Category Archives: social media

Social Media Café as Platform

PolicyUnplugged 085At our first prototype meeting, I perceived a tension between the people who were interested in making a profitable business and those whose interest was solely in the community possibilities and opportunities for collaboration. I came away unsure of what legal structure would work best – a traditional shareholder-owned limited company or a non-profit company limited by guarantee. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then.

On the same occasion I said something along the lines of: “What I want to create is a platform that enables people to create value for themselves.”

The inspiration for this comes from the tech world – CP/M & MS-DOS, the IBM PC, the Internet, the Web, Amazon Marketplace, Craigslist, Ebay, Facebook – what they all have in common is that no matter how they get paid for or how they’re organised, or whether or not they make money for their inventors, they have also given other people the opportunity to create new relationships, markets and businesses that weren’t possible before (btw, I use big examples so that people will recognise what I’m talking not because I think our little project will be on that scale.)

I want everything we do to in some way support people doing cool stuff on their own. I don’t think we have to own *every*thing and I certainly don’t want to create a walled garden. We’ll get a lot more done by creating the conditions for people to

So turning back to the legal structure, the choice seems to come down to a limited company (or a partnership) which exists to create value for it’s shareholders (or partners) or a company limited by guarantee which exists to… well do whatever we decide it should do – I think it should serve the needs of people interested in Social Media in London – if that’s not too wooly (or too specific) – but I’m open to suggestion. There was broad agreement that limited by guarantee was the right route for us but the aim and purpose does need to be boiled down to something that expresses what we want and allows us (as a group) to do as much good as possible.

So if that is sorted, my mind then turns to the structure of this business. I’ve always talked about the three bits – café, learning, working. But that might not be all we want to do together – other ideas for services have come up in meetings too. Can we make the Tuttle Club our base platform? With no direct services except to facilitate cool stuff happening. Then the first cool thing it does (quickly) is to set up a Social Media Café or perhaps the café space, a learning space and a workspace could each be individual, but co-located businesses. And then it can do other things too as they arise. Or am I making it too complicated?

Let’s talk about this at the next prototype – but there are many who aren’t able to join us there so let’s do it in the google group as well.

Digital Coaching, Catalysts and Sitting on Your Hands

MacBraynes Bus by conner395

I’ve been reflecting on some of the social media work I’ve done over the last year and seeing where I might improve my offering. The model piece of work that I’ve sold to people has gone as follows: “You tell me you want to have a go at this new fangled social media mularkey, but you don’t know where to start. So I’ll start for you and show your people what I’m doing. We’ll start off with me doing everything but my involvement will taper off as your team’s involvement increases and by the end of the project, you’re folk will be doing it all for themselves.”

Great. Sold. But….

What has actually happened is that people have had some great blogs from me (natch) but there hasn’t actually been much change in what they do, the comms teams I’ve worked with have liked the idea but as long as I was doing it *for* them it was too easy to sit back and continue to say “Yes, that’s nice, I wish I was able to do that”. I think there’s still a space for doing live-blogs of events as discrete pieces of work, but more ongoing stuff needs to be done differently.

So I’m looking for a better model. And over coffee with Jonathan Laventhol of Imagination I understood what it might be. He said to me “You need to sit on your hands more” And he’s absolutely right. Just as when you’re helping someone to learn to drive it’s not good to keep grabbing the steering wheel, I think there’s much more value that I can offer as a non-doing coach or catalyst for action.

In their excellent book on decentralised networks, The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom talk about the difference between two roles that Julie Andrews made famous.

“In The Sound of Music, Maria enters a dysfunctional family, teaches the children a valuable lesson, convinces the father to pay attention to his kids, and shows the family how to get along. Likewise, Mary Poppins visits an equally (albeit charmingly) dysfunctional family, gets equally adorable children to behave, urges equally clueless parents to pay attention to their kids, finds equally effective ways for everyone to get along, and sings equally catchy tunes.”

“At the end of The Sound of Music, though, Maria, after falling in love with the children and the father, sticks around. It’s obvious that from now on she’ll be the one running the show. Mary Poppins, on the other hand, chim-chim-in-eys right out of London. It’s not that Mary Poppins has a fear of commitment. From the very beginning, it’s clear that she’s come to do a job. Her job is complete when the family can thrive on its own. Once she accomplishes her goal, she rides her umbrella into the sunset.”

I’ve tried both models, but like Mary Poppins, I’m much better as a catalyst. Going in, making change happening and moving on to where I’m needed more, rather than working my way up, establishing an empire and sticking around for the long haul.

Then I saw Seth Godin writing about Digital Coaches

“What’s a digital coach? A freelancer (individual) who usually works with entrepreneurs, small groups or companies to teach them how to dramatically improve productivity or market presence using technology. For example, a digital coach might hook up your cell phone to be more powerful or teach you how to use blogs and Facebook to connect to your audience.”

I think for me it’s a totally bottom-up approach – aimed at individuals inside and outside organisations who want to beef up their personal productivity using web 2.0 and social media tools. They might have a social media project hat they need to contribute to, but would also generally benefit from catching up with what’s arrived in the last year or so and someone to help them think it through in their own personal or business context. The focus is on enhancing productivity, preferable in simple, measurable ways.

When I’ve mentioned this to people, some have said “Wow, yes please” and others have said “Oh, I kind of thought that’s what you did already” So I think it’s probably right. :)

Photo credit: conner395 on Flickr licenced with cc-attribution

Keeping the prototyping going

Seesmic London DinnerOur first little flashmob was quite a success in my view. It certainly showed me that there were people ready to turn up and talk about stuff. It also suggested to me that we need to follow a two-track approach for now.

I’m going to continue to write (as and when I have the space and time) a formal business plan to help communicate more clearly and completely what it is we are doing and to help people understand why they might want to put money into it. I want to get as much feedback and input from others into that as possible so I’ll be blogging about it more regularly from now on as well as organising face to face sessions.

In addition, I think it’s worth trying to keep prototyping and move slowly from the dormobile model towards the travelling circus model. For those who haven’t seen my presentation on this, I characterised the first phase of prototyping as a VW camper van where we just hang out essentially wherever we can find somewhere to park for the afternoon. The travelling circus is a bit more formal – it’s where we would have a venue that remained the same for a period, perhaps up to a month, before we moved on. So how might we do that? From the start people have been suggesting that we should just find somewhere to “squat” but ideas for actual places to do this have been thin on the ground.

Now, though, courtesy of the sterling persistence of Lee Thomas (londonfilmgeek) we’ve got a couple of initial sessions booked in the upstairs dining-room at (Norman’s) Coach and Horses in Greek Street (corner of Romilly St, opposite Kettners). To say the least, the place does have some media history. Far less significantly it was where we had the recent Seesmic Dinner.

We’ll be there from 10.00 to 13.00 on Friday 1st February though the landlord would no doubt welcome you staying on for a later lunch and drinking in the bar for the rest of the afternoon if you really can’t tear yourselves away :)

I’ve put a simple page on the wiki for sign-ups – just so that people know who else is coming.

Right, so I’m now on the look out for more places like this and I thought I’d blog the requirements and what’s in it for the venue and see who out there might have have somewhere we can use or at least see whether you can come up with suggestions of places to approach.

What the venue gets – people, punters, customers, you know, dosh-givers – especially at those times that are usually a bit slow. More people drinking coffee and eating cakes, sandwiches and other geek comestibles (erm… I suppose I mean beer here, especially on a Friday lunchtime). Moreover the people it brings in are well-connected and quite influential in their own circles. And we’re generous – if you give us nice things like wifi and electrickery, we will say nice things about you. Don’t forget that when we say nice things, we say them quite loudly on the internet (a global network of interconnected computing devices), where they stick around forever getting clumped together with other nice things and thus bringing you warm fuzzy goodness – the kind of warm fuzzy goodness that encourages cash out of people’s wallets and into your till.

Our requirements – we’d like a space please that we can, however temporarily, call our own. It’s great if it can be demarcated in some way (a separate room, those three tables, etc.) and we need free open wifi (if you don’t have this, we can talk about how we can help you set it up) and access to electricity points. Errr.. that’s about it, really. Anything else, I think we can work around.

Know anywhere like this? Own anywhere like this. Let me know – my contact details are up at the top of this page.

Tagging social objects to enhance and encourage conversation

Mother and Daughter at Alton TowersThis started out simply as a post highlighting a slightly charming picture of my mother walking at Alton Towers, with her mother, and sticking her tongue out at the camera (held by my father, I presume). But looking at it in flickr and thinking about the people involved got me into thoughts about tagging and sociability.

Electronically-stored, people-generated, collaboratively-organised metadata enhances sociability – that’s why tagging has been so hot (or cool – which is it? It can’t be both. Can it?) We get to make serendipitous discoveries of a certain class of social object because of this shift in metadata management. Fantastic.

I was speculating tonight that since so much conversation about such objects is in a question and answer form, the certainty provided by attaching metadata could reduce in some way the possibility for social interaction around a well tagged artefact. When, Where, Who, Why are all frequently asked questions.

But looking at this picture, it’s easy to see that while metadata would be useful, a fascinating conversation could still ensue around this photograph, if it had just been, say, plucked from an old biscuit tin when my mother (she’s on the left) was helping her mother (on the right) to sort out some junk “Oh look at us!” “When was that then?” “Oh it’s Alton Towers” “Yes the day your father got a flat tyre and had to change the wheel” “So how old was I then?” “Look at you, sticking your tongue out. Oh you must have been 18 because you weren’t married there” “I don’t know, didn’t we have Lloyd with us that day?” “No it was definitely before he was born – you’d just got engaged, I think” “Oh do you remember that dress?” “Yes, I got it off Mrs Winters who lived up at the Cotteridge, it was too big for her Janet and you said you wouldn’t dream of wearing that colour, but you do seem to be wearing it…” on and on and on – believe me, I’ve been listening to these conversations all my life (though I should point out that I have no idea whether any of this is true or I’ve just made it up).

No matter how much metadata had been captured about this photograph, the conversation would still have happened and still been as rich – another re-inforced bond between mother and daughter. The bit about “When was that then?” becomes superfluous, but there may well be other details that either or both the participants had forgotten… or not.

I dunno, just in case we ever were getting sceptical about the value of tagging…

Tuttle Club – getting to the nub of why

So in the previous post I went on (and on) about relationships online and off-. The next point is that we seem to have grown up with a prejudice that online relationships are “not as real” or “not as good” as those we create offline.

While I am prone to this myself, when I think about it, it turns out to be piffle – people are people and the way we relate to each other doesn’t deteriorate as a matter of course just because we do it online. Some people behave very badly to others online, in ways that they wouldn’t dream of doing “IRL” but I’d argue that most of us now have more than one solely online relationship which is every bit as good as some of those that we have with people we see every day. And what is interesting, and I’ve noted before, is that online activities enhance relationships that began offline and vice versa. The distinction is disappearing, but I think that while things are still blurry, at this stage of our learning about relationships mediated by technology it’s a good time to look at some of the dynamics of how we get things done in this environment.

As well as Online/Offline, there are two other dimensions that I think are important to look at. These are the Formal/Informal and Group/Personal axes. We’re more used, I suppose, to thinking about the informal/formal axis in the context of the group, but I see both in my personal, individual life too (though there it can be easier to think about it as what’s conscious and unconscious). I don’t like gratuitous use of 2×2 matrices any more than the rest of you, so I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it’s worth thinking about this space.

One of the first things I notice when thinking about this is that on the one hand social software is bringing more of a focus on the informal lives of groups (organisations, businesses if you like) while it brings a kind of formality at the individual level, by simply codifying our relationships, making things explicit that before were just understood – turning huge chunks of our personal lives into data (which by the way still doesn’t seem to belong to us – but that’s a whole other VRM kettle of fish – and I’m glad brains like Doc’s and Adriana’s are working on it).

2by2shift.jpg

However, that’s just another diversion from the story. Phew. The real point is what we can see when we extend the 2×2 to a 2x2x2 (cue: strangers in the night) with online/offline as the third axis.

In a purely offline world, think about how new stuff happens. I have an idea one morning, maybe in the shower, it percolates up out of my unconscious in a formal-ish way, maybe I write something down but perhaps I just take it in my head to work. Around the coffee pot, or the water cooler, I have a conversation with people and mention my idea. “OMG,” somebody says, “that is awesome, I’ve been thinking about just the same thing” – (OK, so this doesn’t *always* happen, often people have more interesting things to talk about, like their cat’s arse) “and what we could also do is X, Y and Z”. “OK,” I say, “let’s get together later and talk it through” So we do, and we work it out and we come up with a really cool way of expressing it and it gets adopted as part of the way we do things around here (or a ‘pro-see-dure’ if you are a dork).

2by2process.jpg

In the purely online world, there’s a similar process. “Ping! Idea!” (personal/informal) write on blog (personal/formal-ish), a few people comment, create a google group or suchlike, knock up prototype, show it to friends (group/informal), come up with neat way of inviting new people in – bang – it’s an every day part of the web that we suddenly can’t do without (group/formal).

When the online/offline distinction gets blurry, the group/informal space is the interesting one, but unless we work for YaGoogleSoft, or are willing to sell our souls to Starbucks, we don’t have a wifi-enabled space to meet and chat around the coffee machine, dropping our little ideas into the conversation and seeing where they might end up. So the Tuttle Club idea is to create a physical space for the rest of us to play around with the offline counterpart to the read/write web and online social networking and to see what happens when (at least in this city) we have somewhere to facilitate that online/offline bootstrapping for a whole group of people who have little in common yet except that they’ve seen the social media light (and that, if we’re lucky, will be tomorrow’s story).

Early days on Seesmic

seesmic
Really enjoying “pre-alpha” access to seesmic.com the new kid on the lifestream block courtesy of Loïc LeMeur. It’s a closed group for the time being and feels nicely diverse and international which makes a good change from the usual West Coast dominance. Halley Suitt’s french cracks me up as much as it did at the first Les Blogs.

The basic premise is like twitter, only in video – there’s a public timeline of new clips. Some are long and dribbly, some are short and snappy. There are lots of tests and mumbling into mics and stuff – good wholesome early day play stuff.

What Loïc’s done that’s really smart is that the outputs can leak even though the actual application is not available beyond 150 of us. So I can share a URL with you – here’s me & my ukulele. In fact, when I post a new clip this happens automagically through my twitter stream as I’ve shared my details with them. His other masterstroke is to do a daily video summary – how hard its this and how much buzz does it generate? Why don’t more startups do it? Why am I not doing it?

There are 3 options for providing video – you can share a YouTube clip, you can record using a webcam, or you can supply a .flv file. My webcam stuff has been frustrating because I can’t get the sound to work particularly well. I sound as if I have a serious lisp – whereas you all know that I actually have quite a trivial little sibilance problem… The audio ain’t great from the great MacBook iSight unwashed either, so I’m imagining it has something to do with the encoding at seesmic’s end.

So the uke clip was an experiment in getting round this by making a quick video on my camcorder capturing straight to my hard disk, quick editing & encoding as .wmv, uploading to blip.tv and then taking the resulting .flv and uploading to seesmic. Any suggestions on shortcutting this that don’t involve me buying new hardware or software are welcomed – I haven’t had a good experience yet with Riva the .flv encoder that is supposed to do the job of converting from .wmv to .flv I want to be able to do it quickly – that’s kind of the point.

There are some annoying things in the interface still. Though they’re getting fixed by the hour. I just saw Loïc twitter for example that profile pics are now working properly and sure enough they are :) I had some initial difficulties because I chose a weird user name – it all got sorted very quickly and patiently by Johann the tech guy.

Also as it’s such early days I don’t know what should work and what shouldn’t. Of course I’m willing to put up with pretty much anything. I can’t get YouTube vids to work in the seesmic screen, I have to watch them on youtube.com and some .flv uploads have stalled for me too. The buffering settings seem to need tweaking – it doesn’t download enough before starting to play so that it stalls too frequently.

It brings home for me again that you have to use these things to really grok them. If you just see someone else’s outputs, whether it’s seesmic, twitter or blogs it’s quite difficult to understand what’s going on. Let’s hope it’s open for more people soon. The really interesting behaviours will emerge I’m sure when we’ve loads of people playing. We’re still regularly finding new applications for twitter for example and I’ve been on that for nearly a year.