Social World

The terrible events in Japan over the past few days have affected many of us. A lot of people have been using social media to share information, discuss the tragedy and find ways to help those affected. And some have used social media in ways that make you want to bang your head on the table.

So let me repeat three very simple points about social media that people and companies should ALWAYS bear in mind:

1. Cause precedes effect

Offering to donate a sum of money to disaster relief if people “Like” or retweet your brand is magical thinking which puts effect before cause. Donate the money first and that way people will “Like” and retweet your brand because they respect you.

2. There is only one world

If you or someone in your organization uses social media to post something stupid or offensive in a public space then it will be heard by the entire world. This is not about private vs. public but local vs. global. Once uttered it is there forever and for everyone.

3. Write then edit

If you have to explain a tweet then you are either trying to describe something that simply cannot be done in 140 characters or you are assuming knowledge on the part of the reader when you cannot safely make that assumption.

The basic rule for social media is the same as the basic rule for life – think.

If you would like to do something to help Japan then one way you can do so is through the Red Cross.


Two different stories, one platform

Twitter release an updated client for iOS which puts a large black hashtag bar across the top of the screen which results in users complaining bitterly that the functionality of the app had been sacrificed to the demands of monetization.

This morning I awoke to an update from someone whose long established Twitter username had been claimed by an organization who post-dated the person’s use of that username but who were a registered commercial entity.

The thing which they have in common is that they both reflect the difference between open and proprietary platforms.

The thing which most differentiates Twitter from email is that the email we use is based around a series of open standards – RFC1939, RFC822, RFC5321 amongst others.

Twitter can change the rules at any time.

But it’s not just Twitter

I wrote earlier this week about the risk of a single point of dependency in business models, but what if that single point of dependency is in our social and personal lives instead?

Rewired Culture – 27th March

Just launched the Rewired Culture event for the 27th March at the Guardian offices in King’s Cross.

What’s Rewired Culture you ask?

Well here’s the description and big thanks to the Rewired State crowd:

Rewired Culture

Britain is a creative culture. We have a vibrant developer community, a growing and active entrepreneurial base and a vast, rich array of culture assets. How can we bring these together to create new opportunities for data owners and developers? How do we encourage links between data repositories such as museums, broadcasters and the wider community like or the “London Datastore”? How do we ensure that the exciting work already underway in a number of organizations is shared more generally, so even smaller bodies and SMEs can learn from best practice and find workable routes to market? What are the cultural content business models for the 21st century? How do creators, curators, developers and entrepreneurs work together?

Rewired Culture is a day long event on 27th March 2010 organized by DCMS which is intended to explore these issues and more besides.

Rewired Culture has two strands – the first is a hackday bringing together data owners, data users, developers and people with ideas to see what they can create in a day. This builds on the very successful Rewired State events held in 2009.

The second strand is a halfday unconference style event starting at midday and running in parallel with the hackday for data owners, entrepreneurs, data users and communites to discuss business models, funding mechanisms and challenges.

We will be encouraging constant communication between the two strands because by the end of the day we want the event to have come up with a number of projects that people want to take forward on technical or business grounds, preferably both!

These chosen projects will then be used as exemplars for the Chief Executives and Chairs of the major national cultural institutions, broadcasters and key figures from the creative economy. They will be used as both an inspiration and a challenge to that community.

Rewired Culture will be open to all and you can register at If you would like more information then read the FAQs or contact us at


What about IPR?

Rewired Culture is not intended to solve every issue around intellectual property rights, instead we intend to focus on freely available assets and where IPR is then identified as a showstopper we will capture that point and raise it at the later meeting of Chief Executives and Chairs.

Why should I give away my ideas?

Ideas only have value when shared. We want to encourage people to share their ideas about both projects and business models. This is an opportunity to engage with the wider community and test your ideas. If you then want to take them to market then we will cheer you on. The only IPR we retain is in the Rewired Culture concept itself – everything else is down to you, the participants.

What happens to the Rewired Culture Projects?

We are still working on this and will be testing them at the event but the current thinking is that we will support the shortlisted projects where possible with hosting and facilitation.

We are also looking at the idea of running a simulation where one or more chosen projects would be given the opportunity to work through a pseudofunding round complete with an industry mentor and real VC’s.

Who should attend?

The event is open to all. If you are a developer, interested in data use or reuse, a data owner, someone who has an idea for an application using cultural data, a member of a cultural institution, someone who relies on public or private data for your business, an entrepreneur, someone who is passionate about open data or access to culture, someone in education, or someone who has taken part in previous hackdays.

You can sign up for the developer strand, the business strand or as someone with general interest in the subject. And we encourage people to move between the strands.

Why Rewired Culture?

There are lots of great individual initiatives out there – the BBC/British Museum A History of the world in 100 objects is but the latest. But these do tend to be individual initiatives and we want to encourage a wider flowering of cultural data initiatives from a variety of sources – public sector, third sector, entrepreneurs etc.

How much will Rewired Culture cost?

Attendance is free. We will obviously be posting the costs of the initiative itself as part of our commitment to data transparency.

Whither Weather?

People might find these links to travel and weather information useful in the current #uksnow adventure:

UKOnline’s Travel Information Page

BBC Travel (London)

BBC Local weather (London)

National Rail Enquiries (when it is up!)

Met Office

Live Departures – Charing Cross

Live Departures – Victoria

Live Departures – Waterloo

Live Departures –Cannon Street

Live Departures –Liverpool Street

Live Departures – Kings Cross

Live Departures – Euston

Live Departures –  Paddington

BBC Travel Alert Twitter page

Ben Marsh’s #uksnow page

These sites tend to get a lot of traffic so if you cannot connect you may want to check the status of the site.


I was one of the judges at Young Rewired State this weekend. The event brought some 50 15-18 year olds together to work on taking public sector data and websites and making it relevant to them.

I was not quite sure what to expect. I cannot remember anything about being 15, and the world has changed greatly since then. This “fire” stuff for one.

What I was presented with (often expertly) was a range of exciting and occassionally transformational projects. You can find a list of all the projects here.

Whilst there was a vast amount to digest, after much thought three things in particular stand out for me about Young Rewired State.

The Reflecting Surface

What would happen if we were to hold a State Rewired State event? That is, what if we were to get a group of frontline staff, users, internal and external geeks, suppliers and data owners together for a 2 day event looking at say education or benefits? Would this help trigger internal innovation, build bridges between various communities and identify some quick wins?

Internal hackdays have been used by a number of organizations in the past, based on informal feedback there seems to be a real appetite for doing something along these lines in my daytime world. So time for me to talk to my CIO Council colleagues.

“Let their hand go for it,  grasp it”

How do these ideas get taken forward? At least one of them struck me as having real value and being an interesting thing to build on. So how do we do that? Do we leave it to the VC’s and angels or do we intervene, and if so how?

Take 1

We are at the very start of the mashup process. Some of the entries were blindingly obvious in retrospect but the fact that no one had done it before was a very sobering realisation.

It is also clear that we have yet to think through the implications of mashups. Perhaps surprisingly for a CIO, I am very uncomfortable with the cybernetic theory of government, that somehow perfect information will allow perfect decision making. 

That was one of the reasons why Blog-o-tics was so interesting to me, the idea of being able to gauge views on policy initiatives at a glance is very appealing, but how do we avoid ending up here?

Anyway, looking forward to the next round of Rewired State and discussing next steps with the CIO Council next month.

2029 part 1

Two key points before we start – the first is that anyone who tries to forecast the future is doomed and the second is that nothing here should be taken as having any official status at all. This is me thinking aloud

With that out of the way, here are some idle thoughts on the implications of technology as a driver of social change over the next couple of decades.

The Commercial Property Market is doomed

See those big office blocks? Why do they exist? Because the work done by the organization requires people to be closely colocated? Because the resources they need are in one place? Because it is more efficient?

In most cases none of those are true today and definitely not in 2029. Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment knows that there are only 3 things needed to work –  information, tools and people.

Information used to mean paper files – vast acres of boxfile plantations filling the land. But now information means a search engine and a memory stick.

Tools used to mean filing clerks, huge mainframe computers and typists. Now tools mean a laptop and wifi.

People used to mean … well what did people mean? Performance management was performance observation, serried ranks of people meant a diary full of update meetings and make work meetings. Think about how often you actually need to talk to people at work for real work related purposes, how many people you actually need to talk to and how many times it wouldn’t have just been easier to call, email or Tweet them?

Half the people reading this post will think it is obvious, they do not have offices or they just use short term touchdown or shared space. The other half will say that they are obviously looking at things like “hotdesking” to reduce demand for office space, but without challenging the essential concept of the office.

For most organizations, accommodation is the second biggest item of corporate expenditure after staff. Why are we spending that money? How long can we afford to spend that money?!

The HQ office is sacrosanct, we need those marble halls. It is a visible symbol of our corporate strength.

The office building is a dinosaur, it is like the battleship of a century ago, staggering onwards because of ego, tradition and self-interest. But like all dinosaurs, it is doomed.

Not all offices will go of course, they will survive in schools, universities, hospitals – anywhere where the purpose is either to work with people or, like museums, to work with objects.

But the general purpose office which makes up so much of any city landscape cannot survive.

So what happens to Canary Wharf? What happens to the revenues from rates and the jobs in supporting these land leviathans?

Good questions.

The city is a beach

What will the world be like when you can just look at an object and find out what it is? When you can change how you see the outside world so beggars or the poor never appear in your line of sight? When we are continuously wired?

So far we have separated World 1 – the real world, and World 2 – the online world but we are now starting to overlay them to create World 1.5 – the hybrid world.

Take something like Google Streetview – it’s an online representation of the real world overlaid with digital information. At the moment it sits on a computer screen but the next step is for computer screens to merge with glasses. So far, so old school cyberpunk but we can already see the first steps with iPhone apps that display information over live video feeds of your surroundings.

These feel clunky but what if it is in your glasses? Your contact lenses? A constantly updated reversioning of what you see. The glowing line that links you to your destination, continually adjusting to show you the way to go. The obscuring of sights you do not want to see. The ability to “Bing-o” anyone you see.

World 1.5 becomes a way of either seeing more clearly or, more likely, not seeing at all.

“Le silence éternel des espaces infinis m’effraie”

The rain runs down the window, trying but failing to obscure the gaudy lights flickering like ignis fatui above the blackened heart of the brooding city outside.

As I reach for the coffee cup, my hand trembling slightly, I watch the small people on the screen. People speaking words I have spoken, adrift in the same deep dark waters that lap around me; lost souls in a city of lost hope.

And my head fills with thoughts of my mad wonderful genius friend and her amazing films and her excellent book. (Recommended by CNN :))

And then I put on my hat and go off in search of the occluded secrets of the Capitale de la Douleur

Ever Decreasing Circles

We were talking the other night about the power of social networks to connect us with people of similar interests. Through Facebook and Twitter we can gravitate towards elective affinities. No longer are we limited by location or access to just the people round us, we can find people who have similar tastes, similar interests, similar names anywhere in World 2.0.

Someone then asked what happens at the intersection of these social networks?

We are all faceted individuals, we all can tell rueful stories of what happened when one group of our friends met another group for the first time. So the overlap between these spaces may be limited, so the set of people who belong to the intersection of all the social sets we belong to will tend towards 1. Ourselves.

But what happens when we meet someone else in this hyperelective affinity? Are they our soulmate?

A nice thought. But then again I wonder if we lose something in such a reductive process? I am much the wiser for having friends who are very different from me. That tension between planning and experience. Perhaps there is another way?

She probably lives in Tahiti
She probably lives in Tahiti

Big Blue World

Was at City University last night to see Thomas Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital, talk about the use of social media as an engagement tool based on their experience running that strand of the Obama campaign.

I have to say that I was very taken by his approach. I was expecting something more technology focused, buzzword laden but instead the focus was very much on using simple technologies to build on basic good comms practice.

Some things I took away from the talk:

1. Be clear about why you are communicating. Do you expect the recipient to do something as a result? If so what? How will you know? How are you supporting them to achieve that? How does this become an engagement as opposed to just a one off?

2. Scale can be a way of derisking engagement. With 10 people if 2 disagree with you then that’s 20% of the audience actively against you, with 10 million people then even if 10,000 disagree with you it does not have the same impact.

3. If you are going to use technology then be clear why that platform. If the core value to you is being able to data mine the information about the people you are engaging with then doing that through Facebook or Bebo just means you have gifted that information to the platform owner. Not only that but you are now entangled in their brand values, viz. recent Facebook change of terms controversy.

4. Email works. Not email newsletters, no one reads them unless they are very specialised and effectively fanzines, but clear short emails which link to useful things. How can I get involved? What are the next steps? What resources are available to me? I liked the line about how the energy spent on email newsletters is vast and the return so slight.

5. Trust the people. User generated content can be gold. A recording of a teacher, a film of a volunteer these were the powerful things that stick in the mind.

6. But don’t get captured. It’s about facilitating community engagement, not community diktat. Be clear, be brave, don’t just delete and hide from things which challenge or embarrass but also do not get captured. Be clear what is up for discussion and what is settled.

7. Make it real and make it tangible. “I clicked here and I did this and now I am making this difference.”

None of this is unexpected, none of it rocket science so why are we still hooked on the idea that if we provide a platform that somehow, automagically, a topic will become interesting and people will become engaged?

Oh and

Fight the gap

I spent Wednesday at Microsoft as part of the launch of e-skills Big Ambition initiative which aims to increase the number of girls in ICT.

The figures are depressing, whilst the number of women studying technical subjects has increased in recent years, the number of women studying ICT has fallen and it continues to fall.

What is it about my world that makes it so unattractive to women?

We had some great speakers on Wednesday who made it plain that it was possible for women to succeed in IT, have a great job and manage to achieve a winning work/life balance. The audience of 170 13~14 year old girls were obviously inspired by what they had heard as only 33% said they would consider a career in ICT at the start of the day but that had risen to 81% by the end of the day.

Part of the day was a workshop where the girls came up with new ICT product ideas which they presented to a panel of judges, of which I was one. The ideas were fun, well thought through and there was a real sense of excitement about the whole process.

So how do we preserve that sense of excitement and engagement? How do we make our world visibly appealing to a wide range of people?

Why is ICT such a monoculture? Not just in terms of gender or ethnicity but mindset as well. People will talk about how it attracts people into maths, physics, logic hence it is mainly a world of inward focused people whose minds run on linear paths.

But that strikes me as a description, not an explanation. In ICT we spend much of our lives working with people, not machines. Trying to work out what it is that people want to do. Testing our assumptions with them. Training them how to use the systems. The machine bit, the “logical” bit is the easy part, ICT is not an exercise in hermeticism, it’s about making things happen for people.

The more we can do to encourage a broad swathe of people into the profession the better. I am sure that one of the reasons why so many corporate systems are ugly, inefficient and hard to use is that we have allowed ICT to become a world of stereotypes.

It’s down to all of us in the profession to challenge those stereotypes and encourage diversity. Not for moral reasons, though those are important, but because else we will simply be unable to deliver the critical systems which people need from us.

Oh and someone asked me about the “dream job” line on the Big Ambition website. My dream job? IT obviously 🙂