Category Archives: social media

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).


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).


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

Really enjoying “pre-alpha” access to 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 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 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.

Professional Crap Sifters

sep 07 049It seems that London’s opera critics think that Sally Potter’s Carmen is, well, a bit crap. I can’t comment, I haven’t seen it yet – but I still love the blogging and videoblogging over on the ENO’s mini-site. A couple of the critics have been a bit sneery about the whole 2.0 angle on this but I think they’re missing the point – the show may be gimmicky (err.. I don’t think opera folk call it a show, but you know what I mean) but the blog isn’t – I really think it’s taken a big step in a new direction for the Arts, opening up the creative process and the backstage, as the production progressed, rather than filming a fly-on-the-wall and then stitching it all together later. This shows up “what *were* they thinking?” as lazy rhetoric – you could have seen what they were thinking by following the site. The real question for the critics is “if they’ve been talking about what they’re going to do for so long and in such detail, why did the bits you don’t like in the production come as such a surprise to you?” and why weren’t you writing something about it back then?

I really hope that the ENO has the courage to keep that material up and to carry on with this experiment now and into future – it adds a layer of interestingness before you see the show as well as afterwards – it’s icing on the cake. As I say I haven’t seen the show, so I don’t know if this is an occasion to peel the icing off and give the cake to the dog or whether this is professional critics talking out of their arses again. Now is the time for the Carmen folk to get the conversation really going – fight back or surrender, doesn’t matter which, but say something.

The thing is that critics are part of the problem with opening up performance to a wider audience. The good news is that their power is diminishing as we gain the opportunity to hear people we know and trust talk about what they like and don’t like. I much prefer getting recommendations from my friends and I look forward to seeing some ordinary people’s reaction to Carmen, people who don’t have any prejudice against ENO and don’t already have a fixed opinion about how this opera needs to be done in London today.

I went to a C4 Education screening last night entitled “TV is dead?” My answer – read my blog (two years ago! – funnily enough about the same time as I started thinking about blogging for theatre) The bit in the programme where, if I’d been at home, I’d have been shouting at the telly, was when someone from the Beeb trotted out the old line that in future, as media professionals, they would be the people that we could trust to sift out the crap. NO, BBC, STOP! I don’t want your opinion on what’s crap and what’s not, I want you to make excellent programmes that no one else can make. More “Dr Who”, “Comics Britannia”, “Windscale”, “The Mighty Boosh” (oh God! *More* Storyville, not less!!!!) and fewer animals stuck up trees and celebrities who can’t tap dance.


I really liked that younger people were included in the debate in a fairly unpatronising way, though friends and other regular readers know what I think of panel sessions.

Missing from last night was any recognition that the internet is about social interaction not content delivery (just like TV has always been) and so you should be concentrating on making stuff that people want to interact around rather than worrying about how they get it and whether everyone’s paid exactly the right money (whole other rant on that one – tell us straight – how much money gets spent on protecting rights? – how much more or less is it than the amount of money you currently lose to “piracy” – how much more money might you actually make if you weren’t so tight arsed about it all – *hint* watch Radiohead very carefully)

Also missing was any glimmer of understanding that advertising might not work any more. The real question here is “TV Advertising is Dead?” And it comes in two parts – 1. People don’t want to be interrupted or fed commercial information any more, they want it self-service and 2. The current advertising sales model is based on pulling the wool over the eyes of advertisers with extrapolations from sample audiences – what happens when you (and they) start to get real audience numbers in real time based on actual attention data from your viewers/subscribers in a form that makes comparison with other online media forms more like-for-like?

I pity the troll

keen dont wantWell, more like I have some compassion for him – but “I have compassion for the fool” sounds like something Martin in the Simpsons would get punched for saying (more Simpsons later).

I went to the Frontline Club last night, actually, thanks Euan for reminding me that I *paid* to go to the Frontline Club and hear Andrew Keen speak about his book what he wrote. I got to meet Richard Sambrook and Graham Holliday and had a quick drink and catch up with Euan afterwards so it was worth it actually.

Andrew is a man who clearly gets something out of being (metaphorically) beaten up by one half of the audience while the other half looks on, amazed and puzzled by the rage of their usually rational fellows. I couldn’t help thinking that this is probably a situation Andrew has found himself in again and again. I felt very much like I was watching an unconscious videotape of the world according to Andrew Keen aged four and a half. He behaves like a picky child. “Don’t want this. Don’t want that. Don’t…. want” So, to save you from reading his book or paying to feed him in some other way, let me summarise what he doesn’t like:

democracy (he spits the word “democratisation” when he reads from his book)
Dave Winer
people ‘stealing’ stuff on the web
people having the chance to ‘criticise’
people making economic choices
free markets
state regulated markets
Glen Reynolds
Tim O’Reilly
Jeff Jarvis

By the way, when I asked him the question “So what *do* you want” I included liberty rather than libertarian – yes I do know the difference, but I’d slipped into troll behaviour too – I’m not immune to it, that’s why I have compassion for him.

He said that he wants “an information economy that reports objectively and employs trusted and respected professionals”.

Other classic quotes:

“Who am I to say that people in China shouldn’t blog”
“Journalists should be more arrogant”
“If you’re being paid and someone is editing you, then you’re a professional journalist”
“I don’t like the idea of humility”
“Tell me a blogger who’s better than Polly Toynbee”

stop. sniggering.

The story I took away is that he went to foocamp and got the wrong end of the stick. From the reports I’ve seen, foocamp does not represent what the majority of us are doing on the web no matter how much Tim O’Reilly would like it to. Its exclusivity goes against all of the openness that makes our experience here worthwhile. foocamp’s greatest contribution is the Barcamp movement which was created in reaction to it. Does Andrew know what Dave Winer looks like when he gets mail from Tim?

When Euan called him a troll, and then asked him if he knew what that meant, he said “No”. I said “Liar” I kinda hope the mic picked it up, though that’s not the behaviour I aspire to.

Struggling with my conscience, I whispered to Adriana next to me “How do you handle trolls offline without resorting to physical violence?”. The Simpsons, of course, has the answer – Treehouse of Horror VI – The Attack of the 50ft Eyesores in which Homer steals a giant donut from a collossal Lard Boy advertising statue prompting Lard Boy and several other promotional likenesses come to life and terrorise Springfield. Lisa asks an ad man what to do – he explains that the advertisements need attention to stay alive and so aided by a nifty jingle performed by Paul Anka, the townsfolk’s attention is ironically drawn away from the misbehaving mannekins who all fall down dead.

Tom Coates thinks Andrew should go on the naughty step. My positive experience of parenthood has come from encouraging the desirable, ignoring the undesirable, and getting them in the kitchen making some donuts.

I agree with Andrew Keen

Sorry for using his shock tactics to grab your attention, but as I rode home from listening to the troll, Andrew Keen, I realised there was something I could agree with him on:

He says Web2.0 is just a mirror for our culture and society.

I see a new-found confidence, optimism and freedom. I see happiness and laughter. I see a breathing out, a loosening of the belt, a relaxing, a kicking off of the shoes. I see humility and humanity. I see maturity.

He sees threats, groundless criticism, a loss of authority. He sees immaturity and people making outrageous statements in order to gain attention. He sees selfishness and self-centredness. He sees confusion, stealing and interference.

You look in the mirror and you see what you are.

More in the morning…

Losing it

Still musing on the fear of “dark forces”, “bad people”, shifts in power, and similar trivia.

In sorting out the Podcast Archive I listened again to Johnnie at “Blogging, A Real Conversation” from 2 years ago. He started with something like this video (though we didn’t have Youtube in them days).

Johnnie used it to illustrate the illusion of authority. I guess I’m surprised at how many people are still yet to acknowledge their Ceaucescu moment.

Social Media Café – Zagging

One of Dave Winer‘s best bits of advice is “zag to their zig” and that’s what I’m trying to do with the Café. Just when it seems that *everyone* in the entire world is getting into online social networking, I want to open a coffee shop and help people meet each other face to face.

There have been suggestions that we use another space to get started. I don’t understand the reasoning for this, so can someone please explain? The space is more important to me (at the moment) than the group. We have loads of ways of meeting up already – I’m talking about meeting the needs of that group in a novel way rather than extending the group, although I’m sure that better facilities will draw new people in.

Thanks everybody for your thoughts on the Communal Vision – do carry it on, but let’s also start talking about how much it will cost.

I’ll be writing on the wiki later but I’ve got to go out now to report on a drop-in centre for young people for the Surrey PCT blog :)