Life After Google Reader

March 28, 2013 at 11:52 pm | Posted in Research, Social Networks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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News gathering onlineI’ve used Google Reader to marshal news feeds from blogs and other web sites for a long time now.  I described my strategy in a blog post  almost 2 years ago.  Now, it seems, Google is going to kill Reader, leaving me (and a very large number of other users) to find an alternative tool.

I get that if a service is free then you have no comeback.  I also know there are other tools that could be used instead.  My beef is that a service I’d set up and which has been serving me well for a long time is now going away, without warning and without any apparent logic behind the decision.

This post on O’Reilly Radar makes a good point – certainly one I needed to think long and hard about.  Om Malik’s brief post on the demise of Google Reader raises a good point:  If we can’t trust Google to keep successful applications around, why should we bother trying them out?

So, with Reader due to cease in July, it was time to look for a replacement.  The first breakthrough was finding this post on the blog page for Feedly.  The blog explained that migrating from Reader doesn’t have to be a pain, because:

  • If you log into Feedly with your Google account, then Feedly automatically synchronises with your Google Reader feeds.
  • So, when Reader shuts down in July, Feedly just takes over – no further action required!

There’s also free apps for IOS (separate versions for iPhone and iPad) and Android, allowing me to move away from the trusty but slightly clunky Feeds app that I’ve been using to read items offline.

So far, so good.  Now, I like to be able to share items that particularly interest me with my contacts on Twitter, LinkedIn and (very occasionally) Facebook and I’ve been doing that using my favourite integration platform IFTTT.  This relies on the fact that IFTTT has connections (they call them channels) for both Google Reader (my source) and each of my targets (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook).  The Google Reader channel lets me trigger an action any time I star an item in Reader and then lets me use elements in the post to my targets (blog name, title, URL).  Sadly there’s currently no channel on IFTTT for Feedly, though I made sure I submitted a request for one.

So the next step was to find an intermediate platform.  The Feedly equivalent to Google Reader’s star action is called “save for later”.  Investigating the settings in Feedly I found that you can configure the s”save for later” function to post items to Pocket,  which does have an IFTTT channel.  So, now I can rewrite my IFTTT publishing rules to use Pocket and anything I bookmark (save for later) in Feedly will appear on Twitter, LinkedIn and (if I choose) Facebook.  Result!

As a bonus, I found that for anywhere I can email a link (say in a tweet), I can send that email to Pocket and the page the URL points to will be added to my queue in Pocket as well.

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Social Media and Me – Protecting your Reputation

July 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Social Networks | Leave a comment
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A Cautionary Tale

Imagine yourself in the final interview for your dream job and the interviewer says “We googled you …”.  If you heard those words, how would you feel?  What might they have found?  In recent posts, I’ve looked at how I use a WordPress blog to pass on information around my speciality (and show case my expertise into the bargain I hope) and how to build a network of contacts across a number of social networks and then use that to cultivate communities of interest and spark discussions.  In this post, I want to take a look at the potential for self-inflicted damage to your reputation, as a result of what you say on those social networks.

Anyway, back to the story.  In a famous case study, published in Harvard Business Review in June 2007, the CEO of a luxury clothes manufacturer is encouraged to interview the daughter of an old school friend for a prestige and high-profile post heading the company’s new store in Shanghai.  The interview goes exceptionally well, but then a routine search on Google by the company’s HR department turns up stories of the girl’s involvement in anti-Chinese demonstrations during her youth.  So, the CEO faces a dilemma – does he recruit the rising star and hope that her past doesn’t come to light or does he act to avoid damage to the company’s reputation in an important (and easily offended) lucrative new market.  To read the case study, you’ll have to buy it but you can read a sample of the debate that raged after the story was published.  The debate highlights how easily online users, especially the young, give up information about themselves.  But, do they understand that, once you click “Submit” something that seemed funny after an alcoholic night out can be read in the cold light of day for ever.

Giving Away Personal Information

As we navigate our way through the new world of social media, the information we reveal can be classified under a number of headings:

  • Service information – the minimum amount of information you have to disclose to a site or service owner to create an account and/or profile
  • Disclosed Information – the information you reveal about yourself by posting on your own pages
  • Entrusted information – the information you reveal about yourself by posting on someone else’s pages
  • Incidental information – the information about yourself (accurate or not) posted by someone else
  • Behavioural information – the information about your habits and preferences, collected by site or service owners and (potentially) sold to others.

Update 14/08/10: This classification of social media data was presented by Bruce Schneier at the Internet Governance Forum in November 2009.

    Controlling Your Privacy

    When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see why you need to take care over who sees and has access to your profile information, but do you really know?  When we talk about privacy, most of us really mean secrecy.  Actually, we should mean control – control over who sees what.  I don’t intend to single out Facebook, but there’s been much discussion over recent months on the site’s privacy policy and associated user settings.  The site has made a number of changes, but hasn’t always communicated clearly to users what those changes are and what the default (ie. “do nothing”) settings are.  However, you can get help on this for free, courtesy of Reputation Defender.  They have provided a simple, but effective solution to visualising your current security settings and changing them to what you feel is right for you.  You can read more about PrivacyDefender, the Facebook app that implements this in their FAQs and you can install the app by visiting the PrivacyDefender Facebook page.  The graphical representation is very helpful.  Consider this:

    • My contacts are on my list because I know them, I’ve met them or I’ve had dealings with them.  If this isn’t true for you, then you really need to rethink your strategy around these social networks.
    • I trust my contacts to exercise good judgement in choosing their contacts.  Beyond this second degree of my network, I have no basis on which to judge people.

    Is Anyone Listening?

    It seems to be an accepted fact that most blogs are destined to be abandoned after a short period of time.   I was saddened to see that this fate has befallen at least two of the blogs on my blog roll.  The same is probably true of Twitter accounts and many other social network profiles.  I read somewhere (if you’re the author of this quote, my apologies – let me know and I’ll update the post) that success on Twitter can be defined as having at least 100 followers.  There’s plenty of publicity about how the most popular denizens of the Twitterverse have tens of thousands of   followers, so I find that suggestion quite hard to believe.  At least with Twitter though, you can get some sort of objective measure of the influence you have through your tweets.  Twitalyzer collects details of your Twitter activity and uses it to give an indication of engagement (users you mention and users that mention you), impact (combination of followers, number of posts, retweets and retweeting others and more) and many others.  It’s free – all you need to do is sign in with your Twitter credentials and take a look.

    Mixing Business with Pleasure

    I mentioned in my previous post on how I built my network of contacts that, with a few exceptions, there’s no overlap between my business contacts (largely in LinkedIn) and my family and friends (in Facebook).  This is quite deliberate.  For a start, my family and friends have little or no interest in the arcane details of my specialisation.  Similarly, my business contacts don’t want or need to know about my activities outside work.  Conversations between family members and friends (on Facebook and in the real world) can get heated, boisterous, detached from reality amongst other things.  Look back through your friend feed on Facebook and make a note of the comments you wouldn’t want your work colleagues (or more particularly, a new business contact) to read.  So, keep the two groups separate on the separate networks and think carefully before you post updates to both.  That way, your reputation will be safe, right?  Well, maybe not quite as safe as you’d think.

    Microsoft have been running a beta programme for the Outlook Social Connector.  This new component (available for Outlook 2007 and 2010) adds a “People Pane”, which adds a communications  history for each person, not just within Outlook but also through the Social Connector and its plug-ins, on other networks.  Thus far, plug-ins are available for LinkedIn and MySpace.  Facebook and Twitter are planned for the near future.

    Update 13/07/10

    Microsoft announced today new plug-ins for the Outlook Social Connector to support both Facebook and Microsoft Live Messenger.  I’ve downloaded and installed the Facebook provider (it needs the latest version of OSC, but it’ll download and install it for you) and it works fine.  You can find a review of Microsoft’s announcement on Mashable and you can download the new provider from Microsoft.

    But, you don’t even have to wait.  You can download XOBNI (that’s “Inbox” spelt backwards in case you were wondering) for free right now.  This add-in for Outlook has connectors for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Xing.  It can find information on your contact’s employer through Hoovers and even connect to sales information in Salesforce.com!  It proactively uses your account on these networks to go off and search for your contact, trying to match all available email addresses and telephone numbers to offer possible matches.

    To See Ourselves as Others See Us

    (with apologies to Robert Burns)  So, to summarise, whatever you post, in anger, in haste or after a few beers, stays out there for ever.  You can be sure that in our business lives, as we meet people for the first time, as prospective employers, employees, customers or suppliers, increasingly, they’re going to say…

    “We googled you”

    … and if they do, will they find the carefully crafted profile on LinkedIn, with a photo in a sober business suit – or will they find a Facebook update of a drunken stag weekend in Amsterdam, complete with a picture in a clown costume and a pink wig!  Think before you click <Submit>.

    Social Media and Me – It’s Good to Talk

    July 7, 2010 at 12:17 am | Posted in Social Networks | 4 Comments
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    It’s now just about a month since I started my new job. It’s been 10 years since the last time I was the newbie and I’d forgotten quite how hard it can be. It’s like joining a school part way through the term. Everyone else already has their friends, so you hop around on the edge of the group, desperately hoping to get noticed. Actually, a contact on Twitter introduced me to a current employee at the new company. They then passed my name (and Twitter account) on to others. So, on Day 1, I had at least a few people to turn to for advice.

    Actually, my new employer is very supportive of social media. The corporate guidelines on use of these technologiess are often cited as an excellent model for others to follow. In my last blog post, I looked back on how I’ve used blogging as the heart of my marketing effort during my foray into the world of independent consulting. This time, I want to look at what I’ve learned about the art of creating and maintaining a network of contacts. After all, it’s of limited use creating interesting and thought-provoking content, if you can’t reach a pool of like-minded individuals who might like to read it.

    Beating Dunbar’s Number

    Dunbar’s Number is a well-known concept in anthropology, which states that an individual can only maintain strong stable relationships with around 150 people.  The number is held to be a function of the size of the neocortex, a theory tested by comparing the social groupings of other primates.  Some people claim that any group loses cohesion and eventually its identity when its size exceeds Dunbar’s number.   Others suggest that the rise of social networks allows us to comfortably exceed this limit.  Maybe it’s because the software tools to hand act as a “force multiplier”.  An alternative view, which I described in an earlier blog post, holds that social networks bring benefit through weak associations.  This view is eloquently described in “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom” by Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta.  So, how does this apply to me?  I’ve been slowly building my online network of contacts since 2005.  Let’s start by taking a look at each of the social networks I subscribe to and how they fit into my overall plan:

    LinkedIn: Joined February 2005

    This was my first foray into social networking, prompted by an invitation from a colleague.  I now have a network of around 250 contacts and for each of them I can claim that they’re people I’ve worked with (colleagues, business partners) or worked for (clients) over the years.  LinkedIn is by far the most valuable source of contacts.  In fact, my current job and another senior role that I declined at around the same time, both arose from LinkedIn.  I find the groups very helpful as a way of finding and contributing to “communities of interest”, keeping me in touch with what people are thinking in my particular specialisation.

    Twitter: Joined March 2009

    My original idea in joining Twitter was to see if it could be a useful way of staying in touch.  At the time I was a member of a small team all based in different countries and it was difficult to know where others were and what they were doing.  Our employer didn’t allow instant messaging on the corporate Blackberry (those were the days before I discovered iPhone).  Nowadays, I use Twitter far more to listen to others, all experts in fields peripheral to mine and occasionally to chip in with my ideas.  I also of course make use of its reach to notify new blog posts, articles and so on.


    Plaxo: Joined April 2009

    I was invited to join Plaxo by one of my LinkedIn colleagues.  I’ve never really explored it very much and only have a handful of contacts.  I don’t see any unique capabilities, so this would be a good candidate for culling.


    XING: Joined April 2009

    This is the same story as with Plaxo.  Xing is very popular in Germany and I was invited to join by a German colleague.  Again, I can’t find any unique proposition and I haven’t put much effort into building a contact base.


    Naymz: Joined October 2009

    Naymz is a a network for which I had high hopes.  While offering the same sort of capabilities as similar business-oriented social networks, it introduced two significant concepts.  The first is an effort to verify identity when you enrol.  Sadly, the main means of doing this is only available in the US.  The second is encouraging your contacts to rate their relationship with you against a number of simple questions.  From these responses, the site calculates a “reputation score”.  The responss you receive are weighted by the reputation scores of those you connect to.  This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable objective, when you’re trying to locate someone to help with your business.  Naymz trawls your other contact lists and sends out invites.  After an initial flurry of interest, the site seems to have lost impetus.  In fact, a number of my contacts have left the site altogether.


    Facebook: Joined April 2010

    I always said that I wouldn’t join Facebook – it’s an age thing I suppose, being firmly placed in the middle of that thundering herd, labelled the Baby Boomers.  Eventually, I created an account and profile, in order to help someone out in connecting to Facebook from (I think) Tweetdeck.  Again, I’ve made not too much effort to add contacts, but I do find it helpful for keeping in touch with family and also friends from my running club.  There’s a little overlap with my business contacts, but largely I keep the two groups separated.


    Google Buzz: Joined May 2010

    This was my most recent foray.  Again, my curiosity was piqued when both Tweetdeck and ping.fm announced support.  However, having signed up, again it showed very little in the way of interesting functionality and – given that I’m not a GMail user – I found few people to follow.  I read the other day that Google are about to start again, building a new social network.  I can’t in all conscience blame them.

    Across all these networks, I have a total network of something like 300 unique contacts, but frankly, most of the benefit comes from LinkedIn and (more recently) Twitter.  Do I really need to maintain so many networks?  There’s a significant amount of work involved in maintaining a consistent profile across all the platforms and in applying status updates to them all.  This latter can be to a degree automated, as I described earlier, using combinations of Twitterfeed (or Hootsuite) and ping.fm.  However, I’ve noticed a trend amongst my contacts to decrease the number of networks they frequent  as well as the number of contacts they retain on each:

    • Social media expert Joanne Jacobs announced on Twitter that she intended blocking followers who make no significant contribution to the discussion;
    • One of my Facebook contacts announced that he would be “culling” contacts from his friends list – again the reason he cited was a failure to engage;
    • I have noticed regular emails from the Naymz network, informing me that contacts have left my reputation network.  Investigation reveals that these contacts have in fact left the Naymz site altogether.
    • Social media wizard and fellow IBMer Andy Piper commented on Twitter that, while he supports the BCS plans for modernisation, he’s bitterly disappointed in the Society’s attempts to build a members’ network, without much of the functionality we expect in social networks and with no provision to integrate with other widely used platforms.

    Protecting your Investment
    It’s taken me 5 years and a lot of effort to build and refine my social network. As I’ve said above it has real, proven value to me, so why would I risk that investment? All that data is stored on other people’s servers, somewhere in the cloud. Since I don’t generally pay for this service, I’m surely not entitled to expect a service level beyond “best efforts” in the event of a disaster.

    So how should I go about protecting this valuable asset? There are a number of services available, both paid and free, to backup one or more of your social network accounts. I’m currently trialling a free service from Backupify.  This allows me to schedule daily backups of (thus far) Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. I’d love to use this service for LinkedIn as well, but the site tells me that the authors have been refused access to the LinkedIn APIs. Why on earth do that? I raised a support ticket on LinkedIn asking them to co-operate with Backupify and received an answer that it would be considered of other users ask for the same thing. If you try Backupify and like it, then you know what to do.

    One question that comes to mind is “what if I need to restore my data?”. It seems to me that this is always going to be a manual process. In the case of Twitter, there’s no way of re-inserting tweets into the public feed. So, Backupify collects all your Twitter data into a PDF report. If needed, you could then re-follow those you followed before and perhaps notify your followers of your new user name.

    In my last post on this topic (for now, at least), I’ll look at reputation management and how to avoid to avoid a sense of doom when an interviewer says those awful words …

    “We googled you.”

    Postscript

    While writing this post, I decided to preview what I’d done to check the layout. What I actually managed to do was to hit “publish”. No problem, I just trashed the post and started again. Unfortunately, WordPress had already sent the URL to Twitter. As a result, some people will have been rewarded with the notorious “Error 404” when they clicked on the link. This is because of the automatic “publicise to Twitter” widget. As a precaution, I’ve disabled the widget, so that Twitter and the other social networks will be updated through Twitterfeed and ping.fm after a short delay-enough to allow a change of mind. Once again, apologies for the annoying error. No excuses, it was all my fault!

    Social Media and Me – Pause for Thought

    June 18, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Social Networks | 4 Comments
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    It seems scarcely possible that it’s a year since I made the decision to strike out on my own as an independent consultant. One of the first things that struck me was that I would need to find a way to replace all the information resources I’d become used to after nearly 10 years with a major software vendor. The next thing that struck me was that I’d better learn a bit about marketing – quickly! I remember asking my friend and colleague Simon Perry of Thinking String whose blogs I should be reading. His answer surprised me more than a little “You shouldn’t be reading blogs, you should be writing one.” It’s nearly a year ago that I took the first tentative step on this site, devoting my very first blog post to a description of how I would bend social media to meeting these two needs in my fledgling business.

    So, one year on, as I pass another milestone in my career, it seems appropriate to look back on that strategy and to consider what I’ve learned – what worked and what didn’t; what’s coming along that might help and what I’d still like to see.

    Clearly, a blog needed to be at the heart of my strategy, giving me a platform to showcase my skills and experience and to engage in discussions with experts in the field. After seeking advice from established bloggers, I settled on WordPress. I decide to have my blog hosted on wordpress.com, to give me the simplest possible start. Does it damage my “brand” because it’s not hosted within my domain? I honestly don’t know. What do you think?

    One thing that doesn’t seem to have worked for me has been social bookmarking.  Watching the statistics on my WordPress blog, I noticed eventually, that I was getting traffic via sites like Digg and StumbleUpon.  This prompted me to look at whether I could encourage readers to tag a blog post they found interesting, by providing the buttons on the page, through AddThis .  This is where I started to run into the limitations of hosting my blog on wordpress.com.  Unlike the hosted version of WordPress, which has a plug-in to implement the AddThis menu, in the wordpress.com layout, I have to place it in the sidebar and I’m not convinced it works properly anyway.  In any event, since I added the button bar, I’ve seen no clicks to bookmark posts.  Is it because of the position of the toolbar or is it because no-one thinks the material worth bookmarking?  I don’t know.

    The biggest problem I face with blogging – and I’m sure this is true for many bloggers – is actually writing the posts!  It’s not a matter of thinking of topics or deciding what to say, although that’s what I thought would be the limitation when I started.  Rather, it’s the time it takes to actually write the article, polish it into satisfactory style and grammar and assemble suitable graphics and links.  I tend to make my blog posts moderately long, compared to what seems to be the norm.   Writing 1,000 words to a standard that I’m happy with can take me 4-5 hours, even when I have a very clear idea of what I want to say.  Finding the time to do that is always a problem – especially recently, since I switched from self-employment back to a permanent role – and it’s fatal if I interrupt the writing before it’s finished.  This post sat untouched as a half-written draft for 2 weeks before I came back to finish it off.  I’m not sure what I can do about that, although one approach that looks promising is using the iPhone app for WordPress.  I wouldn’t want to mess around with formatting using an on-screen keyboard – my HTML’s just not that good.  However, if I can do the basic layout, add the graphics and some text, it’s certainly feasible to add body text offline through the iPhone and sync the changes back to WordPress.  That will make use of dead time while I’m travelling, which is one of the major pressures on my time recently.

    I’ve also been trying to reuse the material I do write.  I started by publishing some posts at Ezine Articles (you’ll also find an index of them on my blog here).  Not very post is suited to this platform though.  There are automated mechanisms to allow blog posts to be sent direct to Ezine Articles, but the site only accepts articles subject to strict rules.  You’re only allowed 2 links in the article body and there’s no graphics, so any of my posts requires modification first.  However, it’s worth the effort, generating a significant number of views.  It was here that I learned another valuable lesson about content:  by splitting long posts into smaller, linked articles, you get more chances to attract readers and they’re more likely to stay, following through the set of articles.

    The next thing I’d like to try builds on this, by offering the same content in multiple different formats:

    • Write a blog post and publish it here
    • Simplify and publish as one or more articles on Ezine Articles
    • Produce a slide show to summarise  the topic, add the article text as speaker notes and publish it to Slideshare
    • Add an audio narration of the speaker notes, convert to a video at authorSTREAM

    I have a topic already – a slide deck I prepared for a job interview some months back. All I need to do is find the time to produce the additional formats and publish them.

    Earlier this year, I wrote about how a comment by my friend and small business marketing coach Greg Spence led me to investigate how to use Google Alerts to search for news stories around your main key word phrases. Since I posted that article, I’ve gradually migrated all the RSS feeds for blogs that I follow and added Twitter searches for those keywords as well. I’ve already described how I rely on the “Feeds” iPhone app

    to synchronise with Google Reader, allowing me to browse all those items offline and mark the few that are sufficiently interesting to follow-up on. It did eventually occur to me that other people might find the same things interesting – after all, if you follow me on Twitter or read my blog, we’ve got something in common, haven’t we? While investigating a problem between Twitterfeed and ping.fm, I discovered that I can use ping.fm to monitor for new additions to the “shared items” list in Google Reader and then post the link to my contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

    In my next post, I’ll look at the social networks I use to maintain my circle of contacts and how I notify those contacts of new content.

    Have I Got News for You

    February 15, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Posted in Research, Social Networks | 5 Comments
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    (with apologies to the wickedly funny BBC panel game of the same name)

    Meet Greg Spence.  Greg and I first met more than 25 years ago, when we worked together for a small, specialist engineering consultancy.  We worked on some early distributed database projects, using Oracle’s SQL*Link and SQL*Connect components and Greg went on to become the first Chairman of the Oracle UK Users Group.

    We lost touch when Greg left the consultancy and it was only recently that I received a message through LinkedIn from him.  By this time, he had moved from technology into sales and marketing.  Currently, he helps small business owner to improve their sales and marketing results through the innovative and effective use of internet marketing.   If, like me, you’re intrigued by the use of social networking and blogs for marketing, I strongly recommend subscribing to Greg’s blog.

    If you’ve been following my posts over the last few months, you’ll remember how my very first post described how I use RSS feeds into Microsoft Outlook to keep track of what’s happening and to populate Microsoft OneNote, ready for drafting new blog posts.  So, newly connected to Greg, I was interested to see a comment he posted, explaining how to use Google Alerts to search for news stories around your main key word phrases and how to forward that to Google Reader.  A little research showed that Google Reader is in fact a very easy way of aggregating these searches with RSS and Atom feeds from blogs and other static web pages.  All I needed to do was to create an account on Google.  Incidentally, this gives another opportunity to create a profile, linked to your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on.  You can check out my Google profile here.

    So far, so good – but you know me.  I have to find a way to integrate my iPhone into everything.  So, a little more research led me to the Unofficial Apple Website and an excellent review by Jason Clarke, comparing Byline and Feeds, both of which sync with Google Reader.  I settled quickly on Feeds:

    With this new set-up, it’s simple to sync Feeds with my Google Reader account before leaving home, or whenever I find myself within free wi-fi coverage.  That leaves me with an offline copy of the latest news on my topics, for me to read on the iPhone while travelling.  The options menu allows me to very simply tweet anything that catches my eye or to email a page to a friend.

    So, back to Greg.  This very useful tweak to my notification set-up encouraged me to investigate Greg’s blog and web site.  There, I found a very useful (and free!) 28 page report on Automated Marketing, which describes how to use content to drive your internet marketing efforts.  You can get an idea of how it all works from this pictorial overview:

    I’d managed to work out a lot of this by trial and error over the last few months, but I found a number of things that are worthy of immediate attention, including:

    • Publishing slightly longer, factual articles at (for example) Ezine Articles;
    • Using Hootsuite and ping.fmto publish a snippet of comments on other blogs, together with a (shortened) url to those blogs.

    I hope to persuade Greg to write a guest post for me in the near future, but for now, I thoroughly recommend that you download his report.

    The Kindness of Strangers

    December 1, 2009 at 10:00 am | Posted in Social Networks | 1 Comment
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     “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”.

    (Blanche DuBois:  A Streetcar Named Desire) 

    In their powerful analysis of the Web 2.0 phenomenon “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom”, Matthew Fraser and Soumitra Dutta describe how social networking sites  allow us to maintain a loose but extensive network of our contacts and their contacts.  Our links to the members of this network are weak and generally dormant.  However, when we need advice or assistance, we turn to this network for help.  We’re all prepared to help out by providing information because, we reason, one day we too will need to call on the kindness of strangers.

     A recent Gartner webinar (Social Software: Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast) described how social networks can allow communities of interest to form, often bringing together like-minded people who might otherwise never met.  David Mellor (no relation) of Fairplace is a business mentor, helping people making the transition from employment to running their own business.  David used a LinkedIn group to build a community of interest among the people he has assisted.   I joined other members of this group recently at the Fairplace offices in London for an evening networking event .  One of our number, Christine Stedmann, gave a short presentation on her experiences in the first 12 months of setting up and running her business.  Christine, a former corporate & investment banking professional, is Managing Director of Zentime Living Ltd, an organisational lifestyle management & concierge company.   She maintains a blog to record her ideas and the lessons she’s learned in launching Zentime. 

     In the days following the event, I followed the discussions on the LinkedIn group, added my opinion, where appropriate, and of course added new contacts to my LinkedIn network.  It came as a surprise however to receive an email from Christine, inviting me to showcase Identigrate UK on her blog.  Will that guest post win me business?  I have no idea, but what I do know is this:  it’s connected me and my ideas to a whole new group of people, whom I would otherwise not have reached.

    So, next time visit a social networking site, don’t just browse.  Join in the conversation.  If you’re reading a blog – even this one – add a comment.  Give your opinion, offer additional information, or even just offer some encouragement.  Answer questions on LinkedIn when you can.  Retweet interesting messages on Twitter.  Over time, that’s how your online credibility grows and that’s how, when you need help, you’ll experience the kindness of strangers.

    The Rise and Rise of Social Networks

    September 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Social Networks | Leave a comment
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    Last weekend saw Mrs V1951 and me visiting our local travel agent to discuss a totally unexpected and most unwelcome change of itinerary for our holiday over Christmas.  As we were discussing the tour operator’s apparent lack of concern over the opinions of their customers, I mentioned the YouTube video by musician Dave Carroll after United Airline baggage handlers broke his guitar.  The original video (the first in a trilogy) has been watched by around 5.5 million people so far.  His plight was covered on CNN and even made the Oprah Winfrey Show, causing United share price to tumble, before the airline finally relented and donated $3,000 to a musicians’ charity in Carroll’s name.

    The travel agent replied that company policy prevented their staff from accessing social media sites from the corporate network.  This surprised me – I’d assumed that the travel industry would be amongst the first to see the huge benefits of both reaching out to customers and also seeing what customers are saying about their experiences.

    “Generation Whatever”

    A couple of weeks ago, the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones reported on a panel session, organised by think tank the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation.   The CSFI assembled a group teenagers from the so-called Generation Y (or “Generation Whatever” as one father described them) to find out their attitudes towards media.   It seems (surprise surprise!) that they are online even when they’re doing their homework – online meaning Facebook of course (“Nobody over 25 should be allowed on Facebook” according to one girl).  However, they are starting to wake up to the possibilities of Twitter.  The round table revealed that teenagers are amenable to advertising on TV, but are far less keen on adverts while they’re using Facebook.  In fact research suggests that online users place far more stock in recommendations (or otherwise) from their peers than in advertising or other “official” sources of information.  Teenagers also understand that there is built-in unreliability in the information they glean from social networks (“I posted that a flying horse had been found in Alaska and suddenly I had 100 followers.”)

    Three clicks away from eight million people

    Now, demographically I’m firmly in the middle of that thundering herd, known as the “Baby Boomers” (Vintage1951 is a clue, right?), but I’m an avid user of these technologies.  As an independent consultant, I appreciate their power in allowing me to build and maintain my network of contacts and to voice my opinion, hopefully thus raising my profile.  I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for several years and joined the Twitter bandwagon around 9 months ago.  I’m not on Facebook though; I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed at the “yoof” roundtable.  As a security practitioner, I can understand corporate concerns about access to these technologies during company time and using company resources.  However, I’m increasingly certain that social networks are bringing about a fundamental change in the way we communicate.  My list of immediate contacts on LinkedIn (169 at the time of writing) gives me access to 1.7million people.  Peter Cochrane, whose personal network reaches 8 million individuals,  makes a good point in a recent blog, that social networks create a network of hand-picked and capable people, which is far more powerful than a network where we have no control of the growth.  

    Welcome to the Revolution

    This isn’t a fad – something that’ll traverse the Gartner Hype Cycle and then vanish – rather a sea change in how businesses and individuals communicate.   This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a Black Swan.  We couldn’t really predict that this would happen, but, now that social networks are here, the old rules (for corporate communications and for IT security) no longer apply.

    So, if there are any marketing or IT security specialists, who are still in any doubt as to the importance of successfully and safely deploying social networks, take a look at this video by online marketer and author Erik Qualman.  If you have trouble connecting to YouTube, ask any teenager.  They’ll show you how.

    Dirk Gently

    July 17, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Posted in Research, Social Networks | 8 Comments
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    Around 25 years ago – early in my consulting career, my then Managing Director informed me that I was the company’s answer to Dirk Gently.  When I asked him what he meant, he just said “Read the book”  (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams).  It seems that the eponymous hero believes in “the fundamental connectedness of all things”.  That struck me as a pretty good description of my methods and has been my touchstone ever since.  Please note though that Dirk Gently specialises in lost cats and messy divorces.  I have opted not to mirror his career that closely!

    So, fast forward to the present, where I find myself about to leave a global software company after nearly 10 years and to launch myself into the unknown as an independent consultant.  In the corporate world, I was used to presenting the company’s message, assembled from a dizzying array of Sharepoint portals and wikis.  Now, I have to find another means of collecting new scraps of information, manipulating them to form an opinion and then disseminating them to anyone who may be interested.

    Collecting is quite simple; configure Outlook to collect RSS feeds for a selection of blogs (Bruce Schneier, Peter Cochrane, David Lacey …) to supplement the news from Silicon.com.  I also like to keep up with one or two podcasts, most notably the British Computer Society’s “Whitelist”.  This has proven to be the perfect mission for an internet radio I bought from Aldi a while back.  I just use the Reciva portal to configure the podcasts I’m interested in and then I can listen while doing “other things” (Mrs V1951 doesn’t quite get the whole “work from home” thing).

    The only component of my information management strategy I had to spend money on was Microsoft OneNote 2007 – and it was worth every penny.  I love being able to send web pages, emails, whatever to OneNote for sorting and classifying later.  Incidentally, I just heard that there’s to be an iPhone app for OneNote.  There’ll be a product web site for this in August – watch this space for more details.

    Finally, I have to disseminate my conclusions, through a blog – and WordPress fits the bill nicely – and later through a website and maybe white papers.  Of course, I need to let people know that I’ve posted something and that’s where the social networks come in.  I’m a long-time fan of LinkedIn and I’m just starting to experiment with Twitter.  Sending a tweet to point to a new blog entry seems a good starting point.  Of course, if I use the Twhirl client, I can have ping.fm update multiple locations at once, for example updating LinkedIn status (I don’t use Facebook).

    So, that’s how I’m doing things for now, but  I really have to get on with designing and building a web site.  Time to get on with some keyword analysis.  I like to think that Dirk Gently would approve.

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