Category Archives: What I think

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.

What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?

Tuttle in boxes and lines

What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.

Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.

I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.

And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.

So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?

Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.

And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.

I think.

Keeping out of the gutters

I was struck by a piece by Scott Walker a few weeks ago on the use of the gutter in comic-strips and relating it to transmedia storytelling. I identified with it immediately because I know that the space you leave between the things you articulate are hugely fertile places – our minds are great at filling in the gap between A and B. Storytellers have exploited this by setting the audience up with a series of scenes that lead you to a certain conclusion and then revealing something that was left out that turns the plot around completely. In great detective novels for example the truth becomes clear when we find out exactly what happened between B and C rather than what we’d taken for granted and therefore Y to Z makes perfect sense.

I’ve applied this to Tuttle. When we started I made up some simple boundary conditions that I wanted to hold and I reinforced them over time: minimal structure; no-one grabs attention; regular meetings; as free at the point of access as possible; it isn’t for everyone but it is for anyone, etc. and theen I let you all make up the “rules” or ways to behave that make sense to you. I think this is the best way to make co-creation work.

And with Tuttle it still works: it leads to conversation that draws out and articulates what we can agree on – just such a conversation happened this week about moving Friday mornings to another location, out of which came the insight that maybe Tuttle needs a social space to feel comfortable in. We’ll keep this conversation going. It isn’t finished – that’s because the gutters are fractal – everytime you fill the gap between A and B with X you actually create two new narrower ones A-X and X-B and so we continue on.

So my favourite advice to people thinking about co-creation is “Pay as much attention to the gaps you leave as to the structure you build”

But this brings to light an error in how I’ve unconsciously applied this to everything I do, particularly in the narrative I create about myself when marketing the things I do. I realise that it’s not obvious how Tuttle arose out of my previous work, nor how Tuttle the meetup relates either to Tuttle Consulting nor to Tuttle2Texas – it’s clear perhaps that I’m involved, but how are they Tuttle things – and what’s all this art stuff about?

So there’s more to say on each of those than fits in a Monday morning blogging session. However, I offer the following observations relating to keeping wide gutters between things:

  1. Some (maybe lots of) people just give up trying to work it out, it’s too hard – this means they give up on the story altogether.
  2. People make up the stuff based on their own experience and that can have positive and negative consequences for someone trying to maintain a narrative.
  3. People vary in their ability to give up a bridging idea that they’ve constructed, but most hold on pretty tight.

PS I recognise that I might not have completely recovered from this – ie I’m leaving holes that might be too big for you to traverse right now. Sorry, one blog post at a time :)

PPS there may be some more clues in my soon-to-be-launched newsletter – sign up here

What do we need managers to do better?

IMG_9266I spoke at Social Media for Business ’10 the other week and in the panel session afterwards we were asked what we thought social media in the enterprise meant for leadership and management. Big question. I flannelled off some stuff about leadership through service, that the leader needs to encourage and facilitate what’s already going on rather than decide what needs to happen and then make others do it.

(Oh man, I wish I could take my own advice sometimes…)

It ties in with some of the work that’s been stuck up on the wall at #c4cc for a while – a bunch of statements of value that Frankie noted down when I was speaking about Tuttle2Texas at TEDxTuttle. They summarise the value an organisation might get from interacting with “us” whoever we are – tuttle, tuttle consulting, me & Brian & Heather, just me? That’s all for another post.

But when I’d finished writing them out it seemed to me that there was something else to it. These things are only valuable if you have a particular mindset about the people you work with. So I wrote the following things on the end, intended to summarise our assumptions about the sorts of organisations we can deliver value to. If someone is going to buy from “us” they probably will share these assumptions – that managers or leaders need to:

  • be more comfortable with their own creativity;
  • let go of the myth of control;
  • work more effectively in groups;
  • report on what they’re doing in an engaging way;
  • be more responsive to changes in a market or organisational environment;
  • lead people in audacious acts of innovation;
  • better understand the cultural implications of what they do.

so, each of those probably needs a blog post of their own but I think that if you’re looking for ways to get the people around you to do some of the things on this list and you’re struggling then you should come and have a chat about how we can help.

Some Questions on the Volcanic Ash

“Volcanic ash can be dangerous for aircraft, causing damage, reducing visibility, and potentially clogging engines” and so there are currently no flights over the UK and much of Northern Europe.

At 8.20 tonight the NATS site said ” restrictions will remain in place in UK controlled airspace until 1300 (UK time) tomorrow, Friday 16 April, at the earliest.” and “at 0230 (UK time) tomorrow we will advise the arrangements that will be in place through to 1800 (UK time) tomorrow. However be aware that the situation cannot be said to be improving with any certainty as the forecast affected area appears to be closing in from east to west.”

As I walked through London I overheard conversations between worried tourists and businesspeople, but also jovial banter about people stuck on holiday in the south of France.

First question then is for the vulcanologists and meteorologists:

“How long will the cloud of ash stay over the UK?”

Answer is of course “We don’t know, no really, we don’t” – it depends both on the length of the eruption (it’s still going on) and on the weather conditions.

So it could be over in a few more hours. Or it could go on for months (!) Thor Thordarsson is quoted on BBC news as saying: “If the eruption has a face change and starts to produce lava… then we might be in for a much longer haul, an eruption that might last for months or even years, with a quiet period in between intermittent explosions.”

Prof Bill McGuire, professor at the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre is quoted in the same article: “it is worth noting that the last eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull lasted more than 12 months.”

That was 1821-1823 though – no jet engines to damage.

So more questions, this time for economists. In the case where the eruption continues for months:

1. What is the daily economic effect of a total ban on airtravel in the UK? (I normally hate these big numbers bandied around, but if we can do it for snow hitting London, we can make an estimate for this) What are the costs? Missed meetings, people just not being in the right place at the right time, delayed delivery of cargo etc.

2. How about that for those countries that are currently affected by the cloud?

3. How long can airlines stay in business in the face of no air travel? Are we talking days, weeks or months? When might we expect the first call for a government bail-out?

4. Which are more vulnerable to a prolonged ban, airlines or the airports?

5. Which other businesses in the air travel value chain will be seriously affected – who is highly dependent and already economically weak?

6. Who’s going to make a killing, other than Eurostar? or (gulp) the ferries?

Note: these questions are not all mine, they have came up in conversation with fine Tuttle people in the course of this evening.

Cloud Culture: any new threats?

I’m yet to be convinced that the internet can’t look after itself. We may need some forms of organisation to help make sure we’ve thought through the risks and continue to do the next right thing but that organisation isn’t anything that should be modelled on governments or corporations. It needs to be native to the net and it will emerge in the same way that organisations have emerged on the net before. That’s how the net looks after itself, it adapts.

In 1997 or so, I remember talking to my then boss about what an intranet might look like for our team and how it differed from the internet and how it might be useful to us. If you were around in those days, you’ll be familiar with that conversation with someone who kind of got some elements of what the web was about it but wasn’t rooted in the culture like us. It’s pretty much the same one that people have been having about social media for the last few years.

We then drifted onto the idea of .com and what commerical entities on the web (we were part of government and so could sit and theorize about such things) might do with this new thing and how they might behave. I was very bullish about this. I’d just come from the Computing Department of the University of Surrey where I’d been immersed (probably to the detriment of my degree class, but hugely to my personal benefit) in usenet and the nascent web-culture.

I was quite sure that there’d be a fight. A fight between the cold commercial forces of capitalism and the warm, fuzzy, hippy-dippy types committed to openness and co-operation and collaboration for the greater good. And naturally “we” would win.

And how did it turn out? What actually happened? Well I don’t think there was a big battle – both sides lost something, both won something – we all adapted and the web became something that had a more commercial heart, but wasn’t just another channel for business as usual.

Is the web now full of people wanting to make a quick buck, pushing advertisements and 20th Century mass production business models in our faces? Well yes and no. Is the web full of anarcho-hippies, knitting their own yoghurt and urging us all to wear sandals? Well yes and no. Both extremes exist but can be ignored if you wish. Where the really interesting stuff is, is in the middle where social entrepreneurs are creating new value in many forms, giving stuff away, being open about their processes, sharing but still making enough money to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. More than that we’re finding new ways of working together, organising and making stuff happens that benefits us and the whole community.

My personal experience with Tuttle has been that the network is much stronger and more robust than we imagine. Whenever it get’s a push against it, it either repels invaders or morphs into something similar enough to still be Tuttle, but different enough to survive.

So yes, I remain to be convinced that the accelarant properties of the cloud are any more of a risk to the cultural effects that we value than any other infrastructure changes we’ve seen.

Counterpoint will publish Charles Leadbeater’s report Cloud Culture on 8th February with a debate and conversations at the ICA featuring Catherine Fieschi, Charles Leadbeater, Ekow Eshun, Paul Hilder and me. If you haven’t booked a ticket yet, there are still some left here