Can you handle the data?

Two of the biggest recent trends for sharing and marketing content have been infographics and data visualisations. Not a day goes by without an infographic being shared which shows social networking stats, mobile stats, stats about stats and other stats in a graphical form. They’re useful for raising awareness, driving some direct traffic, and have also been used to create backlinks to sites by including the details in any embed code which is being used.

The other side of the graphical data coin is data visualisations, whether they’re being produced as bespoke creations by someone like David McCandless, or as entirely automated processes, such as LinkedIn Labs new InMaps, which visualises all the professional networks you’ve created by connecting with other people on LinkedIn. Allow them access to your account and you get a lovely spirograph type affair.

Dan Thornton's LinkedIn Network Visualised

Now, it’s definitely very pretty, but it’s hard to define how to use it effectively to achieve anything. While I may just be a grumpy writer, data visualisations theoretically allow anyone with the some programming ability to produce them, and there are increasing ways to get hold of interesting data and repurpose it.

In the case of infographics, my annoyance is usually if I’m on a slow connection and waiting ages to see a collection of numbers which could have also been put into text, and would then allow me to quote (as fair use and with links back) without having to retype it all in. With data visualisation tools, my annoyance is that sometimes they’re worth doing just to make something you could hang on a wall but often they don’t go beyond that. And I’m not knocking data as art, but take the LinkedIn example.

I’ve got a shedload of contacts on LinkedIn, and I can now see areas where there could be some mutual benefits in introducing people from one apparently siloed area to another. That’s quite useful, although the sheer number of people on that graph makes it still difficult to see who I should be introducing to other people.

So why not make it so I can drag and drop people to create the introductions, rather than going back into LinkedIn, finding person A, and then finding person B?

There’s a handy sidebar if you click on a name, which brings up their mini-profile, but that’s just giving me more information, not ways to do anything with it.

And it appears that aside from the light green and purple extrusions, which represent networks predominantly from Bauer Media and Absolute Radio, everyone else I know is in a big jumble of social media/marketing/PR/mobile – which partly makes sense because of the ultimately quite small world of digital technology in the UK, but is also a real pain to navigate and to be unable to recategorise.

There are two battles here:

1. The battle to make more and more data available in an open way for people to be able to use – even data which traditionally may have seemed highly secretive. I’m not suggesting you share absolutely everything to anyone, but there’s bound to be masses of information you’re currently hoarding and not using which could result in important business insights if someone externally started to play around with it and discover meaning from it.

2. The battle to utilise that data in more meaningful ways. Mapping and graphing are useful, and the interconnectedness of a lot of data provides a massive challenge, but unless you’re purely doing it as an artistic endeavour, then try to let me at least do something with it? It doesn’t have to be rocket science, but if you’ve produced something like InMaps, just pause and imagine the first response people are going to have when they see it, and the first thing that will spring into their mind to try and do with it.

Another great tool for improving email – this time, Outlook

I’ve already shown how to improve your email experiences with the Remember The Milk gadget for Googlemail, and OtherInbox for filtering signups and other email detritus. But, like many people, I’m tied to Outlook for my main corporate email – but there’s an easy way to improve it with Xobni, that just got even better.

It’s an add-in for Outlook which search funtions, email anlytics and more, including a useful list of which documents have been sent to other people in email conversations. Plus it also already featured integration with LinkedIn for more details about who is emailing you.

Now the latest release includes integration with Yahoo Mail!, Facebook, Hoovers and enhanced Skype functionality.

If you’re using Outlook, Xobni is highly recommended.

Forget the economy – life is great!

Easier said than done, but in the unavoidable discussion of the current state of the economy, I’ve noticed a few people discussing whether things are as bad as people perceive, and which industry will be best placed to surive etc. And in the grand scheme of things, I’ve decided I’m not an international finance expert or politician – so the best thing I can do is to focus on the things I can to do to improve my position as an individual and just get on with life.

For starters, I’m currently cutting down and quitting cigarettes, with the aid of nicotine lozenges, and some positive thinking inspired by the 7 Habits of Effective People. I haven’t gone cold turkey, but after 13 years of smoking, I’m happy that over the last four days I’ve gone from 20 cigarettes a day to four, and then to two for the last two days. I’m aiming for one or less over the next couple of nights and to be smoke free by the end of the week.(I’ve also had plenty of support on Twitter, which is helping!)

I’ve also seen a reward for some effort in keeping up the content on this blog, and on my microblogging site, www.140char.com. I’ve recently published an interview with the creator of Twitter advertising tool Twittertise, and by the time this is published, there should be a feature on Mobatalk on 140char. Not only is this leading to more traffic to the site, but I’m also getting to chat with some really cool people who are innovating around microblogging. It means I have more useful tools and networks at my disposal – and it’s inspirational.

Plus I appear to have more RSS subscribers here and on 140char.com than ever….thanks everyone – it’s great encouragement to try to constantly improve the content and frequency of both blogs.

I’ve also had a fun conversation with someone today, who explained they got a new job recently due to the fact ‘someone’ persuaded them to join LinkedIn. After a bit of prompting, they remembered the invite came from me! And I’ve gained another practical example of how social networking works. (Funnily enough, Venturebeat has reported the shakey economy has boosted traffic to LinkedIn!)

I’ve also finally taken some steps to make my working life a bit easier, and streamlined some reporting which I’d meant to improve for ages, but hadn’t prioritised – it was in the Important not Urgent section of life which the 7 Habits teaches you to work in. And it’s starting to make a difference and allow me to work on some interesting projects and plans without getting as distracted.

And I’ve even got back into Facebook, after a group was formed for some people I haven’t seen in about 15 years – it’s quite funny to see responsible 30-something adults with similar features and the same names as the nihilistic hooligans with whom I spent much of my formative years.

And putting social media in with a shoehorn, there really are two ways to go at the moment:

  • Give people more tools for getting through the current hardship
  • Give people more tools for having fun, doing positive things and escaping the current hardship.

If you’re doing one, or both of those things, you should be on the right lines. The flip side is to stay calm and ensure that you’re measuring the effect and highlighting what this does for the bottom line correctly – the more you can show social media is a cost effective way to help your company/brand survive through any hardships, the better off you are.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is to compile the tools available for measurement and reporting, so if you want to recommend any for inclusion, drop me a comment.

LinkedIn got Twitterized!

Hello, Mr Plod!

Today I received an uninvited email from LinkedIn, and unlike most uninvited emails, it was actually useful. I generally regard LinkedIn as a internet-based protection racket – you get nothing for your money except avoiding a threat that wouldn’t be there without them. But today they may have turned themselves into the neighborhood “bobby” – alert and passing on information that keeps us ahead of the game.

LinkedIn got off its . . .

I have done some digging and it seems that I have received a weekly Digest Email on a Tuesday morning British Summer Time (GMT or near as damn-it). I will continue to get emails if anyone writes directly to me.

The weekly email is extra, and tells me whom of my contacts has updated their profile or asked a question. I am not sure if LinkedIn edits the list. I am not sure if they consolidate the information. Generally, updates are kept for 5 days and are limited to 15 entries. So possibly I will know what happens on every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays (!) and if you happen to be in the top (?) bottom (?) 15 on the list!

I liked it though. It was nice to see at a glance who is doing what. It is nice to know whether I should take time to log in or not. It is nice to have a reminder that my profile should communicate to people (give some idea who should beat a path to my door). It was nice to have contacts’ questions and though I have a packed day, I thought I had specific expertise or contacts that might be useful and I fired off five pretty comprehensive answers.

So LinkedIn has put in a cheap service that

  • Saves me keystrokes
  • Acts as an alert
  • Reminds me of the game (communicate, don’t dump)
  • Lets me show off expertise and gain expertise by phrasing professional material in answer to different queries
  • Builds the community by reinforcing my own contacts and prompting me to introduce people to each other

This is a brilliant example of smart social media design.

  • Keep it quick
  • Keep my attention
  • Engage me in an interesting task
  • Help me learn
  • Welcome my interaction

And how is this related to 140 chars?

The email I received from LinkedIn is an email – nothing more. They could have sent it sooner.

I perceived it as more though. The email has a Twitter-like quality.

So what are the great attributes of Twitter?

Instant, easy, personal – yep those are the obvious surface features.

I also see INFRASTRUCTURE.

  • It is Just In Time.

We flick a light switch. We use it when we want and for how long we want. We pay for what we use.

And we don’t have to be too bothered. At Bucks08 Media Camp, we talked about social media being infrastructure. Twitter is definitely infrastructure. Proof? Look at how incensed we get when Twitter fails. It is supposed to be like lights and water!

By sending me an email, LinkedIn transformed itself from the equivalent of generator in my back garden that I have to fuel with diesel from a jerry can to the national grid. A light switch! Quick and easy to use. Ignored when I don’t want it.

I am redundant!

It’s a funny idea that I need to be redundant to get a good service. I suspect marketing guys get this all muddled up! It is a matter of “levels of analysis”. I might come-and-go, but the “flock” or the “crowd” must be there for the system to work, and as I come-and-go as me, marketers still need to talk to me and make me happy and to achieve the crowd effect.

The right metrics though are not “click-through”. The national grid doesn’t try to persuade us to flick our light switches on and off! I did not have to answer any of the questions on LinkedIn. What matters is that somebody answers them! We need to generate a handful of good replies. That is the metric of interest.

I could continue with the grid metaphor but a pub works better. I want someone friendly to be in the pub when I go in. I don’t want to have to be there if somewhere else is more exciting. A nd I don’t want to talk to the same people every time. The pub has to attract just the right number of people to make it likely a good friendly crowd will pitch up so that a good friendly crowd pitches up!

If I switch back to the grid metaphor, the national grid doesn’t care when I switch on and off. But if something happens which will change the pattern of switching one and off across the country, such as the minute’s silence before Princess Diana’s funeral, then the engineers have to quickly re-envision the service. They need to redistribute the load fast because the pattern of need has changed.

The metric we need is a system metric. Can the system respond rapidly to demand at many different points (all unknown in detail) with just the right amount of impact – not too much and not too little! .

It is public.

Well, LinkedIn isn’t. It still runs on the club model – ownership, exclusivity, 1.0. At the moment I have to manage my network. It is akin to keeping candles in every room in case the power goes off. Or akin to having a back-up generator complete with jerry can of diesel.

If the network was fully public, how would I receive questions I am interested in? I don’t know but I bet someone figures that out quite fast.

Ideas?

It allows division of labor.

Flicking on the light switch is easy. Using a wall socket takes a little more thought. Using the fusebox is more complicated but hey, in this apartment at least, you don’t have to re-wire the fuse (been there, done that!). There is some gradation in skill but we get to the point that being a consumer requires little skill.

There is some heavy duty engineering and finance behind the light switch, but as consumers, we don’t need to know much about it to play our part.

It is sophisticated.

The engineering and finance behind infrastructure is heavy-duty. A lot of people who know a lot of deep stuff have to work together and the system is no longer transparent to us, or necessarily to them. The credit crunch tells it all. We need some smart legislators to be able to see ahead and see what is necessary to keep us in the style to which we have become accustomed!

Social media for politicians! Who is seriously onto this issue?

So that is my offering for the first part of this week.

  • Through no action of mine, I am getting a useful email from LinkedIn.
  • One small, cheap action on their part, seems to me to be a giant leap from a platform in the cost-of-doing-business park to a far more attractive platform like Twitter.
  • And the transition helped me think through some of the key factors concerning social media as infrastructure (any more that I haven’t thought of?)

As managers of infrastructure, we will be

  • Just-in-time – seen and not heard – doing well when we are invisible and cheap to the consumer
  • Thinking about a system in which individual demand affects collective demand, and v.v.
  • Managing a system that has capacity points – sizes that allow demand, financing and technology to be in balance
  • In the public domain, therefore requiring political input and political output
  • Some sort of futuring because both our technology and our needs change

And all of this out of one email from LinkedIn?

Twitter sets a good example. It looks frivolous. Quite often turning on my lights is frivolous.

What else out there could learn from Twitter?

[Well this post could be 140chars for a start!]

You don’t make real friends with Social Networks

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University have surveyed social network users, and discovered that you’re unlikely to make real, close friends, as reported on the Guardian
Despite the huge lists of contacts you can accumulate, the number of real, close friends is around the same as you’d have offline, and will tend to be people that you’ve met in real life.
Facebook, Myspace, Bebo et al can allow you to message 100s, or even 1000s of friends (In Robert Scoble’s case), but the actual number of close friends is likely to be about……five.
The reason is that humans tend to only really trust people after face-to-face interaction.

That figure may change as users become more trusting in connections made via social networking, but certainly it suggests that the social network would need to result in face-to-face meetings for real trust to be formed.

There’s also research that suggests those people who interact most successfully online are the same people who are most social-minded offline.

With all this is mind, it suggests that simply joining a social network and adding friends etc will simply maintain your existing contact list. The only way to use them to gain new contacts would be to go to the next level of participating in groups and discussion boards etc, utilising the now old school mechanisms of chat rooms and forums.

Certainly I’m a member of a huge range of social networking sites, but the only new friends who have become in any way close friends have come from two very focused forums, and one of those groups came together to attend a real life meeting.

The one reassuring thing is that it means those who put in time and effort will still gain more from social networking than those who just sign up to be part of the crowd…which is the way it should be.

The Facebook rush…

Well, the votes are in, and it seems Facebook is now the heir to the Myspace generation.
I knew people were using it in preference to general social sites, but increasingly it seems as if it’s also replacing the likes of LinkedIn for business use.

The reason seems to be that despite the attraction of niches, Facebook has enough mass to allow you to connect to a lot of people fairly quickly. It also gently restricts you to concentrating people you actually know, or had lost touch with. And it’s simple to use, to include pics and videos, and to install countless interesting applications.

I did worry the Apps would get distracting, but as long as I can avoid the more frivolous ones, there’s some interesting stuff. So far I’ve added an Instant Messaging App, a Twitter App and the feed from here…who knows what’s next…

In the meantime, I’ll still have my old profiles, and I think there’s still mileage in LinkedIn…

So if you want to drop me a connection:

Badger on Myspace
Badger on Facebook
Badger on LinkedIn
Badger on Twitter

EDIT: 10:19pm:

I just found that my StumbleUpon addiction also has a facebook app. Dammit.

A brave new world….or was it? Internetworld 2007

I attended the first day of the Internetworld event at Earls Court yesterday, but wasn’t able to blog last night as I was watching Chelsea football club crash out of the Champions League semi-final!

It did make me realise the time is right to move to a newer mobile phone, with web access, and the ability to blog without a PC, bearing in mind I decided to travel light for once. One of the presentations was by Russ Shaw from O2, covering convergence, and although I don’t really care too much about the fact they’ve bought the Millenium Dome, I was quite interested in things like the pay-per-clip LootAtMe, the online SIM back-up and the ability to share any pics and videos at My Bluebook. Although everything is currently sent via MMS, the facility is coming this year to instantly share via a simple option, which should increase the 25,000 user group (I think I’ve got the figure right).

There were plenty of seminars by the likes of Yahoo etc, and most were OK., if not revolutionary. Lots of talk about social networking and convergence. Examples like Myspace, Flickr and Youtube. Not exactly startling, but the occasional interesting point emerged in each 30 minute presentation.

Probably my favourite even of the day was “Five things web copy commissioners should know about social media” by Catherine Toole from Sticky Content. Appropriately for someone creating engaging online editorial, Catherine was fairly engaging herself, and for once, acknowledged some of the problems facing companies who are starting to embrace web 2.0 (People actually still use that term?) and social networking.
Catherine was followed by Liz O’Donnell from LinkedIn, explaining how to use social networking for selfish reasons…i.e. to help you as an individual find jobs/employees/companies etc. Again it was nice not to just here someone explaining that social networking is a growth area, and then pimping their product in isolation.

Sadly work means I couldn’t go today or tomorrow, but I think it was definitely worth visiting, just to meet some fellow geeks, watch Catherine and Liz’s presentations, and have the chance to be inspired in real life. I know some of the presentations are being taped to be put on the internetworld site, so I’ll post when they appear.

Blogging to get rich quick. Or even slowly….

Thinking of getting into blogging to make a quick buck? After all there’s been a lot of posts, and even blogs dedicated to it…

Well, I say good luck to you. Because if you don’t have a strong belief and passion in what you do, then it doesn’t matter. To make money, you either need to be very good at blogging, at marketing, or at business. Even better to be a great combination of the three.

And you’re going to be up against countless competition. Need an example? One of my contacts suggested I chatted with the guy behind the Techzi blog. Turns out he’s knowledgeable about the net technology, and has some interesting thoughts and ideas. The kicker? He’s 12.

Now you could go two ways when you discover that. You could get disgusted with the way the world is going and string yourself up from the rafters. Particularly if you’re likely to be turning 30 this year!

Or you can use it as a chance to get involved with a different generation of web user and combine talents, skills and experience…

Enough of the next generation….now for the one I’m stuck in….
I’ve made some pledges on my previous post about aims for 2007 regarding Disposable Media (New Wii Special out now!). Now it’s time for some more for me….

1. Learn more HTML and CSS. (Web ‘editor’ is never just editorial, and nor should it be).
2. Play guitar and read more. (Boosting creativity and taking a screen break).
3. Become less obsessed with Xbox 360 Achievement Points. (It’s gaming crack).
4. Explore more ways to become more valued in my career, and in the wider world.
5. Raise funds by blogging, Ebay, etc, etc to fund a new HDTV…and maybe an Alienware PC!
6. Stop making vague lists, and start catching up on all the web news, and getting stuff done…