DiGpuss on Digbeth is Good

DiGpuss is the online shop attached to Digbeth is Good, my hyperlocal site about Digbeth’s ‘culture, pubs and a whole lot more’.

Now, DiGpuss is rather an unusual shop in that it doesn’t sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost and I have found.  And brought home to DiGpuss.  My cat DiGpuss…

If any of this sounds familiar it’s because these are the opening lines to the classic children’s TV series Bagpuss, which DiGpuss was inspired by.  It was born from the fact that, because Digbeth is rather a messy place with seemingly no street cleaning to speak of, I’m continually finding things.  Most of it is general rubbish, admittedly, but after a while of walking the Digbeth streets I became aware of certain trends emerging.

The first thing I noticed was a plateful of discarded food at around the same time Gordon Brown was encouraging us all to be frugal and eat our leftovers to beat the credit crunch.  I took a photo, and put it in a post stating ‘Digbeth says no to food saving’.  I would have left it there but I kept discovering more and more food congealing in the surrounding streets – scotch eggs without the eggs, a drain blocked with corned beef hash, a whole loaf of bread tossed into the canal and ignored by the ducks.  It just went on and on, and I kept on posting the photos until they warranted their own category ‘Digbeth Food Wastage’.

After a while, I began to realise that it wasn’t just food I was finding, but human and household objects too.  There seemed to be an awful lot of people shedding clothes in Digbeth such as hats, coats, gloves and Cinderella-style lone shoes.  Some of my finds were incredibly strange, such as a brand new pair of Moss Bros trousers still in the bag and a photo of a biker girl on holiday.

It was whilst discussing my discoveries with some friends in the pub that a DiGpuss shop was suggested by Birmingham artist Shona McQuillan.  It immediately struck a chord with us all and we hatched grand plans for interactive shop windows and Digbeth-themed mice songs.  Michael Grimes offered to make the technical magic happen and build it, as I really didn’t know where to start.  But perhaps that’s the point – we had the idea and looked at how to make it a reality afterwards because where there’s a will, there’s almost always a way.

Discussing it in the cold light of day, Michael and I decided that singing mice might have been a bit time-consuming and ambitious, so it was scaled down to something simpler that still captured and communicated the essence of the thing – I’m going to hand over to Michael at this point, who has kindly written up the science bit:

Digpuss is intentionally minimal: a sort of grittier, no-nonsense version of Bagpuss. I drew a sketchy parody of the Bagpuss logotype and underneath it plonked the picture of Nicky’s cat Floss. Nicky also supplied the picture of some grotty Digbeth window; a far cry from the quaint set in Emily’s shop, but much more in keeping with the sort of tat that Nicky finds to put in them.

Building Digpuss was a bit of a challenge, because I wanted it to be standards-compliant and not rely on any scripting (such as Javascript); I wanted to write it entirely in html and css.

The items in the windows are pulled in from Nicky’s tagged images on Flickr (this did require a little bit of scripting, but it’s done server-side in PHP and so relieves the browser of any compatibility issues) and displayed as items in an unordered list. When they’re clicked on the user is taken to their page on Flickr.

I used two versions of the shop windows image: one untouched and one with the windows cut out. I then sandwiched the list items between the two. As a finishing touch I added opacity to the list items so that the image behind shows through, giving them the appearance of being behind the windows: when moused over they display more clearly, apparently further into the foreground.

However, because I chose to build Digpuss this way it only works as described above in Firefox and Safari; and, I was excited to find, it works beautifully in Safari on the iPhone (the 3GS at any rate). It didn’t work at all well in Opera , but surprisingly didn’t fare too badly in Internet Explorer. The main issue is opacity, as this is a css property that’s not supported in many browsers (yet). There are also issues to do with positioning which may well be to do with my html and not browser problems at all, but I’ve yet to look into it.

Have you noticed something slightly odd about your area that you might like to present in a more quirky way? You may want to present a trend collectively, rather than in a trickle of disjointed posts that wouldn’t communicate a bizarre build-up.  You could try playing with maps if they span an area (like I did with my Faunography map of Digbeth animal life), or some kind of slideshow of images, or a mashed-up YouTube movie of film clips. Or you could try building something like a shop from scratch, if that’s what you really want to do. The most important thing is to have a think and a talk and a few laughs over some thoughts, let them take shape and then worry about how you’re going to achieve it. Never stop a good idea in its tracks because it’s beyond you technically.

For instance, William posed a creative quandary to me the other day – my DiGpuss finds are a collection, but Digbeth Food Wastage still remains a category of lone blog posts with no explanation that may seriously perplex newcomers to the site.  How might I present them as a whole, rather than in their little pieces? So I thought, and pondered, and today a little light-bulb came on. All the photos as a film slideshow of images with the soundtrack Food Glorious Food.  I don’t know how to do this, so I stuck my hand up and asked.  Twitter is a great place for doing that.  And if you get no joy there, try asking the Talk About Local team by emailing helpisathand@talkaboutlocal.org. If we don’t know, rest assured that we’ll find someone who does!

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