A Friday lunch inspired plea

Trying to arrange lunch with the wonderful @angusfarquhar today at short notice somehow managed to involve the use of Twitter, GTalk,  and our mobiles simultaneously in a great example of male geeks communicating in three mediums but still struggling to decide a location and time effectively.

But eventually we finally managed to make it to TheBreakfastClubSoho, which proved to be a good choice.

So microblogging, IM’ing, chatting on the phone, and talking in person, in the space of 20 minutes.

And that just emphasised the fact that the actual technology we were using was fairly irrelevant – being able to share links, locations and maps virtually made life slightly easier, but at the end of the day it all comes down to humans communicating to be able to achieve whatever task they require.

Please don’t forget that when new technology appears.

Gadgets aren’t important, but tools are

I’ve just been reflecting on a weekend visit by my parents. I’ve been lucky enough to always have a good relationship with them, especially as they’ve always had a particularly youthful taste in music and films, which means we’ve always had some common ground, and we always have a new band or film to recommend to each other.

In the old days, we’ve each end up bringing CDs and DVDs for entertainment, but things have changed:

I played them new music on Last.fm, as recommend by @stephenfry.

We watched some classic Rallycross on Youtube, which we were at when I was a child. (For the record, one of my favourite drivers and cars of all time was the black Audi Quattro of Dimi Mavropoulos, even when he was up against local hero Will Gollop. In those days, the top Rallycross cars were the awesome vehicles which had just been banned from Group B rallying for being too fast!

We looked at recent holiday pictures on Flickr.

And I helped them do some shopping on Amazon, before catching up with a TV programme on iPlayer.

The only mainstream media which we all actually shared in as a family was the original Swedish language Wallander shown on TV (and far superior to the new English-language version with Kenneth Brannagh).

And it all reminded me that laptops, digital cameras, and mobile phones are no longer ‘gadgets’. They’re tools.

A gadget is a small technological object (such as a device or an appliance) that has a particular function, but is often thought of as a novelty. Gadgets are invariably considered to be more unusually or cleverly designed than normal technology at the time of their invention. Gadgets are sometimes also referred to as gizmos. (From Wikipedia)

It’s why I don’t really care when Michael Arrington claims netbooks are underpowered, too small and hard to type on. Or Wired doing a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the Apple iPhone vs the T-Mobile G1.

The specifications of each device only matter to the geeks – the possibilities matter to everyone.

That’s why I’m so excited about the fact Barack Obama is putting investment and accesibility to broadband at the forefront of his recovery plan for the U.S. I only hope the UK’s copying of U.S. policy extends to one of the best ideas, as well as many of the worst, and one of my Christmas wishes for 2009 comes true!

It’s not about processing power or battery life – my backup laptop is old enough to have been upgraded to Windows 98, and just managed to run Open Office and the unfortunately named Gimp. But that’s more than enough for my partner to check her social networks and interact, and for me to run my blogs, do my dayjob, and keep up with everything.

Snow shovel by cindy47452 on Flickr (CC Licence)

Snow shovel by cindy47452 on Flickr (CC Licence)

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm of obsessing over every minute detail when it comes to technology. The iPhone, N97 or G1 show what’s at the cutting edge, but the INQ is at a more accessible price – and the content and value of your emails will be the same whichever device you use.

You can use Myspace, Blogger or WordPress to write a blog, and the message will have the same value (even if I’d always recommend a hosted WordPress blog!).

It’s all about what you’re doing with what is available that counts. Especially if your budget buying is being cut back at the moment – don’t worry about what you can’t afford, but figure out how to maximise what you can do with what you’ve got.

And remember, the days of broadband, a laptop, or an internet-enabled mobile phone being just a gadget are over.

Breaking the habit of broadcast media

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

UK newspapers by franckdethier on Flickr (CC Licence)

It’s only when you try and break a long held habit that you realise how much we’re all influenced by the way we’ve always done things. Since starting my efforts to cut down and stop smoking, I’ve managed to get to the point where I only have the occasional cigarette once the family has gone to bed – but it’s the hardest one to drop. And when I get writers block, my intake rapdily goes up because I’ve spent so long finding inspiration by getting outside and getting the hit of nicotine while my brain kicks into gear.

And I’ve also started to try and challenge the broadcast media habit of trying to get the biggest audience with the least work. For years we’ve focused on audience figures to suggest that by doing the bare minimum, you’ll reach the biggest audience.

Whereas in the modern world, we need to work harder than ever at making as much of what we do remarkable, and to pursue as many opportunities to the maximum as we can. Otherwise we’ll keep finding someone else that does!

It reminds me of a post I read earlier today, which sadly I seem to have misplaced, commenting on the problem facing the A-List of blogging. Namely, the fact that people like Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk are finding it hard to scale to respond on an individual level to every email, post and tweet they receive, and in effect, become mini-broadcasters.

The simple answer is that they still remain increasingly popular because they put in a huge amount of effort to stay more accessible than mainstream media. They don’t have to make time for everyone, but by attempting it as far as possible, it gives hope to those who don’t grab their attention at a particular time. It’s why I count myself fortunate to have had messages from the likes of Chris Anderson and Hugh McLeod, but I don’t bombard them with emails, or suddenly thinkg they’re my best friend and will respond to everything I do – they’ll do it if what I say is interesting and they have the time available.

The other option is to scale it, and for them to find someone as similar as possible, or someone they can trust, to work alongside them.

That’s where broadcast media should be. We still have far more resources than the top bloggers, so why not scale back on the coverage that everyone else is parroting, use link journalism, and focus on becoming closer to the spirit of individual response that blogging has fostered.

After all, it’s what we laud Zappos, Dell and Comcast for doing.

But there is a habit of resisting the idea of putting in that much effort for what will be less profit in total. Despite the fact that everything so far has shown that it’s harder to get similar levels of profit from online audiences as you would in print, radio or TV, and that the only way to really be successful is to aggregate lots and lots of individuals monetisation.

Annoyingly, the great David Armano summed this up far more succinctly.

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (http://darmano.typepad.com/)

The Corporate Social Media Curve by David Armano (http://darmano.typepad.com/)

At the point before the curve starts to dip, we need to put in the extra effort to keep that line climbing. Now if only I hadn’t needed a cigarette to think of all this!

Sometimes it’s best just to step back…

I actually intended to write a post about Digg today, and got halfway through it, when I realised that it would actually benefit from a bit more thought, research and polishing.

It comes on top of a few days which have seen several plans need to be adapted or comprimised, and several challenges. And it’s reminded me that although many of the people I work with have understood or seen the benefit of social media and community as part of the overall strategies for marketing and the business as a whole, there’s still a lot of work to make it more integrated, show more of the benefits, and recognise where improvements can be made.

It’s easy to put the blame on other people. ‘They’ just don’t understand. ‘They’ just don’t get it. Surely it’s obvious that ‘everyone’ is becoming networked? Why can’t people just get what I’m doing and do everything I ask/need/wish for?

But with a bit of perspective, things get a bit clearer. All the people I deal with on a daily basis have lots of concerns, and the use of social media is just one part of their jobs/roles/lives/plans – and for some it’s a fairly small part.

And that’s how it should be at the moment.

Eventually, I believe that the tool of social media should be integral to everything we do. And it’s something I often hear within the social media echo chamber. But in reality, it’s down to people in roles like mine to drive results, work through problems, and interact properly with others to ensure there things happen, and that everyone within the company benefits.

It’s ironic really – using something so social starts with me re-evaluating the individual role I play and how I play it!

(For those expecting a post concerning Digg, it’ll come tomorrow, I promise!)

An unsung benefit of Twitter

Many of the benefits of using Twitter have been discussed in terms of individual communication, or opening up companies – but one major benefit I’ve experienced hasn’t been mentioned anywhere I’ve seen.

At it’s most simple, I get a lot less email to deal with. For all the time I’ve spent on Twitter, and the ability is has to act like social networking crack and make whole hours vanish in conversation, it’s had a hugely positive effect on the time I spend trawling through Outlook filing 100s of emails for attention if I get time, following links, and generally drowning in a see of email.

Twitter has changed that by allowing anyone who wants to contact me with a simple question get straight to the point – the same works for linksharing (along with Delicious,Stumbleupon and Digg).

I rarely browse websites, or read reviews and other content which isn’t recommended for me personally. I rarely get emails touting the latest viral comedy video clip, or joke photos – and when I do, it’s from people who I’d generally classify as Late Adopters. Which means for the first time in a few years, my main email accounts (including my work one) are now possible to keep relatively empty – when a few months ago I’d regularly be getting 150+ emails per day. It also means less time spent configuring spam filters and email rules to keep myself productive.

The final benefit is that it categorises communication somewhat. Without it becoming silo’d, it means that I can expect useful links on Delicious, documents on email, and a general overview of the best stuff on the web from Stumbleupon and Digg. And I can expect to dive into the latest Zeitgeist, and pick up on messages and links quickly in a few Twitter bursts throughout the day.

So if you want to help justify the time you spent tweeting – start counting the time you don’t spend checking emails…

Is Twitter actually communication?

I’ve been a twitter user for a little while now, and yes, it is addictive. You get used to posting all kinds of stuff as often as possible.

It’s especially addictive when people you have never spoken to start following you for no good reason! It’s the best, so thank you, all my followers.

What quietly bugs me about Twitter is that I wonder if by default, it is really a form of communication.

Plenty of twitter users just pump out the tweets as if they are a lone voice broadcasting to a world who clings to their every word.

As I was informed recently: “You’ve got it (Twitter) all wrong, you don’t hear from your followers, you hear from those you follow”.
This for me, seems wrong. I am not an egotistical evil genius so therefore am into Twitter only for actual communication – not for just pounding out what I’m doing with little regard for others.

I am all into following back my followers. If I am of interest to them, then we can be twitter friends as far as I am concerned.

Twitter takes a little effort if you want to consider it as a mini-social network. I have evenings where I feel like ‘getting myself out there’ and so concentrate on replying to people who have been tweeting and having a little chat.

There were some people I found on Twitter who I followed because they are the internet-famous giants. But for me, those guys can give me no personal contact – they are victims of their own social success. They couldn’t possibly interact with the sheer number of their followers. These sorts I stopped following.

To me, Twitter is all about making friends and networking. I specifically also like to befriend my fellow UK residents, especially if there are geographically near me.

Twitter has to be up close and personal. It’s all about interactive communication.