My passport expires tomorrow

Passport expires tomorrowYikes!

When I got this, 25th October 2010 seemed a very very long time away. It was still a massive novelty to be saying 2000-and-something and being in the noughties, let alone considering the second decade of the 21st Century.

I can’t remember why I renewed it when I did. But I’m guessing that it was something to do with my then impending 10th wedding anniversary (yes folks, in a couple of weeks it’ll be 20 years since I got married!) – I think we went to Paris for the day. I certainly had no idea at that point, what the next 10 years would hold: that I’d no longer be married, that I’d be self-unemployed for the majority of the time, that I’d have lost about 80lbs in weight, I’d have grown a beard and that we’d have a Tory-ish government again by now.

Or that popping over to Paris would have become so ordinary for me. I mean, I’m not over there every weekend, but every time I go, it feels more like a commuter trip than the big expedition it once was.

I’ll be in Paris at the beginning of December again for LeWeb (I’m an official blogger again – proper post about that coming up soon) and although I’m excited about being there, my focus for adventure is on gadding about the UK and then zipping across the USA – kinda beyond the wildest dreams of Lloyd Davis, aged 35, Information Manager for the Best Value Inspection Service at the Audit Commission, married for 10 years, two children, comfy home in Surrey…

Mind you, that Lloyd may have winced at the price of a passport renewal, but he knew where the money was coming from and he knew he’d have it in time for the trip. Excitement and adventure do come at a price :)

Facebook misuse of “via”

This has been bothering me for a while but I only really understood it when I just used it (Life Lesson #348).

Facebook has a kind of retweeting function so if you see something that someone else has linked to and you want to share it, the person whose feed you saw it in gets some automatic credit. Good.

I’ve only seen it so far in other people’s streams as Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG this video makes me pee in my pants!

When both parties are a friend of mine then it can be confusing (if you don’t know the form). Who saw it first? Who’s refacebooking whom?

Then I saw it a few times where Monkey McNutz was clearly retweeting people who aren’t in my friends list people I’ve never heard of like Duckface Dibble.

So here’s the problem: I read “Monkey McNutz via Chicken Crazoffsky: OMG! ” as “Monkey says, by way of Chicken … OMG etc.” which doesn’t really make sense. It’s like Monkey is using Chicken as a ventriloquists dummy – whereas actually it’s the other way round. This message is coming to you from Chicken via Monkey (cos you might not know Chicken at all)

I think it’s something about the placement of the via clause – if it were at the end of the link (or whatever is being shared) then it would make sense, because it’s more obviously an attribution – but having it in the Name field drives me McNutz.

See? You don’t see, do you, it’s just me, isn’t it…? sorry.

Getting people to do stuff

I was prompted to write about this by a twitter exchange this morning. Sophia Looney from Lambeth Council was wondering about getting some help around data visualisation for reporting. “Heh” I chuckled to myself, “you mean the kind of thing the Audit Commission used to do so well before it let its brightest creative minds drift away…?”

But bitter cynicism aside, the question is: where are the data viz people who might be willing to contribute to something like this? How could the offer be made more attractive? Who’s already doing something or something closely related? I’m out of the loop on so much of this – my instincts are to ask Emma Mulqueeny, Thayer Prime, Paul Clarke, Dominic Campbell, Robert Brook.

My (probably ignorant, please put me straight) prejudice is that there are specialists giving time to being clever in the storage layer and the analysis layer, but they are having to act as talented amateurs in the presentation layer and that the whole thing is being led from a technical point of view. I hope this isn’t true any more and I’m just out of date, but I think there’s more value to be found in working out what stories local and central government want to tell and then seeing how they can be told with interesting combinations of open data. Regardless of the technology invoived, what is the story you want to tell and how can it be supported by data?

It may be that there’s a project to run at #C4CC on this – bringing together council performance & policy people with Higher Ed data viz folk like this chap and the open data crowd. I’m happy to facilitate something, let me know.

More generally, it got me thinking about how to articulate what I think is important to remember about crowdsourcing and getting people to do stuff… for free.

There’s a common theme in articles about the web: “There are people out there, doing stuff… for free!” Now, mostly this is in the context of someone writing or producing a mainstream media piece that’s actually saying “There are people out there doing what I trained for years to do and get paid moderately well for, but they do it for free – how long will it be before the people who pay me decide they can get a better deal elsewhere?” or for the less self-aware “Ha ha! Look at those suckers! They do all this, for nothing!”

I’ve seen many, many conference presentations, pointing to crowdsourcing such as Wikipedia and saying “Look, there are people out there doing stuff… for free! Maybe you could do something like this, and massively reduce your costs” Well, maybe, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

I want to add that we don’t know much really about how the social and economic dynamics of the web work. It’s still relatively new and even those of us who’ve been immersed in it for more than 10 years would be wise to acknowledge from time to time that it’s a vastly complex and always evolving subject. So when you hear anyone say “this is the way the web works” take it with a pinch of salt and substitute with “this is a way that I think the web works”

So this is my favourite theory about crowdsourcing. It’s not about complete selflessness, the people who contribute are not just giving stuff away, they are building something together. They’re making stone soup. To put it in more economic terms it’s the demand-side supplying itself (I first heard this from Doc Searls at LesBlogs in 2005) Why do they do it?

Because, when you want something done and when you have a way of connecting with a very large and diverse group of people it’s far easier and quicker to do it yourselves than it is to wait for a corporation or government to do it for you.

Key phrase: “when you want something done”. If I want something done, and I think I have something to offer, and I think it’s interesting, and I think there are enough other people who are going to contribute similarly, and I think our joint effort is safe from short-sighted people who might exploit it, then I might chuck something in the pot. A lot of ifs in that sentence.

The other bit that often gets ignored is that it does cost something. It’s tempting to think that it all comes for free, because the contributors are giving of themselves freely. Again, not quite. Yes, it costs massively less, but someone has to pay for whatever infrastructure is required for the job. They may be small costs and a long way away, but they are there.

A Blogger’s Store

09012009814Earlier, Dave Winer wrote about an idea for a blogger’s store in NYC. Anjali at MxM picked it up and RT’d it pointing out to me and Dave that it seemed to be like Tuttle.

Yes, in lots of ways, but…

This happens whenever you have a new idea – other people go “oh yeah, that’s like X” which is useful because it helps you refine what you’re thinking about by finding the differences between what you were thinking and what X seems to be. Or find that the new thing that you were thinking of is really only new to you, and someone really is doing it.

So Tuttle seems to share something with what Dave’s talking about. In particular, his last para: “One thing is for sure, whenever we come up with a way to make the blogosphere show up in realspace, something interesting happens.”

For sure. That’s definitely been my experience too. And most of it is outlined in posts here and on the Tuttle Club blog. But we’re not a store, we’re not a retail operation, we’re a group of people who get together regularly to do cool stuff, together.

And we’ve done lots. We’ve met every Friday (except for Christmas) since February 2008 and show no signs of stopping. Today there was a clip of us (albeit uncredited) in the video for this BBC news report.

Most of our original members have transformed their careers in the last couple of years, and whether they think it’s anything to do with Tuttle or not, few would say that the time they spent here was a waste. Indeed, the idea has spread widely.

We’ve created, even if we haven’t exploited fully, an interesting consulting model that’s congruent with the way that the group works, in the same way that I hope the group is congruent with the way the web works. You can see some of those principles drawn out in the first Annual Report I wrote.

But we haven’t done retail.

And it’s difficult because you have fixed overheads from day 1 and you have to work out what it is that you’re actually selling and whether that can cover your costs and preferably make a profit.

If you have a way of making enough money off bloggers reading their stuff and people paying to come and be part of it then fine, but I suspect there’ll need to be other stuff that becomes the bread and butter, that pays the bills, and that, sooner or later, always takes over from the reason you wanted the space in the first place.

Like blogging, you have to make careful decisions and disclaimers about where money comes from and what people get in return for that money.

You can sell coffee and cakes, of course. Everyone likes coffee and cakes especially with free wifi thrown in, but I never really wanted badly enough to be in the coffee and cakes business. And coffee and cakes are everywhere, better make them really good, otherwise, why wouldn’t bloggers go somewhere else, anywhere else to do their thing?

When we’ve talked about retail opportunities, it’s always come back to us selling our own stuff, whatever that stuff happens to be – it becomes a realspace Etsy store for our people, whatever we’re making right now. But woah! that gets complicated when you have more than a few sellers and products. How does the money get accounted for? What happens if something doesn’t work. All the stuff that we give to online stores to do for us, work for them because of economies of scale. Trying to replicate an Etsy experience on a human scale is hard – as far as I can see.

The other way is to have products that are all collaborative works eg the book of #tuttle2texas, we haven’t gotten round to doing any of those yet either :) This is where most of us go quiet and then find something else to do quickly, something that works more easily.

I’m not saying it can’t work. I think that NYC is a far better place to try it than London, you have far more top-notch, well-known bloggers coming through NYC than we do. We’re also told again and again that it’s so much easier to do business in the USA than it is here.

And I think it is the right thing to try to do, to keep trying to complete the learning loop having invented something new on the web, asking how can we apply this to improving something similar in realspace.