Aug 162015
Image of Nicola Osborne and Helen Aiton from Fringe 2015 brochure

What is it like to write a show for the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas (#codi15)? Well, as I make the final preparations for my own show, Back to the Statistical Future (26th August, Stand in the Square, 3pm, just £8 per ticket!), I thought I would share some reflections on the process of developing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe that is based on academic and research areas, but is accessible to a wider audience. And also on the nerve-jangling experience that is selling real tickets to real punters – and using social and other media to help with that!

So, firstly a wee bit of background.

Back in 2013 Beltane Public Engagement Network – of whom I am a long term fan/member/participant/event junkie – decided to create a new show for the Fringe. It was to be a light hearted academic and research led strand of one-off events for smart audiences. And this “Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas“, was to be a co-production with the lovely experienced production company Fair Pley and the unstoppable ball of energy and obscure facts that is Susan Morrison (stand up, Bright Club compere and enthusiast, and Director of the Previously… History festival). You can hear the original pitch, filmed outside that first venue, here:

YouTube Preview Image

That first year was an experiment (read more about our EDINA show at CODI13 here) that led to an amazing CODI (as it became known to insiders/Twitter) run in 2014. Having rushed through prep for our first CODI show, we were keen to be better prepared and planned for our 2014 show, What Skeletons Are in Your Closet?. Looking across the EDINA activities we were keen to highlight and thought would be of interest to Fringe audiences we decided that the Statistical Accounts of Scotland were an ideal candidate.  The show sold well, got some lovely comments and attention, and was great fun, and so for 2015 we are going Back to the Statistical Future, and here’s how we are doing it…

Where do you start?

The whole idea of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is to actually have a “dangerous idea” – something challenging or provocative. Last year we – myself and my lovely co-host and Statistical Accounts of Scotland editorial board corresponding member Helen Aiton – focused a lot on the forgotten members of society, and the ways in which the Statistical Accounts capture and share their lives. This year we wanted to do something a wee bit different, but we also wanted to be able to build on the best bits of the 2014 show, things like the background to the accounts including, as Susan calls it “the world longest letter” – our enormous physical list of all the questions that had generated the Accounts in the first place (indeed we discovered 6 additional questions last year when researching the show!).

"The World's Longest Letter" being shown off at CODI 2014 (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network)

“The World’s Longest Letter” being shown off at CODI 2014 (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network).


So there we were, in autumn 2014, trying to think about what might make for a good show… because planning for a Fringe show really has to start about a year ahead to make the various deadlines. At this point we knew the Scottish Referendum result but we also knew that there would be a general election before the Fringe and that the Fringe programme deadline would pass before we knew the impact of that. Now, why would that matter for a show about 18th or 19th Century Scotland? Well, for our ideas to be dangerous and engaging they also needed to be timely and that meant making some sort of connection to the current context.

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

One of the brilliant things about CODI is that the production team have set a lot of early deadlines to make sure those terrifying Fringe form deadlines start to look easily achievable! This year pitches for show were due in person by the end of November or by video in early December. That means you need to know roughly what you want to talk about and roughly how you plan to do that 9 to 10 months ahead of your show. It means much of the hard work is done long before you officially start writing.

So, in November Helen and I started thinking about ideas and decided to take a wee risk. We decided that such was the focus on austerity and cuts that, no matter what the election outcome, there would be a great social policy angle tying the historical picture in the Accounts to modern day Scotland.

But then we needed a name…

Thankfully all of the buzz around the upcoming anniversary of Back to the Future inspired us. The film had been interesting partly because 50s fashions and mid-80s tailoring actually has a lot in common, which meant that whilst social attitudes and pop music provided fun contrasts, a lot of what makes that film great is the familiar being re-experienced in an unfamiliar context. With what we had found in the Second Statistical Accounts on part time librarians, pressures to pay to school your children, gentrification, increasing scrutiny of those receiving poor relief and the help of the parish, we knew we had some parallels and a perfect simple title: Back to the Statistical Future!

The next stage was to get all of our expression of interest paperwork together for the CODI producers and, once our show was selected/accepted (yay!) we needed to ensure we had all our details for the Fringe programme. Because the Fringe deadlines are very early – the final deadline for totally finalized copy, images, URLs etc. for the programme and website hits as early in January – we also had to make sure we had everything finalized. That included the modest funding to cover registering our show in the guide, in key programmes, on posters in St Andrews Square, etc. The CODI producers, being fabulous, bundle this all together into a very affordable fee that doesn’t even pretend to cover all their serious hard work supporting the shows and working to get potential audiences, as well as University press offices and local and national press aware of the strand.

So, we had a show title and basic idea… And an official listing imminently going live… What next?

Northern Exposure

Never mind writing the show itself, the next priority is actually writing the stuff to promote the show: news items for websites, tweets, blog posts, emailing contacts or nudging the press. Because if there is an audience all booked in, we not only need to have the show written but there’s a good chance it will go well. If there is no audience the best written show in the world won’t be nearly as fun.

Tickets for CODI have been priced this year at £8. That is a marker of the confidence the CODI producers have in us lot – the writers and performers – but it is also something of a challenge. If I can go see Bridget Christie for only a few more pounds, or something at the book festival for a similar price, my expectations as an audience member are set high. But I’m also really invested in what I’m about to see or be part of. Psychologically paying for stuff makes us value it more than free stuff. There is a whole free fringe, and there are also quite a lot of free events led by academics and researchers, which are frequently excellent.

A Yurt full of CODI attendees watching last years show.

Motivation to do a good job: a yurt full of expectant CODI attendees watching our show last year (image copyright Edinburgh Beltane Network).

There are other reasons to charge £8. Our venue this year and last has been a yurt in St Andrews Square, part of the Stand in the Square, one of the offshoot venues from legendary comedy club The Stand. So there are promotion costs, the venue costs (hire of space, yurt, power etc), and the costs of having an (excellent) technician keeping our mics and music working as expected – and those apply to every show no matter how famous you are.

Thus, as August draws closer you find yourself logging in daily, checking ticket sales, panicking, and working out how to make your show better, how to let people know about it in a new way, how to tell all of your friends that really, they are better booking early. Every ticket sale is a victory as well as a reminder that your show really really better be good… And so…

Writing the show itself

So, as I post this it is mid August and our show, taking place on 26th is coming together but isn’t finished yet.

Back in November, when we were preparing our pitch Helen and I both scoured the Statistical Accounts for what we call our “snippits” file – highlights, quotes, interesting leads, stories and statistics that we think might make a show. Once we had that clearer idea of what to focus on we started looking for more, digging deeper into some of our key topics: libraries; schools; literacy; public housing; disability and poor relief.

Notes from the writing process - snippets, leads, and nineteenth century finances...

Notes from the writing process – snippets, leads, and nineteenth century finances…

There were also Boot Camps to help us along – CODI gatherings in which all participants are encouraged to come along and share advice and in-progress show ideas. Some of these are in the Stand, which comes with the bonus of letting you tread the hallowed 4 feet of plywood that is their tiny stage. And for the last of these, in June, we were expected to give our 3 minute presentation outlining not just the topic, but also the structure of our show. Which means you have to have one. And even if that structure is only finalized late the night before the bootcamp, it’s still awfully useful to have. Because with that title, description, structure and a slowly booking audience all in place you have at least a full skeleton of your show, and plenty of time to flesh it out properly.

With CODI now in it’s third year there are some golden rules about what makes a CODI show too. It isn’t a presentation; it’s about interacting with the audience and engaging them. It isn’t about being the cleverest person in the room but it is about sharing and enlightening the audience with what you know. You need to be prepared but you can also count on Susan, now the compere for all CODI shows, to manage anything really challenging for you. As a bonus she’ll also dress as a minion, or a penguin, or a hurricane, or, for our show, impersonate a judgmental 19th century Minister of the Church of Scotland.

So the final stage is writing that script down. Which doing Bright Club has taught me is always worth doing for a performance where timing and wording will matter (so this is not always the case for presentations elsewhere). And that structure will get rejigged, and new data may need gathering – for instance in the last week Helen has been gathering data on average pay in 1835, whilst I’ve been scrutinizing the finances of an Edinburgh workhouse. As Helen and I are in different geographical locations emails and google docs and Skype calls have been happening to check in. And finally, as I am currently doing, it will all get into a finalized script, then read through and changed and made funnier. Then we’ll need to think “is that clear enough” and “can I back that up”…

And then, on 26th August, we will go into a wonderful and hopefully full yurt, and anything could happen… we may forget half of the content, we probably will be taken in whole new directions by the audience, why not join us and find out?

Jun 022014

Whilst we have been using Storify at EDINA for a number of years for services, projects and events, it has gradually become a more routine part of our monitoring process. That partly reflects the fact that Storify is now a more stable tool to use (although still quite buggy), but also the interest in evidencing interactions, interest, impact and sharing of projects, services and events.

So, to support my colleagues I have been putting together a “How To” guide for Storify that includes a number of it’s quirks and issues and I thought I would share it here for others to use, add to, comment on etc.

Just to frame this post I would say that I highly recommend using Storify in tandem with other tools (some mentioned in this post) as it is a very effective and engaging tool for presenting and curating evidence of impact, but there is a lot it doesn’t do well (e.g. easy analysis of all comments made from the Storify itself) or is simply not designed to do (e.g. automatic updating). As long as you are aware of the limitations it’s well worth the effort.

What is Storify?

Storify is a way to (usually publicly) collect mentions of a particular search term, project, idea, event, etc. It is about creating a narrative around those items and, for that reason, is much more about manual curation rather than automatic collection. It is particularly useful for capturing tweets and other more ephemeral materials as you can build up a narrative that follows your project – including blog posts, news items, other materials, and your own notes to help provide context for the tweets, other mentions etc.

Storify homepage


Why should I use it?

Storify is a great way to provide an attractive, easy to navigate record of your project and its impact, engagement with the community, and key achievements over time. However, as Storify is a manual tool you might also want to consider setting up an (automatic) “TAGS Explorer” (based on Google Docs) for your project account, hashtag or key search terms as an additional archive of mentions. See the Useful Links section here for more on how to set up a TAGS Explorer.

Storify can notify those people mentioned in your story, and the Storifys can be embedded in webpages.

What else should I be aware of?

Storify is a good tool but there are a couple of things to bear in mind:

  • Storify enables you to do all of your editing in the browser, that can be quite taxing so can crash your browser. There are mobile/tablet apps but they can also be buggy
  • Not all changes succeed/are saved, particularly when server maintenance is taking place (Storify servers tend to be up/down according to US working hours).
  • Not all mentions may show up in Storify – but you can always add your own URLs manually to the Storifys you set up.
  • You cannot export Storifys, they are intended to be experienced on the web and to be edited on the web.

How do I sign up?

You can log in to Storify using some other accounts. If your project has a Twitter account this is likely to be the best way to create a new login. Before you set up an account though do check in with Nicola Osborne, or take a look at the social media logins spreadsheet on Orthus to make sure another login does not already exist for your project or service. Nicola can also give you some advice on getting started.

Once you have created a login you just have to login via Twitter or directly to access Storify. If you are logged in you can click on your login name to access your profile and to view or edit your Storifys.


Storify homepage showing login area


Close up on the login popup from the Storify homepage


How does it work?

When you login you can view your profile and view the Storifys you have already created. You can browse through them or, as a logged in user, edit your own Storify, bringing in tweets, videos, presentations, really any web link.

Your profile is usually a public page so you don’t need to be logged in to view it. Public Storifys show up in your profile no matter who is looking at it (whether they are logged in or not), Private Storifys only show up for you when you are logged in.

For instance in the Palimpsest Project profile there is one Public Storify on the project, and one Private Storify called “Getting Started” – this is an example that Storify creates for you when you first set up a login, and it gives an idea of how to add new content to your own Storifys.

View of a Storify Profile Page

When a user comes to view or read your Storify they will see the story in a format like this:

View of a Storify Story... in this case for the Palimpsest Project



Editing a Storify

If you are logged in you just need to click on the (blue) “Edit” button on the Storify to reach the editing screen, as shown below.

View of the Storify Editing Screen

Note that there are three distinct areas of the screen:

  • The top bar of the screen presents the navigation for the Storify.
  • The left hand side shows the Storify that you are currently editing. The top part of this screen includes text formatting and editing options.
  • The right hand side of the screen shows you all of the channels which Storify provides and, once you have searched for a particular search term or username, the results which you may wish to add or drag into your Storify.

Editing and Formatting Controls

We will look at that top bar in a bit more detail…

Close up on the Storify top menu

  1. Link back to your Profile Page.
  2. Indication of whether your Storify is (a) a Private draft (red editing/dotted line icon) (b) Published (green tick). This icon will update to a green box with a pencil, and have the subtitle “Unpublished edits” when there are unsaved changes in your Storify.
  3. Settings link, which allows you to edit the Storify URL.
  4. “Save Now” button. It is wise to save regularly. Clicking this button saves the Storify and you should see a green banner to indicate that it has been saved.
  5. “Publish” button. Clicking on this will allow you to publish your Storify and either continue editing, or view your Storify.
  6. This area of the screen indicates your login name. Clicking on it brings up a menu which provides links to your Profile, Settings, and to Logout.

Other areas of the Storify screen are almost all editable. You can edit the title, the description, or you can click on any item in the Storify (left hand side of screen) to move it around/change the order. You can click at the edges of any item to add your own text to the Storify.

Other editing commands are shown in more detail below:

View of the Storify editing commands

From left to right the commands allow you to:

  • Embolden any text in a text box you have added/are editing.
  • Italicise any text in a text box you have added/are editing.
  • Underline any text in a text box you have added/are editing.
  • Strike-through any text in a text box you have added/are editing.
  • Create a link in any text in a text box you have added/are editing. This link can either be a regular text link, a red button, or a blue button (I suspect a Matrix joke)
  • Turn text into a Header – again this applies to any text in a text box you have added/are editing


There are then two buttons for ordering Storify content automatically… Some warnings about these:

  • Once you have reordered it is extremely difficult to revert to the previous order as there is no simple “Undo” option and Storify tries to autosave as it goes, particularly for big tasks like reordering content.
  • When content is reordered ONLY content with a clear date stamp is reordered. This typically means tweets which are very clearly date stamped. Some accompanying text will reorder but not all items will – images, videos, urls, etc. may not reorder properly. That means you need to reorder content manually if you wish to retain your narrative.
  • So, reordering works really well for large collections for tweets around short events like conferences, and very poorly for long term archives.
  • BUT Storify does warn you before reordering the items, so you do have a chance to change your mind.

So here is how they work:

Storify Button image: Order by Time DescendingThis button allows you to reorder items by Time Descending. This means the most recent/latest item appears first, then the older items display below. This is not unlike how Twitter streams look/work. It works well for ongoing stories without a clear end… those where discussions are continuing and the most recent comments are the most important/relevant.

Storify button: Order by Time AscendingThis button allows you to reorder items by Time Ascending. This means the first/earliest items appear first, then the most recent items appear at the end of the story. This order works well for telling a story with a clear timeline – a beginning and an end.

The final link on the editing bar provides the option to see a “Collapsed view”, a way to view just the outline of the contents. The button looks like this:

Collapsed View Storify button


This collapsed view of the content shows Twitter handle and the first line of text from a tweet, or the username and title of the blog post or webpage:

View of the Storify Collapsed View editing screen

Storify Channels

Storify offers a search of other Storifys, a number of specific social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, at present) as well as some more generic spaces (Google search, GIF searches (currently via Giphy or Google)) and a button for adding your own choice of URL. Buttons on this panel change from time to time.

View of available Storify channels

Although these channels and the results for each search term will vary a lot, here are some examples of the types of results and content that will appear.

Storify Searches

These look through Storifys across the site (you can filter by item type). Any elements appropriate for the search terms will be shown and can be pulled in.

View of Storify Search

Twitter Search

Storify will search Twitter. Usually this includes Tweets from the last 7 days, but does go further back for the “User” search. “Top Tweets” tend to show up much more prominently than others (which may not show up at all) and there are number of filters and settings you can tweak to improve the relevance of your results.

View of Storify Twitter Search

What do all the options mean?

  • Search – is a search for keywords or phrases (like the standard interface)

o   Links – limits results to those with URLs

o   RTs – includes ReTweets in your search results, this can mean lots of duplication so sometimes you may only want to see tweets with original content (untick the box to do that).

o   Recent – includes tweets from the last day or so. Unticking this box allows you to see only tweets posted before today – useful if you are wanting to make a lot of updates without risking those currently coming in around your event/tag/etc.

o   Near… – enables you to filter by location, with the “Within 10km/50km/100km” limitation further allowing you to filter. BEWARE: many tweets are not geotagged so this will substantially limit/filter the results.

o   Language – allows you to filter to any language of your choice (there is a drop down list). This could be useful if you expect a large number of tweets in a language other than English, or if you wish to filter the results down to those relevant to your project or service. For instance for the Palimpsest project there is an active Twitter user with peers tweeting in Russian – so a language filter could be useful for honing possible tweets down to those in English and therefore more likely to relate to this particular project.

  • Images – searches for Tweets with images. The search term is likely to be in the tweet accompanying that image since it is hard to tag/add metadata to an image on Twitter.
  • Timelines – seems to pull tweets from those that you follow on Twitter, the search part of this doesn’t work well but these can be useful to browse.
  • User – search for a username to find tweets from that user. You don’t need the @ symbol, just the username is fine. This search goes back beyond 7 days. At the bottom of this search – and others – you can click on “Search more results” to see more/older results.
  • List – allows you to search Twitter lists. This is only useful
  • Favourites – allows you to add to Storify from any Twitter users’ Favourite tweets (anything that has been favourited – you do this on Twitter by clicking the star on a tweet).


Facebook Search

In order to search Facebook posts/content you need to connect your Facebook account. This will only be relevant for the (very few) projects or services with a Facebook account (rather than page) and where that connection will be worth making, and where posts might be relevant.

View of Storify Facebook Search

Google+ Search

This search allows you to search both posts/content and people on Google+. No other filters or options are currently provided…

View of Storify Google+ Search

YouTube Search

This search enables you to include YouTube videos. Because of the volume of content a carefully crafted searching phrase helps. You can also search for “User’s favourites” or “User’s videos” – enter the username to do this (e.g. search for “repofringe”).

View of Storify YouTube Search

Flickr Search

You can search for Flickr images via this search. Be aware that the quality of metadata on Flickr is very variable – not all items have a title, often they will not have tags or other information. Note: Storify allows you to limit Flickr searches by license with two supported options: “Any” or “Creative Commons”. Creative Commons searches are preferable because Storify tends to include quite large preview images which are prominent in your Storifys.

View of Storify Flickr Search

Instagram Search

Like Facebook, Instagram can only be searched once logged in. Again this search is only worth including if your project is active on Instagram…

View of Storify Instagram Search

Google Search

This button enables you to run a full Google search for your search term/event/project/etc. This can be a useful way to both spot and gather mentions of your work – although you may want to set up a Google Alert for your project as well so that you are not reliant on your Storify searches to capture everything.

From within the Google Search area you can filter by News (as with Google News this is a bit patchy in terms of what is and is not indexed), by Images (more useful) or by Gif (only likely to be particularly useful if you expect to find lots of animated gifs around your project – only likely with more viral content, community created content, or materials you know you have created yourself).

View of the Storify Google Search

GIF Search

As already mentioned this may not be useful in many cases but this search enables you to search either the GIF sharing site Giphy, or Gifs indexed by Google. As with image search, but particularly true for gifs, bear in mind that not all images will be relevant and not all will be safe for work.

View of Storify GIF Search


This enables you to add any item from a URL. If the item can be easily embedded in an interactive way – a video, a SlideShare, etc. – then Storify will generally recognise that in the process of adding that link to your Storify.

View of Storify URL adding screen

To add a URL just paste or type it in, hit return, and wait for a preview to appear in the box below – that might be textual, include an image, or be the type of interactive item already described.

How to add an Item to your Storify

To add any item from any social media channel simple run a search, select an item, click on it and pull it across from the right hand side to the left hand side Storify.

Alternatively, in all searches Storify includes an “Add them all” link. This will allow you to pull in all search results at once – they will be added in a relatively sensible order.

BUT Storify does not recognise duplicates so, if you manually add some items, and hit the “Add them all” button you may well find you have duplicates. In theory duplicates can be deleted from your Storify (hovering over an item in the left hand editing screen will show a “x” in the top right hand side of the box for that item which allows you to delete the item) but that does not always work.

Once you have added an item to your Storify you can hover/click on the item to move that item, to delete that item, or hovering at the top or bottom of the item enables you to click to add a text comment.

Exiting Storify

When you are finished editing a Storify you should ensure you Save the Storify. If you wish to share or make your Storify public, make sure you hit Publish as well. Always have a look at your saved Storify to make sure everything looks as you want it to.

Once everything has been saved and published as appropriate, click on your login name to use the Logout option.

Related resources:

Nov 062013

Huge thanks to Tony Hirst (via Peter Burnhill) for flagging up a new set of Infographic Guidelines from the Office for National Statistics. You can read more about the guidelines, and their origins in Matt Juke’s Infographics Superhighway post on the ONS Digital Publishing Blog.

Screen capture from the ONS Infographics Guide

Screen capture from the ONS Infographics Guide (ONS, 2013)

Whilst these guidelines are specifically intended to address the branding needs of the ONS they also address visual storytelling and are a really useful reminder of the importance of conveying clear and useful messages through infographics. Matt Jukes’ post talks about the importance of ensuring that any infographic carrying the ONS logo is credible and uses statistics well. I’d heartily endorse that sentiment for any academic or organisational use of these sorts of visual information, particularly as not all visualisations are created equal.

David McCandless, whose handcrafted visualisation work is highly regarded and tells important stories brilliantly, has received criticism for the accuracy of his depictions. In telling a story it can be hard to represent information as precisely as desired whilst also ensuring the reader knows the key messages, and understands the implications of the data – and of the way the data has been interpreted (the classic example here being the potential bias of map projections for instance). Tools like Textal, Voyant-Tools and visualisations created by City University’s giCentre – and the exciting and highly interactive journal Vectors – are attempting to bridge the gap between beautiful and useful. There are sure to be further initiatives appearing in this direction as the role of visual storytelling becomes better understood and appreciated – and more important in an era of increasingly big data.

I am in the middle of teaching my Social Media module for students on the MSc in Science Communication and Public Engagement at the moment and one of the recurrent themes is the difficulty of getting that balance right between being fun and eye catching and being credible and authoritative.

Infographics and memes (e.g. LOLCATs, the What I think I do/What My Parents Think I do… type images) are a brilliant tool for engaging your audiences if they are done well – analysis of social media sharing and the continued growth of Pinterest confirms that images and video content can make a huge difference to how frequently posts are viewed and shared. However, done poorly they can be misleading and turn off audiences – particularly those that have a longer term relationship with an organisation and value your authoritative status.

One of the things I find fascinating about memes that bubble up – for instance one of the most recent Tumblrs and image memes has been Ryan Gosling Biostatistics (see below) – is the challenging potential they offer. In some ways there could not be a less authoritative or appropriate way to convey information than by creating sharable posters co-opting others’ images but, at the same time,  these are fun mediums and can allow you to juxtapose highly accessible imagery with arcane or inaccessible topics. They are also popular – important if you buy into Henry Jenkins’ “If it doesn’t spread it’s dead” concept – and shows a credibility and understanding of the social media space, for instance the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics meme plays on an already-successful meme, the Ryan Gosling NPR Tumblr.

Screencapture from the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics Tumblr

Screencapture from the Ryan Gosling Biostatistics Tumblr, in this case advertising an American Statistical Society 175th Anniversary event.

The Gosling meme is playful and work well because it relies on the audience’s knowledge and interest in a very specific subject matter. It is also inoffensive unlike some of the popular meme images which relies on racial stereotyping (in imagery and language) for humour. These semi-formal images are perfect for some messages – public health messages can work well in informal spaces for instance, and the Gikii law and technology conference thrives on LOLLamas. But even a great biostatistics meme image is not the sort of imagery appropriate to an organisation as authoritative and formal in it’s brand as the ONS. With social media decisions over the best way to communicate are always a trade off of organisational branding and goals, with your audience/s desires and expectations.

The ONS Infographic guide won’t be right for all organisations/contexts – it is as much about their specific brand guidance as it is about structuring infographics well – but it is a great reminder of the usefulness of guidance, style guides, and of the need to have consistent and accessible organisational approaches to engaging audiences through social media, preferably with strong visual elements.

Useful Links:

Some useful visualisation creation tools:

  • Creately | – quick free online flow chart building tool.
  • D3.JS – for the more code-minded this is a powerful JavaScript library for creating interactive data visualisations.
  • FigShare | – share your research data, including the ability to share and create graphs and visualisations via this innovative site. These are visualisations based on real data so very much fit in with the ONS’ call for quality although you would need to consider how best to turn images and interactives generated into a story for a true infographic.
  • Google Maps | – Maps are pretty much the original visualisation tool. Tools like EDINA’s own Digimap – and various GIS tools and softwares – enable creation of geospatial visualisations of academic research data, whilst Google Maps offers an accessible option for any map fan to play with. Login, click “My Places”, and “Create Map” or use Google Docs (Insert > Gadget > Add a Gadget > Maps) to create a map.
  • ManyEyes | – a lovely tool for creating visualisations of data that you upload. It takes a while to use well but produces some great visualiations.
  • Prezi | – very engaging flash-based online presentation tool which can also work well for visualisations. Looks great but takes some time to get used to.
  • Textal – like Wordle but designed, by UCL Digital Humanities experts, to enable researchers to create credible visualisations of textual data as well as analysing that text.
  • TimeToast | – create a timeline from your data
  • Simile Widgets | – enables you to create a visualisation, timeline or new way to browse your data – you may need to become familiar with some code to use Simile well/successfully.
  • | – free visualisation tools which, whilst mainly used for silly/fun infographics (definitely not ONS appropriate), can be used in more series ways or for informal visualisations and storytelling around your data.
  • Voyant Tools – free online interactive visualisations of textual research data. Really useful if your texts are appropriate in terms of IPR and ethics for sharing in this way.
  • Wordle | – plugin interview transcripts or other texts for an instant overview of content. Not perfect but a good starting point into data.
Aug 152013
Image of the Feedburner Settings screen

Here at EDINA we use Feedburner for managing some of our RSS feeds as it allows you to do many very useful added value things with your feed, including delivery by email. Unfortunately by default the service takes the name of your blog as a subject line. That’s fine if your blog has a very broad readership or there are not frequent posts. For some of our blogs, however, posts fall into several parallel strands – so whilst all posts may be of interest some will be particularly relevant to particular subscribers, which means the subject line of those email updates really matters.

Image of the SUNCAT blog

Screenshot of the SUNCAT Blog.

My colleagues from the SUNCAT blog were keen to ensure their post titles would stand out more clearly to their readers as this is one of the EDINA blogs that includes several different strands of posts. Some SUNCAT posts are informative, recording key updates to the service, whilst others are playful explorations of the materials in the SUNCAT service. For systems librarians and those contributing data to SUNCAT those updates need to stand out, to those using the service the playful posts may be much more relevant. No matter who the reader, the title makes a big difference and whilst it is already easy to see the titles in the regular RSS feed, it was time to ensure email subscribers could see the title reflected in the subject line of their emails.

Image of the Feedburner Publicize menu

The slightly hidden away Email Branding settings.

Digging around the Feedburner settings can be a little time consuming – there are no end of options – and the email branding settings are relatively hidden away. However, via this very helpful Shout Me Out blog post, I found the quick route to the appropriate functionality which has been quietly offered by Feedburner since 2009.

To change the subject line of emails being sent to subscribers head to the Publicize heading – one of the four tabs you will see once logged in. Look for the  Email subscription then the sub heading Email branding. In that section you will see the relevant shortcode to add your title to your post:

Image of the Feedburner Settings screen

The magic box and bit of shortcode that ensures email subscribers receive sensibly titled emails.

It’s an easy change but with big impact.

 August 15, 2013  Posted by at 11:01 am How to..., Week In the Life Tagged with: , , , ,  2 Responses »
Oct 042012

This post is my contribution to the JISC Project Communications Workshop taking place on Friday 5th October 2012 for the rather marvellous projects in the Content funding strand. The JISC Communications team have asked me to come up with an inspiring 10 minute presentation on social media. I’ve decided to focus on what I think is inspiring about engaging people in your project – and how that can benefit a project. Ten minutes isn’t enough to cover every aspect of social media of course so I’ve focused on my ideas for great engagement and am hoping for lots of fantastic questions and comments on your ideas and experiences.

So, without further ado here is my presentation (it may take a few moments for the video to load):

YouTube Preview Image

Well, what did I miss?

I would love to know what you think I may have missed out, what you would have liked to see, or questions about some of the ideas and examples in that video. Here are some key points that I think I may have missed

  • Make your posts sharable. You might do this by adding sharing buttons to each post on a blog (via an AddThis or ShareThis plugin for instance), by encouraging people to like an update or contribute comments, etc. You can also do this by making sure that key people know you have posted something of interest in their particular area – doing this directly and infrequently can be a very effective way of reaching new audiences.
  • Spread the word. Make sure you always share your own posts or updates. For blogs you could do this by emailing those interested in the project (but don’t do this too frequently), it might be through allowing individuals to join a mailing list or receive an alert for new updates – or to like a page or follow an account for news. It may just mean adding URLs to your online presences in your print materials or mentioning them in talks and presentations. No matter how you do it you need to make sure that those you wish to communicate with have plenty of opportunity to find your updates but don’t feel bombarded with emails or updates.
  • Record and measure what you are doing. You might do this using screen captures of key tweets, Google Analytics on a blog, Facebook Insights on a project’s Facebook page, etc. You can also use tools like Storify, If This Then That, and the TAGS explorer to help capture the conversation around your project – social media is as much about listening as it is about talking.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In addition to the JISC Legal, Netskills, etc. you can also ask your social media audiences for help – what they might want to see more of, social media tools they might like to see you using. And you can use guest posts, key advocates comments, etc. to help you keep your social media presences lively, relevant, to help you find new ideas for content. You will also find useful guides to specific types of social media online – how to podcast, how to liveblog, etc.
  • Be timely, connect your work to current affairs when appropriate. This can be a hugely effective way to show your relevance to others work, to the world at large. It’s something we try to do with the JISC MediaHub blog – for instance our posts on the Paralympics and the current Tate Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.
And I think that’s all I want to add for now aside for some useful links from the presentation and video which you may find useful when thinking about your own social media presences.


So, it’s over to you – whether you are at the workshop or just reading this on my blog I’d love to know your questions about using social media for communicating projects, research etc. Either post them below as comments or tweet them to the workshop hashtag #jiscpcw and I will respond on Twitter from my account, @suchprettyeyes.

If you have specific questions about using Flickr you are also welcome to find me and comment/message me there as Eurovision_Nicola. If you have questions about one of our specific presences feel free to comment on the appropriate channels: RepoFringe (includes OR2012 content), AddressingHistory or JISC GECO accounts.


Useful Resources 


Aug 312012
The OR2012 Pinterest page showing how images are collated and used.

In How to LiveBlog Part 1 I discussed why you should LiveBlog your event. But once you’ve decided that you will be LiveBlogging how do you actually go about it?  Well…

1. Be Prepared

To borrow a catchy phrase from the boy scouts (and Tom Lehrer) you should always be prepared!

For liveblogging there are several essential bits of preparation which will make your life much much easier:

  • Decide what you will be LiveBlogging – if you are one of the event organisers then talk with your colleagues about what will be useful to capture, what might not be appropriate to cover. Usually you can assume that talks and presentations will be fine to LiveBlog. It can be tempting to decide to cover the main content rather than any question and answer sessions but I would always recommend capturing question sessions – they are the easiest way to add value to an event write up as they are the least easy to capture part of the event (and may be absent from recordings, others’ notes, and obviously are not covered by slides), and they tend to add the most value to a session – surfacing all the issues, awkward questions and surprises that are often absent in a main presentation. Continue reading »
Aug 292012
ScreenShot of the OR2012 LiveBlog showing the introductory paragraph and my LiveBlog style.

After working on amplification of big events this year, the most notable being Open Repositories 2012,  I thought it would be a good time to share some of my tips for liveblogging and why that should be part of a plan for social media amplification of a variety of events. As I’ve also just been asked for advice on LiveBlogging I thought that would be a really useful topic to talk about. In this post, part one of  two, I’ll be telling you why I think LiveBlogging is so useful. Tomorrow, in part two, I’ll share my top ten practical tips for LiveBlogging. Continue reading »

 August 29, 2012  Posted by at 2:59 pm How to..., Social Media at EDINA Tagged with: , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Jun 212011

For various projects lately I’ve been using Yahoo! Pipes to automatically create aggregations of multiple RSS Feeds to that can then be reused somewhere else like a Facebook Page’s Notes section (where you can only add one RSS feed) or a sidebar on a blog (e.g. the project updates shown on the GECO blog).

I know that some of you will be dab hands with Yahoo! Pipes but it can be a bit scary to get started with so I thought I’d share my “How To…” guide for building aggregated RSS feeds with Pipes here.

Building a Good Aggregation of Feeds

The first thing to do is identify which feeds you want to combine. This is a matter of deciding what is available and what your audience actually wants to see. Generally an aggregation of blog posts, youtube videos and similar content (that is posted infrequently and stays relevant for a while) will work well. Twitter tends to be updated frequently and dominate a feed so Twitter generally works better as a separate channel (unless you are using it sparingly for key announcements or update your other channels frequently).

Once you have identified your feeds…

Continue reading »

 June 21, 2011  Posted by at 6:48 pm How to... Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »