web 2.0


Well, what I’ve learned recently is that you simply can’t get any kind of great idea up and running without spending your hard-earned cash.

Way back in late 2002 and early 2003 I had an idea for a website that allowed academics and research students to put their CVs online. They’d be of interest to other students or academics and journalists. I bought the address “ExpertMatchMaker.com” and looked for someone to help me put the idea up. I even upgraded my old PC to run XP and downloaded a bittorrented version of Dreamweaver.

But, nothing doing. Who was to know that a few years later LinkedIn and Facebook would be, you know, *huge*.

Maybe 18 months ago I was pestering everyone I knew with more than 5 mins of experience to help me work on my latest idea. What I’d noticed is that what is missing from blogs and sites is the ability to know objectively how well thought of a particular writer is. You can always spend a little time reading a site, its comments, and its general feel and you can get an idea, but I thought it would be great to be able to just glance at a logo or number and get an indication of what you’re in for.

Furthermore, you could use the mechanism you’d need to understand reputation and influence to track who’s reading someone, and rate the influence of their readers and therefore the writer’s influence as well.

I’d planned to call it “Audience” or “Hubbub”.

But there was no interest from anyone for ages, until Miramar Mike got onboard and we started hunting out people.

What we soon learned is that trying to motivate people without fronting cash is damn near impossible. The idea was good, but no developer in town would stick at it

And then the inevitable happened, and the idea has been addressed by none other than Google. And it’s pretty much exactly what I’ve been trying to get people to listen to…

Goes to show.

Pretty fucking frustrating really.

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.

Well, I’m finally back from almost two weeks of jaunting about the place learning about Knowledge Management.

And I’m freaking exhausted. I’ve been in hospital, been in conference, been in hotels and been in dives. Have eaten a range of terrific food and spoken to literally dozens of all kinds of people.

Next is to digest it all, and get up it up here on Dart. Believe me, I have a lot to tell you. The last two weeks have both affirmed and expanded both my confidence in my abilities, and my range of working knowledge. I’m looking forward to unpacking it all slowly and getting it down “on paper” as it were.

Attended (some) of the first day of the Knowledge Management Australia conference here in Melbourne yesterday, and was, to be honest, entirely underwhelmed.

For starters most of the sessions appear to be sales opportunities, not conference papers. Perhaps I’m spoiled by by academic days where papers where all about the lessons and learning, but blatant sales in papers is, quite frankly, tacky. You expect a little of the sales talk, but to endlessly remind people that you’re up for sale is at best annoying.

The second thing is that I know New Zealand is a slow, rural economy. But that doesn’t mean we’re behind the 8-ball in the social media space. The level of patronisation from some of the participants, who I know are behind our thinking, is a little trying. I’ll see how I go today. But if I cop more bullshit then I’m going to Victoria Street and eating dumplings.

Mmmmm… dumplings.

Hopefully the sessions tomorrow, two ‘Masterclasses’ will be a little more interesting challenging.

DAY TWO:

Much better, some interesting papers, and some interesting takes on Web2.0 and other issues. Will probably knock up individual blogs on various subjects as the info beds down.

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.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague this morning that centred on the idea that “the path is wiser than the walker the path is more wise than the walker” (whoops, forgot grammar for awhile there). So, if you’ve come over here to get away from discussions about where the line is drawn on consent, apologies. I’m about to get all conceptual.

The path is more wise than the walker. It’s an interesting idea, and one that ties closely to the kinds of Web2.0 conversations that are all over the internet at the minute. The origins of the idea are apparently Middle Eastern, probably Arabic, and centre on the way in which paths form over time to accomodate the passage of many individuals.

My first thought on hearing it was, “not particularly original idea if you’ve ever watched a path evolve”. But then I realised that most people live in cities or towns where paths have been established for a long time.

For a small town boy like myself though, watching paths spring up in the developing or formerly rural parts of the neighbourhood is normal. When a new road is created you walk on the grass next to it (because a footpath hasn’t been made), and over time a rut forms. And that rut will stay there no matter what.

So again, not such a revolutionary idea. The shortest amount of observation will lead you to noticing it.

Why I found the idea so interesting is because of the environment it developed in. When I was in Australia myself and a couple of friends made a long trip out into the Central Desert. The deep desert as they also call it. It’s some of the most inhospitable landscape on Earth, but life exists there, as have people for tens of thousands of years.

What struck me on that trip was how obviously superimposed the road we travelled was. This road had been pushed in more or less a straight line into the desert, oblivious to the environment itself, and ignorant of the way the land lay. We’d often travel strange distances from water sources for example, and large stands of stubby trees would disappear far on the horizon. But, had we been walking then these features would have been a necessary fixture of our journey. You’d want to get close to any water, and you’d want to find that shady spot under a tree. The modern road ignored these needs though, because we, as modern men, made our own path and struck them in direct as possible a way.

Around us though, the desert ignored us. And that’s the thing about deserts, man can’t change or control them they way he can more ‘user-friendly’ landscapes. You have to adapt, or a desert will kill you in the blink of an eye.

So when you make a path through a desert, you adapt it to it. The path is dictated not by convenience, or how a man thinks it should unfold, but by the environment itself. And more importantly, that path is rarely the product of a single man. The path is the combined footsteps of many men necessarily following the dictates of the environment. The path is in effect the combined responses of many men trying to get from where they are to where they’re going, all of them responding in a similar way to the deserts hostility.

In a way, all these Web2.0 and social media applications we’re constantly talking about can act like that path. Books like the Wisdom of Crowds and Here Comes Everybody have already stated these ideas with a focus on modern groups controlling the internet environment, but the aphorism ‘the path is more wise than the walker’ made me think that it is possible for the nature of something to necessarily dictate how the crowd itself will respond.

We’re kind of swept up in the idea that we are in control of the Web with 2.0, but there is still the possibility that it continues to dictate to us the way in which we travel and interact with the interweb as a landscape. And that is a very interesting idea, because it introduces a subtle change to any thinking about the wisdom of the masses, one that forces us to take a closer look at how applications and social processes will influence the continuing development and evolution of Web2.0.

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.

As part of my mission to bring social media into the public service (although I can’t claim this one for myself, the State Service Commission seems be all over it), I’ve been making myself establish and work with clear concepts.

So, why clear conceptualisation? When you’re trying to sell a social media product or idea within your agency, you’re likely to run into a lot of people who don’t necessarily ‘get’ what “the Web2.0 stuff” is all about. The internet tolls are just the internet, you know, lovely and all that, but not really all that useful unless you’re wanting naked people or banking.

So to combat the problem of confusion about the medium and it’s potential I’ve found it useful to break people down into three separate types. It’s a pretty simple distinction, and goes like this:

  1. Content Users – These are people who really only use the internet to breeze over sites. To read newspapers, maybe do their banking. Their engagement with the internet, or their respective intranet, is entirely superficial. They will likely more about what’s under the bonnet of their car or where the biscuits are in the kitchen that what makes the internet hum.
  2. Content Interactors – These are people who are ‘kind-of’ Web2.0. They might have a blog from when they went on their OE, or might use Flickr. They’re aware of the potential of internet, but for any given reason just don’t exploit it. They will most probably leave a comment on a blog of news-outlet story, but that’s about it.
  3. Content Generators – These are the people who really get a kick out of user-oriented, Web2.0 applications. They will blog or have their own websites. They’ll be addicted to Wikipedia. And they know how to push information or content out via the web, and probably consume much of their input from electronic sources.

Simple. There are hundreds of other models out there, but this one works nicely for me in my role as a public servant.

Why it’s useful is firstly because the three types can easily be found in any workplace. Second, they decrease in population as you proceed from Users to Generators. All Generators started out as Users, but not all Users develop into Generators. This means that in any workplace you’ll only ever get a few people who are able or willing to fully engage with whatever social media application you’re trying to establish or sell, but lots who will want to read or look at something useful.

Knowing that your full audience is limited to only a few people is actually powerful, because you can design your service or tool, a wiki for instance, to meet the needs of the colleagues who will generate content for it. You don’t need to try to sell it to everyone, because you know for a fact that not everyone can exploit the tools you build.

However, everyone does need to be able to use it. The trick it seems is to run a happy middle ground between traditional ‘push’ media, i.e. the old-fashioned intraweb, and also needing to ‘pull’ people onto the application where they can interact and/or generate content. If you can design a business model for your social media that exploits the difference in types, and optimises these differences, your nifty social media project might just end up coming along swimmingly.

PS. Here’s a diagram, draw by Hadyn Green!

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