Future Learn Smart Cities Week 4: Civic Hacking

I’m into week four of my Smart Cities course, and suddenly I’ve hit the point where I’m starting to get seriously inspired. This week, the course materials discussed the idea of ‘civic hacking’.

According to the course notes: “a civic hacker is a person who collaborates with others to build open source solutions using publicly released data, code and technology.” The examples given were Open Data Day, Code for Europe, and Code for America.

In the course comments sections, a lot of people have brought up the issues of getting governments and local authorities interested in solving smart problems on a small scale, and how to ensure that citizens are involved. There’s also the concern of large-scale ‘experiments’ that could easily fail. These are small-scale and low risk ideas that could be slowly built on if they prove workable.

I’ve copied my comments on course hackathons below. I’ve decided to start archiving them here, so that I can remind myself and not have to trail back through FutureLearn for them!

What I love about this is that, rather than putting together a large scale and potentially expensive project at government level that might or might not work, people can throw dozens of ideas at the wall and see what starts to stick. People will be less scared to suggest crazy-sounding solutions, and encouraged to think outside the box, rather than within the budget.

The one thing that these hackathons do rely on is easily accessible open data sources from local authorities. Manchester City Council has announced it’s dedication to coming a smart city through open data, and despite some quite interesting projects coming out of this – such as the Open Data Infrastructure Map, and trawl through their open data catalogue shows that a lot of the content is either missing or out of date, which is disappointing. Anyway, I’ve signed up to a newsletter from Open Data Manchester to see what interesting projects might be in progress around the city.



Future Learn Social Media Analysis Week One- Putting together a Research Question

For this course, I needed to choose a research topic to work on. I was originally going to choose #ESOF16, but the course recommends using a Tweetset with at least 50,000 tweets in it, and I’m not sure that this particular hashtag will reach quite that many tweets.

So for the purposes of this course I’ve decided to use the hashtag #PokemonGO, since I’ll need a set of data collected over the course of a day or so using TAGS and it will definitely had had plenty of recent Tweets. However, I still wanted to get my original research idea up on my blog, as it’s something that I might want to return to in the future, or adapt over the next few days for this new data.

I wanted to look at which hashtags or terms commonly overlapped with #ESOF16, and then see how those terms might be used away from #ESOF16, in order to create an interlinked picture of particular hashtags and the communities within them.


Future Learn Social Media Analysis Week One: Using TAGS

Alongside my Smart Cities course, I’ve started another short Future Learn course on Social Media Analysis to find out more on how to break down social media data, particularly Twitter, and gain better insights than those usually provided. I started this course a little late, so this is info from Week One although the course is now into Week Two.

The first thing I needed to know how to use was TAGS, which stands for Twitter Archiving Google Sheet, and allows you to set up and run automated collections of search results from Twitter. I could immediately see the benefits of this – especially in real time data tracking that in the commercial world you would definitely expect to have to pay for!

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 18.39.39

For the purposes of this course, I’ve chosen to follow the #ESOF16 hashtag which relates to the EuroScience Open Forum, solely because it’s being used right now, it’s for an event in my home city so the tweets will be more understandable and it’s got a lot of fringe events which might have their own trackable hashtags.

I started by using the terms ‘ESOF16’ and ‘Manchester’ to find all tweets which contain both of these terms. After a short period (in TAGS, you can specify the maximum number of tweets or a specific time period, so that if you are looking at a very popular search term you wouldn’t end up with a ridiculous amount of data) it gave me the number 1840, which I could view in raw format in another tab of the Google Sheet.

In my next blog post about Social Media, I’ll be covering my research questions for the course and how I’m planning to potentially further analyse #ESOF16.


Smart Cities Week 3 – The Internet of Things

This week in my Future Learn Smart Cities course, there’s quite a bit about The Internet of Things, a phrase that I’ve heard bounced around a fair amount but never really understood.

According to Wikipedia, The Internet of Things is:

The internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

I actually wrote something about connected devices for a job application some time ago – I didn’t get the job in the end, but I think my answer was still pretty good! The question was “In no more than 300 words, tell us what you feel will be the main influencers in developing software over the next 5 years?”

Over the next five years, we will see people with far more portable and wearable technology – we already have smart watches and Google’s experiments with glasses, plus companies looking into the application of other wearable accessories, clothes etc.

I believe that a substantial focus of software development will be towards finding innovative designs which make full use of the new types of hardware that are becoming more readily available, and providing a more natural seeming interface for objects which are often not traditionally designed to have one at all, let alone one that will provide an easily accessible user experience.
In addition, more of our household and day-to-day items from fridges to cars are becoming ‘smart’, and these will all require their own specific software, both to run on their own, and also be integrated with apps on other devices. Some household technologies such as televisions are already frequently connected to phone apps etc. and more are being developed. For example, the Samsung Family Hub refrigerator allows owners to remotely look at the contents inside via mobile app. It is likely that in the future these household objects will need to be able to ‘talk’ to each other, as well as portable devices enabling the creation of complete networks inside buildings and houses which automate many of our day-to-day tasks.

Samsung Smart Fridge image from cepro.com

I’ve had some more thoughts about the Internet of Things, both how people use it now, and how they might use it in the future – it’s all in draft form right now but I’ll update soon! I’m keen to learn more, I’ve already registered interest in a Future Learn course about the Internet of Things.


Smart Cities Week 2: The Real Challenges Facing Us

“In 2009, for the first time in history, the earth’s population of urban inhabitants overtook its rural population. Between 2011 and 2050, world population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, passing from 7.0 billion to 9.3 billion (United Nations, 2011). Population growth is also becoming largely an urban phenomenon with cities projected to gain 2.6 billion inhabitants, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion 2050, concentrated in the developing world. Asia and Africa are expected to make up 80% of this urban growth, with Asian urban residents projected to increase by 1.4 billion. Cities, although vibrant, exciting, and promising, face a series of challenges that require increasingly sophisticated tools and solutions, especially in a global atmosphere of increased scarcity. Indeed, it is becoming difficult for City administrations to provide even the most basic services to a good share of their populations.”

This paragraph, taken from The European Network of Living Labs’ Citizen-Driven Innovation Guidebook, really hammered it home to me just how important the work being done on smart cities really is. There are only finite resources and space for the number of people on the planet, so there will have to be way news of living developed in order to accommodate them. At the moment, much of the work being done isn’t necessarily changing people’s lives right away, but collecting the data and information to figure out what cities need and how those needs can be met.

Manchester has a number of interesting smart city projects already happening, so at the moment I’m trying to think about what might be missing from them and would be a good theoretical project for me to work on for this course. I’m interested in hard-to-reach communities, and how you would monitor which parts of the city might be missed out or sidelined when consulting on projects. I’ve read up on some advice on community outreach, and trying to work out what technologies would work in that situation.

Learning about business on Google Hangouts

As part of my push at learning online, as well as taking some Future Learn courses (I’m part way through Smart Cities, and about to start a two week course on social media analytics) I’ve also started watching some video about business methods to try and expand my knowledge on commercial practice. The first one I’ve watched is this Google Small Business Hangout with a staff member from Etsy, discussing sales fluctuations throughout the year and how to prepare for them in advance. They also discussed what to do in lower sales periods – taking that time to develop new products and branding, and the importance of really  researching your  potential customers so that you can find your niche in the market.

While in my current job I’m used to seasonal supply and demand, the particular pattern to an extent unique to the sector that I work in, (except for Christmas) so it’s useful to get a wider perspective on how other businesses might plan and operate their marketing strategies.

Future Learn – Smart Cities Week One

This week, I started a new six-week Future Learn course on Smart Cities. It focuses on developing infrastructure, technologies and projects that make cities better connected and future-proofed in a fast-changing world. I think I’ve made my thoughts on futuristic utopias pretty clear in the past (I love them) and I’m also interested in community projects, also it sounded interesting. I’ve written up a few notes and thoughts so far.

Smart city Week One Notes

‘Smart cities’ is a term used to describe the use of smart technologies and data as the means to solve cities’ sustainability challenges.

There are many ways of implementing this, obviously many cities need to build this into their existing ways of operating, but in some parts in the world esp Asia and the Middle East, entirely new cities are being built with smart technology incorporated at the start.

Smart technology in cities can be spread in two ways, basically from the top via local/government authority, or from the bottom through citizens developing apps, networks etc. at a grassroots level to solve issues and connect.

On the very basic level, it seems like the top down governing model would work well for new cities, where it can be easily integrated into every level of infrastructure, and the grassroots level would be better suited to established cities, where local people can identity and work together to solve existing problems. However, this is a massive generalisation and wouldn’t apply to everywhere – it could be argued, for example, that having grassroots smart networks in a new city would encourage better community links.

The central part of smart cities is data, which can be used to build technologies and solutions. However I would also argue that a central part is the city’s connections and how connected it is. Without those connections, data can’t be shared and assimilated for everyone, also for those who have better technology.