Innovation Centre, Exeter University, 24 April 2013
I attended this on behalf of a colleague who was thinking of applying. It was one of a number of similar events around the country for this fund, which aims to bring together researchers, arts professionals and technical support. There were about 50 people there from around the South West, with the technical side rather under-represented.
The day mixed presentations with exercises in small groups. We broke the ice by thinking of the stereotypical ideas we entertained about those in the other two groups from our own. Later we examined one another’s proposed projects. Firstly we analysed them using ‘stories’. The ‘story’ story, the ‘people’ story, the ‘platform’ story, the ‘impact’ story and the ‘money’ story. I wasn’t really sure that all these headings really lent themselves to being made into ‘stories’ – platforms, for example, are fundamentally non-narrative things – so it didn’t differ much from just considering the bare headings, but it was a useful exercise.
Later our own proposal got pulled apart in a session on ‘user-centred design’ – looking at it through the senses of a prospective user of a certain demographic type. How do they first hear about it? What do they see when they get there? How does it make them feel? What do you want them to say about it? What do they think about afterwards? This exercise got us outside a mindset developers are particularly prone to – because we see the project from the inside, it takes an effort to put ourselves in the position of someone who knows nothing about it.
I talked to quite a few interesting people – someone trying to revive Weymouth’s museum, someone from the American Museum in Bath wanting to attract younger visitors, a representative of a theatre company on Dartmoor. Most people, particularly those who aren’t used to bidding for collaborative projects, seemed to find the day worthwhile.
I’ve used Freecycle/Freegle to pass on quite a few unwanted items. Freecycle is the original network, but in 2009 a number of Freecycle groups migrated to Yahoo and elsewhere and renamed themselves ‘Freegle’, in protest at restrictions imposed on them. New moderators were found for the groups on the Freecycle site, so now there are two systems running in parallel. I haven’t done a detailed comparison of Freecycle and Freegle but they seem to work in a very similar way, even down to the syntax of the messages and the wording of the disclaimers. One advantage of the Freecycle site is that you can withdraw an item which has been claimed; on Freegle you have to send a second message after the first and hope the membership (and the moderators!) connect the two.
It seems that users are showing a preference for the original Freecycle site. As I posted another offer today, I noticed that usage in the Bath Freegle Yahoo group has declined. When it split off in 2009, it was running at over 2500 messages a month. But through 2010 activity declined, and it is now about 1200 messages a month – still a considerable amount. Meanwhile Bath Freecycle has 4,000 more members than Bath Freegle and while I can’t find message stats, if today is typical it has significantly more messages. My experience of using both today is that moderators on Bath Freecycle are quicker to act – my message was moderated and put up within the hour (and the item then claimed), while no message has appeared on Bath Freegle for over 12 hours.
A quick check on the South Gloucestershire equivalent groups shows a similar pattern. The Bristol Freegle group exists but has never really taken off.
These sites are a real window on the sort of stuff people feel a need to offload and I often wonder at the story behind some items. Sadly but rather predictably, the literacy levels of the messages claiming items are often appalling.
I have one beef about the way Freecycle works. I have successfully posted offers in the Bath, West Wilts and South Gloucestershire groups (Bath is near the meeting point of these three counties). But when I tried offering something via the Bristol group I was told I couldn’t because I didn’t live in Bristol. Never mind that I work there and declared that a handover in the city centre or Clifton Triangle area could easily be arranged. This seems perverse and smacks of officious moderators liking to throw their weight around. I think it must have been Freecycle and not Freegle where this happened, for the reason given above.
But the situation remains that having two almost identical networks running in parallel doesn’t really benefit anyone. Whatever the restrictions which caused Freegle to spring up, they are less of a nuisance than the need for users to offer or place a wanted request in two separate places. I’d like to see a merger of the two, and if the current trends continue that will eventually happen.