Selly Oak Fire – As Observed Through Social Media

Selly Oak, the area immediately south of the University of Birmingham campus, was trending on Twitter on Sunday evening. Not globally or even nationally as that would be rather hard unless there a really horrible disaster had occurred, but in the considerably smaller “Birmingham” region.

The cause was an arson attack on a big pile of tyres which led to quite spectacular plumes of smoke rising from waste land adjacent to the Worcester – Birmingham canal.

The tyres, which were presumably due to be used to support embankments around the Selly Oak Relief Road, were ablaze for quite some time and judging from the number of tweets could be seen from miles around.

High population density, many of them students aware with social media led to a flurry of messages, photos and videos being posted online as the story developed.

Google Realtime Twitter Search Volume for Selly Oak

From my parents house 100 miles away I was able to follow the tweets of those who had spotted the smoke, read as they tried to pinpoint its source and read updates from people going to see what was happening. I saw a video of fire engines trying to access the site and lots of photos uploaded to twitpic and yfrog.

Here are some of the best photos I have permission to post here [click any to view full sized]:

Fire by the train tracks @SellyOakNews @hughhopkins on Twitpic#Birmingham #SellyOak Fire as seen from Bristol Road. 22nd Ma... on Twitpic#Birmingham #SellyOak @SellyOakNews Students pouring out onto... on Twitpic

'The Selly Oak Fire' and a very tiny fireman on TwitpicClose up of the fire! @SellyOakNews on Twitpic

Just a small case study as to how news can quickly spread through social media… Apparently our house in Selly Oak stank of rubber, so glad I wasn’t there!

A bookshop in Luxembourg: Amazon Fraud

A few months back I bought a HTC Desire from (I’ll post about this soon!).

The size of the transaction was obviously flagged as an unusual spend by NatWest as it triggered a fraud alert.  The fraud system is automated and I had to confirm the last 5 transactions made with my card.  The computer voice (which said my name in an incredibly bored sounding tone) listed the most recent transactions with suitable vagueness.  For example one of transactions could have been something like “£30 at a supermarket in Birmingham” (a Sainsbury’s shop).

The Amazon transaction came up as “£350 at a bookshop in Luxembourg”.

Scream Pubs ask Students a question, get honest answers

For those of you who don’t know Scream is a brand of pubs marketed at students in the UK owned by major pub group Mitchells & Butlers. There are a couple of Scream pubs in Birmingham where I am at University.

They have a ‘Yellow Card’ promotional scheme where students can purchase a credit card sized discount card for £1 which saves you money on some drinks.

Today Scream Pubs asked their 26,000 Facebook followers “How much d’you reckon you’ve saved with your Yellow Card?”. Over half the responses are currently negative!

Quite the opposite from the Sarah Palin delete negative comments strategy!

It will be interesting to see if they leave these comments on or delete them.

“Bad” Websites: Poor Usability and Oversights

Three examples of poor websites that I’ve come across in the past few weeks.  A selection of poor usability and common sense oversights which should never have gone live.

The first is the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, a website in favour of the Alternative Vote system for electing MPs.  Does the homepage even mention the AV system – no.  Does the site explain what AV is or give examples of how it is fairer than the existing first past the post system –  no.

There are some obviously fake hotel reviews on a local WhatsIn[InsertNameOfTownHere] site. You will need to click on the reviews tab to see them. All the reviews give the hotel in question 5 stars, all of them are highly positive with no criticisms whatsoever and the first 5 reviews are all posted by ‘anonymous’ within 12 minutes of each other.

The last example is perhaps the most surprising given it comes from a well known high street brand.

It involves the Boots store locator, accessible at the following SEO and user unfriendly URL:

Boots Store Locator

So I do as suggested and enter my home town Watford into the search box and hit enter. Up comes the following page.

Error: Wrong Watford

Three things are wrong with this. First it is screaming “error” at me – why? I entered the name of my town as I was asked to, it isn’t my fault that Boots doesn’t know where I mean. A user friendly “Sorry, please clarify which town you mean” or similar message could easily be put up to address this nicely.

Second – the message states that fields containing “errors” have been “marked in red”.  No fields are red.

Third – I entered the exact text it suggested on the search page! If the case they recommend works this badly it doesn’t bode well.
Boots store locator drop down

Only once I’d reached this screen and was trying to work out how I was supposed to confirm my selection of the correct Watford from the drop down list did I notice the expandable form area, marked with the universal symbol for making something bigger –  a subtraction sign.

The manual search button (which was also on the first page) I needed to press to advance to the next page  is located so far away from the point of data entry that until now I had not seen it.