Archive for the ‘ social media ’ Category

Web 2.0 and social media – what’s the difference?

Dave Briggs posted some thoughts over the weekend trying to explain what the terms web 2.0 and social media actually mean, and how they complement each other. He also published a neat little diagram supporting his ideas:

Dave Brigg's brilliant social media / web2.0 diagram

I must confess I’ve been using that diagram for quite a few months, and without attribution because I forgot where I’d picked it up from. Meeting up with Dave last week I quickly realised my mistake! In the meantime I’ve found it really useful giving presentations and in conversation as it rather neatly delineates the technology developments driving changes online, and the user-generated content that together drive ‘social media’.

My take is that social media, web 2.0 and related labels are just well devised media inventions created to generate momentum for an industry that was reeling from the dot com meltdown of the early millennium. The underlying programming languages and technology, functionality, aspirations etc haven’t really changed.

Sure, they’ve matured and developed, but that would be expected in any industry – especially a tech industry. What the the basket of things that come under the umbrella of ‘social media’ do do though is bring us closer to the original vision of the web as described by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 90’s – a ‘read-write’ web where it is as easy for users to contribute and participate as it was to consume.

Its becoming progressively easier for users to create, publish and or share content. That is one of the two key defining characteristics and in Dave’s diagram that is the social media bit.

So creating and sharing content are crucial – that’s the essence of social media. But something equally important is the methods that allow that content to be published, shared, and consumed. These are the enablers that Dave describes as web 2.0.

These definitions are really for me what it is about – the development of technologies that allow people to share and be active online, allowing them to be creators and collaborators as well as consumers.

But there are some developments in the market that have hastened the adoption of social media. Here are the four that spring to mind:

  1. The technology in our homes, on our desktops, on our laps and now in our hands has improved dramatically. This makes it much easier for users to crop photos, edit video, mix music etc.
  2. Improved speed of connection – we’ve gone from slow dial-up, through ISDN and early fixed broadband, to the point where wifi is so ubiquitous that not only is it installed in many homes but increasingly in a large number of towns and cities(sometimes at a cost, sometimes free). Free municipal public wifi is probably not that far ahead.
  3. The scale of connectivity in the home and the workplace – many businesses and public spaces like libraries have broadband connectivity. In the UK, latest figures show almost 15 million households in the country had a home internet connection – that’s 61% of households. Of those 84% have a broadband connection. Although overall home connections are slowing, the percentage that are broadband is increasing fast.
  4. Generational change – the rise of the so-called digital native. These people have grown up around the internet, its for them they are growing up and will have expectations about interacting with business and the public sector based on their experience.

So, to recap, I don’t think the underlying technologies of the internet have really changed, merely matured. What is different is the ease in which users can participate and collaborate, as well as the developments in creation and delivery technology.

And why are these distinctions important? In my day to day dealings with people, there is still a mystique about all this ‘social media’ stuff. Dave’s diagram brings some clarity to explaining how technology + users (content creators) = community and collaboration.

Welcome new visitors and blogroll entries

Completely unexpectedly, the Economist referenced this ‘ere blog in a special report about e-government in this week’s edition (last sentence of fifth paragraph down in this article if you’re really interested. But when I say referenced, I mean just about referred to).

Consequently, visits to the site have rocketed. Sunday is usually a low double figures day (not that I check them obsessively you understand…) but the last two days have seen visits well into the two hundreds. I’m astounded and shocked (but not so secretly chuffed).

So welcome all, hope some of you stick around. Let me know if there is anything of particular interest to you and I’ll let you know if I can talk about it.

Also, way overdue, added a couple of new links to the blogroll. Dave Briggs, he of the Information Authority, and seemingly boundless capacity to blog; and Jenny Brown, recently arrived at the Department for Health and a part-time social media goddess. Met them both at the Barcamp and they are great colleagues to know. Hope we can work on something great soon.

at the social media cafe last Friday

Kudos to Lloyd for organising these events. I went along to my second social media cafe meet up on Friday at the Coach and Horses in Greek Street, Soho.


A fantastic mix of people were there all really interesting and interested. Don’t have all the business cards in front of me right now so can’t name check everybody but made so great new contacts.

Good conversations too about:

* how we can reach very senior decision makers in government who likely don’t participate in social media at the moment
* How to create, present and sustain social media press releases in organisations
* Creating different kinds of networking events and opportunities for government web people.

I encourage you to come along to the next one if you are at all interested in this stuff.

Why I’ve been a bit of a twit(terer) recently

One of the reasons I’ve been quieter than usual here (apart from organising, and then getting over, the barcamp) is my reappraisal of Twitter.

Twitter, for the initiated, is a micro-blogging tool that allows you to send short messages, about the length of an SMS. These messages are almost immediately received by others who subscribe to your updates. You, in turn, can follow others’ updates an instantly connected community.

So what’s so good about that? After all, on first glance it just looks like the status update tool in Facebook. When it first launched a year or so ago it didn’t seem to have much to it.

When Facebook added status updates to user profiles and the ability to update via mobile, it seemed to me like Twitter was becoming just a little bit superfluous.

Now though things are different. Facebook seems to me to be much quieter than before and most of my interaction there is via private messaging rather than status updates or writing on pe and public messaging. And Twitter is proving to be much more than just letting people knowing what you are doing at a particular time.

Its beauty is its simplicity. Twitter’s proposition is that you have just 140 characters to answer the question. ‘What are you doing?’. So far, so Facebook. But if you observe tweets from other users, you notice a marked difference to Facebook updates. What you are doing doesn’t just mean your current status, but also what you might be thinking, planning, debating, or questioning.

That’s where its value starts to shine through – quick updates, testing ideas, advising friends and colleagues what’s happening.

I’m increasingly advising people that blogging is hard work and labour intensive as a discipline. it needs careful thought, and commitment. Because of this its generally not instantaneous.

Twitter on the other hand is immediate – a short message delivered and received either  via a webpage, an rss feed, an SMS on a phone, blackberry, iphone, instant messenger… Hell, you can even update your Facebook status using Twitter

I’ve tried various ways of using Twitter. At the moment I recommend the Twitbin plug-in for Firefox, though I’m tiring of it because its not comprehensive enough.

Bloggers I have followed for a long time, like Jeremiah Owyang and Steve Rubel, make great use of Twitter, almost to the detriment of their blog posting in terms of frequency and depth. With Twitter, they can throw out an idea and get a very fast response from their readership.

So, what does this mean for the public sector. How could we make use of tools like Twitter? Well, the key is in its convenience. As I said above, I’m increasingly advising people not to blog because of the time and effort commitment. Twitter gets around that problem by lowering those barriers. That in itself is a bonus.

But Jenny Brown put the case for Twitter much better than I ever could in her presentation at the Barcamp. Its well worth a view.

POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote a rough version of this piece a few weeks ago (thus proving my point above that blogging can have a huge lag from draft to publish) I’ve noticed a raft of articles around the subjects of ‘why twitter is still relevant’ or ‘how business can use  twitter’. Which proves one thing, when people are talking about it, it can’t all be hot air.

How appropriate or helpful are anonymous comments?

Amongst other things recently, I’ve been involved in developing some moderation guidelines for a project. A vexing issue is what do with anonymous comments in an online conversation. When are they appropriate and how do we handle them in the context of public sector debate?

I don’t know the answer. Clearly there are online communities where anonymity is one of the central planks they are built on. But what about debates where the other participants are identified? Is it appropriate for unknown individuals to join in?

My personal feeling is I prefer people to identify themselves, at least to the moderator, to establish their genuineness. Otherwise I wonder why they won’t declare themselves – are they agitators? Do they want cause trouble? What is their agenda?

I was thinking about this last week when I came across a new blog by a civil servant who chooses not declare their identity. Its entertaining and a pretty accurate description of life inside a Whitehall department. But two problems come to mind:

  1. It will be too easy to say something inappropriate on the basis that no one knows who you are, and
  2. If the blog gains traction you can bet your bottom dollar that people will do their best to work out who it is – and eventually they will, causing problems for the author.

Most of the good corporate blogging policies that exist are pretty flexible and forgiving, provided the author doesn’t contravene rules around inappropriate comments about the company or other people. ‘Inappropriate’ of course is interpreted differently by different organisations, and I’m not suggesting that the civil service would be the most liberal.

But if you identify yourself as working in a particular place, but don’t reveal your own identity, the clock is probably ticking. Or am I just being too cautious?

I’ve got an unmoderated comment sitting to be approved for my blog about the recent barcamp at the moment. It raises some good points and is a useful part of the debate. Its not controversial but constructively critical.

But for some reason the commenter has chosen to anonymise their response. Can’t for the life of me think why, unless they are embarrased to say what they’re saying in public. Don’t know what to do with it. Will chew it over. My instinct is, no anonymous comments, but does that unintentionally censor the debate? After all, stuff written here is hardly life or death.

Social media isn’t the tools

Might sound blindingly obvious to webbies.

No doubt some of you experience the same conversations with policy colleagues. They’re desperate to have a shiny blog/wiki/forum (delete as appropriate), not interested examining interaction online with existing communities or partnering. They just WANT A BLOG, NOW!

Then you mention resourcing the initiative. Facilitation, moderation, community management. Whatever. This is the point at which you often lose them. When the realise the true scale of online engagement. They thought it was easy…

Anyway, this isn’t some rant about educating customers about the correct interactions, tools and uses of social media I promise. That can no doubt wait until another day (and another, and another…).

No, its a simple observation about how generating and keeping momentum in online engagement is absolutely paramount and not to be underestimated in its resource intensity.

Remember my post a few months back about the civil service network in Facebook? (do people still use Facebook..?). When I wrote about it, the network had reached a massive 13,022 members and was growing at a rate of around 200 per day. Full of thrusting young new faststream entrants who live online. Digital natives, if you will.

As the community built a head of steam. One of the wiser, (slightly) older heads in government who ‘gets this stuff’ asked a particularly pertinent question:

“Wow! 13,000 civil servants in one place! What do we do now?”

The response was staggering in its response – just a few dozen suggesting, variously, starting a new union, having a party, changing a lightbulb and (my favourite) forming a committee (how mandarin like)…

Can’t say I visit the network’s page very often given the staggering depth of conversation that goes on there but tonight I dipped in for a minute to discover…..

Nearly 8,000 members of the network have disappeared. Now I appreciate there’s staff turnover and all but that’s a drastic reduction in the numbers. It just goes to show that you can deploy the tools and create the spaces but without energy and enthusiasm you’re going to face an uphill struggle.

Even in Facebook with its exposure and scale. It just took me a minute to find the ‘leave this network’ link (bottom left of any network homepage if you’re interested) which leads me to conclude two things: its harder to leave than just to stay a member so its a real conscious decision to depart and I can’t believe that all those 8,000 have left Facebook in its entirety. Perhaps they really didn’t want their other ‘friends’ to know they are civil servants?

FCO is web 2.Go

Its already been ‘exclusively revealed’ elsewhere, and even trailed in the national press. Now some of the ‘exciting stuff’ I alluded to the other day has gone live: the Foreign Office’s multi-channel social media initiative.

Combining multiple blogs, a Youtube channel and a Flickr account, the FCO has gone full steam ahead embracing social media tools for a different kind of online engagement, particularly for government.

Of course it helps that they have an enlightened and experience secretary of state to help blaze the trail, but whats interesting about this iteration is that they have depersonalised the initiative somewhat and made it more collegiate. Instead of just one blogger (though no doubt David Miliband will be the focal point) they’ve recruited six from right across the organisation: politicians, diplomats and officials (who said civil servants cannot blog?….). My guess is they’ve learnt the lessons of the foreign secretary’s previous departments: when you lose your blogger, you lose your blog.

The integration of Youtube and Flickr also looks good too. I understand that all six bloggers have been kitted out with gear to allow them to record, edit and upload as seamlessly as possible. I’m also glad to see that they’ve enabled comments on the Youtube and Flickr accounts, something that the Number 10 effort has not enabled.

All in all, it a pretty neat execution, it will be interesting to see what they do next (I have no idea, just guessing….).

Whitehall’s really getting social media now

At the quarterly government heads of e-communication meeting this afternoon. Sure I’ve mentioned this little shindig before, a chance for head webbies from the various departments to get together chew the cud and solve the worlds problems…

No surprises that there has been a great deal of interest in social media over the last nine months or so (when we’ve managed to collectively draw breath over website rationalisation).

When I was working on the government communications social media review we discovered an awful lot of experimenting going on around departments, some of it good some of it not so good. The great thing was that it was happening, even if it didn’t always seem to be clearly defined. But the piloting was patchy, really confined to a few more forward thinking departments. Everyone else was keen to find out more and there was great appetite for this stuff.

That was around February / March time. The review was a good snapshot of activity at that time but its already out of date.

By early summer, appetites had been wetted and plans were being drawn up by others to invest (a lot of) time and (a little) money in utilising social media tools to prove their value (and to stop policy bods saying that they ‘wanted a blog’ without really knowing why).

Proof of the change in understanding can be seen in some recent innovations such as the Our NHS blog – using the technology in the right context and not just to use the technology.

But even that mindset has been overtaken. Today, the talk was about exploiting the range of tools and online communities to promote, explain and involve citizens in government policy initiatives. I don’t want to steal others’ thunder before anything gets released but there is some really exciting stuff just around the corner. I’ll let you know when it finally sees the light of day, but I’ll give you a hint: everyone’s favourite online politician and is involved. Simon Dickson will be so pleased he asked the question first….

Struggling to do ‘sexy’ stuff with protected IT systems

A common bugbear of mine, how to deploy interesting applications and tools (blogs, wikis etc) on our platform. That’s a tough one. Part of my role is to try to improve our online offerings to staff and the world, sometimes it feels like the IT department’s role is to stop me.

That’s not really fair is it? What they are actually doing is protecting a stable, business critical environment. And they do it well. The consequence is that takes ages and ages of negotiations, documentations, feasibility studies ad infinitum to do anything new and interesting. That of course can make simple things expensive, never mind the actual time accrued.

Increasingly people are looking outside the corporate environment to deploy new stuff quickly. That’s totally understandable and good of course. Its an opportunity to test concepts, stability and security of applications and prove their value. All these things help to prove the business case for corporate adoption (eventually).

I guess its not just government webbies who have this problem, it certainly cut across me several times in the corporate world and that’s not surprising. They share similar cultures to large government departments.

Then I came across this post the other day by Chris Anderson, editor-in chief of Wired magazine (and author of The Long Tail amongst other things).

It made me think, if that is the circumvention that he has to make to do interesting things, we should actively seek to circumvent our IT departments. To promote innovation and to protect the corporate environment. Its a win-win situation when you think about it like that!

Trying to balance real and online life

Apologies for the radio silence, family illness has made it difficult to post over the last few days. But this event fits quite neatly into something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and tried to do something about while I was away on holiday.

Over the last year or so I’ve found myself increasingly drowning in links, requests to connect, RSS feeds etc etc. The more I did online, the more the addiction grabbed me.

So I took my laptop away with me (doesn’t that in itself suggest some kind of problem?!) and determined to reduce the digital clutter in my life, and make some more time for me and my family. Every time I checked my feed reader I cross-referenced stories against similar feeds and discovered that one or two in each subject area were authoritative enough to cover the others. So I started deleting, and deleting. Until I’d dropped from over 260 feeds down to just below 90 (and around 25 of those are ‘watching feeds – software updates, feeds that reference my employer but are often about government departments abroad so get immediately deleted etc). As I read through the feeds, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one thinking the same thing.

About halfway through I realised that I hadn’t saved the URLs to the deleted blogs. Far from panicking, I sensed relief so plunged on to finish the job. Then I cut down my facebook groups by over half. Then I organised my bookmarks and kicked out over 150 links that have followed me around over the last decade.

Has it made life easier? Too soon to say. I don’t miss any feeds and am more diligent about adding new ones, rule of thumb is one in one out. I’m not sure if it saves me a great deal of time, but the time I spend online feels more productive. If I leave my reader for a day, rather than returning to over 500 unread posts (and getting RSI by pressing ‘delete’ too many times) I’m faced with less than 100 on average. This might sound like a lot, but compared to before its managable. I’m hoping to reduce it further, to less than 50, but find myself now with a rump of legacy sites that I have read for years. Some are nowhere near as good as they used to, but I keep hoping they’ll regain their mojo. They’ll have to go at some point…

Why is all this important for government webbies? As we go around evangelizing about the benefits of social media tools and social networks, is important we are realistic about the amount of time all this stuff could consume. Everybody in government is increasingly busy (contrary to popular opinion) with little time or appetite to take on additional tasks, so we need to be clear about the time implication as well as the benefits.

A colleague recently asked me how long it takes to write a (really, this) blog. I replied that two posts a week (optimistic I know, but thats the new plan – one shorter, one longer) take about an hour each from sitting down to completion (already having had an embryonic idea). This didn’t sound too bad to my colleague.

But later I realised that the writing bit is only the output from all the surfing, reading, networking that I do. With the amount of feeds, memberships and links that I have accumulated I estimate I have spend between 3-5 hours a day on average over the last nine months online. Some of this has been at work, much of it at home. In fact, that’s a very conservative estimate. How can one possibly hope to see the daylight, play with children and generally enjoy life glued to a screen? My spring cleaning of feeds has lifted a great burden without reducing my access to the important stories. Social media is very seductive at the moment, especially in government, its important to respect it and use it, but not be sucked in too far.

So I’m now writing this at a much more sensible 11.15pm, rather than half one in the morning. But its still too late in the evening to be writing…