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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.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


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All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

CIO Magazine: Social networking stands to benefit businesses

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I got back from holiday to discover that my article for CIO Magazine, Social networking stands to benefit businesses, is now up online. Here’s the opener from it:

Mention social networking and most people immediately think of sites like Facebook, MySpace or Bebo which let people create lists of friends, send messages to each other, share photos or music, join groups with like-minded-individuals and just generally keep in touch.

Images of industriousness rarely spring to mind, yet many organisations have realised that it’s not all just super-poking and games of Scrabulous, and want to use their own social networks for the benefit of their businesses.

The potential for social networking tools to connect huge numbers of people has been clearly illustrated. Companies want to harness that power themselves, and not just for marketing or recruitment, but also for internal communications and collaboration.

One HR executive recently, rather mournfully, said to me, “Fifty per cent of our staff are on Facebook. Why can’t we get that kind of buy-in?” Although Facebook is primarily a tool for organising your personal life, people also use it for business and, increasingly, companies realise that they have to provide such tools internally or else employees will communicate over the web, potentially risking sensitive company data.

Another significant driver pushing companies to adopt social networking tools is the need to locate expertise within companies whose employees are dispersed across many locations and time zones, a problem exacerbated by restructured offices that emphasise teleworking and hot-desking. It was this, along with the emergence of Web 2.0, that formed the backdrop to IBM’s exploration of social networking.

Read the rest on the CIO Magazine site.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

CIO Magazine: It’s not just Facebook

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

My article about social networking, It’s not just Facebook, has been published in this month’s CIO Magazine.

In it, I talk to Alastair MacKenzie and Brendan Tutt from IBM about how they transformed their internal phone directory into something much more useful and interesting using tags. John Meakin from Standard Chartered Bank tells me about how his company is using the Facebook app WorkBook to create an internal social network. Kevin Marks from Google discusses how he keeps track of the people he meets and talks to as the Developer Advocate for OpenSocial. I also hear from a woman - who asked to remain anonymous - who had a less than pleasant experience when her colleagues, and her bosses, flocked to Facebook.

All in all, it’s 2000 words of social networky goodness that you should seek out at the earliest possible opportunity! (Before you ask, it’s not available on the CIO Mag site, but I’ll look into putting it up here in due course.)

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Why isn’t social software spreading like wildfire through business?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Andrew McAfee asked a deceptively simple question to a panel at Enterprise 2.0 last week, “If Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches really are so beneficial and powerful, why haven’t they spread like wildfire?” He was surprised that no one fingered management as the culprits.

In their initial responses all of them identified users, not bad managers or inadequate technologies, as the biggest barriers to faster and deeper adoption of Enterprise 2.0. Entrenched practices and mindsets, some degree of technophobia, busyness, and the 9X Problem of email as an incumbent technology combine, they said, to limit the pace of adoption. These factors slow the migration from channels to platforms and necessitate continued patience, evangelism, and training and coaching.

I didn’t expect the panelists to say that the Enterprise 2.0 tooklit is so incomplete as to hinder adoption, but I was a bit surprised that none of them identified management as a real impediment in their first round of comments. So I pressed the point by saying something like “I didn’t hear any of you point the finger at the managers in your organizations. Were you just being polite, or are they really not getting in the way of Enterprise 2.0? The new social software platforms are a bureaucrat’s worst nightmare because they remove his ability to filter information, or control its flow. I’d expect, then, that each of you would have some examples of managers overtly or covertly trying to stop the spread and use of these tools. Are you telling me this hasn’t happened?”

That is in fact what they were telling me, and I didn’t get the impression that they were just being diplomatic. They said that managers were just another category of users that needed to migrate over to new ways of working, and not anything more. In other words, the panelists hadn’t seen managers in their organizations actively trying to impede Enterprise 2.0.

I think the issue is far more complex than a simple “Is it the management?”. The IT department, for example, has become a common source of no, and issues around legal and compliance can scare people off. But management exert a strong and inescapable influence on how well social media is adopted in business.

Firstly, I have indeed come across managers who have refused point blank to use social software, who have actively campaigned against its use and have told their teams that they are not to use it. Whilst managers that vocal are rare, they do exist.

I have also seen managers who have damned the tools with faint praise, ostensibly supporting their use, but undermining them by planting seeds of doubt about things like how safe the data is or how long the tools will be around. These people talk up the tools in meetings, but never actually use them, so they give off mixed messages to their teams who then feel uncertain about what they should and shouldn’t do. If someone feels uncertain about a new tool, the chances are that they will avoid it or will interact with it only half-heartedly. This damages adoption just a surely as open hostility and is much more common.

More insidious - and much more common - are the indifferent managers. They are not vocal, and maybe not even all that negative about social media; they just aren’t interested in it. They may show up for coaching sessions, but they won’t bother using the tools, and they won’t encourage any of their team to use them either. They won’t complain, they’ll just ignore what they don’t want to engage with.

Now, in some ways these people are just “users” who need to be persuaded of value of using social tools, but to describe them that simply is to miss the point - managers have a subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) power to either encourage or discourage their teams to behave in a certain way. They set the culture in their team, and the adoption of social media is about culture and behaviours rather than technology.

Managers who show disinterest are broadcasting a message to their team that new tools are of no value, and so they will dampen interest amongst people who actually are keen to learn and use new software, even to the point of stopping that person going to a training session or using the tool for their own work. This kills off grassroots adoption in a very quiet, subtle, almost unnoticeable way. You won’t here these people complaining. You won’t hear them talk about social software at all, but they can have a powerful effect on the success of a new tool.

But the main way that managers hobble the adoption of social tools is through simply not thinking it through, not considering what they are doing and why. They don’t provide the right sort of coaching or support, and then they wonder why people aren’t using the tools. They chuck up some blogs or wikis and hope that ‘nature will take its course’ and that people will just see the light and start using them. That, of course, doesn’t happen because not everyone has the time or the inclination to investigate new tools.

Once the early adopters - the people who are naturally curious and experimental - have discovered and started using social software, growth slows because just as in tech product marketing, there is a chasm between early adopters and the mainstream user than needs to be deliberately bridged. Businesses who have not thought about how to bridge this gap will find that adoption slows, stops, and then sometimes starts to contract. (Particularly if your key evangelists leave.)

Why doesn’t social media spread like wildfire in business? Because few people provide the tinder for a spark to ignite. Disinterested managers act like firebreaks, hostile managers act like rain, and managers giving off mixed messages act like firefighters pouring water on otherwise susceptible land. If you want a wildfire, the conditions have to be right for it to burn, which means thinking harder about what you’re doing.

Suw is holding a seminar on the adoption of social tools in business on June 27 2008. Deadline to sign up is June 25.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Fruitful Seminars: Making Social Tools Ubiquitous

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Lloyd Davis, Leisa Reichelt and I have been spending a lot of time plotting just lately, and the result of our machinations was the creation, at midnight in a semi-derelict Gothic mansion and with the help of a bolt of lightening, of Fruitful Seminars. The three of us will be putting on a number of day-long seminars on various Web 2.0 subjects over the next few months, starting on 27 June with my session, Making Social Tools Ubiquitous:

Many companies have heard that social tools, such as wikis and blogs, can help them improve communications, increase collaboration and nurture innovation. As the best of breed tools are often open source, it is easy and cheap to experiment with pilot projects. But what do you do if you don’t get the level of engagement you’d like? And how do you progress from a small-scale pilot to widespread adoption?

This seminar, run by social media expert Suw Charman-Anderson, will take a practical look at the adoption of social tools within enterprise. During the day you will be lead through each stage of Suw’s renowned social media adoption strategy and will have the opportunity to discuss your own specific issues with the group. You will have access to one of the UK’s best known social media consultants in an intimate setting - with no more than 9 people attending - that will allow you to get the very most out of the day. By the end of the seminar you will have a clear set of next steps to take apply to your own blogs or wikis.

Perfect for CXO executives, managers, and social media practitioners who want to know how to foster widespread adoption of social tools in the enterprise. Perhaps you have already installed some blogs or wikis for internal communications and collaboration, but aren’t getting the take-up you had hoped for; or have successfully completed a pilot and want to roll-out to the rest of the company.

We’re keeping the sessions very small, with a maximum of nine people attending each one, so that everyone has the opportunity to fully take part in discussions. Sessions will be quite practical and participants will be able to really get into the nitty gritty. I think that’s something that’s really missing from conferences and the bigger workshops - you don’t get the chance to really get down and dirty with what’s relevant to you. I want people to come away from my seminar with a really clear idea of what they are going to do next, and how they are going to do it.

Registration is already open - it’s very easy to sign up and payment can be made by PayPal or cheque/bank transfer. The fee includes lunch, tea and coffee.

Any questions? Just ask!

UPDATE: We’ve also now got a Google Group mailing list for news, announcements and discussion of Fruitful Seminars topics and events. The group is open to everyone, so do join up if you’re curious or interested.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Facebook in reality

Posted by Kevin Anderson


Many social software experts talk about mapping real world social behaviours onto online spaces. This is a bit of the reverse and shows why some (some would say many) things in Facebook just don’t work.

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Bored of Facebook?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Not a question I can answer, as I’ve managed with no little effort to avoid joining, but I know more than one person who might agree with this (via Reportr):

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Confessing a dirty little secret

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

In January’s Fast Company was an article by Clive Thompson, Is The Tipping Point Toast? I read it with interest and made a mental note to at least add it to our Del.icio.us feed. But over the last two months it has just been gnawing away at the back of my head and I find myself compelled to think about it in a bit more detail.

In the article, Clive discusses the work of Yahoo!’s principal research scientist, Duncan Watts, who is challenging the idea that a small number of highly influential people are the ones who start new trends. The concept is central to books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and is repeated over and over again in all sorts of contexts. In fact, it is so embedded in the way that we view how ideas are transferred and propagated between people that it feels almost like heresy to question it.

But Duncan Watts has questioned it, and his research seems to show that new trends can start anywhere, and that not only do you not have to be influential to start a trend, being influential doesn’t guarantee that you are also a trendsetter.

In the past few years, Watts–a network-theory scientist who recently took a sabbatical from Columbia University and is now working for Yahoo –has performed a series of controversial, barn-burning experiments challenging the whole Influentials thesis. He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.

“It just doesn’t work,” Watts says, when I meet him at his gray cubicle at Yahoo Research in midtown Manhattan, which is unadorned except for a whiteboard crammed with equations. “A rare bunch of cool people just don’t have that power. And when you test the way marketers say the world works, it falls apart. There’s no there there.”

This is a conclusion that’s going to get up the nose of many a marketeer, but how does it affect social media consultants?

My work is focused mainly on how to persuade people in business to change their behaviour: how to replace bad working habits with good ones, and how to change unhealthy business cultures into positive, constructive ones. How do I help people wean themselves off their dependence on email, and learn how to collaborate and communicate in healthier, more effective ways?

The opportunities that social tools present to business are frequently missed because no one thought hard enough about how to introduce them to people. Most businesses fail to to understand why these tools are useful and why the old tools are so seductive. My job is to counter that, and is much more about psychology than technology (although the tech clearly does play a part).

Piloting social tools in business is relatively easy. You’re working with a small group who have probably been picked because someone within that group is already enthusiastic. I can sit down and work face-to-face with these people, finding out how they work and then explaining how the new tools will help them. We can figure out specific tasks to shift onto the new tools, I can advise on how that shift should happen and I can support them through the change.

But rolling social media out to the rest of a large company takes a different way of working. I can probably work directly with tens, or maybe even over a hundred people - if the project has the time and budget - but no one person can sit down with thousands or tens of thousands of people in one company to make sure that they understand how the new tools could improve their working life. It would be a Sisyphean task.

Instead, we have to treat tool adoption as a meme, and rely on people propagating it through the company, person to person. In this sense, we are doing what marketeers are doing: Trying to create a self-sustaining trend. We want the social tool to go viral.

As anyone with real world experience of viral marketing will tell you, that’s far easier said than done. The concept of an influential elite, a minority who have the majority of the power to influence, is a deeply attractive prospect. If it were true, it would mean that I could sit down with the 50 most influential people in any one company and bring them up to speed, and they would go on to do my work for me. I could change the culture of a business from closed to open, from distrustful to trusting, from competitive to collaborative, in merely a few weeks.

That is a seductive idea. And I must confess to you all now, I have been seduced by it. I have talked with clients about the concept of networks and nodes and bridges, and I have propagated the tipping point meme. I’ve never read Gladwell’s book. I haven’t had to - I’ve absorbed the concepts over time without really questioning them, without examining them in the cold light of day.

But deep down, I never really believed the idea of an elite group of influencers, and that disbelief has grown over the last couple of years as I’ve had more and more hands-on experience in business, introducing new tools to a suspicious workforce. I have asked businesses if they know who their influencers are, and they all claimed that they did, but I didn’t really see any evidence either that I was actually talking to influencers, or that the people they thought were influencers made any real difference to the widespread adoption of a tool.

That is my dirty little secret. I propagated a meme that I hadn’t critically examined and didn’t believe in. For that, I apologise.

Yet, for me at least, the idea that ‘influencers’ aren’t as influential as we’ve been lead to believe is good news. And for my clients too. I’ve always been worried that trying to tap into a network of influential staff was a pointless waste of time, because it’s very hard to know who actually has influence and who’s just got a big mouth. Identifying the influencers is a task inextricably bound up in status and position in the org chart, yet these three things do not correlate simply. A bad manager who’s high up in the food chain may believe himself to have status, but is actually widely ignored by his subordinates because they can recognise a bad manager when they see one.

If you’ve read my social software adoption strategy, you’ll see there’s nothing in it about ‘reaching the influencers’. I’m way too pragmatic, and the problem of influencer identification has always put me off recommending it as a tactic. Instead, I focus on how you identify ‘low hanging fruit’ - people who are already chomping at the bit to work differently, or people who are doing tasks that are just perfect for a transition onto a social platform. Those are doable tasks. They don’t require any special magic, they just require the ability to ask the right questions and listen to the answers.

I also talk about converting users into trainers by giving them the materials and confidence to introduce their own colleagues to new tools. Centralised training can only fail when you’re trying to introduce optional software to a huge workforce. The only way to reach large numbers of people is for a ripple effect to take over: users become trainers and train their colleagues who become users and then trainers who spread the virus throughout the company.

This doesn’t require influence, it requires utility. If the tool is useful, it can succeed, given the right support. It’s not, “Oh, look at this! It’s so cool!”; it’s, “Oh, look at this! It’s going to make my life so much easier!”

I’m far happier with the idea that anyone can start a trend, and that the concept of influencers is at least less important than previously stated, or possibly even a complete red herring. It leaves the door open for much more sensible, reliable and workable strategies. Admittedly, they may take more time and effort, but at least the outcome will be more predictable. Focusing on what people need, instead of their status, can only be a good thing.

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

A social network for wired journalists

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Ryan Sholin, Howard Owens and Zac Echola in the US have started a Ning network for wired journalists and those looking to network and gain experience. The mission is:

WiredJournalists.com was created with self-motivated, eager-to-learn reporters, editors, executives, students and faculty in mind. Our goal is to help journalists who have few resources on hand other than their own desire to make a difference and help journalism grow into its new 21st Century role.

While it started in the US, there are already several international journalists who have joined. They are already talking about how to get started blogging, vlogging and shooting your own pictures. There is also a group on what to do when the layoffs come. There are a lot of Strange Attractor friends and readers who have joined the network already. I’m glad to have a virtual place to hang-out when we’re not blogging. See you there.

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Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Are social networks in business a white elephant or is Gartner’s report a red herring?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Gartner have recently released a report, Three Potential Pitfalls of Corporate Social Networking by Brian Prentice, with the tagline “Investing in social networking solutions from enterprise vendors is no guarantee that users will embrace the technology.” I’ll probably never get to read it, as it’s a bit on the steep side - $195 for a four page report. Nice work if you can get it. Instead, I’m going to have to rely on Tim Ferguson’s article, Businesses warned: Don’t rush into Web 2.0.

Now, I know that at least one of my social media consultant friends thinks you should ignore Gartner, but I think they’re right… although for the wrong reasons.

Ferguson says:

Businesses are advised to consider certain issues before investing in or developing internal social-networking tools. These include protecting personal intellectual property, and people’s preference for using existing non-professional external networks such as Bebo, Facebook and MySpace.

[...]

But the Gartner report says the hype around social networking doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a mature enough technology to make it a critical business requirement.

There is also little evidence that social networking will be as beneficial for businesses as other web-based communications technology, such as instant messaging and VoIP.

Ultimately, Gartner suggests, the value of social-networking technology comes from content rather than the product itself.

So let’s just break this down a bit. It should be pretty self-evident that businesses should consider what they are doing and how before they install social software. We’ve seen with blogs and wikis that just flinging them up and hoping for the best doesn’t always work very well. Indeed, I get most of my business from companies who have tried social software in some way and have found that it doesn’t “just work”. It takes thought, consideration and the benefit of the experience of those who’ve actually done this sort of work (rather than just theorised about it).

I disagree, however, that personal intellectual property is an issue that companies need to focus on. Most intellectual property created by an employee is what’s called “work for hire” and is owned by the company, not the person. This is generally covered by the employee’s employment contract and has nothing to do at all with what software is installed or used.

The use of external non-professional social networks, such as Facebook, is also a red herring. Staff use Facebook for managing and maintaining professional networks - of both internal and external contacts - because it’s easy and it’s the social network du jour. A good internal social network would allow staff to move some activity off Facebook if they wanted, but it wouldn’t replace it, because if it’s internal then they can’t maintain their external contacts in it. This isn’t an either/or scenario, it’s all about “and”: you need internal and external social network tools.

The maturity of the technology is also irrelevant. If you have any more than 150 people in your company, then your employees are inevitably going to be missing out on some crucial internal professional relationships, because you just can’t maintain meaningful relationships with more than 150 people. That’s Dunbar’s number at work. If you want to be an effective business, you have to find a way for people to find those colleagues they need to work with - that is, in my opinion a critical business requirement.

Too much business time is wasted re-inventing the wheel. Social networking (done well) directly addresses that problem by providing a way for people to find or stumble upon those they need to know. The other half of that problem is cultural, and is about whether people are willing to share and ask questions and take risks by approaching a stranger for help and advice, but the maturity of the technology has nothing to do with that.

Gartner’s right is that there’s a lot of hype around social networks, and particularly Facebook. I hear far too often the refrain “Oh! We must have our own Facebook!” as people make the wild assumption that Facebooks success will translate directly into success for their own social network (internal or external). It won’t. Companies have to be careful not to leap on the Facebook bandwagon without first thinking about what it is that they want their social network to do.

But Gartner’s wrong to think that the sparsity of evidence for how social networking works in business is a problem. Businesses who are experimenting with social networks (and social tools in general) are tending towards keeping their experiences to themselves, but we are right at the beginning of a trend here, and lack of evidence is not a good reason not to investigate the possibilities.

And finally, Gartner states that the value of a social network is the content, and again, they miss the point. The content is very important, but the connections are what distinguish a social network from a broadcast network. Without those connections, there isn’t a network, there’s just lots of people creating content.

So, if Gartner can get it this wrong, why am I agreeing with them? Well, I think that businesses really do need to think about what they are doing before they invest in social networks. They need to understand how social networks work in an internal business environment, because it’s rather different to how they work on the web.

On the web, we find old friends, we send them phatic messages like a “poke” in Facebook, we gather connections, we maintain light-touch relationships with people that we might otherwise not bother staying in contact with, and we find new people with whom we have something in common. Successful social networks have a social object at the heart of their network: in Flickr the social object is the photo; in Last.fm it is music; in LinkedIn it is the curriculum vitae. What is it in business?

Anyone who’s been involved with centralised directories in business will tell you that people rarely keep their biographies up to date, they depend on someone else to update things like telephone numbers, and they provide little or no useful information on what skills someone has or what their area or interests are. Generally speaking, a profile page is not a compelling social object within business, and updating one is seen as a chore than can be indefinitely put off.

The sorts of activities in which people engage in business are also very different to those displayed in Facebook. I doubt many people would want to “poke” their boss, for example, or post photos of their big night out.

In my opinion, a business social network has to be very low-maintenance. It’d like to see something pulling in all my content and contributions, such as blog posts, wiki pages I’ve created, comments I’ve made, and websites and documents I’ve bookmarked. I’d like it to pull in any other feeds, authenticated or not, so I could add my external blog feed and anything else that I find interesting. I’d like the profile page to be the only one I need to maintain, so it would be automatically pulled into all other applications that have an “about me” page. And it’d like it to be taggable, not just by me but by my colleagues, so that they can decide how best to describe me. People never describe themselves as fully and accurately as a group of their friends and colleagues can. Clearly it would need search - keywords and tags - to let me find the people that I need to find. But the tags would also create ad hoc, fluid communities of interest, so I can serendipitously stumble upon others.

So my content becomes the social object and maintenance overhead is negligible. That’s the sort of network that might fly in a business setting where everyone is strapped for time and you don’t have the luxury of waiting a couple of years for the network effect to kick in. Instead you get immediate value because you’re pulling in information that I’m generating in the course of my daily work and there’s a lot of usefulness in pulling that together and making it (and therefore me) taggable and searchable.

One thing I’m wary of in a business setting is the idea of friends lists. I’d need to do a lot more thinking and research before I settle that issue to my satisfaction. There are two types of business hierarchy - explicit and hidden. Explicit hierarchies are ORG charts, staff lists, departments, teams. These are based on position as granted by the company, and are for some people important indicators of their own status and success. The are artificial, often semi-arbitrary, and frequently misleading.

The hidden hierarchies are really not hierarchies at all, but networks. This is who you know, who you bump into at the water cooler, who you met at the Christmas party, who your friends introduce you to, and, of course, who you work with. The hidden network is the one that helps you get your job done despite the official hierarchy getting in the way. It’s how you do an end run around that annoying boss who prefers to be obstructive rather than help. It’s how you get your computer fixed by that nice chap in IT in time to get that important presentation done, rather than raise a ticket and wait for an hour for someone to get back to you.

My worry is that exposing these hidden networks to the harsh light of the explicit hierarchy could kill them, or vital parts of them. In old-style command-and-control companies, the very fact that you know someone rather senior in another department may rankle with your boss in such a way that they start to work against you, and that would undermine the very fabric of the company. After all, a company isn’t a single entity at all, it is a group of people who have social relationships and who need some of those relationships to remain hidden.

With RSS readers, blogs, wiki ‘recent changes’ feeds and watchlists, many of the functions of a buddy list are covered - it would be easy enough to keep up with what everyone’s doing. And as people in business tend to steer well clear of obviously phatic communication, much of what Facebook enables becomes irrelevant. (This is not to say that there’s not a lot of phatic communication going on in business - there is, it’s just not as obvious.)

So yes, businesses do need to take a lot of care when considering how to implement social networks, and all other social tools. But they need to listen to people who’ve actually got experience working with social tools in business, whether those people are their own staff, from other companies, or consultants. Social media is so experiential that analysing it from an external perspective misses the point more often than it hits the nail on the head.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Martha Ladly, Mobile Experience Design

Posted by Kevin Anderson

Again apologies to Martha about not getting this up sooner, but I’m glad that I’ve had some time to digest what she was saying and also do some casual surfing to explore the projects that she was talking about. Twenty minutes is difficult to get a sense of the breadth of work that she’s done.

I met Martha at the opening drinks of X|Media|Lab and really liked her ideas about digital storytelling and emerging mobile applications.

By way of introduction to her talk, she talked about how she got into design. She played in bands and designed album covers. OMG, Martha designed the Power, Lies and Corruption cover for New Order. She worked for Peter Gabriel for 10 years and designed 50 album covers for his Real World label including Sheila Chandra and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

In 1992, Peter Gabriel wanted to create an interactive CD. She worked on the Eve CD-ROM project with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. I actually have Eve. It’s a fascinating interactive experience. You can’t really call it a game. It’s more of an experience. They also created an interactive CD called the Ceremony of Innocence based on the Griffin & Sabine books.

She now works with a group called Horizon Zero, a monthly web publication. They have created digital documentaries. They had a lovely project called Murmur in the Market. It was about a neighbourhood, Kensington Market, in transition, and they recorded stories about the neighbourhood that were overlaid on a hand drawn map of the neighbourhood. I like the flash-based map navigation, and the audio works well in the player that they developed.

I especially like the audio segments that have street sounds and give me an sense of the bustle and activity in the neighbourhood. One of the common mistakes with audio is to only do the interview in a nice sound-proofed studio, but if you’re trying to evoke a sense of place, it’s always good to have ‘nat-sound’ or ‘wild track’ to set the scene for listeners. In London, I often go and buy lunch at the market in Leather Lane around the corner for our offices. There is a great street vendor who has a wonderful sing-song quality as he hawks his wares. His voice falls up and down in pitch. “TOP QUALITY (then low) get it here. ONLY BEST BRANDS (then low) three for a pound.” I’d definitely add that as a transition between more set piece interviews, and a good directional microphone can keep the voice of the subject in focus while letting a little street sound bleed through.

Back to Martha’s talk…two years ago, a group got together about how to move mobile experience forward. She is working on the Park Walk project. They are telling stories about Toronto’s High Park using mobile phones with GPS units. They also play a game called “The Haunting” with Mont Royal Park in Montreal. They have also done some great stuff in Banff called Global Heart Beat. As people move through GPS zones, they find out about the animals that live in that habitat.

Mobile technology can bridge the gap between virtual and real, and she highlighted, Blast Theory, a group of artists in the UK that have produced video games based in real space.

She talked about some open-source technologies such as Arduino, an open-source prototyping platform. (She mentioned quite a few, and I’ll mention a few that I know of as well, including OpenMoko and their Neo open-source mobile phone. I am also thinking about trying the GP2X handheld game. It’s not a mobile phone-data device per se, but it’s very extensible, possibly a bit beyond my meagre tech skills but worth a play. I like the fact that you get a fully operational Linux device that can actually be used as a full-fledged pocket computer.)

I’m going to paraphrase Martha. Mobile has yet to hits its stride, but it has a lot of technologies that could be used to tell location-based stories. GPS, cameras and bluetooth all have application that is only being explored. From my point as a journalist, I think this is an area rich for exploration as far as newsgathering. Possibly in the future, information will delivered across cities based on not only subject relevance but also local relevance. As I said, lots of area for exploration.

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