The Importance of People and Real Things

22102008445I’ve spent the morning realising that thinking about people is quite unusual, I mean real people, not people as consumers, community members, entrepreneurs or employees. I’m not saying that the guys I listened to this morning aren’t thinking about them, just that the stories we’re telling are still more about technology than about what people are doing with other people.

I saw Stowe Boyd and Stef Magdalinski address large audiences and then Tim O’Reilly spoke to a bunch of us bloggers in a more intimate roundtable. And the interest is mostly about doing stuff “on” or “through” the web. I’m not surprised this conference is about the web but it helps me realise that I spend more time thinking about the other people on the web than I think about the applications or the infrastructure.

Stowe talked about plumbing and the shifting power relationships between writers and readers – or more properly, between different classes of writers and how the relative disempowerment of commenters who are unable to aggregate their content and therefore build their reputation means that it’s more likely that they’ll go elsewhere – away from the blog – to talk about what they are interested in. RSS has helped to give them some power – pulling blog posts out of their social context and with the river of news model now dominant, we think of the web more from a time perspective than space – we used to think of content being in places on the web, now it flows past us and time is more important.

I like the idea of one stream with different types of content making the stream more or less chunky – blog streams are thick and slow moving, twitter is very fluid, especially with some of the newer clients. Stowe showed off his flow desktop consisting of snackr (for RSS feeds) twhirl, the new friendfeed and the new flickr homepage.

Fundamentally, the most natural conversation is where the flow feels fastest, is what I think he said. What’s this got to do with real-life people? Well it’s about scale – the physical instances of Stowe, me, Nancy who was sitting next to me, Christian Heller sitting a few rows back, cannot meet in the same place regularly *and* get everything else we want to do done. Nancy & I get to tuttle regularly but the others are elsewhere. But on twitter, we can see each other everyday if we want to (at least hear each other, even if we have no time to talk) – of course online relationships enhance offline relationships and vice versa, but we just can’t. Perhaps I’m only just catching up with something everyone else takes for granted, but I think it’s worth making explicit.

Then I went to listen to Stef and got to hear the other side of the story from the one I’m used to – I’m a longstanding customer from when they had only 1 product and I also talk (not regularly enough) to Mex and others at Moo so I hear lots about the community but less about the back end. It was good to see some of the measures they monitor and use to manage the business. The aim to keep the feedback:order ratio below 5% and are pushing to keep it as low as possible, although I assume they want *some* feedback! The other measure mentioned was their <1% reprint rate due to code errors. I wonder how many arguments they will have as they get bigger about whether a reprint was due to code error or not. Nice to be open about your performance measures though and that they’re based on the experience being good for customers. And they’ll be sharing 15% revenue with API affiliates “very soon”

The other thing I noted was that they started small and grew quickly when it comes to complexity. This was a very smart move in hindsight – Stef intimated that all these products were always in the plan, but when they started, my perception was very much that they were trying to do one thing very well, and that helped enormously in my willingness to recommend them to others. Nice to know too that they’re early warning system is alerts if orders drop below a certain level for a period. It’s also interesting to see how they started being almost entirely outsourced, but that having brought some (non-specialist) stuff in-house, they’re considering whether to buy some presses for themselves too. Stef paints a lovely picture of an organic enterprise.

Oh yes, and the reason I get a Union Flag sticker and a blue non-fail whale sticker in my pack is because this is part of the instructions for the packer – it means it needs to go in the UK bag and have a blue cover.

I didn’t take notes at the Tim O’Reilly session – I asked a question about how his offline relationships had been affected by his online activity (a lot, he says, just like the rest of us, though he’s a pathological case with 11,500 followers) which I followed up with a question about fame – I got the feeling that I was perhaps being a bit too personal – it wasn’t (shock, horror) as intimate a chat as it was billed as. On behalf of Nik Butler – @loudmouthman I asked the question that he’d asked about the extent of the influence that O’Reilly books have had on Web2.0. Tim felt they’d done a lot more to build the web in the 90’s than what’s happened since. They’ve done much more through events like this than with books of late.

Thanks to Suw, Nicole, Steph & Janetti for inviting me along.

Taking Responsibility in Commercial Relationships

Ouch!

I’ve been trying to write something about this for a while but finding a title that didn’t mention VRM was important to me and now I’ve just done it, it looks scary but worthwhile. “VRM” (or vendor relationship management) as a term doesn’t look scary or even interesting let alone worth putting some effort into. It’s a cute shorthand, but, in my view, talking about “the reciprocal of CRM” will only work for the intersection of two groups: those who understand CRM and those who understand what a reciprocal is…

We’ll be hosting a bolt-on (starting at 12.30) to this week’s new-fangled Tuttle at the ICA in preparation for a conference (at which I’m speaking) on 3rd November: “Unlocking the see-saw” organised by the unstoppable Adriana Lukas.

I’m interested in particular in:
Why it’s time for us to take power back from vendors who’ve come to dominate and control our relationship with them.
How we can make the whole thing a lot more fun.
What successful personal relationships can teach us about improving commercial ones.
How we start to take more responsibility for our part in commercial relationships.
What freedoms we can lay claim to.
How relationships are affected by being codified into structured data.
How the social web can be used to manage such relationships for our benefit.

Which is to say, I haven’t written my presentation yet beyond those few bullet points.
Come, help us think it through on Friday.

Women in Tech Panel at Web2.0

I’m very honoured that Suw has asked me to contribute to her “panel” in Berlin on the tech gender gap (taking place on the Thursday afternoon).

Here’s the description:

“It is undeniably true that there aren’t enough women in tech, that women are not well represented at conferences, and often don’t get the promotions, rewards and acclaim they deserve. We also know that the issue of gender is not a simple one: there are complex societal and psychological pressures that influence how we all behave, men and women, and we’re not always clear on what drives us to do what we do. This participatory session will attempt to unpick some of the threads around gender and will aim to produce ideas for how we can collectively act to level the playing field.”

I have no opinion on the numbers of “women in tech” really – I don’t know enough about it at the sharp end, but I do know that I sit in many conferences listening to men (in suits) drone on, often about something that a bunch of other people have done. I find tuttle encouraging in terms of our gender mix – and there were plenty of women leading sessions at socialmediacamp last week.

But I’m also aware that these are just my perceptions and are subject to gender bias too, so I’m looking forward to exposing my views and experience to some debate and discussion that will hopefully lead to some action.

If you want to take part, of course you’ll be very welcome, but you’ll have to come along to the conference. Which means you’ll have to sign-up. And there’s no better way than to use the 35% discount code webeu08gr43 on the registration page.

External mic on N95

OK, so I thought everyone knew this already but it seems that it hasn’t gone as widely as I assumed.

I picked up this hack initially from Jackie Danicki at Qik who did a little video of it. That led me to google “external mic for N95″ and this article

So in order to make it work you need an N95 and the TV-out cable (with mini-jack and three-way A/V connectors) that came with it. If you threw the cable away, you should be able to get one for a few quid on e-bay. Then you need a female to female phono adapter – the gold one in the picture below and a female mini-jack to male phono adapter (the black one) – both available from Maplin for a couple of quid each.

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I use the external tie-clip mic that I’ve had for ages (again from Maplin I think and about £20) it’s one of those with a battery driven pre-amp. The mini-jack from the mic gets joined to the A/V cable as shown.

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And err… that’s it. If you check out my post where I interviewed Oli Barrett, you’ll see an example of a video shot with this set up. I’ll try and do another one showing the difference more starkly, but there’s an example in the shelbinator article above.

Decisions, decisions

I’m taking a forward look at the programme for Web2.0 and it’s getting tricky to decide what to go to and when.

I have to admit that last year, I went in and listened to some of the sessions, but the halls were so cavernous and while I knew many of the speakers (at least by reputation) there were few who I really wanted to hear.

It’s made me see how my conference going has evolved – when I went to Les Blogs for example, it was cool just to see people like Doc Searls in the flesh, let alone get to chat with them. I then went through a phase of seeing people so often and reading them too that everything I heard, I’d either heard in public before or I’d read on their blogs and filtered through several other interpretations. Now, I find that as there are more people to read and I have less time per person, I am back up for listening to them in a conference hall because it’s a luxury again to spend more time chewing over what they’re saying.

There are four simultaneous streams: Strategy & Business Models Design & User Experience Marketing & Community and Development. They’re all slammed together in one programme together with workshops and keynotes on this page.

The problem will be sorting out who to see when and when I’ll also get time to lounge around in the lobby and chat with folk…

If you haven’t booked for yourself yet – get on to it. And use this code webeu08gr43 for 35% off.