bloggers


If you’re not a regular reader of Bat, Bean, Bean, then let me commend the blog to you.

And this is especially the case in regard the last post.

Would that we call could write as well as Giovanni Tiso, immigrant and speaker of English as a second language.

Well, Idiot/Savant put in a request for a Tarte Tatin a few weeks back, and I thought I’d give it a go.

First try? Not so great.

The caramel hasn’t really worked. Ideally it would sit high on the apples and form a delicious layer.

Also, the apples are way too soggy. Will cook for a few minutes less next time, and use the crunchiest apples possible.

Finally, I used a cast-iron skillet for the cooking, but didn’t clean it properly. You can faintly taste garlic or something in the butter.

That said? Chef Du Plunge and I ate about a quarter of it before Second Chef got home!

So here’s something, I’m most of the way through Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, and I’ve almost had enough. It’s an interesting book, and I agree with many of is premises and arguments because I’ve thought them myself. For instance, his assertion that you shouldn’t fret about all the stuff being written on the net. It seems that because we’re used to stuff being directed at us we tend to assume that everything we read in social media is written for us. But this simply isn’t the case.

Most social media is written for a small group of people known to the author, although this group may vary from topic to topic, and the stuff is put out into the ether as a complement to day to day conversation. Or put another, slightly more theoretical way, our embodied selves are now extended and expanded into cyberspace. The SciFi writers are already all over that one though, with independent avatars working to process or accumulate additional embodied knowledge for us a common (some would say banal) feature of contemporary novels.

What has annoyed me about Shirky and other authors boosting the “Web2.0s” is the constant carping about how social media will fundamentally transform the way our society works. So, you, Shirky, and that guy who wrote Wikinomics, we get the picture!! Move on, please. Yes, social media has allowed the masses to free up their voices, and centralised organisation no longer carries the weight it did. And, we can now harness multiple points of thought to achieve what it used to take hierarchical organisation to achieve. But where to next?

After working with and reading about social media for a bit now, I’m in agreement that it is a revolution in social organisation and creation of information. In day to day terms that means we are able to access more and better information from across the globe, if we know how. And if we don’t know how then there are more and more people stepping into the market opportunity that is; filtering signal from all the noise. But does that mean that people are better at utilising the unprecedented amounts of information they have access to? 

Are we actually any wiser?

Awhile back I heard a geezer from Canterbury University speaking about IQ testing. Apparently average IQs in this day and age are much higher than the turn of the C20th. But, he argued, this is mostly because the kinds of intellect the tests are looking for is now far more prevalent, and primarily due to modern education. So rather than intelligence being higher, the kinds of thinking we’re teaching is well entrenched enough that more people score higher on the test to see if that education is entrenched. If you get what I mean.

So people aren’t actually smarter, they’re just better trained in the way the academy wants us to think.

This suggests to me that increased information won’t actually change people themselves. It will however recondition our society to know how to manage large volumes of, for want of a better word, crap. Something I toyed with a wee while back was the idea that ‘the path is wiser than the walker‘. In the context we’re talking about here, the shape of the interweb is influenced by the way that people act. Lots of people using social media leads to lots of noise of a particular sort, and there are signals for some contained therein. Social media in effect creates a series of “paths” followed by people, and which over time become “the place to get information”. Witness Wikipedia.

The revolution produced by social media really just means that we produce reliable information for each other, and don’t source this same consumable from corporations. Nothing new in that statement though.

Where this big circle of wondering leads me to is, how much are we creating the web, and how much is the web creating us? Because I’m inclined to think that our increasing dependency on the interweb to source and manage our information will begin to influence social thought itself in much the same way as education has shaped IQs. The production of noise becomes normal and expected, with the most valuable members of society becoming those who can filter for signal.

I got a request from someone who’s moving into a public service role to outline some dos and don’ts in respect of social media and the government job, so thought that I’d put up some of the best references I’ve seen around the place. I also thought that I’d generally repeat a few things I learned when first moving into the public service (the only real game in town if you’re a Wellingtonian, other than Wellywood or Silicon Welly).

The first thing to note is that there are good resources. I’ve found Jason Ryan’s postings at  the NPSC blog to be invaluable. If you’re really keen on the use of social media, and you think your new agency could use some, or could use some guidance, then get yourself over to the SSC (State Services Commission) and hunt about for the guidelines. They have a community of practice that you could refer to as well. Finally, there are sites like So Said the Organisation that talk about the experiences of other jurisdictions, and the British government seems to have published a Guide really recently, which I can’t find just now (and would appreciate someone linking to.)

If you’re not predisposed to doing a bit of research before you get into the blogging, podcasting, twittering, wiki editing, or other things I’d been doing, then the GOLDEN RULE when using social media is:

DO NOT, under any circumstances, BE A DICK.

It’s pretty much that simple. The wonderful thing about social media is that it allows you to express yourself freely, and to engage with people all over the world, online. The very real risk this poses is that anything and everything you do or say is permanently recorded by Google Cache. Consequently, if you find yourself having a bit too much coffee in the morning, and you’re the type to blow your stack about things like, for example, trolls saying outrageous things about people you might know, then if your response to that troll will be visible to the whole world.

Why this is a problem is the complicating factor of the Public Service Code of Conduct. Basically the Code can be interpreted to say that you are a representative of the government when speaking in public. You should recognise yourself that the internet is a very public space. Likewise, the Code says that you should maintain the confidence of both Government and Opposition. This obviously means that you’ll need to make sure that your opinions, assuming that you’re putting your opinions online, which is not always a good idea, are politically neutral.

You should be able to get the idea from this short run-down. What it all boils down to is the application of common sense. Just don’t go doing things that could embarrass you, and the boss you’ve disclosed your social media activities to, i.e. operate a “no surprises” policy.

Easy-peesy.

A decision I made shortly after leaving Public Address was to not make the mistake of starting to blog under a pseudonym. The problem was that as newly-minted public servant in 2005, and it also being election year, it had been extremely difficult not to make extensive comment about subjects one does not broach when in the employ of the Crown. In plain English, I had to learn to keep my mouth shut.

And it wasn’t easy, and I failed sometimes.

When I kicked off Object Dart here my first thought was that it would be easy to assume a non-de-plume and get to blogging, and saying whatever the heck I wanted. The main hurdle to this idea was that “Che Tibby” had become something of a brand (for better or worse) over at PA, so losing the title would mean losing some potential readers who might want to migrate. Ego is, after all, a powerful motive.

But more importantly, I knew that using the pseudonym would doubtless get me in to a little bit of grief. Something I had been aware of for a while (mostly because I was guilty of doing it) was the inappropriate pressing of the “hot send” button. The crew at Sir Humphries were on the receiving end of it a number of times. There were quite a few issues I used to feel a lot more excited about, and if I was hopped up on coffee I would happily give out a broadside. Nazis used to drive me over the edge… I really hate the damn nazis…

As my intended brief stint in the public service has dragged out to a couple of years I’m finding that the anger about issues is abating, and the abatement seems to be doing good things for my general levels of stress. So I think it’s with actual online experience I can now dish out advice to other members of the public service who might like to get themselves into the Web2.0.

Tip #1. Using phrases like “Web2.0″ is sooooo 2007. What was Web2.0 is now OEM and not a big deal.

Tip #2. Blog, twitter, edit Wikipedia and comment places under your real name. If you’ve genuinely got the time to be engaging and/or relationship building online, then the pseudonym will or could get you into hot water.

I’ve covered this ground before, but Poneke’s recent experience with some of the seamier side of the blogosphere clearly demonstrates that there are people out there who will likely try to “get you” simply because you’re a public servant. We’re not the most popular occupation at the best of times, so the public finding out that we’re “wasting time/money” by putting our private lives online is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Using a non-de-plume, which is inevitably found out, can only add suspicion to the minds of non-interweb people who probably don’t know what the hell you do on a good day, let alone one where your hangover or mood doesn’t let you reach that exalted stage of “most productive”.

It was better therefore to go under my on name (which a surprising number of people thought was a pseudonym anyhow!) Firstly this allows me to own whatever I do online. There can be no cases of mistaken identity, and no getting my workmates under the same IP address in any trouble (Wikipedia editing anyone…). Secondly, it actively prevents me from straying into to ‘hot send’ territory. This is especially the case if I’m commenting from a work computer.

Thing is, the day is almost here where interaction online is no longer frowned upon in the workplace. All indications are that professional people should be able to self-regulate their internet usage, and that general levels of web interaction and use of applications will increase accordingly.

The risk is that public servants are tempted to say things online they might happily say in the pub, and that this is recorded permanently. My own view is that using a pseudonym will only increase the likelihood that an individual will take that risk. You only have to look at the behaviour of public servants around key or interest-specific issues (such as the seabed and foreshore), to see that people do occasionally step across the line.

But Google doesn’t cache a bit of protest. It does almost everything else. So keeping it all above board means your future self might not find a sudden rush of cold-water poured on an otherwise spotless career.

Oh, and Tip #3. Don’t write about, hint about, or blurt about work. Ever.

I feel it’s important to mark a particular milestone here on Object Dart. This blog was started back in March of 2007 after a brief hiatus from the blogosphere (some might say a well-earned rest, but that’s not entirely true). In that first month I pulled in a massive 1100 uniques, which while not comparing to the success of bloggers like Poneke, I was well pleased with, if not only because I was striking out on my own.

The next month I pulled 900. You can imagine my disappointment.

Well, the traffic has been ticking over slowly, and has really surged since making the effort to put more onto this site than just descriptions of books and the like. And then there was the sharing my energy too much and blogging all over town…

And I’m glad to report that May 2008 was my best month yet! 5000 uniques. Hardly a drop compared to the traffic Mr Brown gets, and not quite enough for me to give up the day job and retire to full-time writing, but enough to make me a somewhat happier blogger.

So, to all those of you who come along for the read, thanks. It’s good to see people mention on other sites that they’re being inspired to eat something decent, or read something interesting.

Why Poneke has decided to take down his very successful, highly entertaining, and extremely informative blog is a mystery to me.

I’ve read the Google Reader RSS but the site itself seems to have disappeared.

This is a real tragedy for the New Zealand blogsphere. While wideboys like Cameron Slater continue to throw their weight around and push rabid bullshit out into the interweb, people like Poneke bring their blogs down.

Now, is anyone else suspicious about the timing of Poneke’s criticism of Whale Oil Beef Hooked, and Poneke being taken down? Just seems strange to me.

Mostly because of a series of thinly veiled threats I was receiving here on Dart a year or so back. Things like threats to my employment. The emails and attempted comments were all lodged through anonymouse, a service you have to be a canny internet user to know about.

Very strange indeed.

Wow. Attended a pretty damn interesting MayDay Group dinner last night.

If you get a chance to attend one of these things, jump at it. Some pretty sharp Web2.0 minds in there, and they’re dead keen to get all kinds of ideas out to people.

If I understand it right, basically they’re giving ideas away?

One of the bad things about Wellington is that it’s in reality little more than a fishing village, with all the pitfalls of a narrow community and everybody knowing everybody. But on the other hand, it’s a fishing village…

This means is that if you’re the sort of person who relies on networking and knowledge then, if you’re at all socially adept, it’s easy to engage other people on topics of mutual interest. The result is that the information sloshing around Wellington can at times be exceptionally rich. Add the information and knowledge buzzing around in this wee place to an increasing ‘smart’ internet and you’ve got a lot of stuff going on that can be tapped into for ideas and that terrible but buzzy phrase “knowledge generation”.

My enthusiasm for Wellington and New Zealand in general was dampened a little when this blog came through my RSS yesterday from Miramar Mike. While I haven’t scratched beneath the surface to check the background reading, it struck a cord. Basically, New Zealanders are seen internationally as “nice but naive”. Easy to do business with, but not ‘players’.

Personally that’s why I like the place, you can share ideas with only low-level concern about people ripping you off. But, another way to look at it is, you can share ideas because people are too lazy or casual to motivate themselves to knick your concepts. So if you’re thinking that Wellington might be the place to get a knowledge-exchange-based economy happening, then you’re fighting “laid-backness” and low business acumen.

“Choice”… as they say in the vernacular.

Whether New Zealanders actually do have low acumen is probably a moot point. The blog referred to above discusses a Trade and Enterprise Commission survey of international businesses. Like any survey you have to take it with a grain of salt. But then anyone who’s done their OE can tell you that things are ‘harder’ in other countries.

So how does this ‘less-hard-edge’ impact on the advantages of Wellington as a place to create a knowledge economy? I’m slowly coming round to the idea that it’s actually an advantage.

A book I’ve been thinking about more and more recently is Charles Stross’ Accelerando. It took a while for the ideas to digest properly, but they’re pretty big. The one that grabbed me the most is the modus operandi of the main character, who in the first novella (the book is actually a collection of short stories with a set of central characters) spends his time giving ideas away. And the story progresses from there.

It’s the idea of giving ideas away that really struck a cord for me though. It seems that the internet is crawling with content generators who are competing to share more ideas that anyone else. Everywhere you turn there’s someone who has the latest scoop, thought, idea, approach, take or helpful suggestion. Giving stuff away is pretty much normal on the interweb.

But as a business model? How they heck would that work? Giving stuff away doesn’t make you money!

I’m not so sure though. The competition in the interweb is really centred on giving away good ideas. Bad ideas are little more than noise, and the trick to the web is finding the signals. If you’re just getting static, for instance bullshit about politics and/or personal opinions, then you’re probably not reading actual content generators, you’re probably reading content interactors. Worse, you’re reading content users twittering about the stuff the generators and interactors are actually doing… [NB: Blog on users vs. interactors vs. generators to follow].

Face-to-Face interaction hugely supplements a person’s ability to clearly distinguish information signals on the web. There’s no greater time efficiency than talking an idea through with like-minded people, after all. A conversation that could be misconstrued or misinterpreted online is more likely to be understood when discussed in the real world. And it’s exactly that ability, to easily discuss ideas, that Wellington offers. Consequently you can have the best of both worlds. Online idea dissemination, and clarity of discussion and thought at the pub. For a bit that is… everything after four pints is “socialisation”.

And how is this a business model?

1. A knowledge economy is all about dependencies. Maybe you can’t actually build everything you dream up. But maybe someone else can.

2. Giving away good ideas will make people suspicious that the ones you aren’t giving away must be really, really, freaking good.

I was sent a very interesting journal article today that addresses the issue of online solicitation of teenagers. There’s a lot of speculation and fear-mongering in the media around this issue, with the conventional wisdom being that minors are at extreme risk of solicitation from predators. And as it turns out, this is not the case.

The first time I heard someone state that most teenagers were actually only talking to people they know, and not strangers, was when Danah Boyd presented at the Great Blend last year. It seemed to make more sense than the ‘endemic internet predator’ meme, because most teens seem smart enough to not be victims waiting to happen.

And it turns out that some published research supports this. In a journal called Child Abuse and Neglect Mitchel, Wolak and Finkelhor present some really interesting findings about internet behaviour among teens, and relate that behaviour to incidences of two types of dangerous internet activity, solicitation and harassment.

The article is here for you to read yourself, but the gist is this. Online solicitation is not likely to increase if your teen (or, if you’re a teen, you or one of your friends) uses social media like blogs. However, if the same person engages with strangers then they’re statistically likely to experience attempts at solicitation and predation. I doubt that anyone would find that surprising.

Further in the “not surprising” category is that 73% of solicitors are male, and 39% were over 18. The vast majority (86%) were people the internet user didn’t know in person. But, the indicator of risk for these users wasn’t exposure to solicitation, it was the willingness to engage with strangers. In other words, if your internet user is the sort who’s willing to talk to strangers, they’re also likely to be the sort who are at risk of being lured into predation.

What this suggests is that if you have some kind of influence over an internet user, i.e. if you’re their parent, don’t worry about what they’re doing online. Worry about them being uncomfortably friendly with strangers, a behaviour you might be able to see in the real world. Also worry if they display other risk factors like isolation from their peers, or you, their parents (this wasn’t strongly stated in the article, but it was implied).

The surprising finding to me was about harassment. Apparently 9% of youths in the study had experienced online harassment. But, 50% of the harassers were female, and 58% were 17 or younger! That ran against my assumption that males were more aggressive online… Furthermore, 45% of the harassers were known to the internet user. This suggests that real world bullying translates online.

Overall, the study is probably good proof that what’s needed isn’t scare stories about the dangers of the internet, but better instruction in how to deal with unwanted attention. Kids, and people in general, probably just need to learn how to switch off particular types of bad behaviour.

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