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About The Authors

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

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Corante Blog

Friday, July 23rd, 2004

Welcome to Strange Attractor

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

“When [a] process is applied to the function

f: (z) –> a + b z exp i[k - p/(1 + |z|2)]

a strange attractor emerges … With a suitable choice of parameters all sorts of different swirled and folded patterns can be made.”

– from Strange & Complex

If you could visually represent the ebb and flow of my thoughts, you’d find a lot of swirly folded patterns emerging. The cause? Blogs - my very own strange attractors.

But blogs have a far wider effect than just making me think in swirly folded patterns, they are perturbing the business world as well. A disruptive technology that is more often than not smuggled in through the back door by evangelist employees, blogs are helping to unite previously scattered communities of interest.

Like instant messaging, blogging is gaining such a strong foothold amongst business users that by the time the management realises they have been infiltrated, they no longer have the power to switch it off. The corporate cat has to sit back and watch as the Trojan Mouse struts its stuff.

The thing about strange attractors is that they bring their own kind of beautiful order to chaos, but it is still chaos. You don’t really see the strange attractor, you just see the chaos flowing around it and know where it is.

– Joi Ito

In this blog, I want to understand the processes and functions that create these strange attractors, these swirly folded patterns. What makes for a successful blog? How do we counter high churn rates and rapid abandonment? And how do we implement blogs in business in a way that engages users and brings most benefits?

Over the coming months, I will be examining these questions as well as looking at some of the side issues, for example, what is the role of storytelling in business blogging? Are the best bloggers also the best storytellers? Or does content trump language?

What comes after Cluetrain?

Imposing command-and-control solutions to business problems - particularly around knowledge management (a jaded term if ever I heard one), e-learning (ditto) and internal communications - has been shown to be ineffectual. Instead, statements of facts are being replaced by conversations and the flow of mutable, context-sensitive information from person to person in an intimate and informal manner. The important behaviours are emergent, bottom-up, organic.

New paradigms are coming not from theorists saying ‘This is how I think you should work’, or from software companies saying ‘This is how we will make you work’, but from people bending a diverse set of tools to their will on a day-to-day basis. Danny O’Brien’s LifeHacks translated into non-geek terms.

If you have come over from my personal blog at Chocolate and Vodka, you’ll already know that random chaos is my base state - my mind tends to skip about a lot. It’s a useful trait, however, as my job here is to be the butterfly that flits from flower to flower, hopefully stirring up a storm in the process.

So, settle in, get yourself subscribed to the RSS feed, and enjoy. I still have a bit of rearranging of furniture to complete, but I hope you will bear with me whilst I decide where the sofa goes. Next to the window, perhaps?

– Suw

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20 Responses to “Welcome to Strange Attractor”

  1. Stowe Boyd Says:

    Welcome, Suw.

    I think this is the beginning of something great.

  2. hugh macleod Says:

    Yay, Suw!!!

  3. Steph Says:

    This is exciting! :-)

  4. dreww Says:

    people were worried about ‘the echo chamber’ 6 months ago; the unimaginable increase in the vapid, inane cacophony since is the worst thing to happen to internet content since push technology.

    excuse me while i vomit.

  5. Gary Turner Says:

    A strangely attractive prospect. Great news.

    GT

  6. Michael O'Connor Clarke Says:

    Great stuff. If you can provide a solid answer to even one of those questions, you’ll be doing us all a big service. Stuff it - even if you continue to examine the questions in your own inimitable, incisive way;- that will still be a massively worthwhile, readable, and interesting exercise.

    Congratulations on the new gig, Suw - and kudos to Hylton and Stowe for starting this one up.

  7. Ralf Says:

    Great, Suw! If I had anticipated that you are going to get famous, I had ask you for an autograph in Vienna. ;-)
    I wish you success, and hope that your blog will remain longer online and alive than some other promising Corante-Blogs like “Corante On Blogging” and the “Microcontent News”.

  8. fp Says:

    Baby, baby… this is great. Best wishes for your continuing work at Corante.

  9. andrew Says:

    w00t! I can comment here without bloody registering. Good.

    Firstly, a belated congratulations, hug and grin, in whatever order you prefer.

    Secondly, this post reminds me of a line I read mebbe 20 years’ back in Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher and Bach — which I can’t look up due to no longer having the book cos I lent it to someone — but it was to do with Poincaré maps. These, I sort of gather are 2-dimensional slices of the multi-dimensional wanderings of a strange attractor, kinda like that dead dude who was sliced into wafers and scanned for med students to play with. Slice the space the right way and you can see orbits and patterns. Hofstadter wondered if his words were a Poincaré map of his mental processes. How much more so then are the freely associative, emergent conversations played host to by blogs?

    I think :-)

  10. anselm Says:

    I think that you should slow down a bit and take more time to try and put some depth to these thoughts…

    For example the series of mixed metaphors gluing 1) two opposite ideas in chaos theory ( strange attractors and self induced criticalities), 2) tricks used in ancient wars and 3) business blogging together… I have not learned anything in that series of statements. It has not had a power of discovery for me. I don’t say ‘aha’ - that is a tool I can use in the future for cracking apart something I can’t understand. It is just a huge stream of words that sound nice but… well, thats about it… And after I’ve read the stream it actually irritates that it is so empty.

    We all know that blogging is a ’second internet’ - sharing only a casual resemblance with traditional web pages. We know blogs are becoming pervasive. We know that corporations will start to try to use blogs to manage their public image - trying to appear more intimate, genuine and personal in an age that uses this as a measuring stick of authenticity (and as a backlash against decades of smoothly packaged media). But these are blithe and pithy statements - more like repeated mantras than having any penetrating insight… Where is the meat? When are you going to teach us something we don’t know? By appearing in a forum that I generally respect I expect some reasonable quality control and reasonably measured thinking. It doesn’t have to be firstmonday quality but it has to have some possibility of educating me… and you knew even as you were writing that that this body of text fails to do that; that it was knee-jerk and reflexive. I’d take a couple of days off and just think - rather than writing.

    You say “Instead, statements of facts are being replaced by conversations and the flow of mutable, context-sensitive information from person to person in an intimate and informal manner”. How is a flow of ephemera like this measurable? How does it materially affect a corporation? If it can’t be seen and measured then there is a possibility that the effect you are speaking of actually has no impact on a corporation. It is not clear that a big mishmash of conversations flowing between an increasingly blurry line between individuals and corporations has any effect on anything - although I am presuming that you have an argument to that effect somewhere. Then there are specific things that seem like ornate embellishments that further obliterate the clarity of what you are saying. Why does the word mutable play a part of this sentence? Why does the term context-sensitive play a part? I can see the use of the terms ‘conversations, intimate and informal’ but otherwise I’d try to stick with more objective terms that actually provide insight and are not just mutable context-sensitive baroque curliques that could equally well and equally meaninglessly be injected into any context-sensitive mutable sentence.

    I’m sorry I don’t mean to be so critical - I simply cannot help but present the assessment I see; it could be erroneous in some ways as well.

    And I’m not a blogger anyway so the whole thing - I probably don’t get it.

    But if anything I am stunned by the blatherheads who are just going ‘yes great’ - those people I’d actually say are doing you a dis-service. You should think about all of this purely from the perspective of how the world pivots around you; how to write and think for your own self-improvement - absolutely regardless of what other people think. These yes voices, kudos and little e-hugs (that I am seeing in the blog replies) are a soothing opiate - encouraging you to try to continue to please them with a blathery writing style populated with incoherent images just to capture their votes.

    I’m not a particularily good writer… and I’m as much of an idiot as the next person… so I can’t really bring to bear the level of analysis that it deserves - but any good english teacher could do this… at least get some critical objective advice instead of just trusting what your friends are saying.

    - a

  11. dreww Says:

    anselm! my hero.

  12. Maciej Stachowiak Says:

    Congratulations on the new gig, Suw. I think you have presented some interesting themes and I look forward to seeing you explore them further.

  13. Stowe Boyd Says:

    Regarding Anselm’s comment:

    Anselm -

    Your deconstruction of Suw’s ‘Welcome’ post seems like a social analysis of an invitation to dinner: “What are the overtones of ‘bring your own beer’? Does ‘RSVP’ mean that they really don’t want me to come? Is ‘Sincerely’ a subtle insult?”

    Come on. Get over it.

    But on the other hand, there is a real parallel in your critique with events brewing elsewhere in the world of new media. The desire for subjectivity and immediacy rather than objectivity and deliberation — that you seem to be asking for — is a centerpoint of the conflict between traditional journalism and social media (blogging).

    And yes, we bloggers write from ‘the perspective of how the world pivots’ around us, and yes, for our own selfish amusement and self-improvement, absolutely regardless of what other people think. Welcome to the twenty-first century. The world does pivot around us, each and every one. There is no objectitity, and waving it around like a sacred relic does not make it so. People should think for themselves, and reject the mind control implied in ‘objectivity’ where deep-seated social conventions or the decisions of disembodied editorial forces sidetrack dialogue and stifle contention. This also means that we don’t wait until we have figured it all out: we write, even when our thinking is not finished yet. We are always beginning, and never finished.

    One of the benefits of blogging as a form of communication is a dialogue with a community of interested readers. That dialogue can be messy, can be bristling with unpalatable or contradictory ideas, and may not perfectly fit the presumptions of the casual reader. Occasionally, the dialogue may be a shouting match. And it can include ‘little e-hugs’ with people encouraging bloggers to press on, despite the trollish voices telling them to stop.

    In the long run, however, the value of a blog is measured by its impact over time in the minds of the community members. It can’t be judged based on its first posting, or even its first month of postings. Blogs take time, and involvement, and yes, even vocal nay-sayers howling at the moon.

  14. Philippe Says:

    Blog hello’s to anselm and dreww!!

  15. dreww Says:

    stowe:
    well, clearly, ‘empty platitudes’ must be the name of the corante style manual.

    i think it’s pretty clear that all anselm wants is clear speech and useful information. it’s not about objectivity or subjectivity; it’s about interesting content as opposed to ‘inane vapid prattle that makes me want to shoot myself in the face’. Based on chocnvodka, we know which the SuwCharman brand will provide. A woman in love with herself for not being particularly good at anything makes for less than riveting dispatches.

    POLYMATHS UNITE AND BORE EACH OTHER 2 DEATH LOLZ.

  16. Michael O'Connor Clarke Says:

    1. Objectivity is subjective. ‘Twas ever thus. Ask Schrodinger.
    2. Thou shalt not feed the trolls. No, not even roly-poly fish heads.

  17. Snorp Says:

    Michael, I’d hardly call anselm’s comment trolling.

    If someone is going to have a weblog with comments, but not respond to legitimate questions and criticism, what is the point? Why not just disable commenting if you’re only going to acknowledge things like “You are the best!!! :) :) :)”?

    Give me a break.

  18. Michael O'Connor Clarke Says:

    Snorp - what makes you think I was referring to anselm?

  19. Suw Charman Says:

    Wow, hardly a day since Strange Attractor was announced, and already I have ad hominem attacks and trollish behaviour. There I was, thinking how this blog would just sit quietly in a corner and be noticed by no one - how wrong I was.

    No one is forced to read this blog. If you don’t like it, or me, you are free to leave.

    Comments which discuss or disagree with the content of my posts are welcome - I do not expect to be right every time. Comments which attack me are not, and I will do my best to ban anyone who persists in personal attacks. I want this blog to be a constructive place where people interested in the business blogging etc. can discuss it.

    Anyone expecting to find all the answers in an opening ‘welcome’ post that exists primarily to ask questions is bound to be disappointed. In fact, anyone who expects to find all the answers in a single blog is going to be disappointed anyway. Strange Attractor exists so that I can explore these issues over time, learning as I go. No one in the blogosphere has the answers - that’s what makes asking questions so important.

    Finally, there is nothing wrong with getting a bit of public support from one’s friends, or even from people one has never met before. To deny the right of readers to show support or to agree with me is as silly as denying people the right to disagree with me. It does not, however, give anyone free ticket to be rude or to attack me personally.

  20. Kate Says:

    Well said, Stowe & Suw!

    I don’t really understand, Anselm, why you’re dissatisfied with Suw not giving you any new information in a post that essentially says, “This is the kind of thing I’d like to talk about on this blog as it goes along.” Personally, I’m happy to wait and see what sorts of issues she raises as the thing progresses. Why does a blog like this have to educate or provide facts and objectivity anyway? If it’s made us think about things we might not have considered before, or look at things in a new way, it’s more than done it’s job, as far as I’m concerned.

    Stick with it, Suw! See? You’ve got a good, lively debate going on already, and you’ve barely posted a thing!