too strong.

Deploy a town-wide WiMax network. This, too,should attract more people to ourpublic spaces and announce Reading as a”digital” town.It would be greatforvirtual workersand great also for fostering onlinecreativity.

Organise more creative workshops.Let’s offer the town’syoung people the opportunityto try something new, such as experimenting with digital media (blogs, podcasts) or musical instruments.

Designate an annual Culture Day.One day of the year, tobring attention to the town’s cultural attractions.

Support the independent retail sector. A “clone town” (for that is what we have in the form of Broad Street and The Oracle) is not especially inspiring, in my opinion, but there is hope. The Oxford Road (or at least part of it)is a bit of an indie hub, as demonstrated by the likes of Workhouse Coffee, Art Junction Cafe and Moondog Cafe (is it Moondog?), and that can only be a good thing.

Police commit to cutting crime

My council tax has gone up again, as expected.  Thames Valley Police Authority accounts for the biggest increase (again), so I was interested to read the Police Authority’s Finances 2007/08 document sent by the Council.  The leaflet stated:

As a result of extensive analysis, and taking into account internal and external factors, we have decided that our operational priorities for 2007/08 will be to

(drum roll)

Reduce crime and increase the number of offences brought to justice, particularly in relation to house burglaries and domestic violence

So the Police Authority’s top priority is to cut crime?  The startling revelations continue:

  • Improve safety and reassurance in your neighbourhood…
  • Reduce the harm caused to communities by class A drugs…
  • Identify and manage the threat posed by organise crime gangs and dangerous individuals…

The final priority was interesting: reduce the threat of, and our vulnerability to, terrorism.  Does terrorism really constitute a major threat?

The content of the leaflet is, however, in plain English, which is great to see.   There is so much bull spewed by public and private institutions these days, it’s astonishing.  This communication is crystal clear.

No need for new name

Reading East MP Rob Wilson has remarkably suggested changing the town’s name to Reading-on-Thames in order to “make Reading more appealing”.

Interestingly, this tactic is being tried already – by London Street’s English Language Courses (ELC). Stated on ELC’s homepage are the words:

Welcome to the online brochure of: ENGLAND LANGUAGE COURSES in Reading-on-Thames, Berkshire, England.

The words “Reading on Thames”, arguably more attractive to the overseas reader (and potential customer) are again printed on a map displayed on the same page.

I really don’t think a name change is necessary. I do think we need to address the town/city confusion, however. We should either refer to Reading as a town or city, one or the other – not both. Reading Borough Council leader David Sutton, for example, responded to Wilson’s name suggestion with the following:

I would like us to continue to market Reading as a town which sits astride two increasingly attractive rivers

In an earlier statement, Sutton announced:

Chatham Place is a vitally important part of the reshaping of the centre of Reading, as we continue to create a vibrant European city of the future

I’m sure I’ve also seen the word “City” printed on the town’s buses.

On a less serious note, I myself had a go at giving Reading a new name. How about the following (silly) suggestions:

  • Redding – To eliminate the usual confusion about the way the town name is pronounced
  • Rdng – Reading for the txt generation
  • Revving – A mecca for motorists
  • Weading – A perfect destination for couples!
  • Greying – Red no longer has the same allure. Grey is the “in” colour, apparently