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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.

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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

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Thursday, September 28th, 2006

SHiFT: Euan Semple - The Quiet Revolution

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Here at SHiFT in Lisbon, a two day conference on Social and Human Ideas for Technology. Again, not going to blog every session, just a few here and there. First up, Euan Semple.

Words ’social’ and ‘media’ and ‘business’ help people make assumptions about what is happening, so they then package and dismiss it. People come up with all sorts of reasons why blogs/wikis/etc won’t work in their business, why it is nothing to do with them.Some people are jumpy about ’social’ in the workplace.

BBC, implemented social software and had ‘globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations’. Different from the way organisations usually talk. Most businesses try to manage relationships and information, to control communications. The global nature of the net and the uncontrolled nature of the conversation on the net is intimidating to most people. But the thing that scares people the most is the fact that it’s person-to-person. business has sanitised the personal out of business. You try to act as your job title instead of your as a person, and you’re not encouraged to act as a person, to be yourself, and a lot of businesses actively discourage it.

Way BBC implemented social computing was different too. Usually do months of consultancy and user testing and that doesn’t really work. Companies get fleeced by IT people doing that. Decided didn’t want to do that at BBC, so had own ideas, own technology, and wanted to just get on with it.

Created a forum first. No marketing, all word of mouth. Out of 24k staff, 18k had used the forum at some point or another. Most of it’s mundane, people asking questions. Exposed differences within the different parts of the business, which previously they’d pretended didn’t exist. Smart manager engages with the conversation, even when they are negative or critical. E.g. weather graphics were not liked by people in the BBC, and the manager in charge of that came into the conversation and just talked calmly to everyone.

Euan keen not to own the forum, fought off people branding it, or tell people how to behave. When there were problems he’d go and just ask questions about it, to encourage discussion.

Forum talked about big stuff too. Jerry Springer the Opera. Big discussions. First time that they’d had a pan-BBC discussion about something big.

People think it’s just about the technology, but it’s not. Is naturally disruptive. But organisations don’t have a choice - the MySpace generation will demand this if it’s not there - they’ll either not work for you, or they’ll do it on the web which could be really bad for you.

Then put in a social networking tool, Connect.Gateway. Tools helps people get to find people interested in the same things, and empowered people who would otherwise not have had a way of connecting.

Then added blogs. Euan’s still cautious about blogs in business because they work on the basis of having an opinion and expressing it, and that’s not trivial in an organisation. It’s difficult tot say what you think. It’s paradoxical - in business it’s hard to say what you think and there’s no accountability, whereas in the geek world if you don’t say what you think you don’t exist, and there’s a trail behind you that everyone can follow.

Richard Sambrook started to get interested, and wanted to talk directly to a new division of 1500 people and didn’t want to do memos and staff emails and newsletters, so he used a blog instead. Did it well, blogged every day, mix of stuff, allowed comments. Would raise strategic issues and sometimes other senior managers would engage in the conversation in the comments thread. Those conversations would have happened elsewhere, but you wouldn’t have seen them publicly.

His internal blog at one point was being read by 8000 staff, now settled down to 4000 staff. Also humanised him, took him out of the org chart. Has now just started his own public blog. Very challenging for people in an organisation like the BBC. Some of the stuff eh wrote on his internal blog ended up in the press. The edges are getting fuzzier, what can you and can’t you write about.

Then introduced wikis. Adoption curve was steeper, less popular. Firstly, people used it as an easy way to set up a website. Allowed people to publish information that they couldn’t have published any other way, as had no budget for a web designer.

Euan then used the wiki to collaboratively write a policy for employee blogs. Asked 90 BBC bloggers to help work on the policy, using comment son the wiki pages (Confluence). After a couple of weeks it slowed down, as the policy writers reached consensus (with no meetings), and so got given to the management to ratify.

Someone in the forum said that it was frustrating that BBC staff can’t take part in BBC competitions. Set up competition internally, and collaboratively people put together the rules, the criteria, etc, for a photography comp. Now they are using it for organising programmes.

Something about the ownership about it, the self-selection that allows people to really engage with it.

RSS helps. Lots of people talking internally, but need a way to manage all that conversation and RSS does that. Began to see who was interest to who and that showed them who’s interested in what.

Tagging also an important. Tools that replicate delicious inside the organisation.

We have a glimpse of how this works, but when the MySpace generation comes into business, they will expect this, and they will know better how it works, and how to sidestep the red tape that can get in the way of getting things done.


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4 Responses to “SHiFT: Euan Semple - The Quiet Revolution”

  1. Michael Sparks Says:

    It’s very easy for stories to come over as “one person who did all this”. Very few people that I know inside the BBC actually use connect for example.

    Similarly Euan didn’t introduce wikis, he introduced them in one location. I introduced them in another when I joined the BBC (I’d been working on and developing with Twiki for a number of years at that point), and when I did an internal talk about blogs and wikis 2 years before Euan’s wiki was set up, I’d found around 2 dozen wikis, and dozens of blog engines running inside the BBC. Indeed 2 BBC R&D annual reviews had been written collaboratively using wikis - initially using the wiki I’d set up - at by the time Euan’s wiki was set up :) Who set up the *first* one inside the BBC? Who knows - there were dozens of them there 4 years ago. (heck maintaining the wiki was in publicly posted job specs on the BBC website then!)

    What Euan *did* do, and deserves credit for is gaining publicity and acceptance for them on a corporate wide basis, and was in a position to defend their use in a wider scope.

    I just wish that there had been better choices of software for the wiki engine and for the replacement for talk…

    (disclaimer: since I’m talking about work, these opinions are mine, only mine, no-one elses, certainly not my employers, etc)

  2. Euan Says:

    You are of course right Michael that there were many blogs and wikis in the BBC and in fact in addition to those at R&D people in New Media were using them as well.

    What I talk about is how the use of those that we implimented, which unlike those at R&D and New Media were intended for pan BBC use, spread to other parts of the BBC. People are interested in hearing the stories of how this happened - both good and bad. I am very open about the things we got wrong and am even pedantic in my use of “we” rather than “I” when telling those stories.

    Funnily enough someone actually asked me the other day why I didn’t have the other wikis shut down, presumably to keep things nice and tidy. I was so non-plussed by the question that I rather impolitely laughed out loud!

  3. Suw Says:

    And of course, those important ‘we’s got stripped out by my note-taking style which frequently removes all pronouns so that I don’t confuse myself. (When I type I am I saying I as in me or I as in the person speaking who’s saying I…)

  4. james m Says:

    “but when the MySpace generation comes into business, they will expect this, and they will know better how it works, and how to sidestep the red tape that can get in the way of getting things done.”

    I see this red tape as a major issue in the business world, and can’t see what the myspacecadets will be able to do about it. What are your thoughts?

    Certainly where I work (nhs) the introduction of internal blogs by senior staff in particular would could do a good deal to break down political / idea barriers, but the controlling nature of the IT/IM policies will negate any real social flow.