Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Illusion of Intimacy

Prestolee’s blog post on social intimacy and Twitter has been discussed by the Gingerbread Girl, and her post reminded me of something that was at the back of my mind when I was warbling about internet identity and privacy on Friday.

The Gingerbread Girl reckons that

Internet relationships (especially the ones on the websites most employers ban) are not intimate relationships… We may care about our virtual friends at some level and wish each other well. We may help each other find something or solve something, raise money for charity, or provide support and encouragement. But at the end of the day, we do not really know the people on the other end of the ether, nor they us.

But the social media and the internet have provided opportunities to form friendships with people in circumstances we wouldn’t have had before; and also to find out a lot more about those people, rapidly, than we have had before, too.

Those of us even slightly active on the internet leave trails of information behind us – blog postings, Facebook updates, comments on others’ blogs – and streams of utterances on Twitter, if that’s where you think it’s @. A quick Google, and we can find out lots of information – for instance, I am listed on business networking sites, social network sites, photosharing sites, and have several blog comments. (Apparently I am also an author and an American football player in the US and a sports coach in New Zealand…) Very quickly, you could gauge my interests, the music I listen to and what my political views are, and see places I have been to and things I have seen.

Access to this information allows us to construct a social picture of our online contacts that feels like intimacy: we now know things about friends – online and offline – that it would have taken months or years of casual conversations to build up. It is easy to feel like we have known people online for a long time when in fact we have only just met them – or haven’t physically met them at all.

This can create a sense of intimacy – a deep knowledge of another person: but it is illusionary, too – it is virtual, not real.

There is another complication. One of the recent changes in social media – for me, at least – is the crossover between offline and online: people who know each other on social media are meeting offline too, face-to-face at Tweetups or Twestivals. I have been to a Tweetup in Edinburgh and I regularly to Tuttle, a regular social media, offline meeting place; I’m going along to Ale2point0 – a social media meetup with beer – in a few days.. The people I meet at these events become offline as well as online contacts and friends: the social in social media. A lot of these relationships are mainly online, but some become solid, intimate offline friendships too.

It is quite hard to know what to think about this. The internet, social media and the interaction with offline relationships are new, and people haven’t developed behaviours – or even words – to manage these situations yet.

Today at Tuttle – particularly on internet identity.

It was another very interesting morning at Tuttle today. It was a game of two half – an outdoor ideas-kickaround followed by the more usual indoor tournament, with the scheduled downpour marking half-time.

I’ve written about Tuttle before. I find it an exciting space, but also quite challenging and tiring: it is full of interesting people, and the conversations are often quite passionate – these are people who believe in what they are doing.

I often feel that the conversations at Tuttle revolve around themes – of course, this might be because I am involved in each of the conversations I have (…obviously…); but it might also reflect this group’s underlying interests.

Today, the conversations veered from

  • project management tools like Milestone Planner, which looks like a pretty handy, flash based, web app
  • how to monetise web apps, a recurring theme at Tuttle which interests me in terms of business models and systems – just what can you get people to pay for, and how
  • privacy, online identity, and personal brand management
  • corporate brand management and social media
  • …flowing seamlessly into what communities actually are – the c-word, a bug-bear of mine, is another recurring theme – and a lot of sense was spoken on the topic today
  • how media – not just (but particularly) online social media – work to build relationships which add real value – that is, financial value: so we ended back at monetisation again.

There are blogposts to be written about any of these topics – Tuttle is a bit like a walking, talking blog comment box. There should be blogposts written about them, and perhaps jotting down my thoughts like this will help me marshal my thoughts for future posts as they filter through my mind. (There are of course, thousands of posts on these topics out there in the blogosphere. I mean they should be written by me, though…) Thing is, a lot of the ideas I’d be discussing come from other people: and to be honest I probably couldn’t say who said what – conversations in a large group are necessarily free-flowing: that is the nature of “crowds”.

This take us back to the nature of identity and privacy online. I have two blogs – this one, which I use to discuss things I have learnt and ideas new to me, and another in a more secluded part of the interweb where I post photographs and talk about more personal things I have experienced. This week, I published two posts on this blog which might easily have gone on my other, more private blog. I put them here because they are about ideas – but they are also about personal experiences, and making them public left me feeling a little exposed. I am suffering a bout of online identity crisis.

This was pertinent to one of the conversations at Tuttle, since I was discussing Ale2.0 with Tom, its organiser. He was talking about the potential to join up lots of different media, including streaming video from Ale2.0 onto the web. We were discussing how we felt about this – I wasn’t sure I wanted potential clients and colleagues to see me sinking a pint or two: so how do I manage my online identity? Of course, I could avoid events which people might be recording; or I moderate my behaviour in case I am being recorded (the panopticon model of the internet). Tom took another view, that there would be so much noise – so much data – on the internet that actually whether there were pictures of me or not would no longer matter: with everything out there, nothing would be that important.

This seems to be quite a trusting view of society as a whole: one I don’t necessarily share. No surprise there, then.

And I must come back to communities at some point in the future, because I think my ideas on the topic are coalescing nicely.

And thanks to everyone who shared they’re thoughts at Tuttle today!

London Calling: how London seems to have changed in the last fifteen years…

I moved back to London in the spring after a fifteen year absence in Edinburgh. People keep asking me what changes I have noticed, and I thought I’d jot some thoughts down. I grew up in London and lived here on and off until the mid 1990s – through the depression of the 70s, the yuppification of the 80s and the boom and bust of the 90s. Of course, my observations are completely anecdotal, and I am certain I have changed as much as London, and I am hanging out with different people in different parts of the city. But still…

  • London seems really busy. The West End seems packed to bursting the whole time, but the outer environs seem crowded till late at night, too
  • it feels like there is a lot of money around – pubs and restaurants are heaving at all times of day and night, shops are busy (though that might be because most of them seem to have closing down sales on!)
  • at the same time, it feels like there is more inequality around too – more rich and more poor
  • it seems like a much more cosmopolitan place – there is a far wider variety of accents and languages spoken in all social strata. This could be because I am venturing further afield, into parts of London with a higher proportion of immigrants, or it might be a reflection of social changes
  • transport also seems really crowded: off-peak tubes are as full as rush hour tubes used to be, and rush hour tubes are now hellish; the North London line – a small overground railway which runs from Richmond in the west to Stratford in the east – used to be a deserted backwater, never busy and seemingly ripe for closing down: now it is standing room only (and not just at the rush hour)…
  • transport seems much more co-ordinated and joined up – either the introduction of Oyster cards or the creation of Transport for London seems to have changed the way transport actually works
  • but there is so much engineering work going on at the moment that the transport network – at least the bits that aren’t buses – grinds to a halt at weekends. This is a good thing, inasmuch as it is investing for the future (albeit that, at least as London Overground goes, this future is designed to serve the 2012 Olympics) – but it is still a pain
  • no pub is just a pub any more: they all seem to have become gastro-pubs; on the other hand, they seem much brighter and lighter than they used to be – and the smoking ban makes them much more pleasant places to be. (The Scottish Government brought in a smoking ban a couple of years before their English counterparts.)
  • public spaces are used much more. This is most obvious in Trafalgar Sq, where the pedestrianisation has opened up the space to passersby – seeing the square crowded with people – locals and visitors, it would appear – sitting around eating, drinking and talking makes it seem positively continental. The desire for people to sit at pavement tables outside restaurants and pubs seems a little bizarre to me – perhaps another result of the smoking ban: and at least the diners and drinkers can get a double dose of toxins – from both their cigarettes and traffic polution
  • a lot more people seem to cycle and walk than they used to – possibly down to the city’s congestion charge in the West End and the City

I’m sure other thoughts will surface over time, and maybe these will fade as I become a more fully integrated Londoner again; maybe I’ll get used to the crowded tube. London seems to be thriving – it has got by very well without me – but it isn’t as easy to livein than Edinburgh.

Social media and society.

Prestolee has written a post on social intimacy and Twitter, where he says

the networked nature of Twitter naturally [favours the stronger individuals], those with great reach in their networks can exploit their networks more effectively. We should seek to make twitter more accessible to all and be careful to welcome newcomers

and

there’s a definite bias towards the educated professional with values of respect, liberty and justice. However, this won’t build directly build a more cohesive society in our locality unless we can build stronger local networks. Perhaps we should deliberately seek to connect with other Twitter users in our local area rather than just those we connect with through our usual professional and personal networking

Whilst it might be true that Twitter favours both the strong and the elite, there are few barriers to using Twitter: one of the things I like about Twitter is how open it is.

With computer usage and mobile internet (through phones) rising, use of social media is open to all. The elite might be early adopters – and I’ll bet a lot of those move on once there is more general uptake – and the strong might have the social skills or power to make good use of the system, but they aren’t actually stopping anyone else using it: it isn’t a zero sum game (although at some point Twitter might need to get some bigger servers… or work out how to make some money!).

I would say Twitter is pretty accessible to those who want to use it. Not everyone will want to. Those that do want to can use it in their own way – there are no rules.

I think that social media may actually open up networking to those who believe they are weak or that networking is for the elite: anyone can make connections using their computer – including those who are shy or find it difficult talking to people they don’t know.

One of the things which has surprised me is how easy it is to make social connections through Twitter: I had been a user of Twitter for only a couple of days when I was invited to a Tweetup, and Twitter can certainly promote offline contact.

By opening up these tools to everyone – all strata in society (especially in the light of the UK Government’s Digital Britain initiative, although I can’t help thinking Government IT projects rarely deliver what they intend), the disenfranchised as well as the strong and the elite – I think social media may well have a democratising influence: I believe as people use social media, there will be a drive for a more open society and great information freedom.

Though I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Off the Wall: why is Banksy so popular?

I went to see the big Banksy show at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery last week. I say I went to see it – but I didn’t: the queue was enormous, occupying a whole side street, and I took one look at the length of it and decided that I really didn’t want to wait in the squally showers to see his work – especially since I could just wander around the streets of Bristol and see some wonderful work by Banksy and other street artists, too.

I had been warned: both the friends I was visiting and the musuem’s website told of hour-long queues. But I was still very surprised.

DSC_0009

I go to quite a few art exhibitions – a couple a month, I’d guess – by many world famous artists (and many unknowns, too). I often go to the big blockbuster shows – the big names. And I haven’t seen queues like that to get into the Banksy show before – well, not in the last thirty years that I can recall, anyway.

I was trying to understand why Banksy was so popular – way, way more than any other artist whose work I have tried see. I can’t imagine the Jeff Koon’s show at the Serpentine has queues around the park.

Perhaps Banksy’s popularity isn’t so hard to understand – I wanted to see his work, too. But that it should be so popular is surprising. Those queueing for the show looked like any other exhibition audience – perhaps a little younger, but not much. They didn’t look like they’d been out all night stencilling walls. (Though since I’ve never been out all night stencilling walls myself, I can’t really say what street artsists look like…)

What got me along to the show (if not into it) is the humour and iconoclastic nature of the painting: subverting one’s expectations, attacking the establishment. But there must be a lot of artists who play similar tricks.

But what Banksy does is very much street art: the idea of caging his graffiti and stencilled pieces in an exhibition seems a bit odd. And queueing for the privilege when one can walk along nearby streets and his and others’ work in situ seems positively perverse.

Bristol still has many murals by Banksy and many other artists: they are local landmarks, and what once might have been treated with disdain and scrubbing brushes now add to civic prestige. (I have been told several of Banksy’s pictures in Bristol are now subject to preservation orders.) In a short walk through BS2 I saw many graffiti’ed walls of high quality, at least some of which were attirbuted to Banksy.

Although apparently Banksy, a Bristol Rovers fan, recently made some unwelcome comments about Bristol City football club – whose fans have daubed some of Banksy’s street art with blue, their club’s colour.

DSC_0015 DSC_0011 DSC_0022

DSC_0018 DSC_0016

[Edit: the panda and the man hanging from the window are both by Banksy. The silhouette of children is apparently by an artist who goes by the name “Fake”. I don’t know who painted the others. The spaceman is my favourite – especially since today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing!]

A Different Way of Working

A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a business experiment. Building on the experience of Tuttle, Lloyd Davis has been putting together a consultancy offering; this worked like an open source programme, really – transfer the conversations we have at Tuttle to a productive, business-lead discussion: bring what you can.

The first outing was based on crowd-sourcing – a new space both for us and the client1. We talked through where they were and what they were after, in a very open fashion. The client knew we were experimenting, and they were open to it – and this gave us the licence to make it up as we were going along. I think it felt scary and exposed for both client and consultants – but also energised and exciting.

It worked on several counts – both for us and, by all accounts, for the client. We didn’t have anything to sell: we didn’t have a product we were trying to push – there were no “off the shelf” solutions into which we tried to shoe-horn the clients’ issues. There was also dissent: the crowd of consultants (ok, there were a dozen or so of us) were each approaching things from their own experience and perspective, and we had different ideas about what might or might not work. Because we weren’t working within a conventional corporate hierachy, we weren’t trying to score points off each other, so we could concentrate on what we thought would really work (and what the client could get to work – without painful, costly interventions).

The second session was perhaps more focused: building on the outputs of the first, we came up with concrete ideas that could become proto-projects – things the client could take away and actually make happen. This had a smaller number of consultants working on it – just five or so – helping take the broad ideas and possibilities developed in the first session and funnel them into a range of real, creative activites.

It was hard, intense work; but because we had experience of constructive conversations from Tuttle, it didn’t really feel like work. In tandem with the client, we took the initial ideas, kicked them around a bit and beat them into shape. From the initial input, we were creating something solid.

This business model felt quite new – to me at least. (It is possible that such open, free-form, improvisational consulting is old hat; I’m sure you’ll tell me if it is!) Because of our experience from Tuttle, the understanding between the consultants – who hadn’t necessarily met or spoken with each other before – were such that we were open to challenge: there were no right or wrong answers, just lots of options.

Our openness seemed to be appreciated by the clients, too – because it was a different experience for them as well: not the usual sort of consultants’ offering. I think they learnt from it, as I believe we did.

All in all, it felt a very positive experience, and one I hope we are able to grow and share with more people.

[1Our clients are apparently happy to be identified, but, as I was writing this, it didn’t really feel right to share their identity with all and sundry: this post is more about the process, what felt new and the way we worked – what actually excited me about working in a different way – than what we actually delivered for them. That they were happy to be identified I think says a lot for the openness of that process.]