Thursday, 30 April 2009

Introduction to Open Source

I gave a presentation to my colleagues, giving a general introduction to Open Source. It was filmed, and the results can be seen here:

Introduction to Open Source from Phil Whitehouse on Vimeo.

And the slides can be seen here:

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Can we stop talking about Twitter now?

Whenever an emerging product or service hits the mainstream, it's inevitably followed by a flurry of online and newspaper articles educating the uninitiated. The recent explosion of repetitive articles about how to use Twitter - particularly from a business perspective - is perhaps reflective of not just the novelty value of this 'new' service, but also the constraints that are leading to innovative uses of the medium (full disclaimer: I wrote one using Twitter itself back in January 2008).

However, it's important to note that it is just a medium and actually most of the opportunities and challenges of using this medium effectively are not new. It's simply the latest step change in the democratisation of the web - Yet Another Online Tool which puts individuals on an equal footing with those who previously had all the power - corporations, governments and religious bodies. These tools, that allow grassroots networks to self organise, and exclude those deemed unworthy or without merit, have been around for a long time. Blogging tools (and RSS) have performed this function admirably for about ten years and more recent tools such as Facebook and Twitter have led the charge into the mainstream.

I'd therefore argue that the challenge isn't 'how to use twitter effectively', it's 'how to use the web effectively'. And the answer to this question starts with a basic understanding of the fact that the broadcast models of old simply aren't working in the way they used to.

Before the mid-90s, large companies could depend on broadcasting their information through a variety of channels - whether through press releases, events, adverts and other communications channels. These relatively subversive channels provided little in the way of discussion or debate and any word of mouth discussion about the quality of a given product or service was usually limited to those within earshot.

Not so anymore. As an individual I have access to global online networks of friends, colleagues and industry experts, all of whom are only too willing to share their views on the world - and listen in return. Given that people naturally gravitate towards those who share their views, it's fair to say that someone in one of my online networks has either made, or is considering, the same purchase decision that I'm making. I hold a healthy, cynical view about adverts and press releases, which are obviously biased and therefore held in much lower regard than the views of people in my network.

If you're a large organisation, and you want to engage effectively in these networks, it may first be necessary to undergo sociological and organisational change. The organisations that behave as though they are the ones in control - that simply bestow information on their audience without listening - will fail in this space. The audience has tools to filter out any messages they choose, and messages that aren't conversational or social will be obvious candidates for the chop.

It follows that those which succeed need to join the conversation at the same level as those they want to engage with. Those companies that are genuinely friendly, personable, helpful, and offer good value are the ones which will succeed - word will get out! The organisational re-structuring I'm referring to will need to support these processes and communication channels. Creating effective feedback loops that can respond quickly and honestly to problems becomes the key to doing good business. Rather than relying on an overstretched marketing department, the key is unlocking the genuine enthusiasm of your people. They have more credibility in this space than anyone who has their own CRM system.

So my advice is: stop worrying about how to 'monetise twitter'. It's as much a waste of time as trying to monetise a dinner party. Read the Cluetrain Manifesto to understand how conversation leads to relationships, and relationships leads to transactions. Those who try to use the social web to get straight to the transaction will do more damage than good.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

in which I discover a planet sized gap in my knowledge of geeky pop culture

Can't quite believe that I hadn't heard of Jonathan Coulton until recently, but now I have I can't stop listening to him. Funny, geeky, talented and well worth checking out.

Here's his official site where you can try his music for free. But if you like it, please pay the man. I recommend "Tom Cruise Crazy", "Re: Your Brains", "The Future Soon" and "That Spells DNA" (DM me if you want more recommendations).

And here is a handy video of "Tom Cruise Crazy":

Wish I could go on about this, but I'm super busy. Sorry.

Monday, 6 April 2009

BBC Interview

As those who have met me will testify, I have a face for radio. And as it happens I was interviewed by BBC London at the weekend in connection with the Mrs Sew&Sew campaign. If you'd like to hear it, here's a link to the mp3 file (just under 5 minutes long).

I'm surprised they wanted to talk to me though - they weren't interested in the social media aspect the campaign - they only wanted to talk about thrift, especially during WWII. A historian from the Imperial War Museum would've been far more appropriate! So given the historical nature of the interview I'm pretty pleased I avoided embarrassing myself in public. And I got a public mention of my employer The Team in as well - result!

Comparison of aTV Flash and Boxee

If you've got an Apple TV, or you're considering buying one, then this post is for you.

I bought my Apple TV to watch content that I've downloaded over BitTorrent on another Mac - quite a specific use case. I've been using aTV Flash for about 9 months. It's been pretty good, and improving, but it cost $50 and there's a free alternative called Boxee which I checked out over the weekend. Here's a brief comparison (v3.5.1 of aTV Flash, 0.97 for Boxee).

Installation: Both solutions were pretty easy to install. Maybe Boxee was slightly easier, because there were a few areas where the process was simplified. But not much to choose between them.

Streamed content: Boxee won this round too - in fact I think Boxee is mostly designed with streamed content in mind (much bigger in the States than here in the UK - see Hulu). But not much good for me as I don't watch much streamed content.

Interface: aTV Flash just extends the existing Apple TV menu, Boxee creates a completely different interface (which you still reach from the Apple TV menu, existing functionality is protected). Personally I prefer simplicity, and this is quicker too, so aTV Flash wins this round.

File transfer: This is where the big difference was for me. Using aTV Flash, I could FTP content across at speeds of 430kb/s (12 minutes to transfer a 45 minute show). But Boxee doesn't enable FTP. Unless you have sys admin skills, you HAVE to use SFTP - with speeds of 80kb/s (60 minutes to transfer a 45 minute show).

I have heaps of content that just sits on the Apple TV box, and it was obvious this would take weeks to get on there over SFTP. So after playing with Boxee for a while, and researching the FTP issue, I gave up and rolled back to aTV Flash. Obviously the $50 price difference wasn't an issue in June last year when I paid for it (there were no user friendly alternatives), and I got a year's worth of updates and support, but it may be an issue for you.

Obviously this is all the case as of 6 April 2009. The SFTP issue may have been resolved by the time you read this - but if this is a deal breaker for you too, maybe see if the Boxee community have responded to my suggestion on their discussion boards when making your decision.