Saturday, February 28, 2009

swimming the backchannel

So last week was a week of events. There was the online communities gig* with Mark Pollard, Christy McCarthy, Angela Beesley & a crowd of participants. Thanks again to the Wesley Mission for their help. It was pretty darned good. If you didn't go, find someone who did & then ask them about it.

I also started teaching @ UTS. More on that in a few weeks. I also ranted a bit around social software at FISH@6, tagteaming Tom Kendall.

Probably my most conflicted experience of the week was @ E2EF. Ross knows how to put on an event & he did invite me so I'd better be nice. The social software newbies absolutely loved it. The jaded old 2.0 hacks were bored. Nathan Wallace & Peter Williams were fun. David Backley had 2 brilliant slides that were jam-packed full of experience. IBM were an event sponsor and the presentation by Brent Lello may have been good - I don't know because I found the first 5 minutes such a turn-off that I walked out**.

A conversation I had with two participants*** raised the issue about the back channel. Lots of people were on Twitter, tweeting away. I have mixed feelings about this. Many of the Tweets seem to be: "Hey, I'm at a conference, some just said something" or some form of public note-taking. The next conference I am speaking at with Tweeting, I want the Tweetfeed on screen next to me. Stuff the powerpoints, let's bring it on!!! Olivia Williams has some interesting points but I think the critical thing is that we have a feedback loop here. I want that exposed & integrated. What I really want is a tag cloud of the audience's comments flickering over my head: "interesting" "flawed" "rubbish".

Can someone build that for me please?

What's exciting about tools like Twitter is the immediate, shared feedback you get - which amplifies responses. 90s rave tracks would include samples of crowd roars in the mix - which would trigger copy responses on the dance floor. Tools like cheap SMS, backend computing & real-time visualisation will revolutionise how we experience things as crowds, as audiences, together. People crave that sense of collective experience.

Should we give it to them?

*A few people couldn't make it - including one man whose car broke down on the way to the venue. Ah you say, a likely story. He included a TIFF of the tax invoice from the towing company as an attachment to an apologetic email. N.B. I believe you. But we gave all the spare cash to the Wesley Mission, so I don't think we help you out on this one.

**I don't go to strip clubs because tired old routines being performed by someone desperate for my cash just don't do it for me. I asked the actKM list what they thought of good & bad vendor presentations. I will unveil the results shortly.

***Which took place in a deserted fun fair on a blazing hot day. This was in no way surreal, oh no.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

communities & networks

Nancy White & Tony Karrer have put together the Comunities & Networks Connection. A vast content hub of good writing by cool people - many of whom you will already be familiar with but probably some new ones too.

Share the blogging lurve...

Monday, February 23, 2009

be frustrated

I've been pondering innovation (which is invention + entrepreneurship) for a while now. It strikes me that innovators are frustrated consumers. They want something. It is not there. And rather than just shrug and say "oh well", they decide to do something about it. Innovators differ from the rest of us in that:
  • They are willing to act on their frustrations.
  • They have the capability to get a result when they do act.
Which means that if we want to be innovative we should cultivate our frustrations rather than ignore them. In fact we should actively seek out frustrating experiences. This is very difficult for me because I was raised with the "mustn't grumble" mentality where you made do with what you got. But I am slowly changing.

When were you frustrated today?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

dial 247365

It all started with an article written by Ross Gittins about the response by Australians to the bushfires. I don't want to get stuck into the argument about motivations - that's a whole other can of worms. The point that resonates with me is that we have a collective attention span that would shame a goldfish. We get all wound up about immediate, short-term disasters and actually get off our arses and do something. But around social justice, environmental change, global inequality - for most of us its too hard.

The challenge is: why isn't this motivation, this compassion, this giving a **** normal for us? Why don't we act like there are a million bushfires going on out there every day? Laura Brown has a great line in the comments section of this blog post: Compassion isn't like an indie band that you have to stop liking once their music gets used in an advert. Which I may well have put on a T-shirt.

But it doesn't stop there. If compassion isn't an indie band then neither should it be put behind glass with a little hammer next to it and a sign saying "Use Only In Case Of Emergency" underneath.

Soften the **** up, Australia.

Monday, February 16, 2009

being wrong vs being boring

I was reading an article that a friend had written this arvo. The underlying idea was brilliant. But it seemed to have fallen into that no man's land between the academia and the business world.

Academics love nothing more than to point to errors in each other's work. In fact, they love it so much, they have built it into a process called "peer review". Don't get me wrong, peer review is very important. But it means that academics tend to armour-plate their writing. Evidence is piled on. Statements are couched to preclude disagreement. It is far preferable to be boring than to be wrong. Articles in an academic journals resemble a division of giant tortoises rumbling across a lethargic battlefield.

The rest of the world does not prize rightness. For better or worse, people would rather read something was useful and entertaining than wholly correct. Frankly I find this a little annoying but that doesn't stop it from being true.

do brands have stories?

A few months ago, Shawn wrote about brand stories and how he thinks the word "story" is being misused. I agree with him. In fact, I don't think that you can have a "brand story" but brands absolutely have stories around them.

Let's say that a story contains (i) character(s), (ii) location(s) and (iii) events that befall the characters. A character doesn't have to be a human being but we tend to prefer stories with characters that are. If the character isn't a human (e.g. a dog, a car) then we anthropomorphise them. We give them emotions and moods. We give them reason. Above all, we give them agency. They choose to do stuff. Otherwise things just happen to characters in a story. And we find that unsatisfying. Someone tells us an anecdote about an event (e.g. missing the bus, winning a million dollars) and we often respond: "So what did you do?" That combination of event and (human) response is what makes stories compelling.

Now I'm going to use wikipedia's definition of a brand and today it is this: A brand is a collection of symbols, experiences and associations connected with a product, a service, a person or any other artifact or entity. Brands do not have agency. They cannot choose to do stuff. That makes brands a prop or a piece of the stage scenery. Advertising has traditionally gotten around this by anthropomorphising a brand - giving it a face. Michelin Man, the Jolly Green Giant, etc. And in an age of broadcast media, this worked pretty well (and will continue to work sometimes).

Consumers and employees do have agency. They make interesting characters in stories. And they tell each other stories. In fact, the stories they tell each other are a big part of what makes up a brand. Stories are as important as data. And ideally you combine the two to achieve understanding. And yet many people seem comfortable with either one or the other - rather than both. This is missed opportunity.

The Nokia example embedded in Shawn's post is an interesting one because it tries to tell a very specific story that positions humanity as the protagonist ("we") in an epic tale with Nokia product as the key prop. The comments indicate that not everyone agrees with that story.

There's a few more points here:
  • All this social software stuff can make these stories more visible. The stories have always been there, but they've been hidden & isolated. Antony van Leeuwenhoek's work with the microscope allowed us to see things that had previously been invisible. We've built ourselves a whole bunch of story visualisers and accelerators.
  • There is sometimes an assumption that all stories have to be epic (like the Nokia example) or that stories need to follow a structure like the Hero's Journey of Joseph Campbell. But they don't. Most of the stories we tell each other aren't epic (as Yiannis Gabriel noted, they are mostly quite banal). Attempting to force the everyday into the epic can be silly.
  • There is no one story here. We often believe that if we find the one story then everything else falls into place and yet it rarely does. Salman Rushdie wrote a book called Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I've not read it but I love the image in the title. Stories as a sea that surround us and that we inhabit like fish. A sea that we cannot live without and yet rarely recognise.

other people's stories

I'm currently putting together a whole bunch of stuff on stories and I came across this quote from Steve Denning that I think is very important:
We usually spend a great deal of time thinking about what story we are going to tell. But the hard part of communication is often figuring out what story the audience are currently living. (The Secret Language of Leadership, p. 89)
Official communications often assume that the recipients are blank slates, waiting eagerly to receive what we have to say. A more sophisticated view says that our audience is busy and we must craft compelling stories that grab their attention. However for us to know whether a story is "compelling" or not, we have to know what stories our audience are already telling each other.

We may then choose to tell them something that aligns with what they tell each other already (which is safe but runs the risk of being boring) or present them with something different (which will stand out but always runs the risk of rejection).


I was down in Melbourne last week. It had been hot on Saturday. The air scalded my lungs when I sucked it in. The streets of the CBD were empty. Pedestrians ran between patches of shade, air-con oases. That evening the air temperature dropped by about 25 degrees in half an hour. Someone mentioned the fires.

As you know by now, the fires were fast. Whole towns destroyed. Hundreds of people dead. You can do your bit.

There are already arguments about blame, causes, punishments. Those will work themselves out. I just look at the images and what I see is fragility. Our psychological well-being is founded on our inability to understand how fragile our world is.

Everything might be gone tomorrow.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

online communities & much much more

Some people have been plotting a series of events for the NSW KM Forum. It's all sizing up to be rather good.
  • We had Ross Dawson talking about Enterprise 2.0 last Tuesday. As ever, Ross did a damn good job and there was lots of discussion.
  • There will be an online community extravaganza on Feb 23.
  • Ed Mitchell should be popping in for March (we're still talking with Ed's people about dates, times & the contents of his rider).
  • The rest of the year has planned topics such as: Prediction Market; Decision-Making; Relationships; Sustainability; some cutting edge research and what to do in a rubbish economy. There may even be a liddle field trip after our sojourns to the Nicholson Museum & ANSTO*.

Monday, February 02, 2009

poets + coffee

Sadly McDonald's have yet to contact me about my "aspiring writer" program. However this email from the Australian Poetry Centre has just arrived.


Submissions are now being sought for our CAFÉ POET PROGRAM. The Australian Poetry Centre is seeking poets, in each Australian State or Territory, interested to sit as 'poet-in-residence' in a café in their capital city for a period of six months getting free tea or coffee while you write. Please apply by emailing with an expression of interest stating a) all your contact details, b) what you would get out of being the poet in residence, c) a clear personal objective focussing on what you would like to achieve with your poetry in the six months and d) a measurable public objective to benefit others, such as being prepared to give a reading at the end of it, or providing the cafe with a poem to display.

Deadlines for applications are Feb 20th, 2009.

For more details see the website or call the office on (03) 9527 4063.

little links

Earl had a post about this Daily Kos post about this Obama initiative. Apparently this message went out to the 13 million people on their email list. I love it! It seems like a fair bit of push ("plea sell our recovery plan to your neighbours") but also asks people to work together on what they can do to help a recovery. Politics is about "us" not "them*. How much power will politicians let us take back?

So what's happening here in Australia. I think that GetUp is a really interesting organisation. I don't always agree with their positions - but then it would be a bit boring if I did (they are called "GetUp**", not "Matthew Moore's Personal Prejudice List"). Check out their survey thingy.

And then there is the Citizens' Parliament. Which I only heard about because some people I know are going there to facilitate. Hopefully there will be more parliamentarians than facilitators. But the thing is that I've nada about it in the press. Why not?

*in Canberra, Washington, etc.
**It feels like there should be an exclamation mark or three there. "Get Up!!!" as imperative. Yes, do it!!! Do it now!!!

objects vs gestures

Social objects have become tres chic. Which in some ways is quite reassuring because we can make lots of them. Human beings are pretty good at making objects. Sites around photos, videos, maps, books, bars, etc. One problem with social objects that a few people have identified is that all the attention goes on the "object" bit and not enough on the "social" bit. Elegant, sexy, perfect objects are designed - and no one does anything with them.

On the other hand, there are gestures and actions. Gestures that invite further gestures. One of my favourite metaphors for social software is the Mexican Wave. People who have never met before suddenly cooperating with each other. Gestures and countergestures that proliferate, swarm and lead to collective action. These may involve objects. But actions always involve people. There is no passive voice to hide behind.

Sometimes the collective reflection of our gestures is enough. It can certainly make us feel warm & fuzzy. It can give us a sense of belonging, however fleeting. Some gesture swarms aspire to action but not all achieve it - for example Earth Hour is massive but is it changing policy or behaviour? Is it driving positive environmental change or is it simply making us feel warm & worthy for 60 mins?

What gestures do it for you?

the pledge

[Middle English engagen, to pledge something as security for repayment of debt, from Old French engagier : en-, in; see en-1 + gage, pledge, of Germanic origin.]

"Engagement" is a word that gets bandied about a lot. Employee engagement. Customer engagement. Citizen engagement. So I went off and looked at where it came from. And its origin is pretty simple. It means a pledge. But not just an empty promise. What we put on the line has to have value to both us and our counterparty in order to get what we want.

What are you going to give to get what you want?

.. -.-. .- .-. .

.. -.-. .- .-. .

Sunday, February 01, 2009

meme teams

When you've been blogging for as long as I have, you see the trends come and go. The players rise and fall. One day they're blogging for Microsoft with millions of readers and more trackbacks than they know what to do with. The next they're straining metal polish through an old sock, trying to relive that blogging high artificially. Some even stoop to freebasing Twitter to get that communications RUSH!

Blogging's a game for WINNERS not QUITTERS, ya hear?

Nathan & Kelpenhagen both tagged me with the "7 things" meme. I have played this game already. My previous exposure to this meme should mean that I'm now immune. Shouldn't it?