January 2010 Archives

Dante's Internet

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Via Kate Harding, a bonus post! (Enclicken to enbiggen.)


Are you T-shaped?

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I recently discovered Keith Sawyer's blog, Creativity & Innovation. Keith is a professor of psychology, an expert on creativity and well worth a read. In his post about cross understanding in teams he discusses the observation that teams including people with the ability to understand another's perspective do better than teams that don't:

[...] cross understanding can help us to explain several apparently contradictory findings in group collaboration research:

1. Diversity often has a negative impact on team performance, and this is sometimes explained by the "social categorization bias" that people have towards similar people. But in some groups, diversity does not result in reduced performance; the authors argue that this will happen when cross understanding is high.
2. In some groups, strong sub-groups can interfere with effective collaboration. But if cross understanding is high, this problem can be reduced.

Related to this is the idea of 'T-shaped people' who have one particular area of deep expertise which makes up the shaft of the T, but then also have knowledge and skills in other areas (the crossbar).

It strikes me that most of the social media and tech people that I admire look T-shaped to me: Leisa Reichelt, Stephanie Booth, Stephanie Troeth, David Weinberger, Euan Semple, Lloyd Davis... the list goes on. I wonder if being empathic, able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, curious about the world around it and other people's experiences, and able to recognise patterns across disciplines is really what marks out a social media natural.

Some people really do just 'get it', almost without trying, whereas others just can't wrap their heads around even basic concepts no matter how often or how clearly they are explained. I have never been able to spot a correlation between age, online experience, social media experience, activity in communities and that ability to comprehend what makes social media different to other forms of communications. Hm, that could be an interesting area of research!

The iPad - a social computer?

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I've been ignoring all the build-up to this year's Apple produce announcement, mainly because I just didn't want to get my hopes up. But it turns out that I'm actually quite excited about the iPad, Apple's tablet computer.

I had a very spirited discussion with my husband on the train last night as we were catching up on the announcements made whilst we were in a plane. My thought is that there will be two reactions to the iPad: the spec-geeks who will pour over the physical specification and find it wanting in comparison to their own laptop or desktop. People who look at the iPad the same way they looked at the Air, as a smaller version of their existing laptop will be disappointed, as many of them were with the Air, because the iPad is not as powerful or as fast as a laptop.

Then there'll be people who come at it having used an iPhone or iPod Touch. For them, the iPad is a different proposition. It will give them a bigger and better browsing experience. Reading ebooks will be easier, videos will be bigger, email more readable. For people who want a better sofa experience, who want to be entertained and kept busy on a long journey, or who want a less conspicuous machine to take meeting notes, it looks like a goer. It's not going to be a MacBook replacement, but a machine to sit between the iPhone/iPod Touch and the MacBook.

Obviously I see sociability in everything, so I think the iPad is going to be great for social media. I find the iPhone too small to write a blog post on, yet I have most of my blog post ideas whilst I'm out and about. Would an iPad encourage me to write more?

Because the iPad taps into the existing App Store and is able to run apps either at iPhone definition or x2, without any interventions necessary, it comes ready to rock and roll. There's already a Wordpress iPhone App along with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others. Your social web is there, ready and waiting. App writers can, if they want, upgrade their apps to take advantage of the bigger screen, which means potentially more functionality and a richer experience.

And because of the form factor, might we see more people using an iPad in scenarios where you wouldn't get a laptop out? I have long felt that opening a laptop, e.g. in a meeting, is a bad thing from a psychological point of view: Flipping up the screen puts up a barrier between you and the person you're talking to, something I greatly dislike. Would an iPad be better in meetings or at social gatherings? Would they make the iPad user able to socialise both in person and online simultaneously without the people present feeling blocked out?

For my money, though, Apple has some changes to make to ensure the iPad's success: Stop inhibiting innovation by placing strictures on what sort of apps are allowed in the App Store. By all means, have a QA process to ensure that malicious apps aren't developed, but their current rules about not developing apps that conflict with Apple-provided apps is stupid and counter-productive. If I want to run a different browser than Safari, for example, a browser that integrates with Instapaper, Delicious, Twitter and other social tools, then I should be able to do so.

Equally, they need to rethink their age warnings. It is utterly absurd to see an age-related warning when you install a dictionary or an RSS reader just because it's possible to see some naughty words in those sorts of applications. Apple needs to understand that it can't expect to promulgate the values of conservative America (as opposed to the rest of America, which is much more sensible) around the world in a techno-cultural hegemony.

Apple are already coming under fire for being shills for DRM, and rightly so. Nate Anderson of Ars Technica wrote:

Members of the Free Software Foundation staged a small protest outside today's Apple event in San Francisco, making the case against Apple's use of DRM. The group's four-foot signs were headed with the message "Entering Apple Restriction Zone" and laid out the tablet's detriments:

* No free software
* No installing apps from the Web
* No sharing music or books
* We can remotely disable your apps & media

Much as I love the look of the iPad, Apple needs to deal with these issues and as a community we should bring to bear as much pressure as we can. This is the one thing that dulls my enthusiasm for the iPad. I was vehemently against Microsoft's Vista and all the DRM and 'phone home' controls that it supported. Anyone who felt that Vista was an invasion of their privacy must apply the same logic to the iPad. We can't just let Apple off the hook because their device and OS are prettier.

I'm confident, however, that people will take steps to route around the barriers that get in their way. It didn't take long for someone to jailbreak the iPhone and we can expect the iPad to come under much more scrutiny. I never felt comfortable jailbreaking my primary communications device, but I'd be much happier to fiddle with an iPad in order to install the software that I want to use. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

I'll leave you now with the iPad keynote for your delectation and delight:

Embrace your daydreams

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Psychology Today has an article by Amy Fries on how daydreamers are also more intelligent:

Researchers using brain scanning technology found that the "default network," the relatively new buzzword for the daydreaming state, was significantly more active in the "superior intelligence group" than the "average intelligence group." According to the study, this suggests that the stronger connections displayed in the "functional integration of the default network might be related to individual intelligent performance."

My nonscientific translation of this: while daydreaming, your thoughts are gliding and ricocheting all over the place--past, present, future--accessing all your stored knowledge, memories, experiences, etc. What the study seems to be saying is that these connections--the ricocheting thoughts if you will--appear to be stronger in smarter people. Maybe that's why they can get more out of their daydreaming states of mind. They can dig deeper. This seems to fit nicely with other studies that say that people who can go deeper into daydreaming states are more likely to come away with worthwhile insights.

I've spoken before about daydreaming and it's importance to my writing life. I also think that daydreaming is important in business, particularly if you're in a creative or innovative role. Yet daydreaming is verboten in a professional context. We're supposed to be heads-down, focused on our work all day every day. That's not physically possible, of course, so people fake concentration by doing low-energy tasks, like cleaning out their inbox, to give their brains some time to spin freely.

When it comes to social media, I see this need to freewheel as even more important. I can type at over 90 words per minute, but it can still take me an hour to write even a short blog post because for much of that time I'm reading and mulling (a more acceptable word for daydreaming, perhaps). Blogging is, at its best, about people synthesising new ideas from the works of others. That sort of thought, where you're taking in different strands of information and forming novel links between them, requires time, not to mention a good night's sleep.

This is why bloggers need managerial support to be effective. Blogging at work can put serious pressure on the blogger, who may want to spend a day figuring a post out, but who feels that they are supposed to be banging out something quick. Acceptance from colleagues that blogging is a legitimate way for them to be spending their time is also important - there's nothing like negative peer pressure to kill off a blogger's enthusiasm. Without that support the blogger can wind up abandoning their writing or not fulfiling their potential, and everyone loses out.

The long and the short of it is that if you want your staff to be creative, innovative, thoughtful and to benefit fully from their intelligence, give them the time and space to cogitate, mull, consider and daydream.

In praise of messiness and noise

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Excellent talk from Euan at last year's Lift Conference, talking about some of the daft attitudes prevalent in management and IT and how they get in the way of knowledge sharing, innovation and, in some cases the basic act of getting on with our jobs.

I love Euan's comment in the discussion on his blog post too:

People are so much better able to cope with apparent messiness than we have been led to believe. And as you say helping them cope with messiness is better than tidying up.

How are you helping people cope with messiness?

What can a dating site teach enterprise?

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I wrote earlier this month about the importance of faces in profile photos. Today I stumbled across a fascinating post about profile pictures from dating site OKCupid, via Adam Tinworth's blog.

Christian from OKCupid gathered data from their site, analysing photos and looking at the messages that people received and sent to see if different photo styles affected how successful people were in attracting both incoming messages and replies to their outgoing messages. The results are fascinating, turning upside down some assumptions about what sort of photos would be best. Women, for example, should probably put a 'flirty face' on, whereas if you're a bloke with good abs you should show them off and if your photo doesn't show your face, make sure that it's interesting in some other way.

Now, I'm not trying to imply that professional women should put on their flirty face when posing for their business headshot or that men should be getting their abs out for their team photo. (And I'm sure I"m not the only one to heave a sigh of relief about that.) But this study does throw up an interesting question: What do we know about the impact of different types of profile pictures in a professional setting?

I'm sure that some will say that in a professional context, photos shouldn't matter, that we judge each other based on their abilities and actions, not on what they look like. If that were true, the world would be a much better place, but if we're honest we'll admit that how someone looks does affect the way we think of them. Such reactions are hardwired into our brains, and they're not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you have good instincts.

I'm also sure that we've all seen corporate directly photos that are deeply unflattering. Generally speaking, when you get your company photocard done, the person taking the photo probably isn't thinking very hard about how to make you look your best. And in some cases, the results are worse than a passport photo. Unfortunately, regardless of quality, those photos then get put onto the internal directory, whether we like it or not.

I don't know of anyone who has studied the responses provoked by different photos in, say, LinkedIn, but I think it would make a fascinating topic of research. Are there particular types of photos - looking the camera or not, smiling or not, naturalistic or posed, for example - that make people more predisposed to think positively of the subject? And how might this affect the way we interact with people professionally?

There is no doubt that very subtle things can affect the way we think of others. In one experiment, subjects were asked to hold either a warm of cold drink for a brief time. They were then asked their opinions about the woman who gave them the drink to hold. Those who held a warm drink thought more kindly of her than those who got the cold drink. (Lesson: Never give your boss anything cold to hold!)

So, are we doing ourselves no favours by allowing poor photos of ourselves to be used in social networks and internal directories? Should businesses pay more attention to the way that they photograph and present photos of staff? Should we be allowed to provide our own? If so, what guidelines should we follow?

I know one things for sure: I need a better avatar photo because apparently "with an animal" scores worse than any other typo of photo if you're a woman. If you're a bloke, however, you should go and get yourself a kitten right now, because even getting your abs out is less popular than a guy with an animal. It's probably more socially acceptable too!

Customer outreach doesn't trump genuine change

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Sucking up to disgruntled (and well-connected) customers that you've found on Twitter is by now a fairly well established social media CRM strategy. Trouble is, your well-connected disgruntled customer doesn't necessarily want to be mollified. She might want to see real, tangible change, not just for her benefit but for all your other customers. Says Tara Hunt:

I don't take bribes (#12) even when they don't look like one. I want change. I don't want to see change for me, I want to see change for everyone. I want banks to stop experimenting with how far they can push us before we cry 'uncle' on their policies and start thinking about how they can help us achieve our dreams with customer-empowering policies. I want business to invest in technology that streamlines and helps the customer experience, not technology that spies on us.

Social media marketing and word of mouth isn't just about finding new ways to gloss over cracks and quieten down the loudest critical voices, it's an opportunity to learn about what really doesn't work in your business and then figure out how to fix it. Permanently. Anything less is a whitewash.

Making the case for internal community managers

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i was reading a great post on Fresh Networks about the key mistakes community managers make when it struck me: Most people are sold on the need to hire community managers for public facing communities, but how many businesses hire community managers for their own internal social networks?

Most communities rely on a small number of individuals who glue the group together socially. It's a role that I have been discussing with many people, especially Kevin Marks, over the years. Kevin and I first met on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in a channel where one person in particular played a key role in keeping things moving smoothly. She wasn't chosen by the community, nor did she put herself forward to fulfil the role: it just sorta happened.

Since then, we - and many others - have been trying to find the right word for that sort of role. Whether you want to call them tummlers, geishas, animateurs or Chief Conversation Officers, these people are essential to the smooth running of a community. Kevin said in 2008 (read the whole post, it's well worth it):

The key to [successful communities] is finding people who play the role of conversational catalyst within a group, to welcome newcomers, rein in old hands and set the tone of the conversation so that it can become a community. [...]

The communities that fail, whether dying out from apathy or being overwhelmed by noise, are the ones that don't have someone there cherishing the conversation, setting the tone, creating a space to speak, and rapidly segregating those intent on damage. The big problem with have is that we don't have a English name for this role; they get called 'Moderators' (as Tom Coates thoroughly described) or 'Community Managers', and because when they're doing it right you see everyone's conversation, not their carefully crafted atmosphere, their role is often ignored.

These people are as essential in internal communities as they are in public ones, yet somehow we expect internal communities to just run themselves. It's no wonder that so many social media projects wither on the vine: they are not getting the right social conditions to flourish.

Instead, I suspect that the tummler role is rather frowned upon in business contexts. That person who makes sure that they talk to the new users, who spends time tidying up the wiki and talking to people about how things work, who reads all the internal blogs and highlights favourite posts, is probably also the person whose jobs review says, "Spends too much time on the intranet". The expectation is that everyone will take a share of the tummler role, that everyone is responsible for making the community work and so therefore it will. "Because we're all professionals round here, and that's just what professionals do."

That is, I'm afraid, deluded bullshit. We need tummlers internally just as much as we need them in external communities. Certainly they'll have to be much more capable diplomats and skilled in recognising and smoothing out internal political shenanigans. They'll also have to be good coaches, helping people understand how to use the tools and why they should bother.

The payback from employing a tummler could be huge as they would be the people who'd help drive tool adoption across the business. I'm sure some will read this and think, "But this is what evangelists/champions do. We don't need tummlers too." I think tummlers and evangelists are very different indeed. Evangelists tend to be people who are superusers who are massively enthusiastic about the tools they are using. They often manage to persuade the people around them to use the tools too, but they don't always have the social skills required to achieve even that. I have certainly come across "evangelists" that were so obsessive about their new favourite toy that they put people right off. They also, of course, have their own job to do. They can't spend all their time helping others get to grips with social software.

A tummler, on the other hand, would be hired for their social skills, their ability to communicate, teach and explain, and their knowledge of the different tools and how they work. In a way, a good social media consultant acts as a tummler-by-proxy, encouraging their clients to adopt more sociable thinking patterns, but they can only do so much. A full-time tummler who only needs to focus on nurturing internal communities could achieve so much more.

I guess we're back once again to the 20:80 rule: 20% of social media is tech, 80% is people, so focus on your people!

Melcrum survey reveals widespread use of social media behind the firewall

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According to Melcrum, an internal comms training business:

Internal communicators are increasingly turning to Web 2.0 tools, such as employee and executive blogs, online video, and internal Twitter-style forums, to deliver key strategic messages, stimulate collaboration and knowledge sharing and boost productivity.

In a recent Melcrum member survey, 40% of respondents said the business case for social media within internal communication was clear and that there is visible return on investment, while 53% of the 2,212 senior communicators who responded said they were planning to increase investment in their organization's intranet in 2010.

When asked about channels used for internal communication, online video and webcasts were cited as of increasing importance, with the intranet ranked as the most effective channel by 73% of senior communicators worldwide.

The business benefits of investment in social media highlighted included improved levels of employee engagement (21%), better communication with remote workers (16%), knowledge management and collaboration (25%), improving employee feedback (20%) and making business leaders more visible and accessible (14%).

This is very encouraging indeed! If you're a social media consultant working on internal projects, have you noticed an uptick in interest?

Privacy is not dead

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Back in December, Facebook changed the default settings for all 350 million users to 'encourage' them to share more content publicly. The reality of the situation was that many people were confused by the new settings and that a lot more content is now public than before.

Earlier this month, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg said that the age of privacy is over, and that we should all get used to it. Michael Zimmer has an excellent post on the subject:

Even if we accept that there has been some changes in how people share information online, Zuckerberg claims that Facebook is merely following these supposedly shifting norms. Such a sentiment clearly ignores the role Facebook itself is playing in creating -- no, forcing -- these shifts. Facebook regularly thrusts new "features" on its millions of users: forcing our status updates into news feeds, injecting our actions into advertisements on Beacon, suddenly making certain personal information permanently "publicly available" without any ability for users to limit or control access. These actions force people to share information in new ways, and when 300 million Facebook users are suddenly forced to share their friends list with the word, perhaps it does look like social norms are changing. But, in reality, it is Zuckerberg pushing the buttons.

As does danah boyd:

No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of "free." It's in Facebook's economic interest to force people into being public, even if a few people break up with Facebook in the process. Of course, it's in Facebook's interest to maintain some semblance of trust, some appearance of being a trustworthy enterprise. I mean, if they were total bastards, they would've just turned everyone's content public automatically without asking. Instead, they asked in a way that no one would ever figure out what's going on and voila, lots of folks are producing content that is more public than they even realize. Maybe then they'll get used to it and accept it, right? Worked with the newsfeed, right? Of course, some legal folks got in the way and now they can't be that forceful about making people public but, guess what, I can see a lot of people's content out there who I'm pretty certain don't think that I can.

Both posts are worth reading. And the issue is an important one for Enterprise 2.0. Not only do individuals within Facebook need to make sure that their privacy settings are correct, but businesses need to make sure that they don't end up invading staff's privacy, accidentally, unintentionally, or on purpose. As I wrote in CIO Magazine (also here) in August 08:

But when companies do use tools that are usually associated with personal social interactions for business interactions, the lines between personal and professional can become uncomfortably blurred. Often this is because personal use has bled over into the workplace in an ad hoc manner, without consideration of the business use case and without providing users with good-practice guidelines.

One woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, talked about her experience in a large media company.

"When I started to use Facebook it was because of work pressure," she said. "Everybody in the office was using it, and it became difficult not to be there, because everybody was swapping photos, arranging work nights out, and even swapping shifts on Facebook. I held out for as long as I could, but eventually I signed up." At that point, she didn't understand how Facebook worked and didn't realise that as soon as she put her work email address in, it would sign her up to her company network.

"The minute I did that, I got lots of people requesting me as a friend," she said, "Several members of management, six or seven layers above my head, requested me as a friend. I would never have requested them, but you can't say no because if you reject them they can tell, and so you end up being stuck with these people.

"One of the worst moments was when my boss messaged me at 11 o'clock on a Friday night and said, 'Why are you still online? Aren't you working tomorrow?' I was sitting at home with a glass of wine in my hand and I thought, 'That's too weird'."

Facebook isn't just about personal lives anymore. We need to think very carefully about what role it plays in business, officially or unofficially, and what impact these privacy settings changes may have.

Social media and productivity

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I've been thinking this morning about why people who are interested in social media are often interested in productivity as well. Adam created a productivity category here on The Social Enterprise long before I turned up and many of my other blogger friends regularly write about productivity. Stephanie Booth writes some especially good stuff on productivity, often mirroring my own thoughts.

In part, I think it's because a lot of social tools are seen as ways to help us improve our productivity. Blogs and wikis behind the firewall are often set up as a way to make us more effective. We want to communicate more effectively, collaborate more easily, take less time to do tasks that used to be tedious with the old tools.

People who are goal-oriented, who want to achieve their ends by the most economical means possible, seem to be the ones drawn to social tools as a way to remake the patterns of their working lives. People who are task-oriented and are much more interested in executing the process that they have learnt (or have been told to do) than in achieving the goal are, I suspect, more likely to resist changes whether that's new tools or new procedures.

Being a regular social media user also begs productivity questions around the way that it fits into our lives: How do I make sure that Twitter doesn't become a time sink? How can I persuade myself to blog regularly? When do I fit checking out my essential wiki pages into my day? How can I become better at managing my time with all this information and stuff going on?

That latter question is an interesting and circular one. Many social tools, such as blogs, wikis and social bookmarking sites, were created to better manage information-and-stuff, but as you use more of them, they become the very sources of information-and-stuff that you need to better manage... And so the study of productivity hacks becomes a de facto item of interest for the committed social media user.

A lot of productivity thinking done by social media people is focused on how people who are driven to improve their own working experience can best deal with, say, email or procrastination. Like giving up smoking or losing weight, these sorts of tips and tricks require the individual to be committed to changing the way that they behave and react. Sites like 6Changes are excellent resources for people who want to create new good habits for themselves.

But how do we encourage good habits in the people we introduce to social tools? Are we spending enough time working with new social media users so that they can fit the tools into their day? So that they can understand how to make positive behavioural changes? So that they can support each other when changing working processes that were previously so embedded in their day that they barely realised it was a process at all?

I always say that social media is only 20% technology and 80% people. Are we really spending enough time and money looking after the 80%?

Still think social media is a fad?

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From Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics (via Cyberjournalist):

David Carr on Twitter

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There's a lot of stuff written about Twitter and most of it rubbish, but every now and again I read something that really sums Twitter up nicely. This piece by David Carr in the New York Times is one of those great articles that talks very clearly about why Twitter is both useful and important, but without flipping out in gushing hyperbole. It's the sort of thing that I'll keep in my arsenal of articles to show people who want to understand social media.

Giving ourselves space to create

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There are lots of reasons why letting people blog behind (or in front of) the firewall is a good idea, but one of the key benefits to blogging is how easy it makes thoughtfulness and creativity.

In his blog post Stress, creativity and confabulation, Johnnie Moore shares some of the insights he's gleaned from Keith Sawyer's book, Group Genius:

Keith's work also emphasises how we deceive ourselves about leaps of insight, assigning credit for apparently sudden bursts of insight to a variety of causes. Closer examination shows that our minds actually build towards ideas in a process of slow, often unconscious, accretion.

Blogging is one of those ways that we can accrete the little thoughts we need to help us come up with the crucial ideas we need to do our jobs better. It also allows us to share our ideas with our peers who can add their own extensions and refinements, growing our kernel into something bigger and better. Blogging makes explicit the natural idea formation process and through that makes the process itself as valuable as the end product.

It's not true that we are more creative under pressure, or that big ideas come from flashes of insight, or that the lone genius is only one capable of great invention. Just as its a myth that art requires madness, so it is a myth that creativity needs pinpoint moments of brilliance. Better to provide people with the space and time to participate in an ongoing process of creativity than try to coral it in a brainstorming session.

Two thoughts

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Couple of thoughts from Euan Semple that are really worth considering in the context of social media behind the firewall. Firstly:

Social media relies on people having the temerity to say what they think and others having the decency to listen.

And secondly:

With a blog you have more reason to think. Having an outlet for your ideas makes you take them more seriously. Even if you never publish the posts, taking your ideas seriously and thinking harder about them is a good thing.

If you write a half decent blog post you will make someone else think. You may make them think you are wrong or you may make them think you are right but you will make them think.

These thoughts trigger two key questions:

  • Can your people say what they think?
  • Do they have the time and space to do that thinking?

Just a thought.

Scrobbling business

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Via Roo Reynolds I just came across Dale Lane's TV scrobbling project. For those of you who don't use the social music site Last.FM, 'scrobbling' is the act of gathering attention data for analysis. Last.FM pioneered the scrobbling of listening data from people's computers, allowing them to see at a glance what they listened to, what their friends listened to, and discover people with similar taste in music.

Dale has taken this idea a step further and has whipped up a scrobbler for his TV data. This wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the fact that Dale's TV is also his computer. This gives him access to data that would otherwise be stuck inside a set-top box:

Tv Scrobbling

Similar software exists to track your attention during day-to-day work on your computer. I have RescueTime installed on my laptop. That gives me access to information about which applications I use and how much time I spend using them, and allows me to decide if an app is productive or not. It then scores my overall productivity accordingly. Sometimes the results can be surprising, for example, I spend a lot less time in email than I had thought, often less than half an hour a day, and I never look at email on the weekends. RescueTime also illustrates changing preferences for software. Here's me experimenting with Google's Chrome browser (olive green = Firefox; teal green = Chrome):

Rescuetime All Activities By Day

The aim of RescueTime, if you put the effort in to set it up properly, (e.g. choose which applications and websites you find distracting, neutral or productive), is to reveal where you can make productivity gains. If, for example, you discover that you spend a lot of time on Twitter and you find it to be very distracting then you can use RescueTime to track your progress in resisting its lure.

Of course, attention data can just become infoporn, producing endless pretty graphs that don't help alter behaviour, so scrobbling isn't a solution by itself. It could, however, form the basis of behavioural analysis and change projects that would not otherwise be possible. Productivity is the holy grail of the knowledge worker, but it's hard to know how productive one is being as we're not built to accurately track our actions as we carry them out. My guess for amount of time spent in Twitter, for example, was wildly higher than reality - I generally use it for less than an hour a day, which is not bad given my line of work.

Attention data scrobbling could also, with a clever bit of functionality design, help do away with timesheets, which I loathe to the core of my being. The key there, as with RescueTime, is understanding what constitutes 'productivity'. Splitting behaviours out by application, or even by website, doesn't necessarily tell you if you're being productive. Time in instant messenger, for example, could be productive or it could be a distraction, depending on who you're talking to and what you're talking about. Scrobbling won't solve that bit of the puzzle, but it would make a good starting point.

There is an obvious dark side to attention data scrobbling in business, though: such data could easily be misused by management as a stick to beat employees with. Care would need to be taken as to who could access what data, perhaps with data anonymised when accessed by management to prevent victimisation. There would also need to be an educational component to any scrobbling project to ensure that people knew what the data meant and how to act on it.

There's such great opportunity here for both knowledge workers and the businesses who employ them. I'd love to hear from anyone using or interested in collecting and using attention data in this way.

How to ruin your community

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Back in August of last year, Matt Mullenweg of Wordpress wrote a post entitled 6 Steps to Kill Your Community, although it really should be called 6 Steps to Kill Your Community and Another 7 Step to Make Sure They Stay Dead.

I personally like:

Don't Moderate. Allow anybody to post anything regardless of whether it contributes to the conversation or not. Stupidity, libel, hate, curse words are all okay because in the comments you have plausible deniability. Make sure people know that whatever they post will live forever, and anything goes. The few smart people you did have in your comments will enjoy responding to these folks. Advertisers love being next to a good fight, too.


Random Crap from Around the Web. Make sure any comments you have are buried by every random piece of "conversation" from around the web, especially retweets, Delicious links, Digg and Slashdot comments, pretty much anything will work here. Bonus points for unmoderated pingbacks, so every scraper spam blog copying the content of the post gets a free link in the comments.

As well as:

Make People Click Click Click. Ideally do 1-comment-per-page CNET-style and your pageviews will go through the roof, but if you can't stomach that just make comments-per-page setting low or have some sort of complicated nesting scheme.

There's also great comment from Ryan Hamilton, who hits the nail on the head when he says:

Until recently, I hadn't realized that by being careless with moderation, readers may become careless as well when commenting. This leads to almost impossible to read comments and discussions that turns off the more intelligent / thoughtful readers from participating in discussion.

My addition to the discussion would be:

Scale your community as quickly as possible. Make sure that incoming newbies overwhelm your early adopters to such an extent that no one gets to know anyone and your earliest supporters feel immediately alienated. Remember, the more the merrier, and a rapidly growing community disintegrates into random crap/vitriol faster than you can fail to intervene in petty bickering.

What are your tips for destroying a community?

Avatars, faces and the socialisation of enterprise software

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I just read a great post by Joshua Porter about the origins of avatars in computing and it made me think about the importance of faces in our online social interactions. It reminded me of a blog post that Kevin Marks wrote in May about faces and trust, which then led me on to posts by Brad Feld and Dave McClure.

Brad talks about the importance of real photos in Twitter, rather than a graphic or cartoon. He then discusses tying photos to people's contact details on his iPhone and how useful it would be to have the same functionality in email. Dave McClure discusses the importance of faces in a wide range of situations and provides a lot of examples and counter-examples.

Faces are undoubtedly important to us. It's how we primarily recognise people and those of us who are... let's say physiognomically challenged find themselves frequently embarrassed at social gatherings because we are expected to be able to recognise people we have met before.

What, then, are the opportunities for enterprise software to become just a touch more social by incorporating avatars? Would email be a less awkward communications mechanism if we were shown a picture of the person we are replying to as we write? Would seeing a photo make us think a little bit harder about how our words might be interpreted by the person on the other end? Or would we end disadvantaging people who aren't very photogenic? Or encouraging prejudice against those who have characteristics that can be perceived negatively, e.g. white hair triggering ageism.

The cost of IT failure

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The worldwide cost of IT failure is $6.2 trillion, according to Roger Sessions. His numbers are based on a set of assumptions which he outlines in a white paper, but as ZDNet's Michael Krigsman points out, the details are unimportant. It's the scale that's scary. Last year, Krigsman reported that 68% of IT projects fail, another scary statistic.

My own experience is that when it comes to social media, IT departments range from reluctant to obstructive. And some IT decisions defy sense. In one case, £14 million had been earmarked for a Sharepoint installation, whilst a wiki project costing £4,000 was having to 'prove its worth'. I've seen IT departments point blank refuse to install any social media, even when asked by the CEO.

When, I wonder, did IT become the problem?

And yes, I'm fully aware of the fact that some very good people work in IT, and that they have to deal with a lot of problems of their own, and that not all IT departments are short-sighted idiots.

But given that, how is it that, generally speaking, they are busy losing $6.2 trillion and that 66% of their projects fail? IT needs a radical rethink, part of which has to be to answer the question, "What is IT for?" Is it just about maintaining network integrity? Or is it to solve business problems with the appropriate technology, if such technology exists?

ATA: What's a good framework for innovation?

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I was thinking this morning about innovation and why there's so little of it about. I am most familiar with the need for and lack of innovation in the media industry, but the lessons from media are applicable in any sector. Here are a few I've spotted:

  • Innovation can come from anywhere. Anyone facing a business problem can be a source of inventive thinking. Asking someone to innovate or creating an innovation team, on the other hand, is doomed to failure because being inventive on demand is nigh on impossible for most people.
  • Ideas need an opportunity to grow. How many people are having ideas that could help your business, if only they had the opportunity to mature? It's far too easy to say 'no' to a good idea just because it's not yet mature. Say 'yes' instead and give ideas room to develop.
  • Even good ideas need compost to take root. Make sure there are resources available to make good ideas happen.
  • Fail early, fail often. Most ideas, even good ones, won't work out the way we want them to. It's just a fact of life, so make the cost of failure low, particularly the social cost of failure. If you have someone who has lots of good ideas that never quite make it, you want them to carry on having good ideas because one of them might just be gold.
  • Give ideas time to blossom. Sometimes success doesn't come right away. There's no point putting effort into nurturing innovation only to then throw a hissy fit when it doesn't return results immediately. Maybe it's just a slow burner.
  • Consider independence. Some innovations get squashed just as they are getting going because, at the first hint of success, they are rolled into the company where they promptly get suffocated. Maybe your innovation needs a little independence so that it can grow up to be a big, strapping lad.

In practical terms, I think this means having a loose framework for innovation. Ensuring that everyone knows that their ideas are welcome, that there are clinics for discussing ideas in a creative and positive way. Resist saying 'no' just because you can. Have budget and resources ringfenced for innovation projects so that when someone does have a good idea you can carry that momentum forward. There's no bigger motivation killer than the phrase "Yes, we can get moving on that in six months". Know how you're going to develop ideas, both in terms of maturing the idea and putting it into practice. Be patient with innovation. Unlike in the movies, it doesn't happen overnight.

But this is a big topic. What are your tips for encouraging innovation?

Twitter announces bylines

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Twitter is beta testing some functionality specifically for business users: the byline. If you're running a business account you might want more than one person to be able to use it, but it can cause confusion to have more than one person Tweeting under a single identity. CoTweet handles this by allowing multiple people to access a single account, with each person specifying initial to be automatically appended to their Tweets.

Twitter is taking this idea to its logical conclusion by providing a proper byline:


This is a neat bit of functionality and its inclusion in the API should make life easier for CoTweet and Hootsuite users (not to mention other clients that will be able to incorporate it). Twitter is testing it at the moment amongst a limited group of business users ahead of a full launch to "all business users and ecosystem partners".

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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