Tag Archives: networking

An evening with TEDxOrenda…

Last week, I went to TEDxOrdenda – an evening of talks sanctioned (but not organised) by TED. I’ve been to a couple of TEDx events before, and I’ve watched lots of TEDtalks. TEDxOrenda was organised by Drew Buddie (Digital Maverick on Twitter), who did a sterling job; it was associated with BETT – “the biggest UK trade show of educational technology” – and so had an education focus, though that felt co-incident rather than necessity. (Drew explained that “orenda” was a Huron native American word which means the opposite of “kismet” – that is, rather than fate, the future lies is our own hands – it is down to us and our choices.)

It was a very interesting, mixed evening; some of the speakers stayed close to a motivational model, others had more content to share. Despite the pleasure I take from TED, their model is very much about content delivery: it is people standing up on a stage, talking to others in an auditorium. I understand it explicitly excludes debate and discussion (I might be wrong!), and speakers rarely take questions. Despite the varied programme Drew put together, I think I would have benefited from an opportunity to engage more – either with the speakers through questions or with those around me through discussion of the ideas raised.

There were five speakers I really appreciated. First of these was Vinay Gupta, who raised some important and challenging questions about the way our society uses its resources and our place in the world. What does poverty look like? Despite downturn and recession, for most people in the world Vinay asserts that it is whether one can access water without fear of disease: lack of simple infrastructure kills 20m people a year. Our “failure of governance is killing the planet”, despite the availability of solutions to many of the world’s problems. (For instance, Vinay described how a bucket filled with alternating layers of sand and grit – I think! – can be used to purify water.) Vinay can be confrontational, but we probably need to be confronted by these issues; the thing is, how do we actually bring about change as a result? And – more fundamentally – how much do we – I – want to change?

Sydney Padua covered lots of geek bases in her discussion of her online comic, 2dgoggles, featuring the crime fighting due of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. In an alternate universe, naturally. All the ideas in her comic are based on ideas and beliefs that Lovelace and Babbage held or that were extant in their 19th century mileu – just abstracted and warped slightly…

Building on the “fun” aspect of Lovelace and Babbage, Alex Fleetwood of Hide & Seek described the role of novel games in learning. When people talk about games in education, I tend to think of complex eLearning environments – a World-of-Warcraft for learning. All the games that Alex described were shocking in their simplicity. Tate Trumps sounded like the most technological, a way to create interaction with the pictures at Tate Modern. The others were based more accessible technologies – a board, a playground, a piece of paper – and engaged users to think about the issues (such as what a Norman battlefield was actually like).

Simon Raymonde of Bella Union Records (and late of the Cocteau Twins) talked about his philosophy around running a record label – kind of how he got here. It was an interesting story. Simon invited questions after his talk – the only speaker to do so (and presumably moving off the TED script!), leading to a discussion of the role of a music industry in the digital age. (Simon was pro (free-)downloading, reckoning that it created demand for paid for music.)

Last up was Lloyd Davis, discussing various aspects his role as “social artist” and serenading us with his ukulele and singing. I’ve worked with Lloyd and he’s cropped up a fair few times on this blog. He’s preparing to cross America in the hands of his social media network. An interesting prospect – more kismet than orenda, perhaps!

“Learning Unplugged!”

This week, there seem to be lots of education conferences in town. There’s Education without Frontiers going in the City, BETT over in Olympia, and Be BETTR – a fringe event about “hacking education” – in the Conway Hall on Friday.

You won’t be surprised that Be BETTR sounds most like my kind of event, though I can’t make it…

But David, one of the organisers of the Wednesday morning learning meetup, is giving a talk there, and he decided to pull together his interviews on “agile learning” in paper form. Many of these interviews were done at the Wednesday sessions, and several of the regulars there helped David rework and edit the interviews and write further content; I did some sub-editing.

It was an interesting experience – and, necessarily, a learning one, too. It was good to have some concrete outcomes – to actually produce something from our sessions, albeit paper. It felt like creating something substantial. In these days of online content, it was also salutary to produce something readable on paper: it made me rethink what writing – be it in blogs, on twitter, or on paper – is actually for.

It also forced me to think hard about some aspects of our discussions: as I said before, we each come to the Wednesday morning sessions from different perspectives, and here we were trying to produce a document with a unifying vision and theme.

Reading "Learning Unplugged!" at Tuttle (photo: David Jennings)

David and others will be distributing copies over the next couple of days, but you can also read it online at David’s blog or read or download the PDF version.

Conversing with Like Minds

I spent two days – and two nights – in Exeter last week, at Like Minds. I had heard a lot of good things about the last event held in Exeter, and followed their Finnish summertime adventure on Twitter, so when this one came around, I took the opportunity to participate.

Like Minds fell somewhere between an unconference and a more formal affair. There were set “keynote” speakers, but there were several more freeform sessions. Some of it worked really well, some bits less so.

There were three (or four, depending on your definitions…) different components to the days. First up in the morning were immersives, in-depth discussions around various topics; then there were lunch-time sessions, debating different issues; and lastly in the afternoon were the keynote sessions, more formal conference-like elements. Between each keynote, however, was time for small-scale conversations, ostensibly to discuss the keynote but more practically to talk about anything one wanted with the people sitting nearby (or anyone else!).

This meant that there were lots of different ways to interact, to discuss and learn from each other. I loved the idea of the lunchtime sessions – gathering at local cafes and restaurants to debate a variety of fascinating topics – but the actuality of trying to take part in a fascinating discussion at the end of a long table proved frustrating. The lunch moderators were great, but it was hard to talk against the background noise of a bustling restaurant playing loud music. This meant that the debate broke up into conversation with one’s immediate neighbours.

The first lunch session I went to was on crowdsourcing and creativity (Ann Holman wrote about the discussion). The second was on making innovation happen. The discussion in each was lively – agreement and disagreement fuelling the conversation. Both dealt with intangibles to a degree – we argued about definitions of crowdsourcing, creativity and innovation; there was a fair bit of challenge.

The immersives were good, too. The first, led by Andrew Davies, focused on social media and publishing – interpreted as the legacy business of publishing. The general view was that the old business model was dead – nothing new about that – but there were diverging views about whether this mattered and what could replace it. In part, the stance taken depended on how “old media” the speaker was: those that had most to lose from the push online seemed to care most, which I doubt would surprise anyone. There was a lot of discussion about the difference between creation and curation: someone said that “curation is providing the context” – fitting creation into the narrative, perhaps. I think creation and curation overlap to a fair degree (a topic picked up by Andrew Dubber’s keynote the next day). With social media, we can all become curators: sharing links on Twitter, for instance. This has always been done to a certain extent – think of friends sharing articles from a magazine or newspaper – but social media have allowed users to do this more consciously, and to broadcast the result. Think of paper.li, for instance. (Curiously, today someone mentioned Newspaper Club to me today – a way of creating one’s own hard-copy newspaper using online tools and, I assume, materials.)

In the other immersive, Joanne Jacobs led a discussion on using social media for small, local businesses. This was full of great stories and pragmatic advice, and will get me to start using social bookmarking tools (another form of social media curation!). Alastair Walker has a rather more in depth overview!

The several keynotes were more of a mixed bag. On each day, there was one keynote I really didn’t enjoy; I won’t dwell on these, but it was only at these times that I drifted and started playing on Twitter. There were several interesting keynotes from the not-for-profit sector – I really liked Sim Stewart’s presentation on Cofacio, an online tool to engage with helping others.

I would have liked the chance to question the keynote speakers, though; for many, this happened in the bar later on, but I wanted to take Robyn Brown who discussed the work of the National Trust to task: she felt that there were relatively few members of the NT present, and she hoped next year there’d be more; but actually the NT has 3.7 millions members – say, 7% of the adult population – and perhaps 20% of the audience said they were members: over-represented, then. (Frankly, much as I respect the NT, I think it frightening that it has nearly eight times as many members as the three main political parties in England put together (476,000, according to this House of Commons paper.)

I think Steve Moore’s talk on “the Big Society” would really have benefitted from a broader discussion. Over the last year, we’ve heard a lot about the big society, but it is one of those concepts that seems to mean all things to all men – especially our politicians who seem to badge anything they can as being part of the big society. Steve has contributed to the thinking behind the big society, and is clearly knowledgeable about it, but I didn’t really have a firmer idea about what the big society actually is.

I really valued the various conversations in between the keynotes – it really was all about the conversation.

There were two stand-out keynote sessions for me, one on each day. The first of these was Benjamin Ellis on thinking in a different way in the digital age. His self-depreciating manner and knowledgeable but low key style were a panacea for the mind-weary. Benjamin described how the “We Generation” think differently from the “Me Generation”, mediated by social media and freely available data: technology has facilitated a move from tightly controlled behaviour to “barely-planned behaviour”, where small decisions can be networked to have a big impact. There are lots of issues here – especially for those of the “Me Generation” (like me…): our structures and institutions rely on hierarchy and governance, which social media and new conventions can sweep aside. Firms and organisations will be changed by this – as an example, Google means that anyone can more or less find out how to do anything: the need to know information has mutated to how to find it. This isn’t new – Benjamin quoted Johnson on explicit (what we know) and implicit knowledge (what we know how to find). Now, all explicit knowledge is on the internet – and this could be damaging for today’s knowledge workers. For Ellis, it is all about creating a narrative – curation is, once more the context.

The other stand out keynote was Andrew Dubber on curation – or, nore correctly, his stance on anti-curation. This was a fascinating talk. Andrew dumped his slides, deciding that he would just talk, sitting on the edge of the stage. He too talked about creating a narrative to make sense of knowledge – and in doing so, creating value out of making meanings. His stance is that the curation should be left to the user – the audience. Dubber works on collaborative projects with musicians (such as the Jura Project and Aftershock), and he throws everything into the mix, putting everything online. The creator curates, and so does the audience: we decide what is valuable and what isn’t.

I don’t fully subscribe to this idea – when we create something, we are deciding it has some value, and in putting those creations into social media – like me putting photographs on flickr – we are making a statement that we think the media are worth showing. But the talk was fascinating, and I have been thinking about what Andrew said a lot since. It clearly made an impact!

ConnectingHR – a most unconference unconference

Last week saw ConnectingHR’s unconference. I like unconferences – I’ve been to a few – they are more engaging than most conferences, and one learns more. What unconferences lose in expertise, they gain in energy: no more people standing at the front telling one the way it is. The unconference format means that the agenda is designed by participants on the day, and anyone can instigate a session. Most sessions are fully participative – a discussion rather than a pitch. And if one feels one isn’t getting anything from a session, you can move to another.

There is something creating an event on the fly – improvising the discussions: making it up as we go along. It is hard to be a free-rider at an unconference: the very idea is to get involved, and if you are not going to get involved, you probably aren’t going to be there anyway.

The only problem is the (very deliberate) lack of organisation means that interesting sessions clash; and so it was. One can’t get to everything.

In keeping with the improvised vibe, the unconference was held in a former factory – the Spring, in Vauxhall. (As well as being near Spring Gardens, it apparently used to be a bed factory. Geddit?) Aside from the cold, this was a great space, well suited to the use we put it to.

The focus of the day was very open, but since ConnectingHR had previously organised tweetups and done a lot of publicity through blogs and Twitter, one of the major topics was social media: most participants could be found on Twitter, and we covered ways in which social media could be used by organisations to communicate, both with customers and their workers. The implications for organisations could be very important.

There were twenty five slots, with five sessions being run simultaneously. I lead one session on “innovation through conversation”, which I think I will make a separate post.

The major theme for me from the rest of the day was that what organisations will be able to do with social media depends a lot on their culture – it is all about culture. As Sam Lizars tweeted on the day,

All conversations coming back to the same thing. Get the culture right – social media behaviour will follow

This might be because I went to the sessions which interested me, too – and I can get obsessive about organisation culture!

But social media represent just another way of communicating: if an organisation is good at communication, and uses lots of tools to communicate internally and externally, they’ll probably see how they can use social media. If they are rigid, bureaucratic and silo-based, they probably won’t – and if they tried, it would probably fail. Social media is just another tool: a blank sheet of paper. If you trust an organisation’s communications, if they are open and honest and engaged, their use of social media will probably work.

(An aside: I heard a great story the other day about an organisation which was developing its social media strategy. The internal communications team required that all employees had their tweets signed off before tweeting!)

The session led by Sharon Clews was all about this: “trust, organisation culture and social media”. There were lots of stories – how one firm going through a major change ignored comments by staff and former staff posted on a YouTube version of their big ad; another on how a media company had used social media evangelists to drive a culture change following a merger of two very different cultures.

The number of firms with restrictive social media always surprises me. As someone – I think it was Bill Boorman in an open session – pointed out, social media policy shouldn’t be any different to any other media policy: if an organisation wants to manage its communications, it shouldn’t matter if it is in a newspaper interview, a press release, a letter to a customer – or a comment on a blog.

I agree – up to a point. Someone else said that it is impossible to police the internet: you can’t control what people say in the pub, and you can’t control what they say on Twitter, Facebook or any other platform.

For organisations, social media should be all about the conversation – with staff, partners or customers. It will reflect the management style. Done well, it could greatly increase engagement, building the shared experience – and reinforcing the culture. Because social media can be a great way to connect people, it should also increase collaboration. (It is this aspect, centred around learning and communities of expertise, that I think could pay most rewards).

Gavin McGlyne gave a couple of great examples of using social media in learning – and collaboration and culture change – in his “pecha kucha” presentation on work he had done with TGI Fridays. OK, TGIF isn’t my bag – much too full on, frankly – but hearing how they used videos and blogs on a recruitment site – which any employee could contribute to – was fascinating. Employees posted links to the work site on Facebook. They posted pictures of the crappy bits of the job – which management were happy about, because they needed people to do those bits as well as hyper-party stuff. And it linked different TGIF outlets. The only time it didn’t work is when TGIF outlet managers tried to manage what their staff would post: when they treated it as a campaign. Then, it fell flat on its face: giving employees a voice means giving them a real voice, and trying to control it will probably back fire.

(By the way, pecha kucha? Sounds too much like pressure cooker to me!)

Ollie Gardener had travelled all the way from Norway to talk to us; I’m glad she did. She lead another discussion, based on her pecha kucha, on social media and learning and development. My bag, really. I agreed with much that Ollie said. Traditional L&D is about creating organisational clones: people who have done the same courses to rise through the hierarchy. (Indeed, to my mind, selecting people for jobs using competency-based interviews results in a monoculture, a very unhealthy place to be.) Ollie reckons organisations need individuals to succeed, and social media can enable people to access the learning to create that. Through connections – a personal learning network, perhaps (or just a bunch of like minded people) – one can map one’s own path: social media as an enabler. Tools such as Twitter (or its internal equivalents – Yammer got a lot of name checks), social bookmarking, wikis and blogs can help people find learning resources and record their progress (many people talked about their learning blogs – and I guess this is one). This is learning merging with knowledge management – but informal. If an organisation is to develop a learning culture, this would be the way to go.

There was a discussion about corporate social responsibility – and I am a sceptic – and how social media can facilitate broader social connections.

This was a very interesting day, possibly preaching to the converted – but there was some great experience shared. One of the best things were the open sessions for reflection which Jon and Gareth – the energetic organisers and MCs – had built into the day. Sharing learning was what it was all about.

Organisation Yoga or Operational Ninja?

I have tried to explain the experience of working on consulting projects with people from Tuttle and what was created through the work here before, but with our continuing discussions and the launch of the Tuttle Consulting posterous site, too, I thought I’d delve a bit deeper. (This may well be cross-posted this over there, too.)

Over the past few weeks, we have tried to capture what it is we do – to cut out the consultancy crap, as <a href="Lloyd so correctly put it yesterday; because I for one have found it hard to actually describe. I needed to distil it down into workable, understandable concepts.

The words we came up with to describe our approach were "organisation yoga and operational ninja". This is what they mean to me!

The "organisation yoga" is the use of conversation to explore an organisation, its issues and their solutions: through conversation, to help people in the organisation come up with creative, collaborative and innovative ideas that they can take control of and run with – giving people the licence to think and create. That's why it's "yoga": it is a thoughtful, explorative process.

But it isn't just navel gazing: things have to happen. And that’s where the “operational ninja” come in. There are lots of tools out there – whole realms of new media bits and pieces waiting to be stitched together – to help weave the projects together, to generate a coherent, creative outcome.

For me it is all about change and learning: that’s where I’m coming from. Others have their own perspectives, of course: one of the truly valuable things of Tuttle Consulting is that there are people with all sorts of experience and understanding, coming with different outlooks, that we can draw on.

This means we have a very rich, deep offering.

This is of course a work-in-progress; I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this over the next few weeks!

Community and Co-operation: talking about #Tuttle

Saturday saw me hunkered down in the bunker that is Centre for Creative Collaboration with a bunch of like-minded folk for what Lloyd called “TuttleCamp”. This was a small, unstructured (in the BarCamp style) gathering to talk about organisation and issues of Tuttle Club.

I’ve written about Tuttle before; essentially it is a Friday morning meetup where interesting people gather together and talk about – well, whatever they want to: what they’re up to, things they’ve seen, ideas they want to kick around. I have been a regular at Tuttle for fifteen months or so, and when Lloyd said he wanted to hold an open discussion about what Tuttle was and where it might be going, it seemed to make sense to help out and contribute to the debate.

Much as it pains me to say it, Tuttle is all about the C-word: community. It is basically just a space – the C4CC, at the moment – and some people to fill it. It is largely self-organising – there is no structure or presentations, just people sharing conversations – and this is one of its strengths; but someone has to make the coffee, someone has to tidy up – and TuttleCamp was about how this very basic level of organisation should be organised.

The housekeeping might not seem much, but it has to be done, every week, and it has been falling to Lloyd to do it. This was easily sorted – we broke up the role that Lloyd plays on Friday mornings into its constituent parts, and from next Friday anyone can sign up to help out in one of these ways whenever they are going to be at Tuttle. (Of course, just because someone’s signed up doesn’t mean that no one else can contribute – feel free to get involved!)

We talked quite a lot about the culture of Tuttle: what it is that makes Tuttle what it is, rather than another networking event. Partly this is down to its consistency – people know that every Friday, they will be able to find Tuttle. But also it is down to its openness and inclusivity; its ease with ambiguity; and the community’s belief and acceptance of distributed power. (Those were the characteristics I noted; there may of course be others!)

Whilst the Friday morning meetup is the bread-and-butter of Tuttle, in the last year there have been a couple of other community-based projects – such as Tuttle2Texas and Tuttle Consulting. There are also TuttleClubs or Tuttle-like activities in over thirty places around the world, which share the kind of culture and values of Tuttle. Much of the day was spent talking through how to support these different ventures – what kind of structures were needed – and where what people did became a Tuttle project rather than just something that they were doing.

This was interesting: we were talking about what structures were needed to best nurture something that many people view as being unstructured, and that as being one of its best characteristics. It felt a bit like we were laying down the rules for a rule-less society. Good, but uncomfortable.

There is an interesting balance between the freedom, ambiguity and unstructured nature of something like Tuttle and the needs to have some sort of governance. If Tuttle is more than Lloyd – and if it is a viable community, it certainly needs to be – then it does need to have some form of governance. Up to now, it has been an ad-hocracy – and Lloyd has picked up much of the work. Creating a more formal structure provides for longevity – but of course risks building something that constrains the freedom and ambiguity rather than facilitates it.

Rather than creating a limited company or partnership, the model that seemed to meet the community’s objectives was some form of co-operative – there are several models. Allowing anyone who comes to Tuttle to be a member of the co-operative (thereby maintaining the inclusive, open culture), this democratic structure could enable both commercial (as someone described it, “not for loss”) activity as well as “not-for-profit” projects supporting community activities, (including the Friday morning gathering.

These are early days – the precise nature of the co-operative and the details of its relationship to it members (its constitution) have yet to be decided; and since it was suggested that anyone who goes to Tuttle could be a member, anyone can get involved, too.

TEDxTuttle2: Son of TEDxTuttle…

With a shock I realise that it is two weeks since TEDxTuttle2 at Cass Business School; and that I meant to write about it after the event. I shall do so now, then; if my thoughts had any currency then, they should still.

I went to the first TEDxTuttle in September and was very enthused by the experience. The second round was equally interesting, although it didn’t have the same feeling of excitement or energy that the first created. This might in part be due to my own expectations – last time I didn’t know what to expect, this time it would have been hard to live up to my inflated expectations; in part it might be down to the venue – a lecture theatre – which carries a lot of baggage with it (sitting in a lecture theatre puts me into lecture mode: a passive sponge of information); and in part that, although there were a lot of people there, we didn’t fill the space, so it felt a little as if we didn’t have critical mass.

One major change for the better was the decision to allow questions after the speakers. I think a lot of the value from this kind of event comes from the debate engendered by questions, and there were some great questions from the floor.

There were five live speakers and a couple of TEDtalks videos, grouped into three sessions: the first centring on youth and education, the second on new developments in social media, the last a single session from Steve and Lobelia Lawson who mixed a discussion of the role of new media in the music industry with some musical illustration.

Norman Lewis was first up, discussing the role of technology in children’s lives and its impact on innovation. This seemed to be a talk of two halves: in the first half, Lewis built up his targets; in the second, as far as I was concerned, he missed them spectacularly. It seemed like there were some logical steps missing to his arguments – and he failed to take this part of the audience with him. Some of his discussion relied on contention that he didn’t substantiate – for instance, he maintained that young people are not necessarily better with technology than their parents, and that parents who praise their children’s technology skills do them a disservice; but I can think of lots of families in which children have naturally taken to technologies which stump their parents, and where the parents don’t take this as a sign of their children’s genius but simply that they are growing up in a different environment. He also maintained that today’s children are growing up less innovative than previous generations, but I see evidence to the opposite: they may not get to play outside like I did as a child, but they can still roam their imagination, they have more tools to be creative and seem to use them, and they use technology in innovative ways to avoid the watchful eyes of their parents. Lewis seemed to be arguing against his own views at times, and the contradictions failed to convince me. He has recently published a manifesto in praise of greater youth innovation, “Big Potatoes”, in conjunction with others, and perhaps that will fill in some of the gaps I felt were missing from his argument.

Next up was Julia Shalet, who described her digital youth project. Julia – a regular at Tuttle – spoke with passion about her work which has taken her to actively engage with young people around product development and the world of employment. What surprised me was how little of this actually seems to be going on: Julia described video games manufacturers who hadn’t thought to work with their target market – the millions of young people out there – until she suggested it. None of what Julia described seemed radical, just solid common sense; common, perhaps, but clearly rare. Julia’s evangelism for involving young people in what we do on a regular basis shamed me into realising how few young people I know…

This session finished with a precocious young American wowing the audience of a TED conference into giving her a standing ovation. I wasn’t convinced: I would have preferred to see some video of the more normal people Julia has worked with. I was left with thought about generational discord: a foretaste, perhaps, of the greater battles to come when future generations realise what a mess – ecological and economical – the current bearers of power have left them. A topic for a future TEDxTuttle discussion, perhaps.

The next session dealt with recent developments in social media. First up was Caroline Wierte who works at Cass; she spoke about her as yet unpublished research into the impact of social media in word-of-mouth marketing. She focused on Twitter and the role of tweets on the cash take of movies in their first weekend showing – a big indicator of a movies ultimate financial success. She’s developed models to compare current movies (where Twitter might be an influence) against a control of equivalent pre-Twitter movies. She also controlled for the nature of the tweet – positive, neutral or negative. It was an interesting, if as yet inconclusive, talk, and prompted a broad discussion about the nature of influence in social media – who one trusts and why.

Lloyd Davis, Tuttle’s founder and mainstay, followed. Lloyd was talking about his recent Tuttle2Texas adventure – a rail journey from Boston to SxSWi in Austin, Texas, in the company of other Tuttle people, and then onward to Los Angeles. I’ve heard Lloyd talk about Tuttle2Texas before – and, it has to be said, I was in part involved in the planning, so I must confess an interest. As Lloyd discussed the trip and the impact it had on him, as well as what he learned from the people and communities he met on the way, a slide show of the pictures he took a long the (long distance) way rolled on behind him. The combination of the images and Lloyd’s words was interesting: as yet the pictures are unedited, so there was a rough immediacy to them that matched the somewhat alienated feeling that Lloyd’s travels encompassed.

There seemed to be a lot to learn here. Lloyd described how whenever the Tuttle folk needed help, all they had to do was ask – the various communities, in the US and back in the UK, came up with solutions, even if they weren’t quite the solution originally envisaged. There was a real feeling of the power of improvisation in what Lloyd and others accomplished: a whistle stop tour (literally) of the eastern USA, finding help and friends a long the way. His insights into the different cultures – in conversation, for instance, in the UK it is polite to wait to talk, and in the US polite to fill the silence (a cultural conversational death spiral…) – were enlightening and brave, and rewarding.

The second TEDtalk video featuered Jane McGonigal talking about online games and learning; and how to save the world. She reckoned that the solutions to the world’s problems was probably out there, and that the way to access those solutions may well be by utilising the skills, dedication, collaboration and brain-power of the many millions of people who play online games. She makes a convincing case, but it is probably best if you watch the video and take away your own views!

The afternoon finished up with Steve and Lobelia‘s exploration of music and social media, and the opportunities that social media present for a different business model. Although Steve mapped out how he and Lobelia had got to where they are – how they used technology both to create and distribute their art – I couldn’t help but look forward: new technologies create lots of different opportunities; some of which succeed for some people, others maybe won’t for anyone. Time will tell…

What I’ve learned from Whisky. And #Trafigura…

In the past couple of weeks, I have been involved in a couple of events mediated by Twitter that have made me think about the use of social media and what they are good at.

The first was a planned, structured event: a whisky tasting1. I wasn’t sure how effective this would be: people gathered in three different locations, together with some at home, too; tens of different people tweeting about what they thought of a selection of four different whiskies. I was sceptical: I didn’t think this would work at all; a whisky tasting is all about the shared experience, and I couldn’t see how Twitter would provide this. So I decided to find out by joining in – indeed, after I asked one of the organisers how it would work, I was invited onto the panel sitting in London.

And it worked very, very well: mixing the social with the medium, lubricated with fine whisky, made for lots of interesting conversations both online and off. Reading what other people thought of the whiskies increased the experience, and people built on others’ tweets. I was surprised how quickly I took to it.

The second event happened last week, when I took part in the tweetfest which was #Trafigura. In case you missed this, the Guardian newspaper was subject to a “super injunction” preventing it reporting on a parliamentary question. (The Guardian has been subject to twelve such injunctions in the last year.) Since reporting on parliament was considered a fundamental press freedom in the UK, when word of this leaked, many people dug deeper, and when the nature and subject of the injunction was identified, lots – and lots – of people made a concerted effort to spread the word on Twitter, using the hashtag #Trafigura. After much publicity – a lot of it focussing on the role played by Twitter – Trafigura didn’t pursue its injunction.

I followed the story through Wednesday afternoon: I came to it late and ignorant, followed some of the links, got angry at the assault of British freedoms by big business, and started retweeting. I felt part of a movement, and I felt we played (perhaps a small) part in actually changing something.

The blogosphere has of course been buzzing with the story. Alix Mortimer provides a timeline, and plays down the role of Twitter; Evgeny Morozov says

So, was it a victory for digital activists, who have challenged powerful corporate interests? Well, this is not a lesson that I have drawn from this saga. What we have learnt from the Trafigura story is that digital activism campaigns have much greater chances of success in well-established democracies with a vibrant public life. … If Twitter wasn’t around, the British yellow press would surely pick up this fight, because it simply looks too tempting not to have a quick jab at the corporate interests here

And so on – a Google blog search finds over 38,000 posts about Trafigura. (Make that 38,001, after this… And now, minutes later, over 41,500 and growing!)

There are lessons here. Twitter added to the offline experience of the whisky tasting, and catalysed my action: I was sceptical and curious, and wanted to see how a Twitter whisky tasting would work. It mobilised me to get involved.

The #Trafigura tweetstream clearly mobilised many hundreds – even thousands I haven’t found a way to count the number of tagged tweets, nor the number of twitterers posting them) – of people. It is likely that newspapers’ lawyers and MPs such as Evan Harris and Paul Farrelly (who asked the original parliamentary question) would have succeeded in lifting the injuction without Twitter, but having the weight of that outcry must have helped – Trafigura were on a hiding to nothing. Twitter enabled people to get involved and spread the knowledge of the injunction, and the information Trafigura were trying to suppress, much more quickly and more widely than would otherwise have been possible.

Ultimately, I think, I have learned the value of Twitter as a communication tool: both the whisky tasting and the #Trafigura flood were about communicating; and they clearly worked for me.

1I wanted to show you the tweetstream for the evening, but I can’t. [Edit: The footnote was made a post of its own for clarity…]

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!