Glimpsing Obama

26072008964On Saturday, I was at Victoria station on my way to somewhere else and I saw on Twitter that Barack Obama was just about to arrive at Downing Street to meet Gordon Brown. I decided to take a detour on the no. 24 to check it out – having seen the pictures in Berlin, I assumed that Whitehall would be closed off and we’d be diverted around throngs of the placard-waving Obarmy-army – but actually it was all very quiet.

The pavement is being dug up all along in front of the Treasury and FCO buildings as well as in front of the entrance to Downing Street itself. So although there were the usual tourists milling around there was certainly nothing like a crowd but the prospect of catching a glimpse through the gates was very slim indeed. I walked back towards Westminster and saw that a bunch of people were gathering in King Charles Street, so I wandered down to have a look. It turned out that this included some hardcore supporters including the organisers of the local meetup group formed to focus Londoners (and US expats) on supporting the senator from Illinois. The thinking was that the Obama party would come from Downing Street through the FCO courtyard and along King Charles Street to go to the Palace of Westminster to meet the Tory high command. The hope was that BO himself would go walkabout and stroll down Whitehall.

I settled in to wait and wait. I passed the time on Twitter and Qik – getting the first updates and pictures from @DowningStreet and getting help from @jkerrstevens while spotting the security services talking to their cufflinks. George Osbourne seemed to come out of the Treasury (?) in a Google t-shirt and on his bicycle.

A BBC TV crew said they didn’t know if the party was coming this way either but took their position in front of the crash barrier – when asked, they explained that otherwise they’d only be able to see as much as we could see. We knew that the press conference was due for 11am and so were ready for action when we saw the journo’s come strolling out. The crowd, including some delightful little children, started chanting “Yes! We Can!” and got ready with their cameras and phones for the moment when the man himself would surely follow them and walk towards us. But then suddenly a motorcycle escort and convoy of 4 people carriers zoomed out of the gateway, past us and through the gates onto Whitehall.

Momentarily I looked up from my phone which was *not* taking pictures on burst mode as it was supposed to be and saw the familiar, smiling senatorial face as he gave a little wave to the excited but slightly disappointed crowd. I went over to Parliament but again everything was happening too far away and through grills and railings so left him to meet with a man who can’t look after his own bicycle but may be running the country before too long.

Despite the small turnout I can’t imagine that any presidential candidates in previous election years can have generated such excitement on the streets of London. The papers said that they were keeping the visit low key to avoid Obamamania – I’m sure that if he returns here victorious next year, we’ll settle for nothing less than a decent walkabout. My worry continues to be though that the task of getting him elected and keeping him alive for four years in the face of America’s underlying racism seems to be quite a toughie.

Another fine mezze you’ve gotten me into

I’m going to be playing at Darbucka again with the lovely Lawsons next Tuesday. If it runs the same way as last time, I’ll be on near the beginning with a short set of 3 or 4 numbers. Even though we’ll probably start later than advertised it would be good to get there earlier rather than later to ensure you get full ukulele exposure.

I haven’t finalised my playlist yet but I’m intending to do stuff I didn’t do at the first one (or at Interesting08 ) unless there are any special requests.

Here are the facts, ma’am:

When: Tue Jul 29 2008 07:00 PM
Where: Darbucka World Music Bar, 182 St John’s Street, Clerkenwell, London, LONDON, EC1 4JZ

Not clear about whether there’s an entrance fee but you’re welcome to throw money at my feet as usual.
Pic by Benjamin Ellis on Flickr
cc nc-by-nd

We don’t have to write anything

more journo's than puntersI was going to write something long and thoughtful about PR & Bloggers last week but got caught up in the Underground Busking debacle instead.

Meanwhile Véro kicked something off that James and Jonathan are running with. So there’s less I want to say that hasn’t already been said. And now it comes down to this thing about PR’s thinking that bloggers are just like print journalists – we’re not – well in some ways we are, but in many others we’re not, particularly for the reason stated above – I don’t have to ever write anything at all again on this blog if I don’t want to – I write to please myself and my friends, I don’t *have* any deadlines or quotas (of course sometimes I’m paid for a quota of stuff, but that’s different) and nobody sits between me and pressing (or not pressing) the button marked publish.

I’m not sitting here, thinking “I wonder what I can write by the end of today to fill that quarter page” I’m actually thinking “How can I find enough time to write about all the things I’m excited about”. So rather than helping me out – these PR e-mails always have the air that we should be grateful to get this “scoop” – you’re actually making my life more difficult by using up my time working out whether there’s something interesting in what your saying or not.

Note – and this may also be a sticking point – that we are not all the same. At times, I blog for different reasons and have different needs from someone like Ewan but I agree and understand entirely where he’s coming from here. And… I am not averse to being approached to talk about stuff that I find interesting – it’s the assumption that if we talk and you give me something then I’ll be your dog that I find a turn-off in a Coatesian sort of way.

Y’see it’s complicated.

(*ahem* – just going to tweet that I’d written this and saw @darika wanting less PR bashing – so I’d like to point out that funnily enough, not all PR’s are the same either – there are one’s that get it quite well and those that don’t – this post is directed to those that don’t…)

Uncertainty over the LU Busking Scheme

London Underground are taking the management of licensed busking in-house after sponsorship dried up.

Naturally, rumours, speculation and gossip have been circulating today. As far as I can make out though from the statement on the booking site and the buskers-only mailing list, the main points are that:

No new sponsor has been found to replace Capital/The London Paper – the sponsorship package of £1m+ has funded the administration of the scheme by Automatic Management who ran the audition/vetting process, employed Busking Site Managers (BSMs) to visit the various pitches regularly and ensure all is well, and managed the telephone and internet booking process.

The contract with Automatic seems to have been terminated with very short notice – while we all like to have a moan about how things have been run, they’re a good bunch of people and I hate to see the BSMs especially out of a job.

The internet booking system is to be discontinued and all bookings will now happen over the phone and rosters will effectively be fixed by 2pm the previous day as that’s when they’ll be faxed (yes faxed) to Station Supervisors. This is a killer for me. Because I fit my busking in around consulting, writing and facilitation gigs I rarely book more than 48 hours in advance. I pick up most of my pitches as cancellations or from the unpopular pitches/timeslots, either on the day, or the night before. It’s not clear to me how the booking system is going to work and it looks like a recipe for double-booking disputes on the one hand and pitches needlessly going empty on the other. I do hope that internet booking can be reintroduced (preferably a re-written system coded by someone who understands the web – and basic online security – don’t ask!) but I reckon I’m probably in a minority.

Clay Shirky at Demos

14072008431Thanks to France being all quatorze juillet yesterday, we got the benefit of Clay Shirky’s wit and wisdom over lunchtime at Demos. Although the first few minutes were “Previously on ‘Here Comes Every Body'”, as you’d expect in a session chaired by Paul Miller at the lefty think-tank there was much focus on the use of social software in public policy and political organisation. Yay! I hope you don’t expect me to weave what was said into a structured narrative. Here are the brain globs that formed for me.

The Obama campaign has focused on strategic use of the tools learning the lessons from the Dean campaign’s tactical experimentation.

Of course he wants Obama to win, but Clay has laid a $50 bet on President McCain – simply because people lie to pollsters – they *say* they’ll vote for a black president but…

The use of social software in the Obama campaign has been focused on marketing efforts and not policy development. The hope is that the people can be let back in more once the presidency is won.

If making a TV documentary about the future of the web (As Charlie Leadbeater seems to be doing – hatchet buried btw, he’s coming to Tuttle in September) it would be cool to allow remixing to create versions focused on narrower industries or themes.

You can’t extrapolate from Linux and Wikipedia in order to tell you what to do now – Wikipedia is under constant “attack” – the page for Galileo is protected because it’s a focus for the “500-year flame war” over his persecution by the Catholic Church but that doesn’t mean that your 5-person wiki needs the same level of defences.

Something clicked with me about the Open Source thing – where most Sourceforge projects go nowhere and the potential coming out of 2gether08 – most of the conversations we had will go nowhere, but one or two will be amazing – we just don’t know which one or two.

And as my blood sugar levels plummeted, I heard that Etienne Wenger is doing something interesting where CoPs meet tech but I was already seduced by the fruit basket and didn’t really hear what.

Glad to see that the podcast is already up – well done Demos!

Less is More, More is Less

John Naish, talking at the opening of 2gether08 used the term infobesity to sum up what he was saying about our addictive need to ‘consume’ more and more information. In the work session I ran, Leon Benjamin described organisational dependency on hierarchy as being as difficult to get rid of as a heroin addiction. We all know at least one person who’s lost to their crackberry (and not because of the tech).

It’s an interesting metaphor – and a difficult one to use as it quickly slips into Salem territory – denial can be seen as proof of guilt. John has some neuroscientific evidence for those who demand to see physical, chemical “causes” of a phenomenon regardless of overwhelming empirical evidence of behaviours. I see people struggling with information and believing that having more will solve the problem even in the face of repeated proof of the contrary – if only we knew more… if we only had more facts… if only we could measure…

So yeah, less is more, more is less – simple wisdom which, like most simple wisdom, may take a lifetime of practice to fully assimilate.

I first saw this as an Information Manager at the Audit Commission. Part of my job was to design systems to put together all of the known facts and data about each council’s social services department in a form that would be useful to our team of people reviewing the council’s performance.

These people doing the reviewing were not statto’s, not analysts, mostly they were social workers who’d risen through the ranks to some prominence and had years of experience of how social services get delivered and managed. Only one or two had any background in a numerical discipline. Most confessed (some proudly) that it was all greek to them. And yet their lust for more and more data, cut this way or that, dressed up in all the finery that Excel can bestow, was literally insatiable. They could not get enough. My team and I could not give them enough. Reviewers still felt uncomfortable about presenting their ideas (remember, based on 20 years of professional practice) in case someone could prove them wrong.

I had to learn the discipline of saying no, of explaining that the “facts” were only signposts and that more signposts might make you feel secure but of themselves they do little to assure you of arrival at your destination.

Photo by TeddyBare on Flickr cc by-nc

City of Men – Cidade dos Homens

Thanks to another @danlight & @sizemore collaboration I went to see a screening of City of Men tonight – it’s a follow-on from two things I haven’t seen so I can’t do the comparisons that others might, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like Macbeth meets Romeo and Juliet in a very hot place with guns and motorbikes.

It made me think about being a father, having a father, being a let down as a father, being let down by your father, being let down by your friends, being a let down to your friends, the stuff everyone knows about you except you, finding hope in the smallest things, having hopes dashed repeatedly, motorbike taxis wtf?, not knowing what’s going on, losing everything, carrying on, the difficulty of attacking an enemy with an elevated position, what it must be like to shoot a gun, being in a gang, being on the outside of a gang, unconsciousness, what it must be like to be shot, to see a flash and have your flesh ripped by a bullet, how hot it can get, how good it is to shout in the sea.

So yeah, quite a lot really.

Photo from adman_as on flickr by-nc-sa

Tim Berners-Lee at NESTA on the Future of the Web

NESTA keep setting them up and we keep falling for them.

This evening Tim Berners-Lee, y’know, clever chappy – invented this web thing that I’m using to write to you, got the Order of Merit no less, was speaking on the Future of the Web and in particular his Web Science Research Initiative – trying to get us to understand the web as it is and where it’s going in order to help make it better.

Lovely, humble, articulate man. I’d love to write more about what he had to say but we didn’t hear nearly enough of him – the soundbites you can find on twitter weren’t edited very much. In an evening overflowing with irony, I was particularly struck that a man who allowed millions to gain a public voice by creating a system with a minimal number of rules and prescribed behaviours was almost silenced by a format that called for:

  • a clear separation between the panel and the audience;
  • people speaking in strictly managed order;
  • the contribution of audience members constrained to asking questions;
  • questions collected in threes, then divided between the panel members by the chair;
  • arbitrary precedence given to people on twitter over people actually in the room.

I have questions, but more than three.
“What mysterious hold does Charlie Leadbeater have over Jonathan Kestenbaum?”,
“Did you think that we’d get bored by only having Tim to listen to?”
“Or perhaps that he doesn’t have the stamina to carry a whole hour’s session by himself?”
“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘gilding a lily’?”
“Were the people in the reserved seats on the front row because they *really* don’t know anything about this stuff and need to be able to hear every word?”
“How can we take you seriously on innovation when you continue to repeat the same tired event format?”
“If I don’t like these things so much, then why do I keep going?”

[UPDATE: thank you NESTA for splitting the video up so that people can just play the Berners-Lee segment – anyone who wants to judge for themselves whether I was just getting my knickers in a twist about nothing should take a look at the panel session


Another day another mind-blowing conference – today it’s 2gether08 which feels a bit like I imagine it is to crawl around inside Steve Moore’s head. Hundreds of gobsmackingly smart folk talking big, talking social, talking good.

I’m thinking again about the potential for action that this sort of event creates. Loads and loads of people, talking big ideas, connecting disparate subjects and disciplines, talking about what they’ve done, what they’re doing, what they’d like to do. Ooooh yes, let’s do that, let’s do this, oh my god, can you imagine if we did that? Let’s talk about it, let’s make it happen.

It’s something that happens every week at the Tuttle Club. People get enthused about an idea or another person or their work and they talk animatedly about what they might do and how they might collaborate. A small number of those collaborations actually have come quickly to fruition. Sometimes this is because they’re at the level of “hey! what if we could mash up flickr and google maps and ‘ta-dah’ – you know” ie it’s not really a new idea, just new to the people involved. Other times it’s more about already busy people having great ideas bu they don’t have time, or money, or time to generate the money to do it.

However, it is a weekly experience for me and I’m getting used to seeing the realisation of awesome potential and the later associated deflation. That’s in a group of 30 or so people. So it’s not surprising that we get it in spades at conferences like today.

So. Much. Potential.

I feel it physically. It’s painful. I think sometimes it’s the thing that winds me up most about events – the raising of potential and the lack of resolution. I know I’m going to feel it again tomorrow. The only answer I have by the way is something Umair Haque said this morning: “Organise something” Y’know like “just do it” but no, really do it.

Irony Alert: this post lacks a real resolution

(and I’m cross-posting to the 2gether blog)