Blogging from the G20

I’m very grateful to be asked to report from the London Summit on Thursday as part of the G20Voice team. I’m one of 50 international bloggers invited to take part. As usual with events involving high profile government figures, the details of what will happen, when and where are still sketchy but basically we have the same accreditation as mainstream journalists.

So what will we be doing? Well there’s a briefing day on Wednesday when we’ll be getting to know each other better. I think the main value we can add as bloggers is that we can work together, riff off each other, help each other to fact-check and amplify each other’s posts.

There’s a limit to how much value there is in live blogging & tweeting everything that happens. You can only get so immediate. Beating everyone else by a matter of seconds isn’t going to be much use. We’re also not clear the level of internet access we’ll have either through the mobile networks or wifi so although I should be able in theory to qik and audioboo (thanks to bestbeforetv who are loaning me an iphone for the summit) I won’t know until the day the extent to which I’ll be able to do that in real-time and interact with people on the outside quickly and easily.

I’ll have my laptop, N95, iPhone, Edirol for audio, Flip for video.

But there will likely also be lots of people writing about the same stuff. Any press, TV and radio people are likely to be going for the same stories, although perhaps with slightly different angles. So the challenge is to find the stories that are interesting but not likely to be reported elsewhere. I shall also be looking at the events from the perspective of “leadership 2.0” – are there any signs that the attitudes of these leaders has changed, to what extent are they really talking about issues from the viewpoint of ordinary people?

Anything else you’d like to see me doing? (oi! keep it clean.)

Tuttle We-20

Ahead of the G20 summit I want to run a we20 session with tuttlers on Tuesday. We’ll meet on Tuesday morning at the ICA. There is another related event going on there and I’m not sure how much I can say about that, but it’s exciting and I will let you know as soon as I know that I can.

UPDATE: Thanks to Toby Moores, I can confirm that this session will include, at some point during the morning, a live video link-up with Bob Zoellick, President of the World Bank.

So this is how it will go. There will be a maximum of 20 people. We will have a very structured conversation about what we can do to use social media and online social networking to boost the London economy, resulting in a set of personal and group commitments to action. The exact form will depend on how many people are there. The conversation will be recorded and published on the web.

If you don’t like the idea and want to do something different then feel free to set up your own conversation or attend one of the other conversations that are going on next week.

The session at the ICA will run from 9.30 and close before 12 noon when the public come in, but as always you’re welcome to stick around and chat. Please sign up here to get a place.

What’s the point of Earth Hour?

earth hour at oxford stIt’s Earth Hour here – but by the time I finish this post it will be over. From 8.30 local time people across the world we’re told that people have been turning their lights off to show their support for action on climate change – it’s being presented as a chance to vote and the organisers intend to take some count of the people who participated to the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.

Why would you do this? Will it make a difference to what “world leaders” decide in Copenhagen whether 1,000,000 people do it, or 10,000,000? Probably not, at least the numbers don’t really matter. Some action will be promised, some suggested action will be refused. I can’t imagine anyone in power saying “Well because several hundred thousand people sat in the dark for an hour in my country, I’m going to make sure something gets done”.

So will the switching off of lights have a big effect in itself? Especially with compulsory low power light bulbs, switching off the lights for an hour in this house represents a reduction of much less than .5kwh. In our total monthly consumption that’s nothing. And anyway, it looks like shops in the West End weren’t doing much.

Is it an empty gesture then? In a world where stuff is only achieved if it is done by “world leaders” then yes, probably. But we don’t live in that world, we never have and we’re just realising that we can do an awful lot for ourselves – both as individuals and members of corporations and organisations. (I plan to write about this more over the next week in the run up to the G-20 summit)

So what use is it? Well of course we social media types like to point to the fact that it’s part of a conversation. Those of us even further up our own arses will point out that earthhour is a “social object” something around which many of us have come together whether you said “Yes, I’m part of this” or “God, this is a waste of time” doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we’ve taken part.

But surely that’s still an empty gesture? Does talking about it make it any more useful? Do any fewer polar bears die? Does the economy get any better at all? No, it depends on some action. I won’t tell you what to do, but here’s a suggestion for people who are on twitter.

Take a look at some tweets marked #earthhour among people you already follow and who live nearby. Get in touch with them and arrange to have a coffee in the next week and talk about earth hour properly, about what you did, about what you think about climate change, about what you’re doing for the environment, what you’d like to do, maybe what you can do together or with other people – and then do it. Even better if you write about it on your blog. A bonus suggestion for the brave: find someone on twitter who lives locally whom you don’t already know or follow (easier in smaller places than in large ones – use Advanced Search on and do the same.

Or not.

Guerilla Street Cleaning

please clean meI heard Dougald speak yesterday on the “why don’t you…?” web, the web (immediately recognisable to UK readers of a certain age) that enables us to “turn off the tv set and go and do something less boring instead”.

I then saw someone on twitter point to Guerilla Gardening, a site that facilitates small groups going out and making urban spaces more green, leafy, flowery or otherwise lovely.

And then this morning when I got some cash out, I noticed how bloody filthy this cash machine in Cockspur Street is. And I wondered if anyone would want to do some off-the-cuff street cleaning – the nightmare is that you’d probably be arrested immediately with tampering with a cash machine, no matter how much you protested that you were performing a secret civic service. But might it have legs (particularly for urban dwellers) are there things you could clean without getting into trouble, especially if there were a group of you and are there lessons buried in the Guerilla Gardening site that might help it happen?

Implementation is left as an exercise for the reader.

Deconstructing Panel Sessions

nudgonomics debate at demosI spent a lot of time (well not that much actually, but it *felt* like a lot) in panel sessions at SXSWi and today I attended a debate (two person panel) at DEMOS.

It seems to me that there are always a few things going on in such a session and that sometimes these things are in conflict with each other. Initially I got narked about the use of “questions in threes” but I think there’s more to it than that.

So one way to pull it apart is to look at the motivations of each player. Who’s there? In any panel session let’s say there’s a moderator, a bunch of panelists and audience members – there are different kinds of audience members too – those who want to contribute, those who want to only listen – also perhaps those who are part of the organisation holding the event and those who are from “outside”.

Moderator – The moderator opens up, introduces the speakers and manages any question and answer process. What do they want? A smooth running event, which people remember. Presumably they also want people to remember that the moderator was really good and maybe they might like to hire them to do something else. They want to please as many people in the audience as possible by giving them the opportunity to ask loads of questions or have lots of questions answered.

Panelists – usually have something to sell, maybe it’s a book, or strategic advice, or consulting services or maybe they’re looking for more speaking gigs. They want to show off their erudition and quick wittedness by answering questions eruditely and wittily. They want to be right.

The audience – want to learn something, want to be seen by their peers, want to see who else has come, want other people to hear what they have to say on the subject, want to be associated with the panellists, or disassociated from them. If they are part of the host organisation, they may want to impress their boss and other colleagues or else push the company line. If they are from the outside they may want to impress prospective clients or intimidate competitors with their superior intellect. They might just want to hear an intelligent, flowing conversation about the subject and make their own minds up about things. They might have come to collect ideas for a blog post or something else that they’re writing.

We all (well most of us, in this country) like to pretend that we’re not selling ourselves all the time, but the reality is that we are, especially those of us who are freelance, whether we’re doing it consciously or explicitly or not.

Questions in threes is a technique where the moderator takes three (sometimes more!) questions and lets the panelists answer them all together. It’s presented as a way to get more questions in and to give panelists more time to think about their answer, but it actually only serves the moderator’s desire to look good by letting lots of people in and getting things done quickly. Patrick Hadfield summed it up in a tweet to me this afternoon:

“…all that happens is that the first question gets ignored, or if it is answered, the rest of the audience has forgotten it!”

Exactly that happened in the session today. The panelist is also panicking because they’ve got another random question coming at them while they’re still thinking about the first one. And the audience is not sure which question is being answered. The moderator however is achieving the goal of getting through lots of q&a swiftly without any regard to whether the questions are being answered sensibly.

I’m getting tired, and I’ve written more than I initially intended, so I’m probably wrong. Let me know in the morning.

VRM => we all have our own loyalty card

250320091143I was just reading David Weinberger’s excellent notes of Doc Searls’s Berkman lunch and realised what I was talking about at the VRM thing last November I’m sorry it’s taken so long.

What happened was I went through my wallet looking at all the different loyalty cards and coffee shop stamp cards I have and I said I want to be able to manage all of this better and from my own perspective. Maybe the people listening understood better than I did.

What I realised this implies is that we all have our own loyalty card (which somehow gets automagically updated from the cloud) which is accepted by and useful to every “vendor” that we choose to allow access, no matter what the service.

And, most importantly, I can also view, aggregate and filter all my data on there in various visualisations whether it’s how much I spent on coffee altogether this month or which coffee shops I frequented most or maybe it’s my medical record and the prescriptions I’ve had filled recently.

I was at Demos today listening to Richard Thaler talk about his book Nudge and he used just the same thing as an example – full disclosure of information from credit card companies about the penalties and extra costs on your bill which you could then feed into some analytic site on the web to understand better how to cut your costs.

I don’t know if I’ve said anything new here but it feels like *I* understand myself a little better…

There’s another opportunity to join in the fun and games defining and evolving VRM at the Open Space that I’m facilitating for VRMHub on Monday. Come & play.

Ada Lovelace Day

When I signed up to the pledge to write something about women in technology for the first Ada Lovelace Day, it seemed simple enough: to write about a woman in tech that I admire.

When my mother left school after a secondary modern education, she had little choice other than being a cook at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and then an assistant in Rackhams. Women of my generation had more offered to them, although girls in my sixth-form doing sciences were considered a little weird and going on to do an engineering degree was rare and remarkable. I’m very glad to say that my daughter doesn’t see such barriers. As she approaches 16, I believe she really could do anything she chose to do.

It’s been a lovely exercise, if only because it’s reminded me of how many talented women I know. I’m glad that there are so many to choose from although, as I said when I did the panel in Berlin with Suw, Steph & Janet, I’m not altogether convinced that women are invisible in tech, I understand that that’s how they feel. I also believe that the future in tech is even closer to gender equality. We’re moving into a period where archetypical feminine assets: creativity, nurturing, conversation are dominant in the most exciting areas of technological development.

The person I’d like to draw attention to is Helen Keegan – a friend for longer than she’d thank me for pointing out, she’s a marketer primarily, but it’s the combination of understanding how people buy stuff, how mobile technology is used and the cultural issues around technological progress that I think make her most admirable.

She is also determined, clear about her own opinions and unafraid to express sometimes unconventional or unpopular angles on her subject. Only today I observed her speaking at Wealth of Networks II and dealing persuasively with someone who held a very different view to hers about shoppers at Lakeside. Helen has also been my most honest and motivating supporter in the work that I’ve done on the Tuttle Club.

When I was first experimenting with podcast conversations, Helen was a natural choice. Here’s a podcast I made with her in 2005 (sitting in Grosvenor Square of all places!) which displays some of that knowledge and determination.

PS I have to mention one to watch for ADL2010 – Hermione Way from Techfluff TV – trying new stuff, learning quickly, producing quality content and building a solid business while having lots of fun.

Photo: by-nc-sa Bowbrick

Streetview shenanigans

pw014-03About 10 years ago when I got my first digital camera to play with at work, I considered a project documenting London’s streets. The idea was that you would stand on a street corner and take a picture in each direction, and then upload it to a database with some metadata so that we could build a rich visual map of London so that if you were headed to say a bar or restaurant you could find a picture of the local area so that when you popped up out of the tube, you’d have a better chance of finding what you wanted.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do it, mainly because devising instructions for how to take your photographs and constructing a metadata scheme that could accurately but simply describe any street corner in London proved way too complex. Plus the web was a very different kind of place – this was an information retrieval system, not a social one. Oh yeah and forget GPS, who was strong enough or rich enough to carry a GPS receiver around with them? Nonetheless, it would have been cool, right? I think the early podwalks had a similar inspiration.

Now the smart people at Google have caught up with my brilliant vision 🙂

And (nearly) everybody hates it.

In my opinion, Google Maps Streetview is just a rich enhancement to a map. I have used it to identify places I was going (in Paris, France and Austin, Texas) to get a feel for what sort of neighbourhood they were in and to understand better how I might walk there.

I don’t understand the privacy concerns that people have. Assuming you’ve been (un)lucky enough to be photographed by a car, what are the chances of anyone who knows you seeing it? And in the event that you (or some top-secret piece of your property) are snapped and you find out about it, then you can ask for it to be removed. This seems to me to be way beyond the power we have with CCTV in that 1. We can see it. and 2. We can get it removed. It’s ironic really that when a private company does it, we get to have a say, but when our democratically elected councils or government agencies do it, we don’t even have access.

What do you lose by having your home or car photographed? (mine isn’t there incidentally, they haven’t got beyond the A24 in Epsom) I’m not saying it’s nothing, just honestly trying to understand what it is.

Yes, I can imagine it leading to an imagined worse outcome of the BNP list leak last year, with the list “enhanced” with links to pictures of the outside of each member’s house. But the mashups there were pretty well regulated, once the first few had been done, people realised what a silly thing it was to do and what a dangerous precedent it was.

Before it came to the UK (and by the way, it’s only in selected cities), I’d used the Parisian and Texan versions to look at places I was just about to go to – working out how to walk there without having to cross 10 lanes of traffic etc.

I’ve also used it to look at places that I may never get to see, like parts of the Northern Territories in Australia (can’t remember how we ended up there…)

And it also works well for showing people places I’ve been and explaining something visual.

And as Russell points out, it’s good for the nostalgic – Places I used to live that are just the same and places I used to live that are very different.

I’m also interested in what’s not covered – No great views of Buckingham Palace for example and great chunks of the West End are missing including Oxford Street and Cavendish Sq.

Walkin’ in Austin

From the earlier part of the week before the festival started and definitely before the sun came out. Our experience was that walking anywhere more than a couple of blocks marked you out as either a tourist or poor. Or like us, poor tourists.

This happened to me a couple of years ago too when I went to Barcelona and it felt more like Bangor. We seem to have brought the sunshine back with us from Texas, but not the temperature, I think it’s still up in the seventies there.


110320091025 Here’s something half-baked: In the UK, urinals in the gents (God, I can’t wait to be home and to stop having to ask for the mens room or restroom!) flush themselves on a timing mechanism so that (as long as it’s working) it gets washed out every few minutes. Here in the US, there are two types of flush that I’ve seen: a manual knob (as in the picture) or else an automatic one based on a sensor which causes it to flush when you walk away.

I don’t know what this says about our respective cultures, if anything at all, or what point you could use it to make, but I thought it might live in the analogy library until someone could work out how to use it for good or for evil.

And don’t get me started on the lack of soundproofing in the sit down loos or the ones that flush as soon as you stand up.