Category Archives: What I’m doing

The Slowness of Smiley

Subject A passing antique shop on Pimlico RoadI’m reading Le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. This post contains spoilers but since the book was first published in 1977 I’m going to blunder in anyway.

I’m about 150 pages in.  The last 50 pages or so have been a description of a mission that it turns out is all about getting details of a bank account from a Hong Kong bank.  It’s the sort of thing that now would be dealt with by black t-shirted hacker types breaking into a system.  But in the 1970s it involves pulling a kind of sleeper agent out of cover in Italy, bringing him back to the UK and brushing up his spy-skills, sending him off to Hong Kong where he can blackmail a manager in the bank into giving him access to a paper file which he then photographs on a sub-miniature camera, the film from which has to be processed before even the name of the account holder is signalled through to London let alone the actual photographs giving the full details of the account. Phew!

It reminds me also that the whole of Smiley’s People basically revolves around the existence and whereabouts of a photographic negative.  People have to cross the channel (by ferry) and meet up and exchange bits of paper and celluloid and avoid getting shot.

Film photography, No Eurostar, No Internet.  It’s all so slow!  And all the more dangerous for the time it takes to get things done.  It really is another world, but it doesn’t feel that long ago to me.

And people still ask: “What difference has technology really made in our lives?”

Open Source Culturematics Producing Open Data #startofplay

This is a development of the way I’ve been thinking for a while.  And what I wrote yesterday about organising all this stuff is part of it too.

So I talked at a gaming unconference on Saturday about Culturematics, open sourcing their development and opening up the data that they produce.

This is what I believe/wish I said:

Culturematics are Grant McCracken’s term for ‘little machines that make culture’ the sort of thing where you ask “what if…?” something and then you go out and do that something, you do it, you write about it, you do it again and write about it again etc. etc..  Tuttle is one of these (even though so many people thought it was a networking event, it’s actually a little game in creating culture) and so, more obviously was Tuttle2Texas and PLATE.  But I think Dave Gorman going out and finding all the Dave Gormans is one too and is Danny Wallace’s “Yes Man”   

So we know what these things are, some of us do them, some of us enjoy seeing them or taking part in them.  I met an unwitting culturematic maker today – he’s made a blog about rectangular out-painting on walls.  And in a sense, every blogger is doing this too – what if I wrote about stuff regularly and posted it on the internet with a comments section for other people to ridicule me?

The question then is what happens if a) you apply open source project principles to developing the process and b) you make open all the data/content/text (whatever) that gets made in the process?

a) opening the process development – look at it as if it were an open source software project.  My understanding is that most OS projects start with someone writing something that they find useful and putting it out there.  Over time other people use the software and decide that they want to alter it in some way, to add features or to make it interoperable with other software or whatever improvement they want to make.  So how does that apply to a traditional creative project? Well there are lots of different processes, over time we’ve categorised them according to the type of product that will come out – you know if you’re making a film or a book or a painting to hang in a gallery and because it cost lots of money to produce one or other of those, it was highly unlikely that you’d start something just exploring an idea and then decide it was going to be a book, no a film, no maybe it’s just a book after all – ah no maybe it’s actually a photographic exhibition…. with a book…. and a film of the “Making of…”  But that’s how we can work now, even if it drives us mad.  It would seem even more insane to start involving other people in this and allowing them to take what had been done (on the process) and then fork off in the direction they wanted to go.  Insane, but exciting.

And that’s where the open data bit comes in and kicks you in the teeth.  Take a simple project, what if once a day for a month I take a photograph at random from my Flickr collection and write a paragraph about it and then make a book out of the pictures and words?  OK so I can see how I would do that, create a blog, make everything Creative Commons Attribution licenced and post once a day and then export the blog to blurb or lulu or whatever and make a book out of it.  That’s fine for me.  What if someone comes along in the middle and goes “that’s a damn fine idea, I’m going to translate it into French”.  So they do.  That’s OK, it fits with the licence and all the stuff is up on the web already.

But what about if I’m making a film and we’ve written it, openly and collaboratively as described above (even assuming that can be done, I have my doubts), do we start shooting and posting everything online immediately?  And let everyone see inside what we’re doing? And take our stuff and maybe make something better with it than we could have? This is the point where most sensible people say “Yes I’d love someone else to make their content open like that, because it would be easier for me, but if you think I’m going to do that myself, share what I’ve been doing freely before I’ve made anything finished myself, you can take that idea and stick it where the sun don’t shine.” 

Maybe the sharing has to be once the “main creator” has had a chance to publish what they were doing.  Perhaps the opening of the data can only be at the end of some phase of the project.  Otherwise it would be a bit like working on an open source project that the original author had never actually compiled or run. I do think it has to be open from the start, it’s very difficult to open up something that started as a closed project.  But I could be wrong.  I’m thinking here particularly about the difficulty of working with the film footage that is still in the can from Tuttle2Texas.  

Sensible people would hate this.  But as a fully-paid-up member of the non-sensible club, I’m left thinking “It’s not for everyone, but it would be interesting to see what happened”. And it would certainly feel a bit like the ever-elusive “Real Creative Collaboration” I think, as usual, I’m looking for some willing playmates to have a go.

Making Sense of All This Stuff

I have been creating stuff on the web for more about fifteen years. That thought alone depresses me – on the one hand it seems overwhelmingly huge, there’s so much of it out there accumulated over five thousand days – but on the other it all seems trivial and insubstantial, a whole load of blether, some pictures of shoes people have left behind and videos of me saying “Hi, my name’s Lloyd Davis and today I’m …”.

I want to take stock and put it all in some order.  It’s one of those things that really needs doing.  I think I know pretty much what I’m doing here now – there’s writey stuff, there’s visual stuff and there’s audio stuff and sometimes it all gets mixed up but that’s about the size of it.

If this were someone else’s stuff it wouldn’t be nearly as difficult, I’d just methodically go through all the sources compiling a database of it all, with as much metadata as is available, but at least dates and times, right?  And then design some processes for going forward. But everything I look at has an emotional charge. “Oh my god, what was I thinking?”

But let’s stick with it.  Let’s have a look at what I know I have.

So I have writing archives here on, and that includes several other discontinued blogs and the same goes for blogger and posterous.  There’s a little bit at storify and then I suppose there’s also writing of a sort in twitter and facebook.  Tumblr doesn’t have any original content in it, I don’t think. Ideally, I’d also like to be able to pull in any comments I made on other people’s blogs, but that’s going to be tricky.

I have over 10,000 pictures on Flickr but I think any other picture-sharing sites that I used in the past have been subsumed into that.  I think…  I have videos on YouTube and Vimeo but also Qik and Bambuser, possibly Ustream (?) and then there’s my Seesmic archive.  Everything that currently goes to Instagram gets backed up to Flickr as well as FB.

I have audio from my first podcasts on Libsyn, backed up to S3.  There’s also a bunch on Audioboo and I’ve an album on Bandcamp.

I hate the way that these are all differently integrated – ideally, I mean in that ideal world where I had a team of people to sort this out for me, I’d have everything also hosted independently and from today I’d not be using any of these services as the primary channel/home for anything.

I want to get there.  I’m just trying to work out where there really is and what is the best way to proceed.  But if you want to be as discouraged as I am, try downloading a few seconds clip from that you recorded in 2008.



two will doThe last century was all about doing things on a mass scale, mass production led to mass consumption via mass marketing.  And so we’ve all become used to measuring our success in the thousands of people who take part in things.

For #wewillgather, we’re trying to do things a little differently and work at a human scale.

People ask us how we’ll measure success and I like to say things like “I’d love everyone in the country to have the chance to be part of ‘a good thing’ together with four or five other people”.  That is, the scale of each thing isn’t important, in fact, for any particular activity, small and manageable is far preferable to large and chaotic.

Our roots are in #riotcleanup, where thousands of people showed up to clean up their local community spaces, but we’re not aiming to re-create that with every ‘good thing’ that…

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Commitment, the power of just showing up

geek dinner 023Someone needs to say they’re going to show up for it. That’s what makes stuff happen. Lots of other important things help too, but it really kicks off when someone says “I’m going to be there or do this, no really, I am, I don’t care if nobody else does, I am.”

That’s what makes it so much easier for everyone else to join in. That’s leadership in a world of organising without organisations. Someone is committed. It might not be me, but someone else is, someone can be relied on to be there so that when I finally do make up my mind to go along, I know that it will be there. But it could just as easily be me, they’re not special in any other way, they’re just another bozo on the bus, not an organiser, they have no special status, their role is to commit to being there and to say “Hi” to other people who may come along not knowing what to expect. Their role is not to “manage” anything, it’s simply to be there so that the thing happens and to help the group know it’s a group and to find ways of working things out for themselves.

When we say “I’m doing this thing and I encourage you to do it too” sometimes quite amazing things get started.

That’s why I’m working on #wewillgather – it’s not just another community organising site or an alternative to, it’s a commitment engine.

None of us know the whole story… *ever*

But that doesn’t stop us believing that we do.

My twitter stream this morning is full of bile, shock, disgust, fear, misanthropy and argument about a young man who’s been arrested for trolling the diver Tom Daley and the loss of Twitter access by Guy Adams of the Independent for having a go at NBC about their Olympic coverage.  On the one hand the abuser of a popular sportsman is hounded by the mob, on the other, Twitter itself is seen as the bad guy for limiting freedom of speech when asked to by a business partner.

At least that’s what I saw.  You may see it differently – but I recognise that that statement itself is subject to my own biases, framing and prior decisions about how the world is and how human beings operate within it.

There was a piece yesterday from Mark Earls on the futility of trying to change people’s minds with information and argument:

“We only see what we expect to see, distrust and discount the witnesses who present what we don’t want and devalue their evidence if they turn out to be from the other side.”

There’s nothing we can do about this [imho] it’s just the way [I believe] the world works.  The other side of it is that it’s easy to say something that inadvertently presses someone’s buttons and sends them into a disturbed state.  I see it everyday in all my relationships where tension and arguments arise, with even those people I love the most and with whom I think I share most common ground.  Somebody will, in the course of an ordinary conversation, say or do something that doesn’t fit with my view of how people should be and immediately I label it “totally inappropriate” and suddenly “I can’t believe they just said/did that!”  If I don’t pause at that point and think “Oh, that’s an interesting reaction, Lloyd” then retaliation is likely to follow and we can end up spiralling into pretty yucky stuff.

But when it happens on a global network between people who don’t know each other or care particularly about each other, it can get really nasty and the law needs to get involved (either the law of the land or the Twitter Terms of Use).

I think the things to remember are these:

1. When you direct something critical to another user on a social platform like Twitter, especially if that user is a person in the public eye or a corporation, it’s possible that you’ll be ignored but you may also be mobbed.  Be aware that you’re not just dealing with another person, you’re potentially also up against their friends, colleagues, business partners, fans, pretty much anyone who has experienced grief after the death of someone close to them *and* their unconscious reactions that may turn you literally into the spawn of Satan in their eyes.  The interaction with them might draw behaviours out of you that you’d rather not have displayed in public, which may turn out to be illegal when expressed on the internet and may result in real-life physical consequences for you, your friends, colleagues… etc.

2. Twitter is a privately owned company with its own vision, priorities and agenda. Value to the company, their shareholders, and by extension those with whom they have strategic and commercial alliances, will always trump the needs of an individual non-paying user.  They are not a nationalised industry, or piece of public infrastructure, no matter how much we wish they were.  If we want a public utility like that, we’ll have to build it and pay for it ourselves.

First go at importing to from posterous

So I had a go and made a new copy at has an importer for posterous (look under Tools in your dashboard).  I chose to test it with mostinteresting since each post should follow a fairly standard structure and it should be straightforward to see where things don’t show up the way you’d expect.

I used the simple blue-green theme, so no need to create a header image. (it would be nice if there was a free theme that mimicked the blank posterous theme, maybe there is, I haven’t looked…)

First things I notice that aren’t imported:

  • Pages – this blog has an instruction page called How to Contribute.
  • Title & strapline
  • Profile & profile pic
  • List of Contributors (on this one it’s just me, but there are some group blogs that would need this to come over)

Everything is posted in the “Uncategorized” category.  Posterous only has tags, these come through and show up in this theme underneath each post title and in a tag cloud in the sidebar.

Posterous “Likes” come through as blank comments.

Those posts where the picture isn’t showing, or is just a link are also not showing on the original.  I think something must have changed since they were posted as I’m fairly sure that as part of the original moderation I made sure that the photo was rendering OK.  This may be more of a problem when dealing with blogs that have pictures on other sharing sites than flickr.  I believe that photo attachments are transferred over automatically, but that’s not tested here.

So this all implies the following curating tasks:

  • Change Title
  • Add strapline
  • Copy over profile text
  • Create and copy manually any pages
  • Edit posts to show embedded pictures.