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?

creativity & anxiety

Sue Woolfe's approach to writing a novel is that she writes a whole bunch of fragments. Thousands of them. And then she looks for patterns in them. Themes. Voices. Characters. And then the fragments get assembled. Or rather something emerges. The image she used this evening was of creating a skin of narrative to hold together these myriad pieces. Sue is also into neuroscience as applied to creativity - and she talks about some of this here.

One thing Sue said tonight stuck in my mind: The creative enterprise generates a lot of anxiety. And those who succeed at it find a way of dealing with that anxiety. Now a lot of this boils down to "feeling the fear & doing it anyway". But also living with the fear while you are doing it.

It makes me think about the discussion I had with Johnnie on facilitation recently. One thing about being a facilitator is about managing anxiety - both yours & other people's. One way to manage anxiety is to have an incredibly detailed process (which you may or may not follow). I am not a big fan of those for supposedly "creative" activities - because I think creativity is messy & unpredictable - or experimental if you prefer. Another way is to say participants: "trust yourselves". The myriad pieces will come together into something.

One observation to be made is that people get anxious when they are out of the moment. When they are in the middle of "it", experiencing flow, everything's cool. The moment I start thinking "where will this end?" "what is the future?" "will the outcomes be acceptable?" - panic sets in.

So the question becomes: how do you keep people in the moment?

Friday, September 07, 2007

What mass amateurisation means

I trained as librarian just as the internet hit the mass market a decade ago. Pre-browser, online searching was an arcane, expensive business. You needed to know the obscure syntaxes of a range of different databases. Identifying & then assembling information from different sources was a skilled task. Then all of a sudden there was Alta Vista, Yahoo & then Google. Not perfect but "good enough" for the masses. All of a sudden, everyone was an information scientist.

Something similar has happened in many fields. There used to be typing pools & presentation design teams. Now there is Word & Powerpoint. Many organisations are replacing experienced travel agents with online self-service tools. And with email & blogs, everyone is a communications professional.

Now this is a terrible threat for people like me. And a wonderful opportunity.

As the Powerpoint example indicates, just giving people the tools of skilled expert does not make them into an expert. However, most of the time, the results are "good enough" to justify the cost savings. And if the results aren't "good enough" - well, phone that designer mate of yours and find a way of smuggling his costs through on your Amex.

Increasingly, being a professional will be less about doing the work yourself (although that should never go away) and more about showing amateurs how to do it good themselves. In effect, we all have to become teachers. And this involves two things:
  • Equipping them with the skills to use the tools they have to achieve the basic objectives they want.
  • Ensuring their realise their limits and come to you for the complicated stuff - e.g. finding a local Mexican restaurant is not the same kind of information challenge as conducting patent application due diligence.
And if you are a bright, engaged professional then this is a good thing. You will stay on your toes, your customers will do the boring stuff for you and only ask you to do interesting work - and in doing so grow the market for that interesting work. Of course, if you want to stay doing the same thing for the next 30 years then you are in trouble.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Plug 1: Future of Volunteering Survey

A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into Chris Fletcher & he asked me to publicise this:

Cognitive Edge is currently working with part of the Australian network to use narrative as a means of understanding the whys and hows of the Future of Volunteering. We are doing this with the Government of New South Wales, Dellotte, SOLA and the NSW Meals on Wheels Association. If you live in Australia we would really appreciate your participation. It won't take long and you have the traditional opportunity (provided by any on-line survey) to win an iPod or cinema tickets. To take part click here.

Do it! Do it now!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mission statement - when will EwF grow up?

In conversations with others about EngineerswithoutFears, I now realise that this is a public learning journal. A semi-collaborative sense-making tool based on my attempts to survive with sanity intact in the 21st century. If I were to focus on a particular area (say Web 2.0 or organisational development or French cheeses), I could probably increase my readership ("Why the hell is he talking about complexity theory, I just want to hear about Camembert"). But in doing so, I'd almost certainly lose passion & interest for the whole enterprise.

So I have some purely selfish goals in writing this stuff (having fun, staying sane, forcing myself to think) but do I care about you, dear reader? Do I care about you at all?

Generally no. Not unless you want to join in. Not unless you make me care.

However growing out of the EwF posts there will be other opportunities for engagement. A lot of the issues discussed in blog posts end up in talks & presentations. There are some collaborative podcasts with some really cool people on the horizon. There may be board games & coffee mugs & T-shirts.

We like the big stuff here @ EwF. I deliberately haven't tackled the environment or social change because I don't have anything interesting to say on those at the moment. May be I'm a bit scared of them too. But looking back over the last 5 months of posting, I can't help thinking of Dave Pollard's 3 circles (as nicked from Dick Richards).

  • What I'm good at: Finding unexpected links between things. Writing about those links vividly. Parsing large amounts of information.
  • What I love: Others learning for themselves. Coming up with something cool & new. Someone else ripping off what I've just come up with & making something even newer & cooler.
  • What is needed: Well this is the tricky bit. I reckon that people need some assistance in making sense of their present so they can weave their future. And that involves technology, facilitation, listening and a big chunk of doing. I suppose here @ EwF, I want to make people's futures with them? Is that airy fairy? Is that stupid? What do you think is needed?

EwF exists in a network of really cool people (Brad, James, Johnnie, Annette, Ross, Jack, Luis, Patrick, Gav, Katie & many, many others including these Danish dudes).

Don't you know who I am? - disconnection anxieties

Don't you know who I am? I'm very important. If I am uncontactable then everything will stop. Everything! And you don't want to be responsible for everything stopping do you? That's why I need to keep my phone on. That's why I need to check my blackberry. Excuse me, I have to take this call. It's urgent.

Hi. Yes. Yes. On Tuesday. Only the second one. Yes. Look - I'm in a meeting. Bye.

Where was I?

The creation & maintenance of status is a critical survival skill in all organisations. Although you may fear that ultimately you are unimportant and expendable - that your life is as meaningless as everyone else's - there are ways of combating this. Of managing this.
  1. Being constantly unavailable. They all want you. They can't have you. The longer you can keep this up, the more it will drive them crazy. But this approach has its dangers. What if they learn to live without you? So try:
  2. Making a display of being unavailable - esp. with subordinates & peers. The less engaged & present you are, the more status you have. N.B. Do not try this with a superior unless they are weak. Combine this with:
  3. Incessantly bombarding your subordinates with requests. Micromanage their work. Even some discreet surveillance might be useful here. They need to know they are being managed. They need to know who is in charge. Discipline & punish.

Silence can be terrifying.

What are you scared of?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stop! information overload & organisational pathology

A few posts have popped up in my feedreader about information overload recently. Firstly Ross with a reprint of a very sensible article on dealing with information overload (which I would recommend in its entirety).

Then Stanley Bing says:
what [constant use of phone & blackberry] does is that feeds control freaks with a constant, steady stream of stuff that needs to be controlled. That's what's making people more crazy. And what happens is that everybody goes crazy in a different way. In other words, some people get extremely morose. Other people get very paranoid.
And Merlin Mann goes on:
I can envision a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as “executive” and “pro-active” as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room

And continues:
I think one of the emerging leadership skills of the next five years will be learning how to do brilliant filtering

Which ties in with this post by Michael Watkins about pyromaniacs:
These days, pyromaniacs’ favorite incendiary devices are Blackberries and their Windows Mobile cousins. At the same time they have accelerated communications, these devices have dramatically lowered the barriers to lighting fires; now it’s just a few keystrokes away.

What I want to highlight from these various posts is that information overload is not simply a technological issue. It's a behavioural & psychological response to a changed environment. It's not just the proliferation of email/mobile phones/IM/etc - there are other drivers as well:
  • Both managers and employees feel under pressure to deliver results and have access to more & more information. However, more information does necessarily yield better decision-making - just more stuff to plough through. The assumption is that better information technology means fewer staff - rather than more.
  • Most organisations talk about "work/life balance" but have an unspoken rule that you just need to get it done. And "it" is 40% more than last quarter.
  • Most organisations equate productivity with activity. And, my, don't these technologies allow us to be active.
  • Specific individuals within organisations can trigger cascades of inefficient activity through their use of ICT (Watkins' pyromaniacs).

At the organisational level, dealing with information overload and its resultant pathological behaviours requires:

  • A proper understanding of what productivity means (& how you measure it). If a productive manager is one that makes good decisions, how do you measure how good their decisions are?
  • A clearer understanding of the relationship between patterns of ICT use and that worker productivity.

At an individual level, each of us needs to do the same. I have something of an email habit, clicking "refresh" on my inbox like a rat in a Skinner Box - but I don't have a PDA/Blackberry (which is a bit like a meth addict proudly claiming not to touch heroin). I have decided I need to have one email-free day a week. The computer will stay off*.

We also need to examine the relationships that are mediated through these technologies. Are we driving people crazy with our behaviour? How do we manage ourselves to get the best out of our interactions with others? For some of us, this might be too painful. Best get back to hitting them with emails/txts/IMs I guess - that'll learn 'em.

What does all this boil down to? How we learn to say "no" better.

*I may need to find a higher power to call on for that - a tasty chicken korma perhaps.

Monday, September 03, 2007

More on social software visualisation

Laurel goes nuts for socialistics. Facebook sees more & more innovation around "consumer SNA" - already noted here. These aren't analytics per se - no betweenness or centrality measures here. But they are giving people the new best friend of analytics - visualisations.

Ross talks about some specialist social networking sites here and their enterprise brethren here.

The collision of social networking tools with visualisation tools will accelerate the uptake of both. Those who have been banging on about SNA for the last 20 years may find themselves the flavour of the month. Interest in SNA/ONA got a resurgence in the corporate world a couple of years ago but now seems to be moving into the consumer environment*. I think this new round of social network mapping will be extremely messy & lacking in rigour. But it will also be a fascinating group experiment as individuals try to make sense of this stuff. And manipulate for their own ends (human beings are like that). And get caught out by incorrect inferences (as anyone with SNA experience can tell you - the map is not the territory).

*For once moving in the opposite direction to other social software trends.

Hyperreality (mashable planet)

Kaye discusses virtual worlds in general & SL in particular. And she links to this very interesting MIT article on called Second Earth. Unlike Kaye, I never really been a gamer (apart from a brief Civ addiction* in the early 90s that almost cost me my degree) and I have been a bit wary of Second Life.

But the more I ponder analytics, the more I realise that visualisation is the key to wide-spread use / acceptance of these. We are seeing a massive explosion in visualisation technologies - in terms of development of new techniques, applications of these techniques to real-world issues and broad-based user interest. Sites like Many Eyes are an example of these.

I see three interlinked yet distinct tracks coming out of this:

1. Dataspace. William Gibson's cyberspace was not like the internet or the metaverse of SL. WG cyberspace is a completely artificial world. A 3D representation of data & its flows. The visualisation tools that make analytics accessible are the full-flowering of WG's vision - driven as much by Excel & ERP systems as HTTP. We'll begin with individual analytics visualisations and then move onto the collaborative kind.

2. Augmented reality. This is where the real world interfaces with VR - using data transmitted by mobile & embedded devices such as RFID. The world will become "chatty". It will both assist us and drive us nuts. The extent to which we can choose to participate in this noisy place (or shut it off) will be major lifestyle choice for us in the next 20 years.

3. Second earths. The metaverse that Kaye & the article discuss. Their impact will be like TV - making the world a suddenly smaller place. However, has TV made us any less selfish? Or more generous? I honestly don't know. Global visualisations may make us more aware of the environmental impact of our lives. Or may simply provide us with entertainment - anyone fancy a bet on the next species to become extinct?

*It was the God-like power of life & death over an entire world that got me. Now the megalomania only comes in brief bursts.

More Renaissance: humility & arrogance

So continuing with the Renaissance riff from the former post, what struck me when studying people like Vesalius was their interesting mix of arrogance and humilty.

They had a certain arrogance towards Church authority. They were not going to take dogma about the natural world (much of it cobbled together from Scripture & Aristotle) as the last world on the matter. The Church exacted a heavy wage for the sin of heresy so they might position their research as going back to the spirit of the Ancients but they still needed guts to do what they did.

Meanwhile, they had a humility before the empirical world. They observed & experimented obsessively. They built machines & measured. They drew on learning from Greece, Rome, the Arab world. Their world was increasingly globalised and connected - with new technologies introduced, new forms of trade & exchange emerging.

In many situations, we privilege organisational dogma over our observation (both qualitative & quantitative) of the world around us. We must turn this upside-down. Like those in the Renaissance, we will have to draw on the diverse aspects of a globalised world and we may also have to disguise our heresies to allow acceptance.

Renaissance people

So I've just finished Competing On Analytics By Tom Davenport & Jeanne Harris. And I have also been mulling over this post by Bob Sutton on the importance of a balance between quantitative & qualitative evidence. It would tempting to make TD & BS fight each other in some kind of US business professor death-match. Tempting but ultimately futile.

We need analytics. We have masses of quantitative data and we need to understand it and manage it. We need experts who can interpret it and managers who will then use it. Whilst many organisations use this resource poorly, the data offers a trap as well as an opportunity. Data only represents the world, it's not the world itself. I have encountered senior managers who are happier arguing about the data and hiding behind that than dealing with reality that their subordinates face daily.

We need managers who can use quantitative data & qualitative observation. Who can see the (in Gregory Bateson's definition of information) the difference that makes a difference. In effect, we need renaissance men & women. Are our business schools producing those?

One point that leaped out from the Analytics book concerned visualisation. Most managers without a background in statistics get terribly lost in the data. But given them visualisation techniques (plots, maps) and the data becomes more navigable, more amenable to decision-making. Visualisation may be the point where the quantitative & the qualitative meet. Or it may be another dead end.

What do you think?

Do as you would be done by

I was having a conversation with someone I like & respect at the last NSW KM Forum*. He was thinking about starting a blog (for the 3rd time). We talked briefly about his ideas regarding scope of said blog but as we talked, I thought about this post by Stephen Collins. His wife has a blog (it's good - click on that link now). But she needs to get out more.

On this blog, I am a writer. I write because I want to & to an extent because I have to. It makes me a happier person. And far less annoying & prone to acts of random violence to those around me. Whether it does the same for you or not ain't my problem. However I also want people to read this. If only because comments & intelligent responses on the blogs of others makes life more interesting and prods my own idea glands into sluggish action.

And what I have found is that if I want others to read & comment on my work, I must do the same for them. I have to do what I want others to do. I have to "give it up & turn it loose". This is the critical lesson I would share with all would-be bloggers - "ask not what the blogosphere can do for you but what you can do for the blogosphere". What most writers crave is an engaged reader. Be that engaged reader for them and they may do the same for you.

The thing is you can't fake it. None of this "Hey, I see that you love cheese! I love sub-atomic physics! Visit my blog!" You have to genuinely engage with them. Be a reader first & foremost and you will never be short of readers.

*Which isn't giving too much away because I like & respect most of the people that show up.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The technology of the secret

Secrets are inherently interesting things. Facts & stories about ourselves that we choose not to share with everyone. I remember one conversation with an acquaintance many years ago where we talked about our secrets. N.B. We didn't tell each other our secrets. We just talked about who we had shared them with. And why. He said: "Well, you are secrets, aren't you?"

Simply hiding something makes it more desirable to others. We may hide it for any number of reasons. It may be shameful, boring, illegal, hurtful. Whatever it is, we don't want people to know about it. We manage & maintain our identities and the exposure of a secret threatens that. Our secrets make us vulnerable. And because they are a part of ourselves that form us that we cannot publicly acknowledge, they can be a heavy burden. Many cultures have developed rituals & roles for the entrustment of secrets to others. The catholic confessional, the psychiatrist's couch.

Secrets (of ourselves & also of others) are powerful tokens of exchange. The secrets of others might be exchanged for material gain but our own secrets are offered to people to build trust between us. We often start with little vulnerabilities and then move on to the bigger things. And in a world where random connections are increasingly common, we sometimes fell happier giving our secrets to complete strangers instead of those close to us.

So why I am writing about secrets?

1. As a knowledge manager, I have been entrusted with secrets - of both groups & individuals. During lessons learned debriefs, participant interviews, all kinds of things. It surprised me when it began happening. I'd flatter myself that it's because I'm a good listener but I suspect it has more to do with the voracious need that people have to unburden themselves. There are fewer priests than there used to be and there is still a stigma (& a cost) attached to seeing a shrink for some people. It's not just knowledge managers - HR people get it to. Anyone who's reasonably sympathetic and without an obvious axe to grind.

Do we need to bring professional secret-keepers back?

2. These new communications technologies - not just the internet but mobile phones & digital cameras - require us to manage our identities in ever more complex ways. And they make our secrets increasingly fragile to exposure. We need some level of privacy, some control over our own identities. But it won't be the same as the forms we've had before. Whether it will be sufficient remains to be seen.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I want to stay hidden

Jasmin Tragas writes about expressing yourself. Jasmin asks:
Is it Facebook Faux Pas to hide your “wall” or friends?

Being an Englishman, I have no problem with hiding any & every aspect of myself. Are you looking at me, pal? Got a problem, have you? I'll give you a ****ing problem.


When I set up my Facebook profile, I filled in the "relationship" status fields. As more people I vaguely knew friended me (& I them, link slut that I am), I became less and less comfortable with this. So this week I removed these fields. Facebook chose to interpret this as "Matt is no longer single" and promptly made this a news item. I then got a string of emails from acquaintances asking what the gossip was, when the big day will be and whether children were in the offing. When I got sick of this, I set my relationship status back to "single*" again. And later that day, a work colleague (in the course of a business email) offered condolences for my newly single status - plenty more fish in the sea, etc.

I examined the privacy settings of Facebook very closely and shut down all my alerts. I then removed my relationship status. Single, married, straight, gay, celibate, rampant - this is my business and not yours.

So we need to be careful how we present ourselves. And we also need to use care in our readings of other people. Things may not be what they seem.

We are engaging in a massive experiment here. An experiment in redrawing the lines of public & private. And this experiment will not be painless. We can limit this pain by being generous with each other.

Jasmin then asks some more interesting questions:
Another question - is Facebook really about connecting or is it about embedding your identity? Do you get to know more about your friends or yourself by using FB and twitter? How much of this is manufactured identity?

Now Erving Goffman would have a few things to say about this. My take is that our identities are to some extent manufactured anyway. We have some influence over how we look and what we do (but not total control). But these identities are also co-created with those around us. We perform ourselves (to an extent). And others feedback to us whether they buy our performances or not through performances of their own. So tools like Facebook are about connecting AND embedding your identity - because the two are inseparable.

Human beings have always indulged in hypocrisy and double-standards. They enable us to survive. New technologies mean that we must invent new forms of hypocrisy and innovative double-standards to continue surviving. Because let's face it, we're certainly not going to be honest with each other.

*Please do not tell my Thai mail-order bride this piece of information.