Sunday, December 30, 2007

where is "utopia" again?

Dave Snowden weighs in with some criticisms of Dave Pollard's Model Intentional Communities.

I find the least convincing element of Dave P's proposition to be the polyamory stuff - mostly because I think it goes against a key Dave P requirement - sustainability. I am unconvinced that polyamorous relationship networks last over time (but please prove me wrong on this).

The Second Life stuff leaves me cold - mostly because I don't get "SL".

The key issue for me is: to what extent are MICs integrated with the non-MIC ("fallen" perhaps) world? Dave P writes: To be self-sufficient, responsible and sustainable, the MIC needs to have everything (the capacities, the space, the time, and the resources) to be independent.

For Dave P, separation is the key to MIC success. For me, it guarantees their failure. My question would be: what aspects of everyday life can be made more sustainable? For Dave P, this probably smacks of appeasement. But he himself talks about complex networks - and the MICs of his dreams cannot stand outside these. You cannot save the world by disappearing from it. As the estate agents say, it's all about location, location, location.

Dave P says: Each MIC would be a circle within a circle, the larger circle being Gaia, the community of all-life-on-Earth. Apart from disliking the term Gaia (which to me is just a scientific gloss on animism), this model sidesteps a reality in which most of the world is not part of an MIC.

As with Dave S, I think that Dave P is taking on tremendously important issues - but I'm also concerned with the separatism.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Get this cutting edge application now. But remember to take your vitamins first.

Thanks Lauren.


The sun hits my skin, triggering vitamin D creation and (probably) melanoma production as well.

Dave Pollard's utopian urges hit my RSS feed and reminds me of a film and of my own, ambiguous experiences with utopian communities.

I look at Dave's adjectives: exemplary, egalitarian, replicable, educational, responsible, respectful, self-sufficient, sustainable, diverse. I hear echoes of a million pious political plans (illustrated with a multi-ethnic cast grinning around an iMac or a yogurt-making aga or some such techno-artisanal ikon).

Part of me admires the purity of Dave's vision.

And part of me wants to find Dave's MIC and spray graffiti on the walls, burn down the buildings and glory in its destruction. That's not very nice but sadly very human. Dave's vision seems a model of liberal, humanist rationality. But where is the place in utopia for the irrational, the destructive, the parts of us that aren't nice but are ever present (although very much controlled in most societies)?

We find ways of channelling these dark energies - some useful (sport, art, capitalism), others less (violence, drink/drugs). Where are the dark spaces in an MIC? What does it do with its shadows?

Dave visions a polyamorous world but my god is a jealous god. And he was made in my image.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas 2.0

As ever, James Dellow has the skinny.

green green grass of home

Tom Davenport is on the money with his comments on sustainability. And whilst I have been critical of his views on social networking software, I can understand his frustration with the focus of the comments he receives.

For business, the early 90s was about efficiency - BPR, ERP, firing lots of people - in short, sobering up after the 80s. Then the late 90s was also about technology - the internet. Once we'd recovered from that particular over-indulgence session, this decade has been all about globalisation - those Indians & Chinese folks.

The last 18 months suggest that the Next Big Thing will be sustainability. Just as globalisation was going on quietly throughout the 90s, sustainability has been around for a while. Rocketing petrol prices and climate change fears are just bringing it centre-stage.

At the moment, it's just focusing on things like energy & water efficiency. These aren't bad places to start but it's going to have to go deeper than that. And bigger. many problems are cause by local solutions being sub-optimal at the global level - e.g. putting my rubbish the street is great for my garden but not for the neighbourhood.

A question I would like to pose: How do the LBTs (Last Big Things) help us with this one? We tend to see globalisation as having a negative impact on the environment but what can we do to change that? And how does all this social software malarky help? Something around co-ordination may be....

blog dress - further reflections on the pew report

Put on that dress
I'm going out dancing

These thoughts are triggered by seeing Hell Hath No Fury (which I enjoyed but also agreed with the opinions of the reviewer thru the link), the Pew report referred to in the previous post and the lyrics of PJ Harvey's Dress*.

As a teen, public display is important - esp. as your body changes under the influence of hormones. Are you wearing the right clothes? The wrong clothes? What do they say about you? Do they fit in with the people you want to fit in with? And from what I remember, this is more important for teenage girls than boys. And critically its much more social. Most of my male contemporaries did not talk to each other about style tips or haircare. But for girls, going shopping together for outfits was normal.

How do we clothe our identities online? Words are one way of doing it. Creating a lexical sheath for ourselves. Blogs are often compared to online diaries but they are also public displays. Has anyone done any work on fashion trends in teenage girl blogs? The apps? The fonts, colours and formatting? What's in this blogging season?

Also, to what extent is posting a comment on a blog a form of social grooming?

Photo: cryptdang

*Which on reflection also has too much of a man focus. Women mainly dress for each other, not for men, no matter what we may choose to believe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

big girl's blouse

Apparently girls like to blog but boys like to upload video. So I can blame my blogging habit fairly and squarely on my mother making me wear dresses as a child. But then I blame everything on that so really need to start humming another tune. And it's girls from low-income & single parent families who blog. Is there something there about a need to be heard - and a need to create an identity?

Also US teens can be more savvy about accessibility & privacy than adults. Only 21% of teens never restrict access to their photos online vs. 39% of adults. They may simply have more to hide (but I doubt it) or the repercussions for not hiding might be worse. And, let's face it, hiding stuff from adults is fun. Also, girls are more restrictive than boys*.

Ross comments that through the new communications media we are discovering our "latent humanity". To put it another way, we don't just discover or share who we are, we create it. Adolescence is a time when these acts of creation are at their most intense. And this creative activity is naturally social.

This social self creation weaves technologies into our natures. So its hardly surprising that people start to experience them as appendages. Sever the connection and the addict experiences "phantom limb pain". Fortunately teens are far more adaptable than adults. Most of them seem to be giving up on email anyways.

*I am ill-equipped to discuss this topic (not that it's ever stopped me before) but women have always had to work that bit harder to establish their identities than men. The boys with their videos ("look at me, look at me") vs. the girls with their blogs ("listen to me, acknowledge me and what I am becoming").

Nature hates hippies

There can be no other explanation.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

should enterprise software be sexy?

when i worked at a certain large enterprise software vendor, i cringed when people (mostly men) would say software solutions had to be "sexy". it made me wonder what they got up to with their partners at home: "yeah baby, work that GUI interface for me, oh jesus, yeesssSSSSS".

sexy is what other human bodies are - unless you are some kind of pervert*. but taking stephen's sexy comment literally - what does that mean?

i would argue that enterprise apps are supermodel sexy. they apply unreal expectations of (process-based) leanness to the rest of us. or rather they make us apply those to ourselves. and hence they are not sexy at all. now ladies and gentlemen, i want you to picture a special time with your partner. when they have made you feel like the sexiest person on earth. how did they do that? well (and i wasn't there, so i'm just guess here) they probably made you feel wanted. and happy about being you. and just the right shape physically, emotionally, mentally. and goddam necessary to their happiness too. they probably touched you in ways you'd never been touched before.

how often does enterprise software do that?

*according to freud, we are all perverts - so the pressure's off people.

peats ridge festival

i'll probably be there at some point between christmas and new year. let me know if you fancy sipping a decaf soy chai between chakra alignments and bands.

creative economies

so 200 years ago (back before these new-fangle moving pictures and such like), people used to make their own entertainment. a lot of it was probably rubbish. but some of it was good. and much of it was theirs.

as much as i love mass(produced) culture - i have aaliyah projecting from my speakers rather than my own wonderful baritone - i have a soft spot for people doing this stuff for themselves. be it poetry or bands.

as i get older, i have less and less desire to share a gig with 20,000 other people - no matter how great the performer. seeing a half-way decent band with 50 other people in club can be better, more magical, more immediate than the stones in a stadium. there's a dilution effect - at least for me.

there is some sorcery in getting up on stage in front of people. for me (doing conferences or poetry slams - and i've rocked and sucked at both), it's all about connection. you want to reach people with your ideas, emotions, words. you want to tell them what they already know (on some level of truth) in a way they've never heard before.

and i would suggest that everyone needs that feeling, sometime in their lives (whether they know it or not). and where are the opportunities for that these days?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

the garden of forking paths

Jon Husband notes that Doris Lessing doesn't like the internet. Which begs the question: Am I allowed to like books and the internet? Or must I eschew this awful environment in favour of a nice, thick paperback?

DL's books have never interested me but her speech contains many moving examples of those hungry for literature. I love this passage from her speech:
Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race, to fire and ice and the great winds that shaped us and our world.

However this next passage strikes me shallow:
"How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?"

Inanities? Of course, few of us have the gifts (and time and resources) to produce nobel-prize winning literature. So we should be quiet and just wait around for those that do?
Here I am talking about books never written, writers who could not make it because the publishers are not there. Voices unheard. It is not possible to estimate this great waste of talent, of potential. But even before that stage of a book's creation which demands a publisher, an advance, encouragement, there is something else lacking.

And this to me is gift & curse of low-cost publishing. Of those voices unheard, a few will put Shakespeare in the shade. But the majority will be "inane".

DL seems to be unable to confront the fundamental paradox at the heart of her wish. Accessibility means that the foolish and wisdom are accessible.

blog council

The Blog Star Chamber Council is a shadowy organisation devoted to world domination corporate blogging. Definitely not funded by a bizarre neo-con / left-liberal conspiracy hell-bent on, er, using Word Press a bit more. It kinda feels like a security blanket for corporate communications dudes - nothing wrong with that...

Friday, December 07, 2007

the aggregations of memory

When you are not acting like yourself . . .that's an everyday thing for everyone, but it can be a bit sinister . . .It's like the opposite of Unite

We remember by rebuilding the past. Aggregating fragments of feeling and sensation. Images, words, intensities. The past is already distributed and we have no choice but to engage in acts of forensic reconstruction. Our lifestreams are more like a delta (the Mississippi or the Mekong) than a river.

Burial's music may not mean that much to you if you've never heard 2step or jungle. For me it feels sodden in longing for musics that eschewed the retro pleasures of the past. A paradox of futurist nostalgia. He's assembled elements of the past (beats, vocals) that feel dislocated - undead divas, a gnostic rave severed from the flesh.

Burial provides clues for the future of memory. Memories has always been tied to things in the world - landscapes, artifacts, people. And we've struggled to create collective memories that will outlast our little lives: of myths & stories, of sacred places, of uniting events, of books & machines. The digital traces of our lives (that so vex us in terms of control & privacy) are part of that stew. They will be subject to interpretation & reinterpretation - not always in a manner constructive or positive.

Perhaps someone else will reconstruct my life from its myriad traces. Creating nostalgia for an identity who never existed.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Ed Mitchell talks about 3 types of online community. Moving from centralised to decentralised to distributed basically means moving from managing via boundaries to managing via attractors. The centralised community is held together by common protocols whereas the distributed community is held together by social objects. Neither is better than the other but those with a preference for control will feel more comfortable with the centralised model. For the distributed model to work, you need a way of tagging (or literally branding) your social objects and making their movements between members at least partially visible. Ed says: The key is aggregation at the core. I'd qualify this by saying: the key is easily visible and malleable social objects (text, photos, audio, links, maps, etc). Aggregation is one way of achieving that but not the only way...

Except for all the others

There is a famous Churchill quote to the effect that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. The previous post has attracted some comments worth having a look at which I want to explore here.

I understand Churchill's frustration with democracy. The recently completed Australian federal election left a bitter aftertaste. A lot of negative campaigning and precious little vision - both sides calculating that many Australians don't want vision at the moment. We have professional politicians heading up huge political machines (though the Liberals now aren't as well-oiled as they have been in the past) claiming to control things they manifestly cannot. This year, politicians tied with car salesmen (but were below sex workers) in terms of trustworthiness. Which saddens me*. The relationship between citizens and their representatives should be a barometer for the health of society as a whole.

Our democratic structures are flawed, imperfect things - riven with compromise. There's a lesson here for the 2.0 mob. We crave the revolutionary moment of "democracy" - breaking the gates on collaboration, innovation, information. And yet what we are left to live with is far messier and ambiguous than that. A world that displays back to us our own conflicted natures.

*Are we voters complicit in this rusting of trust? We can't always admit what we want (e.g. economic growth at the expense of, say, social justice or sustainability) so our pollies reflect our own hypocrisy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The perils of democracy

In a conversation outside the Westin hotel, Ralph reiterated his belief that powerpoint democratised multi-media. Which reminded me of something an Indian once said to me: "You British gave us democracy. It was like giving a monkey a jasmine garland*".

His point was that India was not in a position to make best use of that power over itself in 1947. Having power is only good if you can wield it effectively. Democracy tends to work best with educated and literate populations**. N.B. I am not suggesting that India (or any other state) should forgo democracy for technocratic rule by expert or neo-colonialism or enlightened despotism. But if powerpoint (& digital cameras & Flickr & podcasting & video sharing & etc) is a democratising force then it needs a literate citizenship to take it up. And I'm not sure we have that yet. But you have to start somewhere.

Which is why I still think we need the visually literate to be educators as much as designers in their own right.

*Hey ma, I just offended 1 billion people.
**Although you have to start somewhere and dictators often don't want their populations to be literate and educated enough to disagree with them.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You've got (more) mail

Dave talks about email here and here, most of which I agree with - apart from the assertion that I'm starting a crusade - "Follow me to reclaim the lands Information Righteousness from the Infidels of Email!". I do think we need to put email in its place - and it does have a place. However, as Dave indicates, that place is far smaller than the area it currently occupies.

The two crucial changes (which incidentally are the first on Dave's list) that need to happen are:

1. Reducing the use of attachments. Sending out hotlinks for fixed documents or update notifications for documents being modified via a wiki is fine. But this will be a big jump for many organisations where the main content collaboration tool is email + MS Word with "track changes" turned on. The exception to this might be documents transferred between organisations - i.e. you can send & receive attachments from external parties but not internal ones.

2. Broadcast emails. It's here that an unholy pact has developed between managers and their subordinates. Managers First: Communicating things is hard. You probably need to do it several different ways. And then you need check that people have both understood your message and are willing and able to act on it (if they don't need to act on it then why the hell are you telling them?). This takes a lot of time and it's generally much easier to fire out an ambiguous email to hundreds of people. Subordinates Second: Paying attention to senior people is hard. And they may ask you to do crazy things. Saying that you didn't read it on the portal or you weren't at the meeting or that you missed that email are great ways to avoid direct conflict with your manager (or their manager or their etc). There are times when broadcast emails are appropriate but they are comparatively rare.

Given the growing number of tools, we need to be clear which tool we are going to use for what. Developing post-email (but not anti-email) policies and practices is a critical part of this.

Collaborative Mindmapping

Thanks to Kim, I've been playing with mind42 - a collaborative mindmapping tool. Based on one of my current obsessions, I have put together a mind map on email.

Feel free to dip in and have a play around (N.B. you have to sign up).

UPDATE: Unfortunately, it looks like I need to imvite you to join so you can edit. If you would like to do so, please drop me a line.

Does your city have enough freaks in?

Brad has a background in economic geography. I am trying to buy an appartment. The two are more linked than you might think. We got talking about cities and urban planning.

Brad told me that a city needs 200,000 - 300,000 people. People come to cities for the work opportunities and the lifestyle diversity. You can be a freak in way you can't in a town of 30,000 people*. And Richard Florida would say that cities need freaks to make them economically useful.

However we both discussed Sydney getting too big. It sprawls out to the Blue Mountains, down to Wollongong and up the Central Coast. And my suspicion is that its more like California than London in that travel is multi-nodal (people living in Strathfield commuting to Chatswood) rather than the majority commuting to a comparatively large CBD**. Assuming that transport costs will rise over the coming decades, this will become more and more of a problem. To what extent will Sydney fracture? Will the emerging megacities swell and then break apart under their own weight?

*like the one I grew up in, not that I'm a freak, er...
**Happy to hear from an urban planner that I talking codswallop here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

etiquette: interruption interaction urgency

Yesterday, I was trying to explain to Brad in what circumstances I might send an email vs. a txt vs. call someone. It came down to balancing interruption, interaction & urgency.

Interruption: Some media require the full attention of the respondent. They have to stop what they are doing right now. Face-to-face is (or should be) the primary example of this. Likewise calling someone requires that they interrupt themselves to interact. Email or txt causes less interruption for most people.

However sometime you have to interact with someone (e.g. discussing what movie to see that evening). I prefer the phone for that. It is possible with email or txt but it feels more clumsy (IM is better).

There is also the issue of urgency: I view txt as a more urgent medium than email (& voice trumps txt) but that depends on context.

That's how I rationalise what I do anyway.

How about you?

Peak email (2)

Patrick talks about the death of email and points to this article by Chad Lorenz. Email usage has already peaked for US teens. The rest of us will take a while to catch up but it can't be far away.

When I reflect on over a decade of online use and abuse (my masters thesis in '97 looked at the use of internet technology by information brokers), email has kept me in touch with existing friends but it has rarely allowed me to widen my social circle. Bulletin boards & chat sites did that (around such topics as UK indie music, chaos magick and, er, library studies).

I suspect the most valuable thing about email going forward will be having an email address to do other things with (not necessarily send or receive emails) - possibly tied to a mobile phone number.

We need to blow up the inbox and turn it into something new.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Forrester put someone else's money where their mouth is

It slipped my attention that Forrester are saying the US corporate social software market is worth $300M and is set to increase 5-fold over the next 5 years - remaining equally split between internal & external applications.

Points of interest:
- $300 million is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. But given the prevalence of open-source software in this area, is it worthwhile comparing spending on web 2.0 stuff with spending on, say, ERP?
- The equal split the internal & external uses (E2.0 has been getting more noise of late but still little compared to commercial world uses).
- The lion's share of the $ is being spent on social networking software. Which comes as a bit of a surprise. With most people I talk to, it's wikis, wikis, wikis for internal experiments. I'm guessing the social networking spend is being driven by external applications & marketing budgets!?!

UPDATE: A little information may be a dangerous thing. Check out the comments section regarding what the figures actually refer to.

Peak email

We may be about to reach peak email soon. Unlike peak oil, this will not be as a result of supply constraints. The well of those willing to send you emails about cosmetic surgery and stocktips remains seemingly bottomless. What will happen is that more and more people will use alternative tools (substitution) for collaboration & communication. And spam email as a % of total email traffic will continue to rise. Until all that's left in your in-box will be fake lottery wins and viagra ads.

Email is great but it's fungible.

The identity arms race

Coffee with Brad today. We were talking about a whole bunch of things (soon to be blogged). Brad asked me why people would expose themselves on things like Facebook & MySpace. Two thoughts came to mind:

1. Pay to play. If you want to intereact with others in this environment then you have to give something in return. And is often information about yourself. You can keep yourself hidden but are you willing to pay the opportunity costs for doing so?

2. The identity arms race. If we do not shape our public identities then others shape them for us. Therefore we are engaged in a constant struggle to constitute ourselves. Arms races are driven by competition and technological innovation. We have a whole bunch of new technologies that are driving an arms race of online identity creation ("Facebook, Twitter, blog, Second Life").

35 trillion emails - and they're all yours

Alex picks up on the email post and indicates that if you cross reference that with the number of actual net users it jumps to 79 per day. If we take this a step further, then what is the distribution of emails by user? I suspect it may be some kind of power law - with a small number of addresses sending and receiving the bulk of the email and a large proportion of the population sending and receiving very little.

There is also probably an asymmetry - those sending the bulk of the emails are not the same as those receiving them.

Alex makes a point about email overload. Email has been a victim of its own success. And it's impact over the last 15 years has been revolutionary. But we need to think about the shape of the post-email age. Is it going to be dizzying mess of email AND IM AND wikis AND other stuff..?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I think I sent my first email back in 1993. That period is all a bit hazy. I think I was doing it for a friend. But that could just be post-hoc self-justification.

About 35 trillion emails will be sent this year. That is approximately 17 emails a day for every person on this planet. Somewhat depressingly about 40% of these (7 per person) are spam.

This compares with 620 billion SMS texts in the first quarter of 2007 (which will mean 3 trillion for the year presumably). Or the 167 billion minutes of international telephone calls made in 2005.

That's a whole lot of talking going on. (N.B. I'd love to know the total number of phone calls made worldwide 2007 - anyone got that data?)

Which makes the number of blogs, wikis, etc out there look pretty puny.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's not about the people

I'm not the fastest person in the world. I get delayed reactions to things. At the KM in the Public Sector event I attended a couple of weeks ago, speaker after speaker said: "It's all about the people".

And it has generated an allergic reaction. They're right. But also wrong. It's not really about "the people" in the warm, fuzzy, humanistic way that phrase implies. Increasingly it's about how people work with and against sociotechnical ecosystems. And to many of us, these ecosystems are monstrous.

City folk (and for all the stories they tell themselves about their bush heritage, Australia is an urban society) have a tendency to venerate nature (provided it's neat & tidy &doesn't burn down your home). But the natural world is a disturbing place. And the world we have created to work in is no less disturbing.

Sometimes I wish it wasn't about the people.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interesting (7): Moose & other things

Have you ever gone to "walk" your dogs by skiing? And then been chased by a moose? John McWhorter has.

Have you ever hung out in tango bars to master the art of that dance? Tiffany Kenyon has.

Have you ever set your own Fairtrade chocolate brand? Natasha Lewis has.

Do you provide sexual services to disabled people? Rachel Wotton does.

Have you tried to explain the colour green to blind kids? Errol Flannigan has.

You may not have done any of these things but I'm sure you have done something interesting. Would you care to share what?

Interesting (6): Zero

There were lots of people called "Tim" at Interesting. Tim Longhurst was another one. Tim is behind the Zero Coke Movement. Tim's energy & sheer charisma is a sight to behold.

Tim Baynes was another. Tim talked about the environment, the tragedy of the commons andthe problems with exponential change. And he was bloody funny in the process.

You're gonna miss me baby

You didn't realize

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Interesting (5): Vocology

Tim Noonan was possibly the most charming presenter last night. He has an obsession with people's voices (click on the link to find out one of the reasons why). The grain and timbre of the voice. Not so much the words as the texture of the voice and what this can tell you about the speaker. He even did a voice reading of an audience member on the spot.

He also made the point that we risk losing our sense of voice in a culture that is ever more visual. Whether this shift to the visual is actually happening, I don't know. But we do seem to spend more time how we look (clothing, hairstyles). Do we care how we sound?

Interesting (4): Hugs

I was wandering thru Pitt Street Mall a few weeks ago and there was a dude with a sign saying "Free Hugs". So I thought "why not" and we had a moment. And then my day carried on.

I did not know that this dude was Juan Mann or what his story was. Until last night. Juan has spent a great deal of time spreading the love.

Unfortunately, Juan is facing eviction soon and has a request: would you be willing to put him up? If you can, drop him a line.

Interesting (3): How am I living?

Dan Hill talked about "The Well-Tempered Personal Environment". We can measure our environments - the quantities of electricity & water we consume, the distances we travel on public and private transport. We could get feedback all the time on the way we are living. Dan has the image of a house with with a sustainability-type score floating about it. We see how we are doing. And we others and they see us.

Dan is describing a very quantitative type of enviromental awareness (he'd even mocked up Facebook widgets and such like) that we don't really have yet. I loved it...

Interesting (2): Making the tea

Lauren designed the set for Interesting. And made the tea. And gave some simple advice to those would want to engage with art "without feeling like a twat". Basically did heaps.

The stage was less of a set and more of an art installation. And it was quite cosy. Which is more than can be said for most art installations.

Interesting (1)

Patrick is reporting on his conference trail. And act-km was his pick of the bunch. And Patrick has a point. The richness and collegiality of the event was wonderful. But Interesting South ranks up there for me. Expect to see a flood of posts about IS stuff over the next few days. Nuff respekt to Emily & Co for their work on this. The venue was cool, the audience was up for it. The brain is fired up. The heart is pumping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gamer culture

I don't get Second Life. I've been in there and felt lost. Is this because I am not a gamer?

Apparently 69% of American heads of households play computer and video games. And 30% of broadbanded Australians over 25 play games online. Ever since dabbling in Civ in '94, I've never really been into games.

So a few questions:
- What are the demographics of gamers? (i.e. who is likely to be one)
- Are gamers more likely to be users of virtual worlds?
- Is the % of gamers on the increase and what does that mean for the acceptance of virtual world environments?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mind the gap: negative space

Victoria Ward talks about knowledge and negative space. At one level this could be referring to unknowns. Possibly to ignorance. Even silence. It imples an edge. Something that needs to be mapped out.
An invitation to imagine themselves as vanished and see
1. what work does not get done when they are not at work and
2. what work would need to get done by another filling their shoes

What happens when you are not there? What gets missed/lost/left?

Some of this could be painted using SNA or value networks (the gaps created by removal of individuals or roles) but some kind of richer description might be required.

Different knowledge, same ****

James D talks about this paper from this paper from Haas & Hansen. It talks about the impact of the use of different knowledge resources by consulting sales teams. A lot of it rings true. I observed proposal teams working under tight deadlines rip off leverage previous proposal documents. This did not always result in a winning proposal as clients tended to prefer proposals tailored to them. The authors emphasize that different sources of knowledge are not necessarily "fungible" - i.e. you cannot replace expert insight with more documents:

This suggests that firms that primarily compete on quality can benefit most from emphasizing personal advice usage (and perhaps downplaying electronic document usage), while the opposite holds for firms relying on efficiency.

Which frankly is not such a surprise but nice to see in black-and-white. Of course, for many organisations, it is not a straight-forward decision between quality and efficiency but some combination of the two.

LinkedIn is not a social network (and even if it was it's useless)

TD's argument against LinkedIn seems a bit contrived. His point seems to be that: i. LinkedIn is not a social network and ii. it's not about business networking either.

Whilst TD might find the mixing of business and socialising "unseemly", I'm not sure the rest of us have such refined palates interaction-wise. I agree with TD completely that business networking is all about reciprocity. But LinkedIn has been a reciprocal experience for me. I tend not to accept links from people I don't know but my experience asking a question on LinkedIn about Green IT a few weeks ago was very powerful. All kinds of people got back to me. You can't just put your feet up as a user of these tools and whine that they don't seem to have any use. They have the uses that you put them to and are shaped by the way you respond to the uses of others.

LinkedIn could be an awful lot better at facilitating the exchange of information - not necessarily with business versions of Facebook's Zombies and Vampires ("NOOO, I have been bitten by a recruitment consultant").

Sunday, November 18, 2007

KM in Public Sector redux

Small but intense, the KM in the public sector conference was enlightening on a number of fronts.

Paul McDowall presented on the last 10 years of KM in Canadian public sector. Given that senior public officials are rotated every 18-24 months and the organisational changes involved in a full KM programme require 2-5 years, the story was largely one of bursts of activity & brilliance that were unsustained.

There were presentations by James Digges, Paulette Paterson, Craig Delahoy, Suzanne Zyngier & Nicholas Gerhard but the 4 delivered on the morning of the second day resonated with me. The SageCo / Country Energy presentation on managing the exit of baby boomer experts from a technical workforce was cool, as was David Pender's mix of ONA techniques with collaborative climate surveys. Steve Bussey of VicRoads talked about cultivating technical expertise and Kerry Moir's presso on KM in ATO Business Solutions (which included CoPs, lessons learned & narrative) overlaps with a lot of things I have been involved with from a work perspective.

And it was a whole heap of fun co-presenting with Keith De La Rue. Cheers...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

You're talking about stuff I haven't done yet in the past tense and it's driving me crazy

To answer the question from Ray Jimenez, we can't tell them what to do. We can work on it with them. I'm conscious in next week's double-act with Keith, I cannot give the people there "best practice". Because there isn't any yet (and when there is, I'll probably lose interest). There are things that have worked and things that haven't. And sometimes they're the same thing.

S'funny. I was explaining the blog thang to someone at work today. We had the "won't another tool confuse people" thang.

James R uses the "portfolio" word - which I can quite keen on. The notion that the risks of collaboration are managed by using a range of tools. But "armoury" is perhaps a better term. And you need a "collaboration" map for these things as well...

mummy, what is corporate learning?

Gav Heaton & Patrick Lambe have both drawn my attention to Corporate Learning: Trends and Innovations. There are some good speakers and I'd recommend everyone to register now.

Friday, November 02, 2007

i went through a gruelling emotional journey and all i got was this lousy evalution form

I was a witness (& sparing contributor) to the "happy sheet" debate that Viv describes. Evaluation is a tricky thing. And is carried out for many purposes. Evaluation forms are rarely for facilitators or participants in the room. They are artifacts for those that weren't there. Viv's antipathy to evaluation forms reminds me of Johnnie's dislike of action item lists & flip-chart write-ups. We're not comfortable with this touchy-feely stuff and we need the comfort of tangible to ease this anxiety. Provided the workshop generates a big pile of "stuff" (preferably involved spreadsheets & graphs), we can rest easy that time was not wasted and resources misallocated. I don't mind evaluation forms & action item lists. Sometimes taking away comfort blankets is too hard & counter-productive...

Creativity: reflections

I've done the creativity & innovation sessions 3 times now. Twice @UTS with ACT-KM in between (slides here). I kinda stumbled into doing them and each time, I've played with the format - cutting, tweaking, exploring. Some of it works well and some of it less so.

The way people have engaged with this material has been very heartening. It touches on things that everyone can relate to. And it suits the light style of facilitation / teaching that I favour.

It comes in two halves - one section on creativity and one on innovation (& clocks in at somewhere between 2-3 hours for the lot). The creativity half is nearly there. The basic structure is: exercise - theory - personal reflection - theory - discussion. I'd like to delve into the theory a bit more (most of it is currently based on Theresa Amabile's work), possibly bring in a few more perspectives. And the exercise is currently an odd hybrid of improv & brainstorming. If I get to do it again, I may play with other exercises.

The innovation half I am less happy with. In some ways, that topic is bigger and harder to get into. Using things like the Cynefin model confuses people as much as it helps. I also think it lacks an overarching structure. I'm going back to the books for this one.

KM in the Public Sector - Nov 14/15

I'll be at this conference. I was going to be talking about social software. Now it'll be me & Keith De La Rue doing a tag-team, good-cop-bad-cop session on the same. If you are attending & have a burning question about this topic that you'd like us to address, drop me a line beforehand.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

perspective shifts on the innovation process

A few weeks ago, Bob Sutton posted on the veracity (or otherwise) of the innovation process in most organisations. I've been pondering this, esp. after some debate with Lauchlan. My take is that organisations do need processes to manage new product development and other forms of innovation. Such processes will probably take the form of a stage gate system. However Bob's point is that most individuals in an organisation will not experience innovation in the nice linear fashion the stage gate model suggests. The uncertainty and politics of the Volvo cartoon will be closer to the day-to-day lives of those involved.

A similar cognitive dissonance can be felt when comparing a gantt chart to actual memories of a project. Project plans seem sterile compared to the rollercoaster rides of most projects. Understanding, managing & preparing for this dissonance is something that goes on in the background in most organisations. This is especially important for newbies - when the process manual or method says one thing but everyone else knows that in this case, you have to do something else.

I've been playing with the Cynefin framework & innovation stories - getting people to map the experiences of protagonists in these stories as journeys across the model as a contrast to linear innovation models. Does anyone have other ideas on dealing with this area?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Social working

Tom Davenport doesn't think that social networking sites are relevant for business:
A popular current myth is that social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are thriving with adults and companies because of their business
applications... ...But for what purpose do they use them? As far as I can tell, it’s almost always social.

TD is correct that no one joins FB for business purposes but he posits a clear delineation between "social" activities and "business" activities. Business activities clearly involve analysing stuff with spreadsheets and word docs and powerpoint slides. Social activities probably involve BBQs and fun. And never the twain shall meet.

Some jobs have no elements of social interaction. Some jobs are largely social interaction with a business purpose. For most people, their jobs fall in the middle. Our lives are messy. I have a phone that people call me on about both social and business things (imagine!). If I spent 8 hours a day talking to people about the evening's plans then that would be grounds for a dismissal. But then if I did that, what would that say about my manager?

Sometimes this messiness can cause problems. I wouldn't want a friend forwarding on marketing spam to me via email, or FB for that matter.

Does this mean that everyone should spend 8 hours a day on MySpace? No, but the claim that these sites cannot have business applications because they are primarily social is overly simplistic.

For some people (e.g. musicians), MySpace et al has had an immediate business impact. For most of us, the impact will be much more subtle. Elements of these tools will spread into enterprise applications. Patterns of technologically-supported behaviour (e.g. status updates as ambient presence) will be carried into corporations.
I confirmed this empirically with a highly scientific survey sample: my two kids. Both are big Facebook and MySpace users. I asked them, “What if you could share answers to homework problems or meet online about class projects through Facebook? Would that make it more or less attractive to you?” “Less,” was the
consensus response

The very fact that Tom's children are not using these tools to start their own billion-dollar businesses or run for public office is a damning indictment of his parenting practices.

And remember, employees are just like children - big, ugly children...

magic quadrant for social software

James D points us towards the Gartner magic quadrant on team collaboration & social software that Socialtext are quite proud of. My sense is that Gartner's coverage of this area has tended to focus on vendors (in contrast with Forrester's focus on user/buyer behaviour & practices). As James notes, the criteria for inclusion seem a little erratic -with established software vendors such as IBM, MS, Vignette, EMC, Open Text & BEA (Oracle is noticeable by its absence) mixed in with Atlassian, Social Text & TWiki. I would also like to get my greasy mitts on a copy of the report. I would put Cogenz & ConnectBEAM in there too (and Gartner have written about these products under the Enterprise 2.0 header).

For me, this highlights the relative immaturity of enterprise social software as a concept - despite individual components having been around for a decade. "Yeah, it's blogs & wikis & RSS, and, er, something about social networks, er...can I go back to my document management implementation now please?"

At the moment, Enterprise 2.0 is still whatever you want it to be, baby - (although it probably involves wikis).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

actkm day 2

The actKm web site seems to have gone down - possibly due to people downloading the conference material. So for now, I'll just have to say that:
  • Patrick Lambe's session on "Getting stakeholder buy-in for KM projects" using archetypes was excellent.
  • Nerida Hart & Co seem to be doing a lot of cool stuff at Land & Water Australia.
  • The session on KM & governance in hugher education was surprisingly engaging.

Plus there was a fantastic turnout for Dave Gurteen's Knowledge Cafe in Sydney last Thursday.

actkm (4) - with a paddle

The acktkm conference dinner featured an award for some Tasmanian dudes who recreated an aboriginal stringy bark canoe. Such canoes have not been around for 170 years. They collected 500 kg of bark to construct the boat and the results were impressive.

Friday, October 26, 2007

actkm (3)

After some very interesting papers from Luke Naismith, Richard Vines & Laurie Lock Lee, Tory Maile talked about Cultural Heritage Information Management Systems (CHIMS). These systems allow indigenous communities to preserve stories, images & recordings - mapped to representations of their environment. The first example he talked about was a system at Uluru. Cultural protocols restrict certain knowledge to men & to women so certain parts of the site are only accessible to those groups. Troy worked on another system in Vanuatu and is now in the wet tropics of Queensland working on a cultural heritage project with the Aboriginal Rainforest Council. As this involves 18 tribal groups (made up of 50+ clans), the protocols will be a bit more complicated.

Troy made the following priceless observation: Indigenous people in Australia had 60,000 years to work out their protocols - most organisations have not been around that long.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

actkm (2) - gurteen by sea

"a vain confidence of divine favour or communication"

Dave Gurteen is probably not one of KM's thought leaders - thank heavens. He is not really concerned with staking out an intellectual pig-pen. Instead with DG, you get a sense of enthusiasm. For connection, conversation (he's a fan of the work of Theodore Zeldin) & social software. DG looks and acts younger than his years because he is an enthusiast. He is one of the few people on the international KM circuit that isn't bitched about in private - because you get the sense that what he does is not really about him.

actkm conference (1) - su-age

ANU University House is cute. Really cute - even if it's 8 am and I've been awake since 5. And Patrick is suggesting - no, advocating - that knowledge managers should be sued when they screw up. Now Patrick* is trying to be controversial. But he's also taking this position because he cares. And he believes. He believes that information management & knowledge management matter. That they have a genuine impact. So that when these activities fail people should be angry. Angry enough to resort to lawyers and court cases and that whole world of pain. And I sympathize with his position - not least because he presents it well - but because these things should matter.

*Patrick is one of the great thinkers still associated with knowledge management. His combination of erudition, rigour, clarity & modesty is shamefully rare.

UPDATE: Patrick's presentation is available.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dave Gurteen in Sydney this Thursday

Dave will be running one of his Knowledge Cafes in Sydney on Thursday. Rock 'n' Roll!

actkm conference

So it is the actkm Conference 2007 tomorrow & Wednesday. I will be running on Wednesday afternoon after lunch. I have 75 mins. When I ran something similar with a bunch of UTS postgrads a couple of weeks ago, it went for 3 hours. I have no idea what will work and what won't - but hey, that's half the fun.

I am quite excited - Dave Gurteen will be there. As will Patrick Lambe, Laurie Lock Lee, Luke Naismith and a bunch of other people.

Moving pictures

Are you a new media douchebag? - Kelly Stewart gets grouchy.

Information R/evolution - Michael Wesch pushes it onto the next step.

Presence vs Intimacy

So I had coffee with Alex on Friday and our conversation came round to Twitter & ambient presence. I thought I'd reflect on this subject a bit more so I plugged the term into Google to find out who I'd stolen it from. And up pops this article from Lee Hopkins who references Alex, who got it from me.

Whilst many others have used the "ambient presence" term before, I had in fact misremembered something else - Leisa Reichelt's post on ambient intimacy. LR's term deliberately mixes the human ‘ickyness’ of ‘intimacy’ with the distributed and non-directional nature of ‘ambiance’. Which makes it uncomfortable for a business environment. We don't want to be intimate with colleagues. In fact, doesn't that lead to disciplinary action (and not the "fun" kind of disciplining either)?

I think I subconscously gave Alex a more formal version of the concept. Pausing to reflect, these presencing technologies may or may not lead to greater intimacy between people. Presence is performative whether we like or not. For example, I know people that set their IM status to "in a meeting" when I know full well they are having a quiet cup of tea. If my status is set to "Matt is whitewater rafting" is that because I am genuinely whitewater rafting or that my life is excruciatingly dull and I want to persuade everyone that it is not?

These tools offer increased situational awareness but the potential of greater intimacy depends on us. For many of us, our work personas are more tightly managed than others we might maintain. And we tend to have a circle of people we are closer to than the others.

How about a status marker that varies depending on who the viewer is? For the general viewer, it says: "Working hard on presentation for CEO, do not disturb". For trusted intimates, the message says: "Terrible hangover after tequila binge with Gav last night - has anyone got panadol?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Network spam

I got my first case of Facebook spam a few weeks ago. A blonde female 20-something from NYC. It could have been worse. I have had several cases of LinkedIn spam. No photos attached so easier to deal with.

I am intrigued by the concept of network spam. Mainly because I have spent a lot of my real-world existence feeling like a gate-crasher. And then failing to care. It is the role of every community to make you feel like an outsider - to begin with.

There is a delicate balance to be maintained by the early acts of connection. A comment on a blog. A brief conversation at a party. We want to make contact but not to appear needy. We want an exchange that feels right for both parties.

Or else I could just press my business card (damp with sweat) into you palm and move on.

I hate competitions

Gav is publicising a competition for the Bargain Queen. Now I like Gav and Mr & Mrs Bargain Queen. But I really don't like competitions.

So here are some comments. Scattered to the wind like dandelion seeds.
  • As noted, blokes really want to get this over and done with. We don't want a 20-hour immersive experience. We want our female partners to be happy. They tend to have low expectations anyway so if we meet those, job done.
  • We want simple advice. No complicated decision trees or simulations.
  • "If she likes this, then she'll love this too" is a fantastic starting point. And possibly ending point.
  • Anything that can amplify the illusion that we made an effort is good. Some form of (non-naff) personalisation is good.
  • We value but do not trust the opinions of other women. We trust but do not value the opinions of other men.
  • We genuinely love these women we are buying presents for. And if we don't, at Christmas we'll lie to ourselves that we do.
  • How do you make this experience fun for blokes? Possibly some kind of competition or a sports connection of some kind...

So for me, the secret agenda behind any "proposal" is not just getting a good present for someone but also "how do I understand this strange person in my life better"*?

*those of you who have pegged my relationship status as "presently single" can move straight to the top of the class.


Been having a bit of an email chat with Lauchlan MacKinnon about idea management systems (IMS). We've chewed the fat somewhat but where we agree is the vital importance of senior managers listening to & implementing the ideas of the ordinary worker. Now there's all kinds of caveats here ("We cannot equip you with Angelina Jolie this quarter") but ultimately all of us want to be listened to. And an IMS can be thought of as a giant hearing aid. "This is what we see happening, this is what could make it better". Now the critical thing is that some form of listening actually occurs. And by listening, that means ideas received, responded to and implemented where appropriate.

The caveat to this (for me) is that people want their own ideas to be heard. They may or may not listen to the ideas of others. The more distant, alien & disruptive those ideas (& their originators) might be, the less we will accept them. So a tricky part of innovation is to get valuable ideas heard by those who might normally reject them...

Image: Businessweek

All you* ever wanted to know about knowledge management

So after the Shadow podcast, Annette was all fired up. She wanted to do another podcast. But I had lost my voice after a week-long bender on Indonesian cigars, nitrous oxide & pernod. So we did it the old fashioned way - by email. Read our conversation here. Annette asks some tough questions. Which I do by best to avoid answering. Go Annette!

*If you're a female irish blogger with an interest in psychoanalysis & organisations. My agent tells me that's a significant readership demographic for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Where are you?

So I'm 8 or maybe 9 metres up. I've climbed there and my shoulders hurt, my thighs hurt, my arms hurt and I have a nasty blister on my right palm. I failed on the previous attempt and it's my last go. I'm hooked in. Told to stand with my toes over the edge of the platform. Grab the trapeze with my right hand. Wait. Then hold it with both hands. Wait.

Jump. Fall. Feel my body accelerate with gravity. Down. Up. Then when I reach the full extent of the arc, I swing my legs over the trapeze, hang from the back of my knees and arch my spine.

Where is he?

There. His hands on my arms. My hands on his arms. Free of the trapeze now. Hanging suspended. One. Two. Three. And fall. The net rushes up and I yell with joy.

For a novice, the rush is intense. You move far quicker than you expect. You don't know if they will be there or not. The chance of contact seems slim.

Welcome to the theatre of connection. Let me know if you require a safety net. Or a harness.

The tool formally known as wiki

James D talks about wikis and what they are becoming. James links to posts by Ray Sims and the Atlassian dudes. Wikis are essentially about simplicity and openness. So RS's comment that you'll find traces of wikiness (to a greater or lesser extent) on intranets going forward is right, I reckon. And lots of things will get badged wikis. But are they simple? And can I edit them?

Oh I have to master CSS? There's an approval process? Ahem.

Wikis are starting to gain a foothold in organisational information ecologies. And they are changing this environment and being changed by it in the process. And in doing so, they'll interact & transform surrounding tools - intranets, email (which takes a pounding in the Atlassian/Razorfish slides), etc.

Part of me relishes this impurity, this messiness. But it's OK, I have a powerpoint slide with boxes that shows how all these sworn enemies can get along just fine. There are arrows on the slide as well so it must be good.

I want...

...a world of peace and prosperity.
...10 million dollars in unmarked bills and a airplane standing on the runway.
...everything i ever saw in the movies.
...your job/wife/children/house/car. sleep the sleep of the just.
...a balanced and sustainable ecology.
...guns, lots of guns. And fried pork products.
...a hug.
...a scale replica of Einstein's brain. turn back time.

Birthdays can be tricky things.

South of Interesting - vote now

One conference that looked really cool was the Interesting thang put on back in June in London by Russell Davies. Now we have Interesting South in November. Looks well cool. I am going to put in a bid for a 3 minute slot. In an endeavour to make it interactive, here are some the topics I have been toying with. Vote now to decide what I could rant about:

1. How to make a zombie
2. A multi-sensory guide to Indian sweets
3. The leper king
4. Bass and dread
5. Growing up with the end of the world
6. The lesson of the banyan tree

Or else come up with a better topic.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Leah Heiss makes interesting stuff:
  • Patch rings to turn drug-delivery systems that replace needles into fashion statements.
  • Jewellery take can detect & neutralise arsenic in drinking water.
  • Interactive bandages that show the presence of disease.

What I like about LH's work is that takes existing objects and imbues them with new powers. Without being the white, minimal, untouchable Apple-aesthetic that currently dominates technology devices.

Collaboration vs sharing

James Robertson talks about collaboration tools as anti-knowledge sharing. If I understand JR correctly, his point is that collaboration tools are great for specific teams. However each team works in its own context and this leads to the creation of silos which prevents cross-organisational leveraging of this material. He also notes that this cannot be solved simply by the implementation of a search tool.

I agree with him. A big part of the role of KM (or whatever you want to call it) is the development of shared contexts between groups within an organisation because without that shared context you can't transfer anything. One approach is to develop common methods, taxonomies & languages for teams. N.B. This is a non-trivial task and many groups won't follow something imposed on them from outside. Nevertheless, allowing groups to identify commonalities in their work is an important part of that. Another aspect are human connections between teams - are people moved between groups or are those silo walls impenetrable?

Michael Sampson says that this is a governance issue - which I think James agrees with.

As both Michael & James note, most of the material in these collaboration spaces is not actually relevant to other groups - i.e. the fact that it is not shared is not an issue. The issues are:
1. Predicting what does need to shared (tricky).
2. Encouraging people to put in that extra bit of time to make it available (trickier).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What am I doing with my hands?

About a month ago, Alex Manchester from Melcrum said: "We're doing a set of videos on Enterprise 2.0, fancy being a part of this?" And I said yes.

Witness the extent of my folly here. Alex has done a grand job of cutting out some of my stupider comments & facial expressions.

Meanwhile, Ross Dawson carries it off like the old pro he is.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


James D talks about microblogging & Luis talks about a specific application for emergency services. I've noted my personal preferences recently but for me microblogging has got F.A. to do with blogging. My posts tend towards the terse but I generally break the 160 character barrier. For me, a blog post has to have an idea in there. It may not be yours. It may not be any good. But it's there.

I see Twitter & Facebook status info as presencing technologies and as James notes, they have more to do with SMS & IM than blogs & wikis. And these will have important uses for people working remotely from each other (i.e. increasingly all of us).

N.B. As a side bet, literary forms will emerge out of presencing technologies. SMS poetry for example.


Personal creativity in our work & sharing our experiences with our colleagues are like exercise or eating healthily. We know both are good. But they sometimes fall into the "too hard" basket. We'll do them tomorrow, when we aren't so busy. We'll do something original. We'll talk to someone about a success or failure. But tomorrow. Not today.

Memory & links

Memory is sometimes thought of a filing system. However all our memories appear to be connected with each other. Many techniques that aim to improve recall do so by establishing connections between new items to be remembered and those we know well already. I'm a bit unconvinced by most metaphors between the brain and the internet but this one interests me. It implies that our techniques for memory retrieval are a little Googlesque. It's the links that matter, baby. It triggers a fantasy of sentient memes trying to optimize their rankings in our brains so they are made to stick. It's all about the connections.

We tend to forget that remembering is an act of reconstruction. The file does not come out of the system in one piece. We must rebuild events from fragments. Depending on context, we may view fragments is a positive or negative light. These multiple, continuous reconstructions contrast with our image of our lives as a single, autobiographical thread. Instead there's a collage (tapestry seems rather too ordered) of small pieces, loosely joined. A world held together by emotional tags. OurStory is an interesting experiment but I would prefer an "OurStories", something mashed and multiple, consistently inconsistent. Social software as Rashomon. What would you tag?

My mind is a blank

Writing is a relatively new technology. Oral cultures are reliant on the memories of their members. Whilst there might be a division of memorial labour in such societies, everyone must remember somethings. If only one person remembers something then when they are gone, it is forgotten.

I shall not attempt to reproduce his words, now irrecoverable.

Forgetting can be embarrassing. And it can also be soothing. Ever since I read Funes the Memorious, I have been convinced that forgetting has its uses as well its perils. Funes is forced to live in a world without abstraction because he can remember every detail. The possibility of a world without gaps, of a perfect record of information is not comforting for Borges. The Library of Babel is a very disturbing place indeed. A model of information overload.

My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.

We worry a lot about organisational forgetting. Records must be kept (and if they aren't then expensive litigation might ensue). However one way of dealing with information overload is forgetting old stuff (as well as ignoring new stuff). So most organisations have delegated the act of remembering to Record Management & associated systems.

Is this an efficient move? And is it an effective one?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Coming up for air

He saw, with his swimming eyes, red and yellow, the colours of Nicaragua.

I haven't felt much like writing for the last month. For me, writing is intimately connected to mood. I write when I'm happy and I'm happy when I write. A nifty feedback loop that seems to have gotten broken. For a while, I've let it slide. Now I want to do something about that. So I intend to write myself back into shape.

Annette points me towards Gapingvoid's thoughts on the creative life. I like ML's observations. They are not comfortable but they are often right. Some neurons sneer in the recesses of my head: "Focusing on a creative output is all very well but what if you are rubbish at it? What if you are, not to put too finer point on it, deluded?"

The people had absolutely lost faith in revolutions.

And this triggers the dim memory of a book in my head. GK Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill is set in a London we might find mythical but that for its inhabitants is filled with the prosaic and everyday. In a world where the King of England is chosen at random, Auberon Quin (dreamer & borderline nutcase) falls into this role & decides the world needs a bit of a shake-up. So he recreates a superficial simulation of medieval pageantry that no one takes seriously, least of all himself. No one except Adam Wayne - a young man with a penchant for both idealism & action.

At last Wayne said, very slowly:
"You did it all only as a joke?"
"Yes," said Quin.

Who is the more deluded? Wayne - for believing in Quin's world? Or Quin - for failing to believe in his own?

More shadows

Johnnie has posted up the second part of Annette, himself & me discussing shadows. Now you have the only 2 mp3's you need ever listen to again!!!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

ROI encore

Luis continues to write about social computing ROI here and here. I admire his tenacity. Remembering that ROI calculations are an attempt to render assumptions, beliefs & wishes into a quantitative language, then surely the ROI for social computing tools (& I agree with Luis that these are fundamentally social tools) will vary from depending on the assumptions, beliefs & wishes of the organisations concerned.

The point that they can improve social capital is valid one - but only if senior management in an organisation care about it. How robust are most attempts to quantify social capital?

Maybe you can quantify it into "improved customer satisfaction" or "decreased marketing costs" or "higher employee engagement".

I still believe (& I will repeat this until I am blue in the face) that showing the value of social software is problematic precisely because we have a poor collective understanding of what our employees do & how they do it. And provided they keep churning stuff out, we don't really care.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Free Burma!

Don't get high in your own ROI

Luis is writing about ROI here and here. So we cannot ignore ROI or label it "uncool". ROI is a way for certain groups of people (mostly with MBAs) to understand something. These people have a lot of power so it behoves us non-MBAs to learn how they speak. Dennis Howlett has some interesting things to say:
Instead of panning CFOs as looking at the ‘wrong’ stuff and generally pillorying them as retarded, social computing pundits might ask how the flat world of which many profess becomes a reality.

And Dennis right. However the issue is that the links between actual knowledge worker activities and revenue/profitability/etc are often pretty sketchy. Our bean counters cannot count their beans finely enough to make sense of them. Performance is important. But our understanding of it is partial. We must often make educated guesses.

Frankly, I think that the ROI for wikis is pretty clear = Email + Word - A World of Pain = Productivity but I would agree that more research would help here. I would also add that the best research takes place within organisations. Piloting E2.0 tools can give very useful indicators of potential value of comparatively little investment. Any manager about to bet the farm on E2.0 tools without a pilot is a headstrong idiot. One step at a time eh?

However actually constructing an ROI argument is a messy, political activity. That world of pain just popped up again (wow, version 97 of the ROI spreadsheet, boy oh boy) and it's ugly. Very ugly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Presencing Portals

Historically, portals have been all about aggregating content & applications into one easy-to-digest package, more or less personalised to the preferences of the user. Typically this has been about access to data or content rather than access to others.

What has impressed me about Facebook and MySpace (to an extent) is a different version of portal that they offer. MySpace's blogs and Facebook's status sections create a kind of presence portal. I can see where people are, what they are up to, etc. Jasmin highlights some potential privacy pitfalls with this. And they are potentially serious.

I could talk about Privacy 2.0 here but that would be a trifle onanistic. I think we need to get a better handle on our own privacy here. What we tell people. We need to get back in touch with the lost art of keeping a secret. The pleasures & securities of mystique. The more opportunity there is to open ourselves up, the more pleasure there is to be gained from refusing to do so.

From a business perspective, we may be interested in letting others see where we are and what we are doing. Or we may not. Depending on culture & objectives. Depending on who is sticking dollar bills in our garter belts.

Web 2.0 is nothing more or less than a strip-tease (a lucrative industry that I have always been too unnerved by to engage with).

But which side of the lights are you on?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Shadow Podcast (1)

Johnnie Moore. Annette Clancy. Me*. All talking about shadows. Instigated & recorded by Johnnie (nice work Mr J). Much input from Annette. Some rambling from me. I had fun. You may also.

Download it here. Listen to it. Treasure it. You will never need another mp3 file. Well, except for part 2 of the Shadow podcast which is coming soon.

*Contrary to all the available evidence I do not like the sound of my own voice. I find it deeply unappealing.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

(not) loser generated content

Zest Digital are hardly amateurs but I like the idea behind this Scooteria video. User generated content often gets a pasting but there are two important things to remember:
  • Context is everything. If you plonk a home video in the middle of slick, professionally-produced TV ads, they will look rubbish. On YouTube, they fit right in. The question is: Do we want to replicate TV on the web? And I reckon the answer is often "no". We have TV already. People want things they can share with each other. We don't mind that our friends don't take photos like a professional - we just want to share the experience with them. It's about Social Objects, people! The question is not "How do I make my video slick?" but "How do I make it social?"
  • The amateurs are getting better (slowly). As our amateur efforts get more public, we find ourselves making more of an effort with our creations. And the tools to support us get better. And the professional advice gets more available. Mass amateurisation means that the average photo will get better over time. The average video will look better. Because the vast mass media produced in the world is amateur, not professional. We just haven't got to see this before so it may appear to some that the average has gone down. It hasn't - it's just that the population sample has changed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

State blogging

Euan Semple & Simon Dickson talk about acts of blogging breaking in the UK government. While here in Australia, the Australian government has released a consultation paper about a consultation blog. Respond Australia Fair! Cheers Trevor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mind the edge of the platform

WSJ says Microsoft wants a piece of Facebook. Charlene Li crunches some interesting numbers and works out that Facebook's 42 million users (which may be an overestimate) are worth somewhere between $142 to $238 each.

Gav talks about Facebook as a platform of influence and Ross talks about value shifting to social networks.

My own experience of Facebook is that it is morphing into a social collaboration portal - with people, links, events, updates. E.g. last week I discovered from his Facebook status that Stephen was in town and had the pleasure of meeting him.

But as a Googlesque pot of advertising gold, Facebook is not in the same league. A search engine deals expressly with fulfilling need - far more so than TV or newspapers who bribe viewers with content into watching ads. Google have effectively created a market. There may be some money in user-profiling & personalisation but part of the pleasure of FB is its lack of in-you-face advertising.

On Google, you get traffic when you give people what they want. And Google tells you what they want because they have told Google. On Facebook, you also have to give people what they want but it won't be brought to you on an Ad-Words plate. STA Travel have done some cool stuff - they not only have an FB Group that allows them to offer customer service to Facebook members, they've also built a handful of applications such as an "I'm outta here x days on my travels" countdown clock. Public customer service is advertising is public customer service.

All this talk of platforms may be right. Just as Java & Yahoo! & AOL were all supposed to take Windows out of the equation, so the descendants of Google or Facebook may do the same. However Windows does one simple thing. It hides the complexity of the technology in your PC. The one thing that hid the complexity of the technology on the web - the browser - has already been commoditised. In truth, Google/Facebook/etc can only hope to be like TV channels, not the TV screen itself.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What other people are doing

This is one of those posts where I don't have to think, just point towards the wonderful outputs of other people:

There are doubtless others but that's it for now. I haven't felt like writing much for the past couple of weeks. But that could be about to change.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Engineers with fears

Kolya posts this "Fear of Web 2.0" article on Facebook while Stephen Aciiidlabs talks about this News Ltd article that inexplicably fails to link social media with donkey molestation.

Richard MacManus refers to 2 Forrester reports*. Now the first one says that IT departments are wary of social software. This confirms lots of observations (& links nicely to my E2.0 Q&A). I actually have a lot of sympathy for the guys in the IT department. Like many people who work in infrastructure roles, they only ever get noticed when things stuff up. The gun salesman gets to boast about his multi-million dollar deals. Rarely do people run around saying: "IT brought in the expense system on budget, we must open the champagne!"

This can make IT dudes very risk averse. So when the news headlines talk about Facebook carjacking the CFO, they cover their asses. I think Richard's point about a reluctance to give up control is also valid - but that's as much about CYA as it is about a lust for power.

The statistic that interested me was:
Forrester puts the current figure of people using Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise at 15% - and usage is higher at smaller companies.

This aligns itself with anecdotal evidence I have been hearing over the last few months. There is a small but growing number of people applying these tools in their everyday lives. And smaller companies have less sunk IT cost in exploring these technologies. They often have tiny, stretched IT shops as well - who are quite happy to devolve responsibility to others where appropriate.

*Forrester's research in the Enterprise 2.0 space is turning out some genuinely useful information. I just wish they covered Australia as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Standing in the shadows

I'm interested in secrets. Patrick provides a link to the PostSecrets site. It's compelling stuff. Beautiful, banal, disturbing. I can't peel my eyes away from the screen. Public secrets. I love the fact that these aren't just words but actual objects created by someone. The internet as confessional.

The thing is, if you give people an opportunity to share things that are normally hidden then they may use it. And that which is hidden is not always a personal secret. Every organisation has things that aren't talked about in public ("the 360 degree feedback process is rigged", "the CEO is having an affair with the CFO's wife", "we are technically insolvent"). Events, people, issues that might get chewed out over a beer or a coffee, that only a certain select few might be aware of, but that exist nonetheless. More opportunities for communication mean more opportunities for someone to spill the beans. And once those beans are spilled it's might tricky to unspill them.

The fear about of employee blogs or tools like wikis (or even old-school bulletin boards) is that someone may say something "wrong". It's often better if that wrong thing happens to be false - denials can be issued and apologies made. But what if that thing happens to be true? Oh dear.

I don't think it's possible (or even desirable) for everyone to be honest & open all the time. The optimum number of secrets in your life is not zero. So what do we do?

So part of this is having a decent internal comms policy in place - what can't people talk about? But this will only go so far - because a lot of the rules around what issues can be discussed & how aren't actually recordable. People that have been around for a long time know these, but newbies don't. So the people that need help & advice are the newbies.

Of course, you want some people rocking the boat - otherwise your organisation is dead. Organisations need to find constructive, talented troublemakers and find ways of getting them to make trouble in helpful ways (I realise there's all kinds of issues I'm skirting around here but maybe you can help me tease them out). Now I believe that blogs & other social media are a great way to identify these useful thorns. But then I would.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More collaboration

James Dellow takes up the conversation about collaboration. James D makes the point that collaboration happens within organisations & that people will use any tools that come to hand. Absolutely agree with this. James goes on to say:
This cycle by the way is taking place at an enterprise level, but also at the level of individual workgroups, teams and projects. This leads me into another observation, that it looks like this process assumes that the collaborative technologies are in place and working but they are just not integrated in a content sense.

So James D it again right here. And it prompts me to wonder if James R's model is actually more of a maturity profile around the management of collaboration tools than about tool adoption per se.

James R meanwhile responds to both of our comments:

I certainly agree that phase 4, is a "nirvana" state and that phase 3 is the goal for the next 1-3 years. I don't believe we can even articulate what "coherence" would really look like yet, although vendors are busy promising it via their solutions. My experience, though, is that we need to "capture the high ground" in these models, explicitly including the longer-term vision. Without this, these models are too quickly ignored when a "sexier" approach comes along. My goal was also to highlight that there are three big phases that come first, before attempting to tackle phase 4...

Still, I agree that it is always dangerous to paint a picture of the "holy grail", particularly if this is taken on by over-enthusiastic senior execs. Matt, any thoughts on how to find a middle ground between the two extremes of no vision and looking too high?

So I agree that a vision is necessary but could it be more around the organisation's collaboration capabilities than a specific end state (e.g. a collaboration tool portal)? It's not so much coherence as the ability to know what tools are being used & how currently, to identify gaps in current capabilities & to look at filling those gaps, & to be proactively looking at the application of new tools.

Does the organisation know what its collaboration portfolio is? Now this portfolio might be accessed via a portal but it's actually about what the organisation can do. Now I think you could make this a compelling story but it does sound like more work than just installing a vendor product.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Collaboration tools

James Robertson has been thinking about collaboration tools. Which is interesting because I have as well. As ever, James is practical & clear in his thinking and suggests a 5 phase model (0-4) for organisations thinking about collaboration. So here are the phases and my responses to them:
Phase 0: Fragmentation
As the usage of collaboration tools grows in an unmanaged and unconsidered way, so does the "fragmentation" of information. Key information is divided into ever-smaller spaces, locked up out of broad use, generating considerable information management and knowledge management problems. (This is not a search problem.)

Agree with this - and not only the fragmentation of information but the fragmentation of activities, relationships, etc. N.B. This is bad.
Phase 1: Gardening
The starting point is to identify an overall owner for the collaboration tools, and to put in place simple governance, policies and management. Rather than trying to restrict usage, the approach is one of "gardening", helping to guide usage , connect the dots and identify best practices.

Also broadly agree with this. Except that gardening might be the wrong word. This is about identifying the existing collaboration tools within an organisation. What they are. Who uses what. What activities they are used for. And then how these different tools might fit together. And where the gaps between them might be. Something like mapping perhaps? The concept of guiding usage is critical here - "Just enough governance".
Phase 2: Business solutions
The next step is to identify key (and common) needs, and build solutions that are tailored to meet them. In this way, clear user needs can guide how to bring together different solutions (wikis, blogs, lists) into more coherent solutions. Possible targets include project collaboration, teaching or e-learning, collaborative authoring, communities of practice or research.

Nothing to disagree with here. Using the map to produce repeatable toolsets.
Phase 3: Rich networks
Organisation-wide collaboration will only be achieved with the silos are broken down between different spaces. This involves recognising the difference between "inwards" and "outwards" facing spaces, and putting in place processes for sharing and linking between them.

Now many organisations are currently in phases 0 & 1. Several are starting to move to phase 2. Are there any out there that have reached phase 3? These rich networks will almost certainly be a federated model.
Phase 4: Coherence
This is the end goal, where there is coordination between the collaboration spaces at all levels, accessed through a personalised portal-like interface. The lines between different "tools" is blurred, creating a single working environment. (There's a lot to be done before anyone can reach this state.)

I look at phase 4 and go "yeah, right". The collaboration tool space is changing very quickly at the moment. Phase 4 feels like a utopia at the moment. And given this dynamic environment, a very unlikely utopia. I think many organisations have enough on their plate trying to get to phase 3. I would feel nervous talking about phase 4 because I can just see a senior exec going: "This sounds great, I want one of these by the end of the month!" and mayhem ensuing. What is more likely in the next 1-3 years are rich networks (collaborative ecosystems) and then richer networks - with tools dropping in and out. "Coherence" feels way too static to me as a goal at the moment.

What do you think?