Common User

Me rambling on.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Our Social World

On Friday I went to oursocialworld in Cambridge. A fine day where the rapid fire presentations were interspersed with bibilical cracks of thunder from outside and some nice flapjacks. As is usually the way with these things the format was a succession of 9-10 Keynote/Powerpoints; so in descending order...

- Ben Hammersley had another successful (and thoroughly entertaining) go at arguing how there were parallels between blogging and 18th century pamphleteering and that Tatler published the first blog. One day I'll have a go at this tempting parlour game and paint amusing parallels between the blogosphere and the proliferation of DIY publishing and punk zines of the the late 70s where Danny Baker and Mark Perry were the Scobles/Kottkes of their day. But with Letraset, Carrier Bags and Permanent Markers. I will inevitably fail.

- Simon Phipps from Sun Microsystems talked about the process of setting up In the space of a few months Sun Microsystems had 500 public staff bloggers and their CEO; Jonathan Schwartz was hard at it knocking out some pithy thoughts late at night once he's put his kids to bed. He also revealed the benefits that this has brought Sun in enabling an honest and direct conversation with its industry. (but few examples how exactly). Clearly marketing/PR have had the wind put up em. I didn't get round to asking him how/if a supposedly impartial (mostly) not technical broadcaster could/should do the same.

- Johnnie Moore got us doing some improv drawing but also talked about the relationship between consumers and big brands could be disrupted when he, as a matter of fact, revealed he was one of the co-authors of a independent Sainsburys blog; 173 Drury Lane. (the street of the very first J Sainsburys shop). Except Sainsburys hadn't really noticed. Surprisingly the BBC has relatively few of these I suspect, because you're not exactly short of BBC commentary in big media. Every single day. Inevitably some of the best blogging insights into the BBC are from BBC staff themselves. Apart from these dedicated licence fee payers of course.

- Loic le Meur from Six Apart (the owners of LiveJournal, MovableType and Typepad) talked about European blogging and their success with integrating blogging (and their software) into "big" media organisations (Le Monde), and how radio stations in France by endorsing blogging and showcasing it for the young people have resulted in nearly 3m French having a go. Blimey.

- Lee Bryant from Headshift announced in amidst several slides (pdf) discussing the role of social tagging in developing shared meaning and language, an impressive looking new project; Patient Opinion where using the feedback loop, geo-location of NHS services, blog type architecture, user tagging and self categorisation, then hey presto a bloody impressive conversational/accountable tool. Could it work for another national treasure providing free at the point of delivery services for every UK taxpayer ?

- Euan Semple (of this parish) showed some screenshots of talk.gateway, connect.gateway and our internal blogs and revealed that Richard Sambrook's blog was set up because so many people used to ask Richard; "What do you do all day ?". As one of his bloglines subscribers it turns that the answer is "quite a bit". He also argued that because of the directness and honesty of Sambrook's blog postings and because their consumption is a clear subscription model then they tend to have more impact than the staffwide emails of other executives at the BBC.

- Suw Charman talked about her work as a blogging consultant. But i missed this bit as i was having a row with my bank about my overdraft. Sorry Suw.

- Hugh Macleod briefly referred to the usage > buzz > advocacy dilemma of marketing and the potential of blogs in this area (see Technogoggles commentary) when he revealed the history of how he (and his client) had set out to sell a brand of wine. A nice dry Rose as it happens which was on offer for free at close of play along with some olives and sun blush (why not dried?) tomatoes.

Ross Mayfield the boss of Socialtext demoed Wikiwyg which looks very impressive. Its a, er wyswyg tool for wikis. He also criticised the use of the phrase "user generated content". "I hate that phrase" he says arguing that actually language and framing really do matter if you intend ot have a relationship with your users and that such initiatives (to succeed) need shared control as this is the only way to foster trust amongst participants.

As is usually the way with these things the most provocative and useful presentation of the day came from one of my colleagues; Tom Coates. Although he rightfully passed on the the challenge of defining "social software" he had a go at defining current themes in i dunno, social media and showed a couple of proofs of concepts that he'd been working on in with his BBC Radio and Music colleagues. He also touched on (substantial) developments in this area that weren't blogs which was the dominant theme for the rest of the day.
Tom's themes from the top:

Social Software with an individual goal or "social software with a point".

If you give users the ability to share, some ability to self-categorise and commit to openness (the distributed internet) and the primary focus is an individual act (storing and showing off my pictures) there can be incredible collective value. Tom and also Max Niederhofer (later in the afternoon) went further arguing that more importantly its giving users objects (an event, a picture, a radio show) that is a pre-condition in allowing allow users to express themselves. Tom (and his ex-colleague; Matt Biddulph) and others have elsewhere concluded that this is an important driver in making these networks flourish. Furthermore the objects need standard unique identifiers. Now these clearly exist for books, and to a certain extent for music tracks (CDDB) but its been their absence for programmes (either TV or Radio) that led to an infrastructure project at the BBC called Programme Information Pages (pdf) that both Tom and Matt (and others) worked on.
Examples: Flickr (photos), (events)

Collaborative Annotation of Media, Your Stuff.

Another example where given certain tools and pre-conditions, individual annotation and actions can lead to collective value.

Examples: (bookmarks), and because I''ve just had a look at it theguardian's new Travel Guide; "Been There".

Tom showed off an interesting proof of concept that took audio streams and allowed users to annotate (using Wiki functionality) radio features/shows at various time junctions. This breaking down of programmes into micro content combined with a neat way of thinking about sociality (but obviously for someone who works for a broadcaster based around audio/video) was interesting and not something that the early A/V Flickr type apps(Youtube )

Collaborative Creation of Media

Where thousands (although in Wikipedia's case andI always forget this, its still skewed towards a fairly small set of editors, moderators and writers who do 90% of the 'work' and the rest being done by the masses who make 1 or 2 edits a month.
eg: Wikipedia

New Ways of Sharing Experiences

eg: last FM
Tom also showed off the proof of concept for Phonetags (which plays on some of the functionality of Audioscrobbler/Last FM and combines it with Radio and a neat use of SMS)

New Ways of Harnessing Individual Creativity or Play. Aggregating behaviour.
eg: microformats
There are obviously dozens of examples here but Tom cited this one which is a new project by Kevin Marks from Technorati which attempts to solve the issue of having thousands of distributed content forms (eg: reviews) in many format. What if we could recognise them and present them back as meaningful feeds/sources. ?

Don't know if Tom is gonna post up his slides and apologies in advance for any misattribution but these 5 themes ended up being a useful framework for me thinking my way through this maze and not falling into the trap of launching YASNS. Thanks Tom.

And thanks to Geoff Jones for putting the whole shebang together.


At 6:04 am, Blogger technogoggles said...

YASNS - funny. A nice summary Jem. Shame we couldn't do a beer at the end.

And what happened to your last blog? your indie kid muso blog?

At 9:56 am, Blogger Jem said...

Its still there: latest entry alarmingly about why i like Jem (you know the Dido one) and why thats actually alright. No really it is.


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