Thursday, January 29, 2009

good writing surfeit

A few years back, simply setting up a blog and writing regularly got you some kudos. It helped if you had something to say and could say it well.

Here's the bad news: A blog is no longer a shortcut to prominence (if it ever was). That's not enough anymore. It has come to my attention that there are simply masses of blogs out there. Heaps. With good writing on them. Lots of it. In fact too much for me to usefully absorb.

Here's the good news: There's plenty of good stuff to read. An observation every day to tickle your brain buds. And you can join in and comment. And not feel worried about starting your own blog because everyone else is doing*. And you can train your writing muscles every day, so they grow big and strong.

And there'll be a whole mess of great writing going on before you know it.

*Statistically this is not true but that'll be our little secret for now, k?

i have a minion

He is called doulus. The agency* said that the hunch is congenital but the wonky eye would be repairable, should I chose to make that investment.

I have banned doulus from using social software but he seems to have somehow set up a Twitter account.

He thinks I don't know about it. MWHAHAHAHAH! I won't let on just yet. That wouldn't be fun.

Ahem

He will be helping EwF with our expansion plans in the near future.

*White Slavery Associates. Very efficient, can't recommend them highly enough.

i don't always want to talk to you

I got a call from my mobile provider yesterday. I was driving the car. I am a very bad driver*. I told them this and they said they'd call me back.

I got another call from them this morning. I was driving the car, again. My driving skills had not noticeably improved in the intervening 18 hours. They asked if they should call me back. I said they could tick me off the list for now, but that I would be calling them back at some point at my convenience and it would nice if they would listen to me. I'm not sure they will but it's worth a go.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town: I was with some people and someone that I vaguely know** seemed a bit off. On a sudden whim, I asked her if she was OK. She said she was fine. As someone else noted, she obviously wasn't and she didn't want to talk about it. Which was understandable.

A little later, I realised I may have been behaving like my mobile provider***. Being asked how we're doing is kinda nice - if it's motivated by more than solely a corporate or social obligation. But we reserve the right not to have that conversation with that particular person right then and there. Maybe it's not the right time. Or they are not the right person.

So if we make that offer, we probably need to recognise that it may be taken up at a time not of choosing. What do we do about that?

*And even if I wasn't, I shouldn't be talking on the phone.
**Greeting in the street but not lengthy conversation.
***I will shortly be releasing a "cap" offer where you can 300 mins of me for the price of 30. I will also be adopted in a thick Indian accent for all future telephone conversations. And you can also get an itemised bill for all our conversations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

enemy public?

There's this interesting discussion going on around this post by Mark Pollard. This is topic that deserves a full post and some no-holds-barred discussion. Bring it on.



1. What makes a bunch of people a community?

"Community" is one of those words that gets used a lot to refer to many different things. Artists, nurses, hip hop fans, people living in Marrickville, people aged over 65, people who buy a certain brand of bike. We use it because it's handy shorthand and it's nice way of referring to people. "Community" is so much more pleasant that "rabble" or conspiracy".

This lexical laxness is all very well but it starts getting a bit tricky when we have to define what community is in the abstract. Especially what is and what is not a community. Having a list of specifications for what makes a community or not is all very well (and I've got a few lying around if people are interested) but I've come to the conclusion that it's rarely helpful. The definition of community is fuzzy round the edges (as membership of communities often is - but that's post for another day). For every totalizing claim you can make about communities, an exception can be found.

You have a bunch of people who share something. The question is not: "are they a community?", the question is instead: "is what they share sufficient for them to start interacting?" and then the interesting stuff really starts....

2. Identity Parade

The above was just a preamble to the main point of this post. Shawn talks about the mark of a community of practice being members willing to spontaneously identify themselves as members of that community. I am a artist, nurse, hip hop fan, Marrickville dweller, aged over 65, brand x bike owner. This is a very useful corrective to the desire of some institutions to impose the community label on others but I think that we need to drill down into this identity thing a bit deeper.

Mark states that "the pull of identity is strong" and he's right. But sometimes we resist that pull. Many professional communities insist that members use their real full names. One such online community like that ran a Carnival for a week - where the rules were turned upside down - people were actively discouraged from posting under their real names and several people took the opportunity to create multiple identities for themselves. There was some mischief and bad behaviour - but a noticeable increase in activity.

In general in many social groups, authenticity is valued and people prefer to keep a relatively stable online identity. Gavin makes the point that communities are about belonging. To which I would retort that many communities are but at an individual level you can participate in a community and not feel that you belong and at a group level there are communities that do not prize belonging. Gav might respond by saying that his definition of community requires belonging. To which I would say, sure it does - but what about these associations and social groups that don't fit his criteria?

Human beings crave public acknowledgement and social belonging but also require privacy and anonymity. These paradoxical desires makes (un)managing comunities painful & unpredictable. For example, in one internal corporate email list group I helped with, many people would send their questions to the community via me - so their identity wouldn't be revealed. After they got answers, they would decide whether to embark on a conversation with their respondent directly. You can say that was a group with a low level of trust (and you might be right) but that was a pattern that worked for them and their context. I could have enforced complete transparency but that would have been counterproductive and not met their needs. It would have been a betrayal.

Anonymity is not the antithesis of community - it's a contrast to a public identity. Anonymity may or may not be a welcome behaviour in some groups and it may or may not allow useful interactions to occur. Expect to find anonymous behaviour in communities and understand that it may be valid. The members of a community get to negotiate what works and doesn't work for them and really we need to listen vey closely to what people might want (and it will rarely be the same for everyone so we need to build in lots of flexibility and options).

I realise that this may seem like nit-picking and I want to stress that I'm not having a go at anyone mentioned - but I think there are some assumptions here that need taking apart. The better we understand the contradictory pulls of human nature, the more effective we can be in our communities.

worm farm gospel

We bought a worm farm around Christmas. It's very simple. The worms live in this box in the dark. You pile rotting plant life on top them (no chillies, onions or citrus - too acidic) and they take your refuse and turn it into nutrition for plants. "Worm wee" the woman in the shop called it.

You got a whole lot of love

Jason Pierce is a white boy with a gospel kink. Gospel is an exchange. Pain in this world, joy in the next. Rot for life. The promise of gospel should gird the vocalist, their song a living statement of their redemption. Jason doesn't believe (one Spiritualized song is called "No God, Only Religion"). He has no rock, no foundation. His voice is thin and reedy. Not a gospel voice at all.

Won't you give some to me

And yet on a mangled live tape I got with a magazine in the early 90s, Jason's fragile voice is off-set against a wall of sound from his band. It's very un-gospel-ness embodies everything. The music floods up under his voice. It might be a tidal wave of the blind chance of existence - a sonic equation for unfairness. It might be the seesmic tremours of emotion that my rationality cannot contain. It doesn't matter. It just is. The music collapses but his voice does not break.

If you send some to me

Whether Jason likes it or not, he has made art. Two flips of the same coin, art and religion offer opportunities to make sense of life. The joy and pain. The missing bits of the puzzle that may not have been in the box anyway. The only way you will remove art or religion from the world is to forge a cure for pain.

I will take good care of it

We feast on our pain and joy in vermicast galleries and cathedrals. We are in the dark.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ignition switch

Many, many people have been asking me how Ignite Sydney went. Well, actually just Andrew asked me. As you can see from the scores on the doors, I was beaten to a bloody pulp by the other presenters. Here are the edited highlights:
  • First of all, big shout out to Stephen Lead & co for putting this baby together.
  • Jeremy LeBard talked about Amazon in Australia in a low-key, charming way.
  • Jason Yip uses awesome stick figures to explain lean programming.
  • Kieran Ots did an absolutely beautiful presentation on personal time use.
  • Pamela Fox hit us with Google goodness.
  • Richard Lane mapped the sky - have you heard of OWL?
  • Rob Perkins talked about a child-like sense of wonder & creativity. He had pictures of cute little kids (unbeatable!!!)
  • Geoff Bowers opened up open source communities.
  • Daniel Boud showed us some of his photos.
  • Kelly Tall pitted Jeff Koons against Barack Obama.
  • Meitar Moscovitz got frankly freaky.
  • Mark Pollard had some lovely observations about online community - and here are Mark's Ignite presentation tips.
Everyone I saw was good. There was not a dud presentation among them.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

mike's inauguration special

I have had to ban Mike from commenting on blogs. In my last exchange with him, he assured me that business was "going through the roof" and he invited me to invest a significant sum of money in an "expansion program" that he promised would "make me richer than Michael Milken" . When I told him that I simply couldn't afford the amount he required, he got angry with me (again) and so I have been obliged to publish a bumper-length guest post.

[Click on the images to view larger versions]



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

mike's engagement issues + convergence

Against my advice, Mike has been commenting on the Witchery / Naked furore. Some of his comments have been published, some await moderation, some have been deleted. Now this may be down to technical issues (apparently Mike gave a fake email when requested - he sees email as being a "fad" compared to... well, I'm sure you can guess). However I suspect his strong arm sales tactics and blatant product pushing did him no favours. He feels that his comments are a valid critique on the ethics of created identities in online marketing campaigns but I told him to shut the **** up. He was quite hurt by that. So to mollify him, I have agreed to publish another guest post.



[Click on image to enlarge]

P.S. Mike hopes you will all join him in congratulating Bill Cosby in his ascending to the presidency.

obamayamamaslamangramagamadrama

This woman rocks. Can we all climb off the Obamdwagon now please because he really needs room to run the most powerful country on earth while its economy implodes*.

But this isn't bad either ( from the little I've been able to read online). I'll let you know my thoughts about it in more detail once the 25 Mb ****er downloads.

*Did I tell you how Obama became POTUS because of my advice? Well, I never actually spoke to him. Or anyone working with him. But he must of done -> it's the only logical conclusion to make!!!

cutting edge technology watch

Here at EwF, we believe in staying at the bleeding edge of tech (kinda like a scab on the seeping wound of innovation). So we're very pleased to welcome Mike Wagner here to guest post on a little something new. Please forward your questions directly to Mike.


[Click on image to enlarge]
Shouts out: Ben Kunz

lying

Sometimes I want organisations to be truthful with me. Truthful about your product actually containing what it says on the ingredients label. Truthful about transaction costs and fines. Y'know, the little things.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over a few YouTube videos being made up. Authenticity is over-rated. I want lying on a grand scale.

I want EPIC LIES!!!

If you're going to make **** up then make it good ****. None of this p***-weak pretend romance, pretend tattoo, nonsense. Tattoos may have been big news in the 70s but get with the program, people. My gran has a swirly celtic tattoo to demonstrate her spiritual yet earthy personality and edgy cultural cred. And as for that romance chick - what is this? Has the world morphed into some late-90s chick lit novel where we're all Gemma - a 28 year-old babe with a career in publishing* who gets tipsy every night with her "absolutely mad" friends over a bottle or 8 of white wine but who secretly yearns for a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet?

Tell me:
  • How your dog food was directly responsible for the election of Barak Obama to the White House (and the CIA conspiracy that's prevented us from hearing about it).
  • Why your accounting & actuarial services business will turn me from a quivering loser into a superconducting chick magnet lurve machine.
  • How your suncream prevents terrorism (all brands including Islamic) and Global Financial Collapse-triggered economic ruin.
Put Baz Luhrmann in the shade. Have the courage of insincerity. Lie to me.

*If the imminent demise of the book (and thus the book publishing industry) leads to the collapse of literacy, the degradation of all culture and cannibalism BUT also means that there will be no more books about the lives of people in publishing, then I think that's a fair price to pay.

Monday, January 19, 2009

new social media rankings released

soap tantrums

Jesus, Heidi, that's a really ugly jacket you've got there. I mean the a guy that wears that kind of jacket is probably a woman-bashing closet alko or something. Of course the jacket "smells good", he had to get the blood and puke dry-cleaned off it. You're better off staying away from him.

I think the video is actually quite cute*. I'd like to see the narrative progress. Possibly Heidi finds herself at sauna, where she glances across and sees her mystery man exit without his trousers. Which she lovingly retrieves - and places on the shrine in her laundry. And then maybe a pair of shoes and a shirt or two (one business, one casual). The series of videos climaxes with her breaking into his apartment while she continually repeats "I'm not a stalker". We get to see the interior of his wardrobe and then we cut to a Misery-like scene where Heidi has her man** in his jacket at last - bound, gagged (maybe hobbled): "Jonathan, oh my precious Jonathan, my handsome jacketed knight, I'll have you safe forever..."

Over the weekend, the missus reminded me that soap operas started off as ads for cleaning products - with little moments of drama in between. Over 50 years, they developed into shows such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, etc - i.e. some of the finest cultural products of our time. I dunno whether these YouTube videos will have achieved something similar by 2060.

*SHM disagrees, possibly because they were caught out.
**Possibly played by Jonathan Pease himself.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

wishlist / four lions

Today I heard about Four Lions by Chris Morris. Which means I'd better bring out Wishlist - which was written sometime in 2007 (and performed rather poorly one Saturday morning on FBi).

Wishlist

Maybe I did join Al Qaeda for the chicks.
It's so hard to meet a nice girl these days
and it's not because I spend
my spare time in brothels, mother.
The man I met at the retreat
told me about 72 virgins:
pure, chaste, blessed by Allah
(May His Name Be Praised),
like 72 Pamela Andersons
running in slow motion across
the Baywatch beach of Paradise.
Not like the sluts & whores
who don't return my calls & texts
& special poems written in pigeons' blood.

The mountains are remote and sacred
and I have grown a holy beard
like the prophet
(Peace Be Upon Him)
Only it has flecks of orange
and a patch under my left ear
that won't grow.
I sometimes think the other
Holy Warriors of Allah
(May His Name Be Praised)
laugh at me behind my back.
But they mostly pick on Ibrahim
who wears glasses &
comes from Tajikistan.

It is cold here in the mountains
and we pray five times a day.
When my head is against the mat,
I shut my eyes tight and
try not to think of home.
In the afternoon, I carry a gun
so I must be important.
The gun oil sticks to my clothes
smudges my skin into pimples.
Sometimes my hands are too numb
to load my rifle.
Last week I found out
the smell of napalm in the morning
makes me what to vomit.
I wonder if this is truly the Will of Allah
(May His Name Be Praised).
I must remember that the mountains
are filled with tempters & demons.

They said I could not go for flight training,
that my claustrophobia was a liability.
They would not send me to Indonesia or back to Europe.
My hands are decorated with no infidel's blood.
One day they will pick me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

ignite it right

So while the missus is off on Cockatoo Island watching Nick Cave* and Spiritualised**, I've been getting stuck into my Ignite presentation. There was so much in the spec I sent to Steve and so little of it will remain. Which is actually cool. I'm loving the discipline of the 20 slides x 15 seconds format. The amount of effort that's going into this is quite disproportionate to the finished product. Every image and word matters - which is exactly the topic I'm talking around***.

*Who based on Homebake 2003 is the king of panto. Where's The Mercy Seat? It's behind you Nick - or is that your bath chair?
** Who based on some tiny, awful venue in the UK in 1994 are sublime. Really.
***Sorry if I've spoilt it for you. I'll put some nob gags in there to make up for it.

sand banks and e-banks

Unlike lots of people, I didn't mind the Ubank videos and I hope that with time they get funnier (sharper cutting guys). I'm still miffed that their agency (Loaded Technologies) never got back to me about selling the myfuturebank.org domain name. I was being serious people!!!

Actually, "funny" is tricky and virals generally fail so how about a whole bunch of 1 minuters? And on what topic? Well, the number one financial issue for Australians is getting out of debt. So how about 1 minute videos on people who have done interesting stuff to get out of debt? Not necessarily sold a kidney or gone on the game but something cool. Now that would be worth watching.

The other mega one is "The Best Job in the World". Apart from the stupid "getting your staff to pose as a member of the public" thing, it's a really neat idea. I even thought of sending in a video except I'm fat, balding & not too keen on the beach (yes, I know that leads to all kinds of questions about why I live in Sydney but never mind that for now - fat, bald people have to live somewhere). So for me it would not be the best job in the world.

The press release is a bit weird tho: titled "200,000 prospective applicants in just 24 hours", you have to read down to see that they've had 200 applications rather than 200,000. Apparently "visitor" = "prospective applicant". I shall have to apply that logic to any future dinner guests. "A visitor? Well funny you thought that - coz I thought that you were applying for the 'toilet cleaner' job I had advertised at the back of my medicine cabinet - here's the brush, get cracking..."

Some thoughts:
  • It'll be interesting to see how the losers are treated. These are people who have spent time recording a video for you. What can you do to make them feel good? Give them a little gift? Give them some publicity? Say thank you?
  • Will it drive more visitors to Queensland? And will we get similar campaigns for, say, Tasmania? "Do you ever dream of spending 6 months on a remote farmstead fighting off drunken, inbred hillbillies? Send us a video. Or simply bootleg Straw Dogs".

Friday, January 16, 2009

more burgers

The McCafe concept has apparently been very successful for McDonalds. I think they could push the "cafe" aspect a bit harder. How about hiring extras to pretend to be aspiring writers working their unpublished novels? In fact, stuff the extras, the actual aspiring writers would be cheaper. They could be bussed in from areas with cheap rents or their rich parents' houses. All you'd have to do is offer them a couple of cups of coffee and the faintest chance of a shag.

Hmmm, maybe not.

The whispy beards could put punters off their orange and poppyseed muffins.

burgers

There's been a lot of talk in my section of the echo chamber recently about the Whopper Sacrifice thang put together by Crispin Porter + Bogusky For Burger King. My (ill-informed) thoughts are:
  • I have no objection to any effort that takes the **** out of Facebook.
  • Timing's quite neat as well (start of a new year, just the opportunity to lose some dead weight in the social network department).
  • It has generated a lot of talk for CPB but has it actually sold more burgers? It looks like about 23k people are in line for free vouchers.
  • As you have to provide your email address, the whole thing looks suspiciously like a data gathering exercise.
  • It is not as funny as Whopper Virgins. May be they could try it with some inhabitants of a famine-torn African country next time. If there's anything I like more than laughing at asian people, it's laughing at black people. Or may be cripples. May be Whopper Cripples has legs*?
There's a really obvious social (not digital) mobile application for BK. One that would allow you to order and pay for your meal before you arrived at the restaurant. In fact one that would allow you to coordinate meeting up at BK with all your friends. You could even see if there were enough tables there to accomodate you. Useful - but not as funny as laughing at asian people.

*Needless to say, my stand-up comedy career has stalled.

digital vs social (warning: rant)

Feel it closing in

So I was having lunch with a friend a few days ago. She's working in social media but she's finding herself in competition with the digital arms of ad agencies - which lead to a discussion of the differences between digital media and social software. From where I'm at, there's only two problems with the term "digital media" - word "digital" and the word "media".

Digital

Marshall McLuhan observed that when a new technology arises, we spend much of our time treating it like it was what we have already rather than something new. When the internet erupted just over a decade ago, the obvious analogy was with television. They were both spat out of a cathode ray tube into your home weren't they? But hang on, the back in 1996, bandwidth speeds were rubbish, so the internet was mainly words. So it must be a newspaper, right? Coz they're full of words too. So we got stacks of banner ads. Lots of them. Some of them moved around a lot. But this was fundamentally TV and print on the internet. It wasn't a waste of time - it was just, well, dull. Important to note, the current giant of online advertising is not the product of an ad agency. There is nothing wrong with putting cool words, images (and maybe music) in front of people. Studies show that advertising sells stuff. And having no advertising makes it much harder to sell stuff.

Another important point to note: an industry that sells its creativity in content is highly conservative in form. Part of this can be blamed on clients: Please give us something we know that works. But I suspect (and I don't work in this industry so please tell me if I'm talking ****) that it's as much a function of background. If you are a hot graphic designer, then you want to keep on making sexy imagery. If you write arresting words then you want to keep churning out those sentences. If you excel at talked about events then you want to keep them spectacles coming (in fact, I'll have pair, boom-tish). But doing something else doesn't seem to be half as much fun.

So cutting to the chase, "digital" implies simply turning what you had in "analog" (TV/Print) into ones and zeroes. Ideally a really annoying Flash site. ATTENTION: If you need Flash to make you site interesting, you are in deep ****. I mean so deep that your body will never be found in the Macromedia Midan. Let's do some word association here: I say "digital" and you think: Casio wrist watches? Calculators? A long-dead tech company? These are not good connections to be making. If you are digital, you may have hard-coded conservatism into your identity but it's not as problematic as the second word.

Media

The internet is not (just) media. For a start, trad media is one-way, broadcast. The internet is two-way, interactive. I am not stating anything new here, simply repeating the blindingly obvious. Which means that corporate/brand presences on the web can include selling, customer service and aftercare. The metaphor of "internet as TV" only works if the glass nipple expands Videodrome-style to engulf the whole house. Can I use the TV to fix my washing machine? The opportunities for conversation & exchange are so much richer than before. But this richness comes at a price.

Creative types are apt to think of their outputs as their children. They have brought them into the world and laboured to feed and clothe them. As hard-headed and results-driven as some are, there is no one who doesn't favour their ideas above those of others. And here's thing, we're moving to an environment where you send your children out to get raped*. And some of the products of these monstrous unions will die immediately, unfit to reproduce. But others will be fitter and stronger and spread wider than their parents.

So if you want to show me your crazy new viral app for Facebook - cool but it looks oddly like a TV commercial to me. Not that there's anything wrong with TV commercials. And for some products, broadcast may always be the way to go.

But for me it's just a bit, well, boring.

The hallmark of a good host is the ability to listen, to make the guest feel as welcome as possible - not to show how smart you are, which is currently what a lot of online advertising aims at doing.

*Obviously I'm being provocative here. Or am I? This author equates fan-fic with physical violation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

brands: long tails, complex systems, stories, communities

Sean offers a link to this paper by Mohammed Iqbal. It's fascinating reading because it provides a grounding for a fancy that I've been toying with for a while now: brands as complex systems.

The Long Tail of Meaning

MI's paper talks about a power law distribution of brand propositions associated with a brand. You might even call these brand propositions (with their rational and emotional aspects, their blind cravings for meaning, their roots in lived experience) by another name: "stories". Trad advertising focuses on identifying what the big stories around a brand are. May be one, may be two, a handful at most. These stories can then be blast-broadcasted out via TV, print, even a viral widget for Facebook. However these stories are simply the biggest, loudest and most palatable associated with a brand. They aren't all the stories out there.

Narrative Ecosystems

One thing the long tail model doesn't make very clear is that entities you find in the distribution may not be isolated from each other. Just as a curve in sand may be the mark left by a snake, the long tail itself is the mark made on a distribution of entities (books, songs, brand propositions, dreams) by human choice. If you've ever worked with stories, you'll realise that they exist in an ecosystem - the long tale tail chatters to itself uncontrollably. There may be a single story that someone wants to communicate perfectly to their consumers, employees, citizens or subjects; but once it has been released into the wild it rarely stays unchanged. Instead it interacts with all the related stories that are being told. You don't own your brand. You never did but that comforting deceit is becoming harder and harder to maintain. You can't control the story ecosystem - you can influence it, engage with it, add to it but you can't control it.

Joining the Swarm: Communities

Trad advertising (TVCs, print) still works reasonably well for the head of the tail or the simple/complicated domains. It's not going way but as the rest of the tail and the complexity that forms it becomes more visible, we need other ways of dealing with it. Which is where those pesky community things come in. The stories/meaning/brand propositions become more diffuse and far more messy. You get the whole distribution around you, not the edited 30-second highlights. The leadership that's required here is a little different from yer standard issue.

The gift of the internet has been to surface human behaviour as much as it has been to change it. Can we handle that?

Monday, January 12, 2009

software companies - please note

Every month or so, someone shows me their software - mostly in the collaboration or KM field. They would like my advice on it or they would even like me to sell it for them. They are all very smart - smarter than me. However there are often some significant things they leave out:
  • Before we go into the demo, do you have a brochure? Yes an old skool, 2-page A4 brochure. Telling me: who the product is for; what it does for them; how it is different to everyone else operating in this space* and then what it's technical specifications are. If you do not have that, go to the back of the class.
  • Hold off the demo for a bit longer. Do you have any references. Who has implemented this? Which bits have they implemented? Are they willing to go on the record that they have implemented it and that it is not a pile of ****? No references is not fatal but they are very helpful.
  • Now we go onto the demo. Is the demo available as a video file I can take away and look at? If not, can we have a couple of those please?
  • Finally pricing. How much will this baby cost - hosted, on server, or in a sesame seed bun? Don't be bashful now, it'll have to come out some time.
This is a shame because these applications are mostly the opposite of "brochureware" (i.e. all the things I mentioned above but without any actual, y'know, working software). So I am more than happy to see your software (and tell other people about it who may be interested) but please read this beforehand.

*Yes, I know you have no competitors. I am six foot five of rippling muscle who melts the hearts of all who gaze upon me. Now if we can pilot a course for reality, warp factor ten please?

network not-for-profit

Digging deeper into the social software & not-for-profit world, a few things have turned up.
  • Steve Bridger's work really knocked my socks off. I'm still going thru this presentation but there are two things that resonate very strongly with me:
  1. The web of relationships that NFPs have to manage is complex - service recipients, staff, donors, volunteers. The promise of social software is to both broaden and deepen these relationships. To make them more transparent and to make them stronger.
  2. Social software should support what those people do already - it shouldn't be about making heaps of extra work.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

giving

You've probably heard about Dave Armano & Daniela. Daniela's story is heart-breaking. Dave has done a good thing. Visit the site and chip in some cash.

There is a bigger story here. Dave has tapped into his (considerable) network to help someone. However what do you do if you are a Daniela without a Dave? And there are lots of Danielas without Daves out there.

Well, there's government aid - which shouldn't be underestimated but it often patchy, slow & bureaucratic. And then there are not-for-profits (NFPs) - the likes of WorldVision. They're going thru a tough time at the moment. The tanking economy means that for many people, charity will not only begin at home but stay at home. They are scrabbling for attention and funding in a world that is not particularly interested right now. However they do have one thing going for them - they are organisations driven by a purpose. Organisations about whom the word "mission" can used without cringing.

I've been doing some research in this area. There should be a big opportunity for these organisations to use social software to enable staff, volunteers, donors, even perhaps the people they are helping. As with so much in Australia, it feels like this is bubbling under the surface. Philanthropy Australia have embraced blogs & wikis. The World Wildlife Fund are using YouTube but it feels like the toes are just being dipped into the water (and the water's fine).

Do you know of any examples of Australian not-for-profits doing something cool with social sofware? If so, please drop me a line.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

don't leave it to the experts (even if you are one) - tell us all about it

Patrick & I have been discussing doing "something" around the area of expertise for a couple of months now. There will be probably more than one "something" but we're starting with a narrative-based project.

What does this mean? Well, we want to collect your stories:
  • Where you've had your expertise appreciated (or not).
  • How you have seen organisations use well the expertise available to them (or not).
  • How you have found accessing the expertise of others.
We want the highs, the lows, the agony, the ecstacy and the banality.

As the site indicates, we think the issues around expertise are critical for many organisations and yet they are not always well handled. Help us dig into this important area.

Find out more.
Add your own story.
Read the stories of others.

the art of 360 degree presentation

This should be a bit of a cracker. I've not worked with David Kayrouz but I am looking forward to it. As for Louise Mahler & Ralph Kerle, 'nuff said.

Go on, sign up now.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

community unmanagement

The "Chief Conversation Officer" meme cropped up again recently here and here. And it's been coupled with some conversations with community managers such as Scott Drummond.

What I find interesting is that a bunch of people from diverse areas have picked up the label "community manager" - some from a knowledge management background, others with histories in marketing or PR, still others with technology backgrounds or even social activism.

What these people have in common is that they have been tasked with managing a "community". And "community" seems to be any group that is not a formal organisation or a bunch of autonomous individuals. This needs a bit of unpacking.

Organisations and Individuals

Organisations are established to create predictability through coordination. This coordination requires hierarchy and hierarchy requires managers who will coordinate subordinates. Interaction outside their formal roles was deemed irrelevant. In effect, the employee relationship was between an individual and a corporation (or government department) through a manager.

The creation of corporations also created consumer mass markets. And corporations tended to model their consumers as individuals. Everyone knew that these consumers interacted with each other but these interactions were secondary to their individual relationship as consumers with corporation.

The Rise of 'Communities'

This division of the world into individuals on the one hand and organisations on the other has always been artificial. What technology does is make it harder and harder to maintain that artificial division. Communities are what fill that gap. The social glue. Or may be a shock absorber between David & Goliath.

Unmanagement

The problem with these non-organisational groups is that you can't manage them. You can't sit down with members of a community, agree objectives and resources and then get on with it. Well, you can do a bit of that but communities tend to reject managers - "Who died and put you in charge?" is the first reponse. "I'm not coming back here again" is the second. They need stewards, facilitators, hosts and bouncers. Sometimes they need leaders but that leader may not be you. But they do not need managers.

What makes a Community Unmanager?
  • You care. I don't want to say "passion" because it's a horribly over-used word but community unmanagers have to care about both the topic they are involved in and the people around them. If they don't then their community will feel betrayed.
  • You help other people make stuff happen. Facilitation. Listening. Responding. Encouraging. Exactly how you facilitate is up to you. You can be gentle and nurturing. You can be aggressive and confrontational. It depends on the kind of people either already in your community or who you want to attract to it. But be mindful of what you are like and what that means for everyone else.
  • You are aware of your environment. Online this may mean having the technology skills to get people up to speed with the tools. It might mean having an eye for design. It certainly means being a good host.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sunday, January 04, 2009

the age of conversation - live from moscow


where did all the money go?

Ross Dawson writes about "Wealth Adaption Syndrome" - i.e. you were a master of the universe 18 months ago and now you are down to your last million. Or simply that the value of your house (or your super/pension) is worth less. You are feeling poorer.

How do you deal with a sudden reduction in your financial worth and consequent reduction in status? Well, one tried and tested strategy is denial. The stories of former managers who couldn't tell their families about their sacking and would get dressed for work everyday, leave the house and then hide in the park with their packed lunch and sense of overwhelming guilt. Some people will not be able to accept the new reality - opportunities in debt collection and financial counseling here. The escapism and fantasy that Ross mentions are subtle forms of denial.

Another response is to redouble your efforts. Find a new investment vehicle (preferably one not linked to Bernie Madoff), fashion a new career, go back to uni, etc. You had a taste of it once and you're not going to give it up.

A third response is one that attempts to look beyond money & purchasing power as your core defining characteristic. Kim talks about a boom in craft sales, the rise of the "slow" movement (including slow community may be), a burgeoning interest in meditation, yoga, Buddhism and probably the wackier end of spirituality. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, "self-mastery" is worth pursuing; on the other, it may be a charlatan's field day.

The choices people make are to an extent dependent on their circumstances. If you have a lot of commitments (mortgages, children) and comparatively few assets then your focus is going to be paying the bills. Where as empty-nesters and 20-somethings may choose different paths.

N.B. An important point to note about status in general and wealth in particular is that it's relative. If you lose a pile of money when everyone else is doing great, that sucks. If everyone else loses a pile of money then it still sucks but it sucks less. Products that offer improved relative status at comparatively lower cost should do well (e.g. hiring rather than buying luxury goods, groups that require selective membership rather than high admission prices).

expert in what?

I picked up a copy of The Black Swan for AU$10 yesterday and rereading it, I came across a reference to the work of James Shanteau, in particular, this paper from 1992.

It's interesting because it suggests that the performance and reliability of experts is dependent on their field - we can't expect stock brokers to be as accurate as weather forecasters. It also means that we should be suspicious of those who claim expertise in "dynamic areas" - your mileage may vary...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

the age of conversation - live from berlin

Drew & Gav put together a little promotional video for Age of Conversation 2 based on the Downfall meme:




However some people have been offended by this*. As my family were not killed by the nazis, I wasn't especially outraged. If Gav & Drew had put together a video featuring the things that did kill my forebears (arrogance, cigarettes, alcohol, a diet rich in saturated fat and poor in vitamins) I might have been outraged. Or I might have been watching Mad Men.

In an effort to return things to the realm of good taste, I offer up the following:


There are some more promo images that I might post up over the coming days. If you want to stop me, then buy the book.

*N.B. There's nothing wrong with being offended by stuff. It'll be sad day if we ever reach the state where nothing's shocking.