Anti_social behaviour test

Top 10 areas for anti-social behaviour

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Etruria and Hanley 82 57 137 2174
Baddeley, Milton and Norton 49 25 83 1219
Town (Newcastle) 48 27 71 1209
Bentilee and Ubberley 48 27 72 1180
Forebridge 40 25 66 1064
Tunstall 39 18 71 1033
Burslem Central 36 21 44 872
Blurton West and Newstead 34 17 52 794
Abbey Hulton and Townsend 32 19 73 909
Birches Head and Central Forest Park 32 15 50 781

Bottom 10 areas for anti-social behaviour

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Ipstones 1 1 2 11
Church Eaton 1 1 3 18
Manifold 1 1 4 18
Chartley 1 1 3 20
Milwich 1 1 2 20
Dane 1 1 5 21
Horton 1 1 3 23
Biddulph Moor 2 1 5 22
Hamps Valley 2 1 4 34
Biddulph South 2 1 4 38

Stoke-on-Trent

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Etruria and Hanley 82 57 137 2174
Baddeley, Milton and Norton 49 25 83 1219
Bentilee and Ubberley 48 27 72 1180
Tunstall 39 18 71 1033
Burslem Central 36 21 44 872
Blurton West and Newstead 34 17 52 794
Abbey Hulton and Townsend 32 19 73 909
Birches Head and Central Forest Park 32 15 50 781
Meir North 32 13 65 760
Great Chell and Packmoor 31 8 70 801
Little Chell and Stanfield 30 14 42 762
Goldenhill and Sandyford 30 7 57 761
Joiner’s Square 30 13 63 743
Fenton East 29 9 39 666
Ford Green and Smallthorne 25 14 53 709
Boothen and Oak Hill 24 8 44 628
Hollybush and Longton West 24 12 37 576
Burslem Park 22 13 37 570
Penkhull and Stoke 22 10 33 530
Broadway and Longton East 21 12 43 549
Moorcroft 21 9 35 539
Hanley Park and Shelton 21 6 35 505
Fenton West and Mount Pleasant 20 12 38 529
Sandford Hill 19 7 41 431
Sneyd Green 18 10 35 494
Hartshill and Basford 18 12 31 468
Meir South 17 8 32 464
Blurton East 16 6 46 435
Springfields and Trent Vale 15 9 22 370
Lightwood North and Normacot 14 3 32 380
Dresden and Florence 13 4 25 335
Weston Coyney 12 5 25 326
Hanford and Trentham 12 4 24 325
Eaton Park 12 6 23 319
Bradeley and Chell Heath 12 5 18 293
Meir Hay 10 5 18 274
Meir Park 9 3 16 217

Newcastle

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Town (Newcastle) 48 27 71 1209
Chesterton 28 13 42 696
Holditch 27 13 43 657
Butt Lane 19 7 35 485
Wolstanton 19 9 33 473
Knutton and Silverdale 17 9 33 463
Silverdale and Parksite 16 8 31 435
Cross Heath 16 5 27 410
Audley and Bignall End 14 5 28 378
Thistleberry 13 5 27 330
Kidsgrove 12 8 20 322
Bradwell 11 3 24 325
Talke 10 3 20 241
Madeley 9 4 29 265
Ravenscliffe 9 4 17 231
May Bank 9 2 16 215
Seabridge 8 3 16 202
Westlands 6 2 11 154
Porthill 6 1 12 151
Halmerend 6 1 14 148
Clayton 5 1 14 142
Loggerheads and Whitmore 4 1 11 122
Newchapel 2 1 6 53
Keele 2 1 4 43

Staffordshire Moorlands

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Leek East 15 8 28 373
Biddulph East 14 7 26 365
Leek North 14 6 25 365
Biddulph West 12 4 24 318
Cheadle West 12 4 19 287
Forsbrook 11 4 29 305
Leek South 11 7 24 298
Cheadle South East 9 1 14 210
Weeping Cross 6 1 20 165
Brown Edge and Endon 6 1 14 165
Biddulph North 6 1 10 141
Checkley 5 2 14 159
Leek West 5 2 11 132
Cheddleton 5 1 10 127
Cheadle North East 5 1 10 126
Werrington 4 1 9 105
Churnet 3 1 9 90
Cellarhead 3 1 9 96
Caverswall 2 1 8 67
Alton 2 1 6 51
Bagnall and Stanley 2 1 7 44
Biddulph South 2 1 4 38
Hamps Valley 2 1 4 34
Biddulph Moor 2 1 5 22
Horton 1 1 3 23
Dane 1 1 5 21
Manifold 1 1 4 18
Ipstones 1 1 2 11

Stafford

Ward Trend Av’ge Min Max Total
Forebridge 40 25 66 1064
Manor 27 10 59 659
Stonefield and Christchurch 17 11 27 459
Holmcroft 16 4 25 362
Highfields and Western Downs 14 8 26 364
Tillington 14 6 28 362
Common 13 4 29 335
Penkside 11 3 19 250
Coton 10 2 15 236
Fulford 8 1 18 213
Rowley 8 3 19 207
Walton 7 2 19 190
Gnosall and Woodseaves 6 1 13 148
Eccleshall 5 2 10 128
Haywood and Hixon 5 1 9 128
St. Michael’s 5 1 9 104
Barlaston and Oulton 4 2 15 129
Baswich 4 1 9 96
Milford 3 1 8 81
Swynnerton 3 1 8 90
Seighford 2 1 5 56
Chartley 1 1 3 20
Milwich 1 1 2 20
Church Eaton 1 1 3 18

An experiment with local MOT data

DID you know that there are likely to be around 50 motorists in North Staffordshire still driving around in a car which hasn’t been produced in 10 years and was made famous by a TV comedy show?

Figures from the DVLA show 106 of the distinctive Reliant Robin three-wheel vehicle were put through the mandatory MOT test in 2011.

And while the number of cars – made iconic by Del Trotter in the series Only Fools and Horses – has been on the slide since manufacturing ended in 2002, it is likely that dozens of the plastic-bodied motors are still being driven around the region if the current rate of decline continues.

I found this and plenty of other details from a cursory examination of car testing data made available through data.gov.uk.

In total the records show there were 2.3 million MOT tests carried out in the ST postcode area – which broadly covers North Staffordshire – between 2006 and 2011.

It covers a total of 676,000 unique vehicles ranging from the smallest moped to some rare, expensive sports cars.

As with all sets of data, there are limits that must be taken into account when considering what conclusions to draw.

The key assumption is that every vehicle tested within North Staffordshire parks up in the region.

While it may be broadly true, there is plenty of room for exceptions.

For instance, I bought my battered old Volkswagen in South Cheshire and had it tested until this year outside of Staffordshire. And there could be commercial operations which have fleets tested locally yet are operated nationwide.

The other fact to bear in mind is that a car is three years old when it receives its first MOT.

So what do the figures tell us about the vehicles tested in North Staffordshire? Well, as you might expect, cars dominate all tests, with something like 88,000 in 2011, followed by three-tonne vehicles (2,400) and then motorbikes (2,200).

As you also might expect, Ford is the most popular vehicle to be tested in the region, accounting for 20 per cent of the market, followed by Vauxhall, Peugeot, Renault and Volkswagen.

It’s also not surprising that the top 10 most popular models are shared by these brands with Astra, Corsa and Fiesta hitting the top of the list.

Indeed, it would seem that the market has hardly changed over the timescale, with everyone of the top 15 marques broadly retaining their position over the six-year period except for Rover (which followed the company’s collapse in the mid-2000s).

The progress of time also shows how car companies have had to adapt their products to changing tastes and economic conditions.

Let’s consider colours as a trivial example of how tastes change.

Back in 2006, 40 per cent of the 372,000 vehicles tested coloured blue or red, followed by silver, green and white.

Roll on past the banking crisis and the appetite for colour seems to have subdued.

Silver now appears to be the colour, toppling red and blue, while black seems to be back after a 50 per cent increase pushed the shade up ahead of red into third place.

And the number of grey vehicles tested has increased by 40 per cent.

But other variables such as price or engine size don’t seem to have had much impact.

The number of tests of classic premium brands also shows how customers of top-end sports cars and cruisers have remained untouched by wider economic woes.

While tests on premium-marque vehicles are just a tiny fraction of the overall dataset, there is a solid increase in the popularity of brands such as Crewe-based Bentley or Aston Martin (you can see all the charts online at thesentinel.co.uk).

The pass-rate of inspections doesn’t seem to have changed either.

Despite new regulations governing emissions of vehicles, the fail rate has hardly deviated from around 26 per cent.

Finally, you might have expected that the average car engine size might have fallen as people tried to cut the cost of motoring in trying economic conditions. But the overall cylinder capacity has remained fairly constant at around 1,700cc.

So it seems that even though purse strings have been pulled ever tighter, people do not want to give up the keys to their motor.

David Elks is aggregation co-ordinator and data journalist for Local World.

Digging out crashes and smashes in Highways Agency traffic data

IF THERE’s one thing guaranteed to cause frustration to motorists in Stoke-on-Trent, it’s congestion.

All it takes is one slight bump on the A500 at rush hour to cause delays across the city’s road networks, a major one to create hours of gridlock.

I remember interviewing the operations director of First Bus back in 2002 after a fatal crash on the M6 left drivers sat in long queues while emergency services tried to clear the wreckage.

The problem is that one accident that causes even partial closure of this arterial route means the A500 and A50 become deluged with tens of thousands of extra vehicles.

Andy Foster estimated that 40,000 passengers – around half of those who regularly travel by bus – would have been affected, and resulted in £20,000 in lost revenue.

Indeed, he estimated the company increased its fleet to ensure services ran on time and had to annually adjust for £130,000 (adjusted to today’s value) in lost fares.

If you then consider the impact on other firms that rely on free-flowing traffic as their lifeblood, from hauliers to taxis, the cost to the local economy can be enormous.

Given this fact, and the frustration caused by sitting in slow-moving chains of traffic, it’s little wonder that any information that helps motorists dodge trouble ahead is quickly seized upon.

We already update The Sentinel’s website whenever we hear reports of an accident on the region’s roads and find even a one-line story can attract more readers than the day’s front-page news.

Live traffic and roadworks information from the Highways Agency will be a core component of the soon-to-launch data module that we have planned for www.thesentinel.co.uk.

But the Government body also provides some fascinating historical records of every crash reported to the police since 2005.

In total, it has 1.2 million individual records with more than 70 variables relating to each incident. These range from the time, location and road designation, the severity of the accident as well as the weather and lighting conditions in which the crash happened.

The Sentinel has sliced and diced this data on a number of occasions to describe the potential impact of planned changes such as turning lights off on a section of the M6 or highlighting clusters.

But there is a huge amount of information that we’ve not tapped into.

According to the records, there have been 14,500 crashes on North Staffordshire’s roads between 2005 and 2012, involving 23,000 people and 30,000 vehicles.

The largest smash, which took place on the northbound carriageway of the A500 between Talke and Alsager, in February 2010, was a 13-vehicle pile-up which followed sudden snowfall and left the road closed for several hours.

As you might expect, the most likely time for accidents to happen is around the morning and evening rush hour, and a third peak around 1pm. If you isolate all fatal accidents, it turns out an accident is most likely to become fatal between 3pm and 9pm.

It’s also turns out 60 per cent of all crashes in North Staffordshire happen on roads of up to 30mph, with 10,893 happening at this designation.

That’s not really that surprising, given the fact that most roads have this designation.

It’s then possible to explore the link between variables such as the speed limit and the risk of a fatality.

With a quick pivot, you can see that less than 0.5 per cent of the crashes on 30mph limit roads resulted in resulted in death, but increases by five times to three per cent of all crashes on roads where the speed limit is 60mph.

You can even identify the incidence of exceptionally rare events such as fatal crashes which involved a dog on the road. It turns out there have been three on record involving accidents on the A52, the A500 and the A522.

Of course, it’s one thing to find interesting facts and figures in the data, quite another to use the information as a means of either predicting accidents based on certain variables or identifying clusters as the Highways Agency do.

I’ll look more closely on establishing links next week.

David Elks is aggregation co-ordinator and data journalist for Local World.

News sense on the web

OF ALL the skills that every journalist needs, the one I think is most important is something that you’ve probably never heard of. It’s called ‘news sense’.

Every journalist at The Sentinel will have spent a number of years learning the basic skills needed to gather and report news.

This includes learning how to interview a person, how to use shorthand for accurate note-taking and then how to write down those facts in a coherent manner. We also have to learn the laws of libel and copyright, as well as learn the basics of government, both at local and Parliamentary level.

But that counts for nothing without news sense, that skill of being able to identify what a good story is, knowing what is important, interesting, what has colour and life for our readers.

I mention this because at a time when people can use the internet to read every council report or neighbourhood police newsletter, it’s often the journalists at The Sentinel that remain among the first to pick up a throwaway line in a report which becomes a major news story, and becomes the trigger for a protest or petition.

More importantly, for me at least, there’s Twitter and the other social media for breaking news.

As I’ve said before, I sent out a reporter to investigate two updates on Twitter from a chap who posted about a fire and a gas leak on Regent Road in Hanley. It turned out to be the first reports of the attempted mosque bombing.

But as more people locally join Twitter, it can be increasingly difficult to keep a track on what’s happening. Finding a decent story tip from Twitter can be like trying to catch a single droplet of water in a firehose.

Given we now track 1,900 people and organisations across North Staffordshire, how do we, and indeed anyone, find a news story in the mass of updates?

How to tackle the issue of information and update overload is a hot topic for many industries, and web developers are working to create tools to sift out the gold nuggets.

One of the easiest is to use Twitter itself. It provides the ability to assign the people and organisations you follow into lists, so they can be categorised easily.

I have lists for emergency services, politicians, cultural groups, simply so I can keep abreast of what’s important to each group.

That’s great, up to a point. But even so, it can be easy to miss updates.

That’s why developers are creating products such as Bottlenose and Banjo to help fill in the gaps.

Banjo is one of a whole so-called ‘social discovery’ apps being created that allow people to find out about other people close to where they are, right now.

I went to Cheadle on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago to get my hair cut. While I’m waiting in the queue, I’m looking at Banjo and find out that town and district councillor Stephen Ellis had just bought some oatcakes.

A trivial example? Perhaps, but it could also provide great dividends for journalists covering an event or incident to seek out contacts.

Of course, the application sifts out information based on people you know. What about identifying trends worth following up for stories?

Last week, train services between Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham were disrupted for several hours after a man was found injured at Penkridge.

I would have missed the update using my current systems, simply because there were too few updates for me to pick up on the news within a firehose of the accounts I follow.

But Bottlenose is just the latest – and certainly most sophisticated – application that tries to make sense of that firehose of updates and turn it into something useful, and more importantly from a business point of view, actionable.

It allows registered users to import their Facebook and Twitter profiles and display them graphically, instead of a list.

Crucially, the developers have created a sophisticated algorithm which presents the most interesting information in a web of links based on your followers, interests and preferred topics.

Within 15 minutes of setting up, Bottlenose’s filtered web view provided an overview of the most popular topics, which can then be tweaked by the user.

The highlighted link to ‘Penkridge’ allowed me to find out enough to post a brief update about the problems, as well as updates for alternative routes and other information.

Ultimately, all the tools in the world won’t make a story happen. It takes the news sense of the journalists to take a simple tip-off and turn it into front page news.

It’s not what you know, but who you know (VIDEO)

IT’S not what you know, it’s who you know. Cliche? Maybe, but it’s a truism that’s helped define my career as a journalist and the force behind the internet’s change in every aspect of life in North Staffordshire.

Don’t believe me? Five years ago, the world wide web was a great tool for information.

Now the tools of web 2.0 are making creating and sharing pictures, videos and stories as simple as making a cup of tea.

In the same way that six years ago I asked financial experts such as Geoffrey Snow to help me unravel the arcane accounts of Waterford Wedgwood, I’m now asking trusted contacts on Twitter and Facebook to verify dozens of potential stories.

Remember the foiled attack on Hanley Regent Road mosque, which made the front page of The Sentinel in December last year? First tip-offs came through Twitter.

What about the fire at the Poundstretcher building in Newcastle?

More than 200 readers posted quotes and pictures of the blaze within four hours.

In certain circumstances, it even allows a journalist to commentate outside their field of expertise.

I’m no fan of football – I understand the offside rule, but don’t ask me to explain it – but the power of the web and the kindness of contributors, has allowed me to provide real-time commentaries of Stoke City’s foray into Europe.

Take three class examples from the Potters’ clash against FC Thun in Switzerland:

“To say the first five minutes here has been uneventful, would be like saying Tony Pulis likes wearing hats.”

“Gol! Thun’s manager is brilliant. He’s looks like an extra from Emmerdale.”

“Not convinced we’ll finish with a full team – the ref has more cards than Clinton’s.”

Or what about this comment which for me summed up the maelstrom of rumour on the last day of the transfer window:

“I’m such a pessimist when it comes to Stoke. However, it’s clear that no-one, no matter how ‘In The Know’ they claim to be, knows anything.”

These comments, with the exception of the first by a trained journalist, were made by the public.

But they helped paint a picture of the beautiful world far better than I would.

Of course, every comment made is subject to the bias and potential misdirection ever made by a contact; but that’s the job of a journalist to filter.

The internet has allowed a new generation of creative geniuses to make their mark and forge career paths never before possible.

Five years ago, I started to trawl internet sites such as YouTube and find one video a week that I thought was good enough to promote on www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk

Now I can find a good video every other day.

Some teenagers I saw then who cut their teeth in video are now forging careers in the world of web video.

For example, Martyn Lomax behind the infamous, and irreverent, mockumentary Stoke-on-Trent – Wish You Weren’t Here is a first class honours graduate who set up a corporate video business.

Similarly, Star Wars and martial arts fanatic Toby Dale has spent the past four years creating some of the funniest videos I’ve seen on the web.

The Eccleshall-based animator’s early content might not have always met the guidelines of The Sentinel, but his talent recently won him an £18,000 prize in a competition to find the best film-makers on YouTube and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see both Toby and Martyn’s names in lights in years to come.

You might argue that the success of these individuals are destroying my fundamental case of contacts over talent as I suggested in the intro. But it’s still true.

It’s a fair point that it’s never been easier for anyone to publish their own pictures, write their own articles or create their own videos.

But just because someone can post a video of their puppy chewing its dog tag – I have – doesn’t mean that everyone wants to watch it.

The 80:20 rule – the idea that 20 per cent of all products will generate 80 per cent of sales, or views – still applies, but it won’t necessarily be pundits from established media who decide what is a hit or a miss.

Instead, it’s going to be a whole series of new voices who will help to shape the face of the society in North Staffordshire, particularly on a creative level.

And I can’t wait to keep my place on the web to see them.

David Elks is digital publisher of The Sentinel’s website, www.thisis staffordshire.co.uk

How to tackle the problem of trolls on the web

WHEN I was growing up as a small boy in the late 1970s, the word troll referred to two things designed to either appeal to young children or to scare them into behaving themselves. And they weren’t real.

The first was a type of plastic figurine with shock rainbow-coloured hair that sold in the shedload in the days before Star Wars. The second was usually an evil, but slow-witted cave dweller who suffered at the hands of a goodie character in nursery stories.

In the same way that PC has come more to refer to political correctness than a policeman, the internet community has adopted the word to describe an all-too real character found on most websites where the public can communicate and comment.

A troll is someone who posts deliberately provocative and offensive comments on messageboards, forums and news sites with the sole intention of causing arguments, upset and anger among other users.

And they’ve been a constant bugbear since reader comments were introduced to stories on www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk in late 1996.

The idea of reader comments was, and is, simple. To a greater or lesser extent, all newspapers and other media are driven by the wants of their individual readerships.

So to have a tool that allows an editor or reporter instant feedback while allowing readers to add further information or provide tip-offs to move a running story on is a no-brainer.

We’ve tweaked the system several times to make it harder for trolls to thrive, but they continue to post on the site.

So what, you might say? Sticks and stones and all that…

Not only can it be hurtful and offensive, but too many trolls on a website can deter other users from making contributions.

On a community website where people have become sensitised to troll-like behaviour, new users can find themselves accused of ‘trolling’ for a relatively innocuous comment. Consequently, everyone becomes more aggressive. At its worst, you can go to prison for trolling.

Last week, Sean Duffy became only the second person in the UK to be jailed for ‘trolling’ after using Facebook to mock the death of 16-year-old Hayley Bates, from Biddulph, in a crash on the A500 in September 2010.

Duffy set up a Facebook page entitled Hayley Smash Nissan, where he doctored pictures of the Stoke-on-Trent College student, crossing out her eyes and posting a caption "used car for sale" and "one useless owner".

Of course, this is an extreme case but the range of comments on www.thisisstafford shire.co.uk demonstrate varying levels of tolerance to someone going out just to ‘stir things up’.

There is now a grounds-well in the social internet towards preventing anonymity and instead forcing people to become accountable for their words on the web.

Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to force individuals to sign up with their real identity when he created Facebook has been instrumental to its success. That’s both in terms of getting people to sign up and limiting trolls; although determined individuals continue to abuse the system.

But I don’t believe a total ban on anonymity on the internet is a good idea. Yes, it would improve accountability and transparency and could have gone some way to some individuals using fake Twitter and Facebook accounts to stir up potential trouble during the summer’s riots.

What about legitimate uses of not revealing your real identity, such as whistleblowers or those who use a pseudonym for the purposes of genuine strong, but fair criticism?

In the same way, that anonymity has spawned the troll on the web, a lack of it can force debate to dry up.

Earlier this year, the U.S. tech website TechCrunch carried out an experiment in which readers who wanted to comment had to do so by logging in with their Facebook ID.

At a stroke, the number of snarky, sarcastic and nasty, comments dropped, although the overall level of comments also fell.

However, the editors noticed that often many comments being left were often sycophantic and uncritical, something which is as bad as a sour messageboard.

The developers behind www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk are trying to strike that balance between robust debate and transparency.

Last year, a system of house rules was introduced which set down exactly what readers can and cannot say. If you don’t like what someone has said, you can report it as the breach of the house rules and it can be removed.

Since the relaunch of www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk in June, we’ve allowed readers to create their own profiles, although the vast majority choose not to fill in all the profile details.

They can post their own articles and pictures, as well as starting their own discussions online.

In time it is likely that regular readers and posters will be able to earn trusted status to give the best new writers and photographers a chance to be heard, while filtering out the trolls.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council already posts regular news, as well as readers to post pictures from events such as last week’s Tour of Britain event in North Staffordshire.

Ultimately, no one system is ever going to squash the irritation caused by people who get kicks out of posting offensive material on the web to upset others. 

But, perhaps the systems that are being introduced will help ensure the worst trolls are those found in fairytales and not Facebook.

David Elks is digital publisher of www.thisis staffordshire.co.uk

‘How do I get started with Twitter in Stoke-on-Trent?’

IF there’s one thing that I get asked about more than anything in my job, it’s: ‘How do I get involved in Twitter?’

I have been to three social functions in recent weeks and at each one, I have got talking to someone who for whatever reason is interested in finding out how to use the social media service.

One was a senior accountant based at Festival Park who was fascinated by the way start-up businesses locally use the service to network and generate orders.

Another businessman was interested in the marketing potential of the service to promote a niche product.

And finally, I met a nurse at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire at The Sentinel’s recent Our Heroes awards who just wanted to understand what all the fuss was about.

“You see Twitter in the news all the time, with celebrities posting updates. I understand Facebook, but I don’t get all the @ and RT bits. What’s the best way to learn?”

As I’ve said before, Twitter has transformed my working life and allowed me to meet and keep in touch with lots of people who otherwise I would never have come across.

That said, I’ve always been keen to try out new technology. Twenty years ago, I remember being ribbed at university for booking time on the computers so I could reply to electronic-mail sent by other friends elsewhere in the country.

Now, it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t have an email account that they check every day.

But as with any new technology there is a learning curve.

One of the best ways to find out more is to sign up and see what other people are doing.

Here’s five accounts that provide good examples of how to use Twitter:

@thisisstaffs – or the main account providing updates from www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk. I’m a little biased here, but we try to provide a daily bulletin highlighting the most popular articles of the day, as well as updates on any breaking news throughout the day. Readers can also pass on stories and tip-offs through this account.

@asmir1 – Asmir Begovic. With 12,000 followers, the Stoke City goalkeeper is arguably the region’s most influential tweeter, but he also provides a textbook example of how to use the social media service. He posts updates about training as well as more personal details which give insights into the life of a professional footballer.

The Bosnian international also regularly takes time to converse with fans. For example, he has held Q&A sessions inviting Potters’ fans to quiz him, and he and his wife encouraged Twitter followers to name their new puppy.

@staffspolice – Staffordshire Police. This is one of a number of Twitter accounts which the force uses to issue statements as well as crime prevention information to followers.

The account recorded a spike in followers after it was used by the public to get updates about potential trouble during the summer riots.

@HAtraffic_wmids – Highways Agency. A useful account for anyone who has to travel around the West Midlands, and provides updates on accidents, potential congestion as well as estimates of when problems should be resolved.

@brown_and_green – Brown and Green, Trentham Gardens. The West Midlands Deli of the Year 2011 provides a great example of how a niche retailer can use social media to promote the business. There’s regular information about offers and incentives, as well as strong conversation with customers.

As I say, these accounts provide just a small taste of the people and organisations on Twitter.

Back in Christmas last year, I created a list of 150 useful accounts for people in North Staffordshire.

(Who are the most influential Twitterers in Stoke-on-Trent?)

I included sections for councils and politicians, emergency services, religious groups, community groups and businesses.

I’m now planning to regularly update that list so that it provides the most useful source of accounts for people living in and around North Staffordshire.

I’ve also created a comprehensive series of Twitter lists with more than 1,800 local accounts so that I can keep track of possible news stories.

You can see the lists at http://www.twitter.com/david_elks. If you think there’s an account I have missed, please send me the details. You can do this by email (david.elks@thesentinel.co.uk) or via Twitter @david_elks.

David Elks is digital publisher www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk

Innovation always starts with a question

BRACE yourself: today’s a big day in the tech world. After months of speculation and rumours, Apple will reveal the latest version of its iPhone smartphone.

I would imagine that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people across North Staffordshire, many with only a slight interest in technology, will be tracking the news to see what the widely-predicted iPhone5 and iPhone 4S look like.

A total of 128 million iPhones have been sold worldwide since the initial launch by the Californian tech giant in 2007, with each generation of the product selling substantially more than its older counterparts.

Indeed, the company is now the highest valued business in the world, having surpassed oil giant Exxon Mobile back in August.

And that’s all because the company, steered until recently by co-founder Steve Jobs, has turned a utility product, a mobile phone, into a sexy and desirable status symbol.

Of course, that’s all very nice you might say. But what’s it got to do with North Staffordshire or www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk?

I was on the website last month reading some of the criticism of Stoke-on-Trent City Council after it announced the new £350 million shopping centre for Hanley would be called City Sentral.

The broad thrust of the thread from readers was this it was another branding blunder.

Quite apart from the fact that the city council didn’t choose the name of the centre, that was developer Realis Estates, I’m not sure it’s right or fair to suggest that the authority should be responsible for coming up with the big idea to transform Stoke-on-Trent.

In these times of austerity, people should be thinking about solving the small problems rather than relying on a game-changing strategy from Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Let’s take some examples of small ideas in North Staffordshire which have transformed lives and created jobs.

In the 1950s, agricultural engineer Joseph Bamford noticed that while tractors were commonplace, the actual job of loading and unloading material was still largely a manual task.

“What if I add a loading bucket on to the back of the tractor and use pneumatics to raise and lower it?,” he might have thought.

That idea, as well as the engineering ability to make it happen, spawned the backhoe loader, the workhorse of most construction sites.

Sixty years on JCB, on the back of that first idea, is now the world’s third largest construction machinery manufacturer, employing 8,000 people across four continents, including 4,000 in Staffordshire.

But if you look at its product range, there are dozens of types of products, all specifically designed to do a certain job, but also faster, at less cost and while improving safety.

I imagine it’s all down the constant question by designers: what small steps can we do to make our products better?  Is there a problem that our customers need us to solve?

Indeed such is the quality of JCB’s design teams in identifying and solve these problems, it’s not surprising that Jonathan Ive, the Apple architect behind the iPod and iPhone, made a special visit to meet them a couple of years ago to share ideas.

It’s not just in traditional manufacturing where one idea has led to phenomenal growth

Online gaming giant, and Stoke-on-Trent’s largest private sector employer, bet365, has gone from nothing 10 years ago to an operation employing 1,500 people on Festival Park and handling sports bets worth £4.5 billion a year, according to its latest accounts.

You only have to turn the TV on during any major football sporting event to know how big the firm is.

But at the heart of this success was Denise Coates who had been involved in running a small chain of booking shops set up by her father Peter Coates.

Now gambling is one of the oldest professions and its system of odds is fairly well defined.

The technical genius was being able to express these well-defined parameters and create a software system that could handle potentially millions of bets being placed in a short space of time. Compare with maybe thousands of bets taken across the existing shops on Grand National Day.

It’s little wonder that the firm now invests more than £60 million a year in IT infrastructure, making sure that the business can offer ever-more bewildering betting options.

But at the heart was just a question: ‘How could we put our business online, based on our expertise?’

Which brings us back to Apple and the launch of the latest generation of the iPhone.

If you look at the sales figures for the iPhone, you’ll see revenues didn’t really start to take off until the launch of the second-generation iPhone3G

Why? The first iPhone was slick, but it wasn’t until the 3G that the App Store arrived. With it, users could suddenly download apps not created by Apple, while third-party developers could write apps that solved problems.

It was innovation, but it was only a small question, that started with the words ‘What if?’

OF COURSE, it’s all right asking questions if you can’t answer the question yourself. That’s where social media comes in.

There are thousands of people in North Staffordshire who can help with a problem, as long as you ask.

Here’s an example. I wanted to create a list of the 150 most useful people on Twitter in North Staffordshire based on my lists.

To do it by hand would have taken 12 hours. So I put out an appeal for help, and developer Scott Wilcox created a small script that did the job in two minutes.

It’s true: as my teachers once said when I was school: ‘If you get stuck, just ask’.

David Elks is digital publisher of The Sentinel’s website, www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk