Competition + prizes

In my last post of 2006 I said that the new year was likely to see a growth of wi-fi and mobile services. The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, opening today in the US, will be showcasing many of the hand held devices that will be vying to speed this process.

Improvements in battery life, brighter screens and more memory are contributory factors and are all part of the story.

Just as important though is connectivity and access. When I was in Seattle last year, I spent a morning with David Keyes, the city’s Community Technology Officer talking about Mayor Greg Nickells’ plans for free wi-fi access. These have attracted considerable corporate sector interest and will involve a pilot project in two neighbourhoods and four downtown parks. [Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 68-69 – Seattle]

Things have been moving fast though on this side of the Atlantic too, spurred among other things by the Government’s Digital Challenge initiative. Ten local authorities were short-listed last summer and final details of their proposed strategies and action plans for digital inclusion are being hammered out this week to meet the 19th January deadline.

Manchester’s bid ONE-Manchester, coordinated by the City’s Digital Development Agency (MDDA), looks strong on digital inclusion, has taken a bottom up approach and has succeeded in drawing in neighbouring Salford, Tameside and Trafford to create a unique ‘city-region’ laboratory for digital experimentation and testing.

Its outline bid had some interesting elements of a framework like Digital Action Places and Personalised Netstart programmes for local residents and organisations, which will need some thinking through prior to implementation.

Importantly the City has like Seattle gained a lot of national attention for its wider plans; and it’s gathered substantial corporate sector interest in establishing a 100 square mile free wi-fi network, Europe’s biggest, to help draw in the 40% of residents not presently engaged.

As Dave Carter, Head of MDDA told me when I met him, Manchester and its partners are now taking digital inclusion very seriously as were the company representatives at the Request for Information and Comment (RFIC) meeting I went to in December.

The bid is a strong one and deserves to do well in a very competitive field. Whatever the outcome, Manchester could be creating models and structures for implementing the Information Society in large metropolitan areas for the next decade. [Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 108 – Greater Manchester]


[Digital Nations in the making: Update Pages 20-23 – the Digital Divide].

This month has seen the announcement of the ten successful proposals for the Digital Challenge, put forward by Councils for creating “wired up communities” to tackle social exclusion and disadvantage. The finalists selected by the UK Department of Communities and Local Government from 79 applicants will now each receive £120,000 to strengthen and extend their proposals as they bid for the final prize: £7 million for the winners to implement their plan.

The scheme is reminiscent of the Canadian Smart Communities Programme launched in 2000, which I describe in my Digital nations in the making book. That however was better funded (CAN$60 million), required matching monies and had 12 winners not just one!

There are some interesting and imaginative Digital Challenge proposals and I’m hoping that some at any rate will go ahead in a limited form at least, even if they aren’t winners. The scheme has one great advantage as it maintains the focus on the digital divide. This is important as the gap between those skilled up for the networked world and those who are not, is if anything growing. 

This is what is starting to be called Digital Divide 2.0, although the meaning of the term is evolving and by no means determined. In the new interconnected and globally competitive world, which the web has created, it’s not enough to have access to the physical infrastructure with a modem and computer. You need to be tech-savvy, applying critical skills at the same time as using your IT skills. You need to be able to source the right information, retrieve your data and contacts, manipulate figures, log in at a wi-fi hot spot, share files, use a SMS texting service, collaborate remotely with a team, contribute to a discussion forum, find partners. The list reminds me of a 1998 schedule of skills I compiled for a 21st century model ACL tutor, which is included in Digital nations in the making.

The final selection for the Digital Challenge winner will be difficult to make, but for my money it would be based on an assessment of the applicants’ ability, through the actions proposed, to help promote the mix of technical and critical skills noted above and to deliver on what is promised. For this smart and focused planning and partnerships with community based organisations are essential.

As a Mancunian I’m glad to see that the Manchester City Region has been included in the final ten. The application was submitted by Manchester’s Digital Development Agency with neighbouring councils, Tameside and Salford. This joining up can strengthen the bid, provided there is an indication of a well coordinated approach, which crosses municipal boundaries and that there is potential for wider replication. The WEA’s Community Grid for Learning has been active since 2002 in this area of work through its portal and will certainly be supporting the bid.

Mural in East Didsbury, Manchester of the England world Cup team with shopkeeper Mr Malik and Transforming blogger Ian Harford - taken just before kick-off against Portugal.

England lost in the penalty shoot-out with Portugal this evening, but Manchester shopkeeper Mr Malik and his son Andy have scored a big hit with their Gawsworth Avenue shop-front mural of the England team.

“I’d seen this big picture on a building down in central Manchester some years ago and thought why not have some artwork here to support the team and show people where the action is in East Didsbury”, Andy told me.

So he teamed up with local artist Steve Proudfoot, who has his own website, to get this 7 feet high picture of the team painted on their shop front window. The photo (above) shows Mr Malik (with the hat) and Transforming blogger, Ian Harford beside the mural. It’s good for Steve too as it helps to advertise his work and handmade cards, which are on sale at the shop.

I was delighted to see this, as it reminded me that I have a competition, launched on this blog site for the best photos of adverts or artwork with an IT or adult learning theme. This is linked to my new book, Digital nations in the making, which is about adult education in Canada, the US and the UK. Details of the competition are in my posting of 18 May and I’m still looking for more entries! Send them to me or bring them in to Mr Malik’s shop – where I have done a lot of photocopying for the book – and we’ll make sure they are published.

My friend Mary emailed me recently. Yes she would be down at the Hay festival and it was going to be a great party. She ought to know as her daughter is one of the organisers. But it sounds to have been even bigger and better than I'd expected to judge from the stories and diaries spilling out all this last week. Two people caught my eye.

Al Gore as the next US President who didn't make it, has deservedly got lots of column inches for his book and film, An Inconvenient Truth, on the dangers of environmental damage to the planet from fuel emissions and global warming. What has scarcely been mentioned – but is explored with some fascinating detail in Digital Nations in the making – is Gore's pivotal role in another contemporary story.

As Vice-President in 1993, Gore was responsible for driving the US Government onto the net and into the digital age through the Performance Management Review and subsequent Re-engineering through Information Technology report. They may sound dull, but the results helped to change the way the world works!

Oh yes and the second person – well it's the same Canadian novelist referred to in Digital Nations in the making, whom I mentioned in Q3 of my last post, as using a telechiric device. Get the name and details and you're a third of the way to the right answers for the £25 prize!

Well the parcels arrived today at midday, so thanks to Charlotte at NIACE and the printers. We have finally got Digital nations in the making out before the end of May. This is good, as I had wanted to get some copies available for tomorrow's Big Lottery Fund Event in Birmingham. This is for Community Grid and NOF Digitisation projects, which received funding from 2001-2006. The event sounds interesting and there should be people there interested in the book's themes.

It's time too to announce that NIACE are offering two prizes of £25 vouchers (to be spent on any NIACE books) to the first two people who have bought a copy of the book and get the answers right to three questions about Digital nations in the making. So here's your chance to pick just what you'd like from NIACE's excellent booklist! Here are the 3 questions!

Q1: What is the date of the most current reference in the endnotes of Digital Nations in the making, what is its theme and to which two US cities does it refer?

Q2: On what page is a poem by Ted Hughes mentioned and to what does it refer?

Q3:  Which Canadian novelist is described in the book as using a telechiric device and what is the device called? 

To claim your prize send your answers by email with proof of purchase of the book to Charlotte Owen at NIACE. Her email is

There’s a report ‘Fuzzy maths’, on Google in this week’s Economist (13 May), pps 83-85, which is worth reading for an analysis of the company’s strategies and ‘click-per-view’ business model, its rivalry with Microsoft and the founders’ faith in their mathematical genius.

What struck me first though was its opening paragraph referring to a ‘recent’ billboard, greeting drivers in Silicon Valley, which sought answers to a cryptic question about a “10-digit prime”. I’d seen some nice adverts myself in San Francisco and have included some (see below) in my book, Digital Nations in the making, so wanted to find out just what the Economist was talking about.

Advert for Java software in San Francisco. Billboard in San Francisco in 2002.

Thanks to, its tagging technology and modernemily’s photo (see below) I was able to discover just what the advert said and found that her photo had been posted way back in July 2004! It remains though a tricky question – definitely for geeky mathematicians.

The upshot of all this? Well I’m starting a competition today to find the coolest or funniest ads or street art on an IT or learning related theme, to be seen on either side of the Atlantic. If you’re a tutor and have some learners on a course, why not ask them to go hunting with a digital camera for good examples? The six best entries will be published on this blog at the end of July. Images should be sent to me with information about location and context.

Spacer only. Advert from Google in Silicon valley in 2004.