Busy with the Fiz-zy

I was waiting until I’d had a chance to have a go of it before I mentioned Birminghamfiz – Digital Birmingham’s “free wifi information zone”, I don’t carry my laptop around with me that much (and the wondrous iPhone won’t be out til November) so I hadn’t done it yet. I wanted to have a proper look after being a bit critical of Digital Birmingham’s literature in the past, so as to be fair.

It’s just dawned on me that it’s a WEBSITE tho’ and I can access it ON THE INTERNET.

So I just have. Birminghamfiz is essentially a mobile website – it’s special because it will be the only thing that is free to access on BT’s Openzone (which is a paid for wi-fi service that covers much of the city centre). It has (copied and pasted from the site) access to :

  • Listings for local cinemas, theatres, music venues and sports events;
  • Ideas of where to eat and drink;
  • Train, metro and bus timetables;
  • Where to park and where to find a taxi;
  • Places to stay;
  • Where to shop;
  • Toilets and baby-changing facilities;
  • News and sport;
  • Local weather forecasts;
  • Emergency services;
  • Jobs;
  • Schools, colleges, term dates and holiday clubs;
  • Conference facilities and business support services.

Let’s have a quick shufty through:

The listings bits open in a new window (okay on a laptop, a pain on a PDA) with a very basic search page for each catergory (which I think is a version of the visitbirmingham.com information pages, it’s certainly proxied through from a different site and has the same format and search results). They’re still working on the content probably, nothing is found for The Academy, Snobs, or Missing – the first three I tried – on the ‘Nightlife’ search. When I found a bar, the only information was the the address – a link to a map would be good, directions based on your location would be even better.

The health information is pulled through from an NHS site, a slow one, that brought up a map of Europe for me when seaching for the nearest A&E. The news and sport stuff comes from the BBC’s mobile version of bbc.co.uk, which is probably one of the best solutions, I did manage to click through to most parts of the BBC site – and I’m impressed that the system didn’t have an obvious way out onto the rest of the internet here. It’s what I was looking for, and I’m sure enterprising hackers will be too (I also tried editing the url that allowed some external sites to http://www.birminghamfiz.com/proxy/index.php?url=www.birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk – it didn’t work alas.)

The travel news page, which I thought was a bit of an odd feature since you were in Birmingham anyway and couldn’t get the service elsewhere (actually the parking stuff is the weirdest in that respect, imagine looking at it while you’re after a space), redirects to a site called Help2Travel which has a lot of info, but will be a difficult one on a mobile phone screen.

In fact, using the mobile device emulator on ready.mobi gave me a flavour of that and the travel pages don’t seem to work at all without selecting ‘Text View’ and navigating back to the page you were at. Not the fault of the Birminghamfiz team, but something for them to perhaps help sort out.

A brave attempt to allow useful content, I’ll try to get round to trying it ‘in the zone’ so to speak – or you can, feel free to add your experiences in the comments. As for the coverage, this map, seems to show a fair old amount of the city centre covered – a pity the New St station area seems to be a blank, arriving visitors and all that.

They want feedback, so I think it’s important that people give it a try and improve the service: “any ideas, suggestions or comments email digital@servicebirmingham.co.uk

Mine would be, why not allow full access to visitbirmingham.com, birmingham.gov.uk, and a selection of other approved sites (us? ;) )- you could have a portal that directed you by all means, but it’s best to leave the mobilisation to the experts perhaps. I’d like to see fuller webpages on my laptop and a mobile service for phones, PDAs, much like Google do so well. Maybe it’s that difficult bit between offering enough and too much content, which would stop people paying for the full service.

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