Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Microniche, Part Two

Normal service will now resume.


"So, where is everyone watching the game tomorrow?"

An innocent enough question, but alas, none of my colleagues seemed to know that a big game was even taking place. Actually, there was one exception, and he's not even British...

And this is the problem with working with members of the geekhood. We're mostly pale, not the fittest people around, and many of us got picked last for the school football team. That kind of social rejection leaves a mark.

So I find myself in a niche group of Geeks Who Like Football. Very few people will get this 'joke'.

I'm not going to explain it.

So, tonight, I'm calling on my non-geek friends to watch the match. The big match. The HUGE match. The European Cup Final.

I can still remember the European Cup Final from 1999 like it was yesterday. The sensational end to an incredible season (this season can't be as good, even if we win tonight). Bayern Munich had dominated the final for 85 minutes, and then sat back to defend. When Teddy Sheringham equalised in the 89th minute, my head hit the ceiling and I ran round screaming like a banshee:

And when Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scored the winner three minutes into injury time...well, I was still shaking from the first goal. All I can remember is a sort of white noise. My friends assure me that I embarrassed myself.

So tonight, I will hand in my geek stripes for a couple of hours. Hopefully, I'll make just a big a fool of myself as I did back in 1999. You're welcome to come and watch; you'll find me in the Wellington Pub in Waterloo, and I'll be the one wearing the replica Manchester United shirt from the 1998-99 season.


Friday, 16 May 2008

Twittering for business

This post is about how companies should use Twitter.

I recently used a tool called Tweetwheel to create a visualisation of the people I follow on Twitter, and how they're connected. You can see a rough visualisation below, or click through here to get all the interactive goodness if you want:


So, no great surprise, it looks like a web.

And then I looked closer. I thought it might be interesting to work out how I knew these 109 people - here are the results:
  • Current colleague or work contact * (43)
  • Former colleague (21)
  • Met at or through a conference (11)
  • Read their book or blog (9)
  • Humour / entertainment / News / Politics (18)
  • Celebrity (2)
  • Utilities (2)
  • Companies (2)
  • Family member (1)
Obviously some people fall into more than one category, so these are best fits in some cases.

But look. Two companies. That's it. I work for one and work closely with the second. There are several companies out there who are blogging and twittering; why aren't I following them?

Because it's like watching your Dad dancing at a wedding. When they do it, they get it wrong. It's embarrassing. As soon as a social activity has a profit motive, it stops being social.

And this just illustrates the pointlessness of companies having corporate twitter accounts (and this applies to corporate blogs too in most cases).

BUT....encouraging individuals in the companies to have blogs or twitter feeds; that's a different matter. I'm following lots of people who work for companies.

It's not just important; it's essential for large companies to encourage their employees to engage with customers and colleagues alike on public social networks. Its the only possible way to stay involved with the fast-moving, ever-changing social network landscape, especially across multiple countries, and demonstrate that you employ actual people behind the shiny facade of advertising.

So why maintain the Osmosoft twitter feed? Well, I think that small companies can just about get away with it. We have 71 people following this feed, about half of whom have a personal relationship with us. We have no branding guidelines, no tone of voice guidelines, no marketing plan, it's just one of us letting people know what's going on in a human voice. We don't have a company blog (choosing instead to point at our personal blogs) and this feed therefore acts as the main news outlet, which people can subscribe to or unsubscribe from as they wish.

So maybe we're the exception that proves the rule. Handy, eh? :-P

On a related note, I was surprised to note that there's only two people on the list that I knew before 2000! None of my friends from school, none of my friends from my flat-sharing and pub crawling days, none that I met while travelling, just one ex-colleague and my brother-in-law. In fact I've met all but five of my twitter contacts in the last four years. I wonder how common this is? I wonder what this says about me?

*includes members of the TiddlyWiki community not on BT's payroll (12 people)

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The Changing Face of Social Tools

I've just finished reading Clay Shirky's brilliant and entertaining "Here Comes Everybody" - it's well worth a read, particularly for anyone who seeks better understanding of how social tools impact society. It's tempting to think that we're already realising the true benefit of such tools but, as Shirky says, it's when these tools become truly ubiquitous that they reach their potential. In other words: things are about to get very interesting.

Shirky likes to compare these new grassroots activities with large company activities. In the old days, the only way to get large groups of people coordinated was to set up an organisation, with the crippling costs of management attached. Now there's a new way; it's almost free in a practical and financial sense, and accessible to practically anyone.

And here's the key; in sharp contrast to an organisation, which has to chose the initiatives to which resources should be assigned, the cost of failure in these social groups is zero. In fact, it's less than zero - the failure is public, which means everyone can see it and learn from it. Anyone can try anything, improving the chances of success rather like ants spreading out and finding food. The potential for growth is simply immense.

But it turns out that these two methods of organisation are often ideal for getting different things done. Want to build a car for profit? Good luck getting people to collaborate for free! Want to get a group of people to protest against a dictatorship? Forget centralised offices and activities, they'll be shut down. Want to build an operating system??? (can...opened. Worms....everywhere...)

The fascinating thing, from my point of view, is what happens when these two classes of groups and activities collide. Shirky sites several crude (but effective) examples, generally involving people rising up against a repressive regime / company / religious group. But I'm sure there are harmonious possibilities out there, and huge rewards for those who can harness this. One thing's for sure; the potential of these systems ain't gonna end with Facebook groups....