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Why politics and science don’t mix

July 12, 2012

Like oil and water, politics and science simply don’t mix. Why? Because, as I say in my recent review of Mark Henderson’s The Geek Manifesto book, “politicians and scientists think very differently and value different things”. Here’s an extract from the post:

“Changing your mind is de rigeur for scientists who come across new evidence; it’s a sign of weakness for a politician. Scientists value experiments and what they can learn from failure; politicians won’t admit that most new policies are in fact experiments and therefore fail to learn anything from them. Scientists want to answer questions; politicians want to talk about solutions. Scientists think their work, and “the numbers”, should do the talking; politicians want qualitative narratives about outcomes and impact. Scientists value evidence-based policy; politicians want policy-based evidence. And so on…”
These fundamental differences are the cause of many instances of ‘evidence abuse’, as well as poor policy decisions. The Geek Manifesto is an excellent summary of how science works, why it’s important and how evidence is often abused, miscommunicated or full-on ignored at the general public’s expense; it makes a great companion to Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science.
You can read my full review of a book I describe as “shocking and inspirational in equal measure” on the Beagle Project blog.

A helping hand for interactive storytelling

June 30, 2012

While I may spend most of my time writing seemingly conventional non-fiction, I’m actually very interested in the mechanics of interactive storytelling – whether used in fact or fiction. That’s partly due to time spent reading those old Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. But it’s more because of my professional adult life.

I’m used to developing textbooks that readers dip in and out of at will, online learning courses designed specifically so users can choose their own path through different experiences, and exhibitions where you can’t control the route your visitor will take, what they choose to look at, or in which order they will see things. In all these instances, however, there will be communication aims, learning objectives or affective outcomes you want or need to get across – the challenge is doing so even if your reader/visitor doesn’t read/interact with everything, or if they explore material in an ‘unexpected’ order.

That challenge was especially tough when I worked as Content Manager for the Science of Spying, an interactive exhibition designed for families, which launched at the Science Museum, London in 2007 and travelled to other venues in the US, Canada, Spain and the UAE. Unusually for a museum exhibition, we chose to use a fictional narrative as a thread running through the entire experience. Because visitors explored the topic of how science helps people to spy through interactive exhibits, we often needed someone or something to spy on. Rather than inventing different targets for each exhibit, we decided to link everything together in one story. You started the exhibition in training, testing out your skills by spying remotely on a suspicious organisation known as OSTECK. If you did well, you received a mission to go undercover within OSTECK. There you were tasked with tracking down a secret codeword in order to steal the antidote to a world-threatening communications virus. Finally you had to make your escape.

How were we to communicate all this information when we printed hardly any gallery labels (on the basis that most people never read them anyway) and didn’t hand anything out except for a swipe card needed to access some of the interactives? More importantly, how did we get the message across through visitors’ on-screen experiences without either annoying them by repeatedly stating it or under-informing them if they failed to play certain games?

As with the development of most exhibitions, we used evaluation panels to test many of our early ideas and exhibit prototypes. I therefore spent a long day or two preparing a detailed paper-walkthrough of the entire exhibition, with the narrative reveals hidden under paper flaps that visitors could choose to explore or not. We trialled this on helpful visitors in the Museum, some of whom found the experience rather confusing. However, most people did pick up the fact that OSTECK was up to something, and that a hirsute figure named Mr Grant might also be involved – no matter which exhibits they had explored, or in which order. Encouraged, we ploughed on, though with some trepidation; evaluation can be a very powerful tool, but lifting flaps on a paper walkthrough could never simulate the experience of working your way through an exhibition abuzz with over-excited children and crowds waiting to access exhibits.

When Science of Spying launched, it polarised opinion. Some, mostly tweens or families including them, loved it. They enjoyed tackling the different interactive tasks, picked up the story as they went, and were really keen to complete their mission in the ‘undercover’ zone. Others were disappointed. Adults who had come along expecting facts about historical spies, and who didn’t participate fully, picked up some aspects of the story, but were frustrated by not having the whole picture.

While our exhibition storyline clearly wasn’t interactive fiction on the scale of Profile Books and inkle’s recent Frankenstein app (trailed below) – where you can choose on every page how to proceed, sometimes from several options – it  does share some of the same logistical issues. In particular, how do you make sure certain key pieces of information are communicated without ramming them down your reader’s throat, how do you keep people engaged in a potentially disjointed story and how can you provide meaningful different responses so readers feel they are getting a genuinely personalised experience? These are also issues I’ve faced when working with Full Beam Visual Theatre to devise themes and content for a ‘promenade’ theatre performance inspired by the life of Charles Darwin, The Lesser Spotted Collectors’ Club.

If the new inklewriter tool for “telling interactive tales with the minimum of fuss” had been available before, maybe we’d have had less headaches about how to spread our narrative across the Science of Spying exhibition or the theatre performance. Or maybe we’d just have got carried away and ended up writing our own more detailed OSTECK or Darwin-themed story (there’s two interesting ideas….).

The good news is that the inklewriter is here now – and it’s free to use. If you want to give it a go, why not enter inkle’s Future Voices competition for interactive storytelling? Personally, I can’t wait to see what clever plots, twists, turns and personalised experiences people come up with, which is handy, since I’ll be one of the judges tasked with reading entries. I’m also hoping it might give me some inspiration for my next big museum project – whatever that may be…

Future Voices is open for entries now. Just submit your piece using inklewriter by September 15th and you could end up with a published story and $250 in your pocket. Full details are avaliable at inkle.

Thames trivia for the Jubilee

June 3, 2012

If you’re following the route of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant today, here’s a handful of boaty Thames facts to impress your friends with:

Battersea park is built from mud and ballast

Brainchild of ship’s carpenter turned master builder Thomas Cubitt, Battersea park opened in 1854. The marshy land was reclaimed by filling it with 750,000 tons of silt and mud excavated from the Surrey Docks. The park’s walls include ship ballast stones salvaged from the river at Greenwich. Sailing ships in the early nineteenth century dropped these stones in the Thames before travelling upriver to unload their cargoes in the Port of London.

 Wordsworth saw ships everywhere

Wordsworth’s 1802 sonnet Upon Westminster Bridge describes the view from the Thames at the time: ‘Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie / Open unto the fields, and to the sky’.

 A Roman ship was found under the Sea Life Aquarium

The remains of a rounded-bottom Roman vessel, thought to be a 60-ton merchant ship from 300AD, were excavated during the development of the County Hall building in 1910. Made of oak, the fragment was 12m long; the full vessel would have been around 20m. A stone found embedded within the ship’s planks is thought to have been propelled at it by catapult.

The County Hall Roman Ship.

Nelson was buried in an enemy ship’s mast

After his death on HMS Victory at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Nelson’s body was placed in a cask filled with brandy – later replaced by spirits of wine. On arrival in England a surgeon removed the musket ball from the body and, after a spell in a brandy-filled lead coffin, Nelson was finally placed in his final coffin, which was made from the mast of a French ship sunk at the Battle of the Nile. This, in turn, was placed within two other coffins – one made of lead, another of wood.

Nelson lay in state in the Painted Hall of Greenwich Hospital for three days and was visited by almost 100,000 people. On 8 January 1806 the coffin was taken upriver by the King’s Barge, followed by two miles of boats. He was buried in the centre of St Paul’s Crypt.

Nelson’s funeral procession on the Thames (National Maritime Museum)

Shakespeare’s Globe is built like a ship

The theatre’s distinctive curved oak timbers are sourced from the same Surrey forest that supplied the Navy’s medieval dockyards with oak frame supports for ship hulls.

Shakespeare’s Globe under construction

The Tooley Street fire led to the establishment of the London Fire Brigade

In June 1861 a warehouse full of jute caught fire on the south bank of the Thames. The worst peace-time fire in the city, the Tooley Street fire spread to other warehouses, wharves and ships and caused more than £2m damage. It was two weeks before the fire was completely extinguished.

Before the fire, the London Fire Engine Establishment was run by insurance companies. Afterwards, they put their premiums up and forced the government to take control. The 1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act created a publicly-funded London fire brigade.

The Tooley Street fire (National Maritime Museum)

Tower Bridge operators used semaphore

Formally opened in June 1894, Tower Bridge was designed so tall ships could pass through to London’s busy upper pool port. It took eight years to build and cost approximately £1m. Each time the bridge’s arms are raised a total weight of 2400 tons must be moved – in just 1-2 minutes. The bridge operators communicated with ships and traffic via semaphore or signal lights, gongs and steam whistles.

Tower Bridge with Jubilee lighting

The Design Museum reeks of bananas

The current site of the Design Museum was once a banana warehouse. As a boy, Museum founder Sir Terence Conran visited the docks on the site with his father (a dealer in gum copal resin) to watch freighters from Africa unload their cargoes.

Bananas unloading at Butler’s Wharf (English Heritage)

Inside the Cutty Sark

April 29, 2012

I’m on the HMS Beagle Project blog this week talking about the freshly-opened Cutty Sark in Greenwich. She’s a beautiful thing. Here’s some pics to prove my point:

Even in the gloomy April rain the clipper looks fantastic from outside.

The impressive prow from below. The whole ship is suspended 3m off the ground in a hermetically sealed dry berth.

On deck it's all shiny boards and untarnished ropes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being on deck also lets you get close to the towering masts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the tween deck you can try your hand sailing from Australia to London, a trip the Cutty Sark made with cargoes of wool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given the ship's initial mission - to bring tea back from China as fast as it could - it's great to see some Chinese interpretation on board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inside of the hull becomes a screen for projected information in the tea-infused lower hold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ship wouldn't be a ship without a porthole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lifebelt dates from the ship's days as a naval training vessel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cutty Sark is a stunning ship in a glorious location. This is Discover Greenwich and the Old Royal Naval College seen from the deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a more substantial report on the ship and her history read my post for the HMS Beagle Project blog.

The Cutty Sark is part of Royal Museums Greenwich.

Until November 2012 the ship is open from 09:00 to 17:00 Tuesday to Sunday (last admission 16:30).
Booking in advance
is recommended, and there are ‘bundle’ offers that let you combine your visit with entrance to the Royal Observatory and/or the National Maritime Museum’s Royal River exhibition.

London’s Archives: home to Shackleton’s book, Darwin’s letters and the world’s first ornithology encyclopedia

April 15, 2012

What do the first book published in Antarctica, a bunch of letters written by Charles Darwin while on board HMS Beagle and a rare seventeenth century scientific guide to the world’s birds have in common? You can see – and in some cases touch – each of them in an archive somewhere in London.

Archives are the poor relations of museums. We all know you can see weird and wonderful objects in the many museums of London, from the over-stuffed walrus at the Horniman to half of Charles Babbage’s brain at the Hunterian and Winston Churchill’s red velvet romper suit at the Imperial War Museums’ Churchill War Rooms. Museums make us think of ‘things’, stories and – increasingly – interactivity. The word ‘archives’, on the other hand, is synonymous with ‘dusty’ and ‘boring’; it has an air of secrecy, protection and general inaccessibility. On three recent trips to London-based archives these stereotypes were well and truly debunked. They aren’t the poor relations of museums; they’re the wealthy maiden aunt you never knew you had, but who you really wished you’d met.

In Greenwich, the new Caird Library opened last year as part of the Samy Ofer Wing extension. To mark it’s return to full service after a major move, the Library hosted a special bloggers’ preview event a few months ago, which I was delighted to be invited to. In the same week, I went to a public open evening at Kew’s Herbarium, Library and Archives. A few weeks later I checked out the Royal Society’s exhibition of archive treasures*. Here are just some of the amazing things all three archives’ put out on display for their interested guests – a veritable cabinet of curiosities…

The first book published in Antarctica: Aurora Australis (1908)

The first book ever to be published in Antarctica, Aurora Australis. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

This 225 page book was published on Ross Island, Antarctica in 1908 by members of the British Antarctic Expedition. Knowing the perils of boredom during the sunless winter, expedition leader Ernest Shackleton shipped “an entire printing and lithographic outfit including the necessary paper” from Southwark-based printing firm Sir Joseph Causton & Sons Ltd to Antarctica.  He even arranged for the company to spend three weeks training key members of the expedition team how to use it.

Despite their relative inexperience (the standard length of a printing apprenticeship at the time was seven years), the Antarctica adventurers did a great job. Rather than printing a newspaper as their earlier counterparts had done, they typeset, illustrated, printed and bound an entire book. They even ‘published’ it under their own imprint, the Sign of the Penguins.

There were, the Caird Library blog tells us, plenty of challenges involved with operating a printing press in a cramped and noisy hut shared by 15 men. On one occasion, the candle that was placed beneath the inking plate to keep the ink at the optimum temperature for printing, accidentally melted the only inking roller they had.

Inside the hut where Aurora Australis was published. Image courtesy Scott Polar Research Institute.

Shackleton’s publishing house today: the hut at Cape Royds where Aurora Australis was printed. The timber framed ‘portable house’ sits in the shadow of the world’s southernmost active volcano Mount Erebus. Image courtesy The Long View blog.

The end result, however, is stunning – attractively typeset text, striking etchings and lithographs, clear and consistent printed pages and a hand-coloured title page. Combined with the ‘sign of the Penguin’ colophon, the end product looks as professional as many commercially-printed books today – and yet it was created simply to provide “an interest and a relaxation”.

The Aurora Australis imprint page: Printed at the sign of ‘the Penguins’. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

Illustration from Aurora Australis: At the edge of the crater (Mount Erebus). Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

Poem from Aurora Australis: In the midwinter night. The first verse is: “The acetylene splutters and flickers, the night comes in to its own. Outside Ambrose and Terror are snarling over a bone”. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

Diary of a honeymoon on the way to Australia (1857)

A successful gold prospector who returned home to get married, Alfred Withers set sail for Australia with his new wife on January 5th, 1857. They spent the following three and a half months in their “floating home”, a cabin aboard the US-built timber clipper James Baines. During the journey, Withers kept a diary. His hand-painted illustrations give an idea of life aboard ship at the time.

Alfred Withers’ painting of the James Baines off Liverpool on launch day: 5th January 1857. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

The dining room, leading to the ladies saloon on board the James Baines. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

Fishing for albatross from the James Baines. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

The funeral of a young boy who died after hitting his head on the deck of the James Baines. Image courtesy Royal Museums Greenwich.

According to the Caird Library blog, Withers and his wife ran the Great Iron Store on Cecil Street in Melbourne for thirty years before retiring back to England.

Letter from Charles Darwin to Reverend John Stevens Henslow (1835)

Charles Darwin’s letter to Rev. Henslow April 11th 1835. The Beagle had docked at Santiago, Chile the day before.

At Kew, I was rather taken by forty-four letters written by the young Charles Darwin before, during and after his time on HMS Beagle. They had been sent to  the Cambridge Professor of Botany Rev. John Stevens Henslow, a man Darwin worshipped so much that the young prodigy became known as “the man who walks with Henslow”. It was Henslow who recommended Darwin as a suitable “naturalist companion” for the Captain of the Beagle Robert FitzRoy. It was to Henslow that Darwin sent the specimens he collected during the six year voyage. And it was Henslow who promoted Darwin’s letters and specimens while he was away, helping him establish himself as an eminent scientist by the time of his return.

For a Darwin and Beagle freak like me, these letters are clearly important. But I was also impressed by the efforts Kew have taken to conserve and present them.

Kew’s conservators stabilise the deteriorating iron gall ink in Darwin’s letters by washing each sheet in a treatment bath. They also carry out a variety of repairs to the paper. Image courtesy Kew Herbarium.

The hand-marbled endpapers of the box containing Charles Darwin’s letters to Rev. Henslow. Image courtesy Lisa Taylor.

Kew also have the seals for each of the letters. I couldn’t get a good pic – but here’s me trying! Image courtesy Lisa Taylor.

Joseph Hooker’s invitation to Charles Darwin’s funeral (1882)

On a more gloomy Darwinian note, Kew also have the original invitation and accompanying letter that invited Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker to be a pall bearer at his funeral. Hooker was Darwin’s closest scientific colleague. Along with Charles Lyell, Hooker was responsible for jointly presenting Darwin and Alfred Wallace’s papers on natural selection to the Linnean Society in 1858. Hooker was also Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for twenty years.

Invitation to Sir Joseph Hooker to be a pall bearer at the funeral of Charles Darwin.

The letter accompanying the invitation states:

“Sir Joseph,
You are invited to officiate as one of the Pall Bearers at the funeral of the late Mr Darwin which will take place at Westminster Abbey at 12 o’clock (noon) on Wednesday next the 26th inst.

The Pall Bearers will assemble in the Chapter House in the Cloisters at 11.15 and we will arrange for some one to be there to meet you on arrival.

We enclose a card of admission to the Chapter House, together with another card (which you will kindly also bring with you) indicating your position near the Remains.”

The first ornithology encyclopedia (1678)

Willughby’s Ornithology was published in 1678, after the keen naturalist had died aged 36.

I went to the Royal Society to attend a talk about the supposed world’s first ornithologist Francis Willughby. A staggering 334 years ago, his colleague John Ray posthumously published the young scientists’s encylopedia of birds, complete with incredible illustrations. There had been earlier illustrated bird guides in both Latin and German, but Willughby’s was the first to take a scientific approach, and was also published (after an initial Latin version) in English.

Like Darwin later, Willughby was “bitten by the snake of learning” at Cambridge – so much so that his tutor wrote him poems about overworking. After he left, he and fellow student Ray travelled around Britain and Europe collecting paintings of birds, observing wild birds and buying dead birds from mediterranean markets – which they later dissected.

The Great Eagle Owle, Horn Owle and Little Horn Owle, Willughby’s Ornithology. Image courtesy the Royal Society.

The Ornithology is one of many ‘treasures’ held by the Royal Society. Their current exhibition showcases many more – from familiar and not-so-familiar names. In particular, I was intrigued by two books by women (otherwise sorely under-represented in all three archives ).

The first photographically-illustrated book (1843)

Anna Atkins was a botanist who developed an interest in the ‘new’ field of photography. Her scientific reference book British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was created using cyanotype printing; she placed her botanical specimens on to paper coated with light-sensitive chemicals, exposed it to light and created these striking white on blue images.  Not only did she produce what is claimed to be the first photographically-illustrated book, she’s also regarded as the first female photographer.

Anna Atkins took cyanotype ‘photographs’ of her algae collection and published them privately. Image courtesy the Royal Society.

Children’s history of science  book (1876)

Buckley’s first book A short history of natural science (1876) was designed to be the first book to tackle “the difficult subject of the history of science in a short and simple way”.

Arabella Buckley was secretary to the Professor of Geology at Kings College, London, Charles Lyell (mentioned above as one of Charles Darwin’s closest scientific allies) until his death in 1875. Having met both men of science and publishers through her work, she then embarked on a series of books popularising science. The first, A short history of natural science, was published in 1876 to positive reviews. Darwin himself wrote to the author saying that the idea “is a capital one, and as far as I can judge, very well carried out”.

Buckley’s motivation could be repeated today without much change. In A short history… she states that she often:

“felt very forcibly how many important facts and generalizations of science, which are of great value in the formation of character and in giving a true estimate of life and its conditions, are totally unknown to the majority of otherwise well-educated persons.”

In total Buckley wrote over ten books. I’m now on the hunt to track down some of these original edition beauties myself:

Winners in Life’s Race (1883) is about the evolution of vertebrates.

In The Fairy-land of Science (1879) Buckley equates fairies with forces, like magnetism and gravity.

If you want to track down your own archive treasures…

Caird Library

The Royal Museums Greenwich Caird Library and Archive is open Monday to Friday 10:00 to 16:45 (19:45 on Thursday) and Saturday 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 16:45. If you’re going during the Olympics, be sure to check before you visit (the Museum is an Olympic venue).

Kew Herbarium

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Herbarium Library, Art and Archives are open Monday to Friday 09:00 to 17:00, though a written application (which can be sent by email) is usually required in advance.

Royal Society

The Royal Society’s Library and Archives are open from Monday to Friday 10:00 to 17:00. The free Treasures exhibition is open on Tuesdays (14:00 to 16:oo) and Thursdays (10:00 to 12:00) until 21 June 2012.

Of course, these are just three of the many eccentric maiden aunt archives in the capital – I’ll certainly be seeking out more..

* I should admit that both the Royal Museums Greenwich and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are recent clients of mine. However, my visits to their archives weren’t related to the projects I was working on – and any member of the public can follow in my footsteps to see their treasures for themselves. My visit to the Royal Society was solely as a punter, though I’m open to offers to add them to my client list…

Design Museum app showcases designs that changed the world

April 3, 2012

The new free Design Museum Collection app for iPad launched last week, soon to be followed by iPhone (available 3rd May) and Android (available 5th June) versions. As you’d expect from an institution committed to “better design, better use of scarce resources, and more innovation”, the interface is quite neat. There’s something strangely compelling about being able to swipe your way through images in a checkerboard style. So far, I’ve spent almost as much time playing with the randomly ordered images and scrolling through them both vertically and horizontally as I have actually exploring the content.

When you do finally click through to a specific object, it’s supported by:

  • a large image, which you can isolate and zoom into
  • some descriptive text. For a handful of objects, I have to take responsibility for this, since it seems to have come from the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year exhibitions and catalogues that I once edited
  • a short video clip (under a minute) putting the object in a broader context. These snippets are presented by the Design Museum Director Deyan Sudjic or the Head of Learning Helen Charman.
  • a supporting quote from another design luminary
  • a set of additional images, which can be scrolled through, isolated and zoomed into
  • information about the object’s category, type, date, designer, manufacturer, place of origin and colour
  • the opportunity for users to add the object to their favourites list, share comments and distribute information via Twitter and Facebook

The layout is clean and consistent throughout, so you always know what you’re going to get.

Once you’re bored of playing with the checkerboard browsing interface you can get more serious by exploring the objects through a range of filters, which are accessed by pressing a simple funnel icon. The option to browse by category (architecture, furnitire, graphics, product or transport) appears automatically. Unfortunately the myriad other options – to browse by type (for instance bicycle, bulb, camera, car or chair), date (using a slider control to choose a start and end date) and more (designer, manufacturer, place of origin, colour and material) – were unbeknown to me until I watched the Museum’s launch video below. Nothing on screen hinted that scrolling in the thin left-hand menu bar would reveal them. This is a shame, since exploring the collection in this way helps you to make connections between different entries and ultimately understand the objects themselves to a greater degree.

Aside from the navigation options hidden under a bushell, I have two other minor gripes:

  • the long line length and lack of margins makes all the text quite difficult to read
  • given that the hidden navigation uses the tags included at the bottom of each object entry I was expecting to be able to click on any of these terms to see other objects tagged in the same way. Instead, you have to go back to the hidden navigation to find, for instance, other objects by the same designer, or from the same period, dampening your motivation to explore those all important connections.

Perhaps these are issues that can be addressed in version 2? For now, this is an appealing and accessible free app that opens up the Design Museum’s extensive collection to anyone. Until 2014, when the Museum is finally able to display its permament collection in a new Kensington home, this may be the only way to discover, talk about and share some of the key designs that have shaped our world.

The Design Museum Collection App was designed by TwentySix, with films by Dezeen.

Will LOCOG make the most of social media for London 2012?

March 30, 2012

Since I first shared my disappointment about the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games’ (LOCOG) lacklustre approach to social media on AccountingCPD’s blog, I’ve tracked down the official International Olympic Committe social media guidelines. While encouraging social media and blogging activity by ‘athletes and other accredited persons’, they also place a number of restrictions on what can and can’t be shared. The guidance includes orders to:

  • conform to the ‘Olympic spirit’, be dignified and in good taste
  • refrain from reporting on ‘competition or comment on the activities of other athletes or other accredited persons’
  • not post video or audio of ‘events, competitions or any other activities that occur at Olympic Venues’. Sharing video shot within the Olympic Village is also prohibited.

Like most Team GB athletes, Peter Waterfield (@PeterWaterfield) and Tom Daley (@TomDaley1994) are both on Twitter. But will they be allowed to share any information of interest during the Olympic Games?

Combined with the restrictions based on ‘Games Maker’ volunteers use of social media, which discourage most activites aside from retweeting official London 2012 postings, this reinforces my concern that London 2012 will, like Vancouver 2010, be ‘pushing’ agreed messages out, rather than engaging with audiences in any real sense.

On the other hand, at a recent NESTA Hot Topics event about the challenges of digital media for London 2012, Tom Uglow, Creative Director for Google and YouTube Europe talked about putting people first – not the Games, the athletes or the brands, but the users – to create shared experiences. The BBC’s Digital Olympics Editor & Social Media Editor for BBC Sport Lewis Wiltshire also has a more ‘connected’ vision for the Games. At the Social Media, the Olympics and the BBC event at the Design Council, Wiltshire claimed “like no Olympics before, [social media] has connected fans with athletes, athletes with journalists, journalists with fans. There’s a global conversation, which has connected everybody involved in the Olympics to everybody else and that can only be a good thing.”

As Wiltshire’s colleague, the BBC’s Head of 2012 Roger Mosey, pointed out in the same discussion, “you can’t control this” shared experience, “in the end social media breaks down all the traditional barriers”. That’s exactly why LOCOG should be careful about over-restricting athletes and volunteers. Let’s hope they don’t – and that we end up having the most socially connected games ever. After all, if you’re going to host the world’s biggest sporting event, you want to share the experience, right?

Spectators and journalists (both on site and watching via TV) are bound to be sharing news, pics and videos of goals, results and other events during London 2012. But will LOCOG make the most of these social media activities?

Want to know more?

Read my original blog post for AccountingCPD: London2012 is missing a social media trick.

Download a PDF of the IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for Participants and Other Accredited Persons at the London 2012 Olympic Games or NESTA’s Social Media at Scale report on The Challenge of Digital Media for the 2012 Games.

Watch the Social Media, the Olympics and the BBC event:

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