Really good discussion with interesting ‘play’ between arty publishing people on the platform and ‘geek-ridden’ audience.
A lot of the geekier people want to use lots of wizzy social media tools. Speakers suggested it might be a good idea to sit round a table and talk to people before haring off doing systems development. One thing I do agree with is the need and importance of chemistry – between the people – in making collaboration work. Session a bit on the ‘rose tinted’ glasses side of things.
A fabulous event in Liverpool that still has me thinking about the issues and means that I have to blog about it. This event really does try to ‘boundary cross’ – between the arts and technology, social media, music, geeks, non-geeks (not many!) and businesses (could be more). Overall a great event and I learnt a lot.
Here is some stuff on the opening and on the importance of narrative. The importance of stories keeps coming up in events. Especially events that have someting to do with social media. We neglect stories at our peril!
Last week’s elections and the political fallout have placed in context, for me, the event I went to at the Frontline Club on 28 May about how the Internet might play a part in the next election. The participants were:
Matthew Macgregor of Blue State Digital (the company that worked for the Obama campaign
I made contemporaneous notes and also some Audioboo content which is available here. A bit of background to the event here:
Everyone in ‘Broadcast Mode’ needs to ‘get with the program’
Iain Dale (pictured left) believes that the internet will impact individual MPs (mostly through revealing things they don’t want revealed I suspect) but that the overall ‘systemic’ effect of the internet will be small.
He agrees that the next General Election will be the first where mobile phones and social media will really begin to play a part and where bloggers will cause changes in the news cycle:
“We get more hits every day than all the 3 main parties put together”
He said referring to the traffic generated by his blog and by Guido Fawkes’.
The problem is the main parties are in ‘Broadcast Mode’ and that given British politics is driven by ‘controlling the message’ the level of interactivity of social media is a challenge. As Matthew Macgregor said “The internet is a tactic not a strategy” and that it lowers the barriers to communication (especially inbound to the Party) but how real is the commitment to ‘openness and transparency’. The reaction of the media to policy discussions driven by social media will, Matthew believes, be instructive; will the shutters come down once the media starts talking about ‘splits’.
“There’s nothing to click on other than ‘Unsubscribe'” – Matthew Macgregor
Alex Smith believes that “The Internet will play a crucial role in the next election” – he mentions viral video and the possibility of debate being shaped by the internet. He argues that the internet has “already effectively removed one of the Prime Minister’s closest political aides” and that the next election will to some extent be driven by stories that will “break on the web”. Alex believes that Paul and Iain have a huge impact on the media cycle and thinks that this will be an important factor. All the panelists agreed that the Internet strategies of the main parties were poor at best.
Boulton’s shock hashtag confession
At one point when talking about social media and the internet Adam Boulton said he didn’t know what a hashtag was (and I don’t think he was joking!) and references to the internet seemed to feel like references to some kind of monolithic bloc. Alex picked up the point that realtime interaction driven by things like Twitter might be important. Adam seemed to think that a Sky news team would always be faster on the ground.
The next Boo starts with the voices of Alex Smith (interesting references to Alan Johnson) and then Iain Dale. I round off with a few thoughts.
The next Boo has ‘reportage’ – skip it if you feel you have enough of a flavour from the text above.
Reflections and implications
The format worked well with a fairly formal panel session followed by various panelists joining tables and moving between courses. The informal part of the event was really good – we had Iain Dale and Alex Smith and the comments and discussion were very engaging.
The event would have been improved by a more discursive (and less ‘Question Time’) approach by the chair. Also, having a chair who seemed quite cheerful to admit that he didn’t ‘get’ the internet seems odd – but then presumably Adam ‘Hashtag’ Boulton was a draw for the ‘punters’ (especially the non-geeks)! All in all though a minor criticism.
There were two main things I took away to think about:
The importance of internet aggregation in realtime and increasing symmetry of communication,
The potential for independent candidates to harness the power of the internet to disintermediate the major parties.
There was a bit of noise on Twitter both during media140 and after it on the extent of ‘obvious stating’ going on at the event. Much of this comment was of a critical nature – ‘they don’t get it’; referring to the somewhat Twitter-sceptical journalists in the room. The bigger players there (Sky and the BBC) indulged in a bit of un-necessary and rather tedious sparring. Both of them, I suppose, feeling secure in their knowledge that their respective ‘market’ power and ‘broadcast’ mode will leave them largely unchanged by the openess and pervasiveness of social media generally and Twitter in particular. Hmmm.
Following media140, I’ve been reading blogs and the press coverage – reportage mostly; who said what and with little commentary or analysis about what it all means. Perhaps it’s too scary for the Potential Legacy Media (currently known as MSM) to think about? And sometimes that means the obvious needs a bit of stating.
As part of the ‘post match’ coverage there was an interesting if largely self-referential segment on pods and blogs on R5Live with journalists and a thoughtful comment from Mark Jones of Reuters who also provided some excellent comment and analysis on his Reuters blog.
I used Audioboo and Scribblelive at the event. I also generated the wordle above based on my liveblog. You can find the liveblog here and ‘hat tips’ to contributors here.
Those of you who liveblog events will know the level of concentration it needs. Using Scribblelive actually increases the level of complexity as you try to bring in other people’s tweets, try to avoid too much duplication (most sole tweeters at events do so in realtime and there’s often duplication in the aggregated stream). Trying to join in, provide some realtime feedback and combine inputs is ‘not for the faint-hearted’ as the Scribblelive people say!
In the next sections, I provide some thoughts on media140 after reflecting on the issues, the coverage and my own liveblog and Audioboos made at the time; I name the presenters in the Audioboos and you can also refer to the Agenda.
The 140 Character story
This panel kept bouncing off the argument – they had a silly discussion about whether Twitter was journalism or not. And we kind of forgot the ‘realtime news’ tagline of the entire event. What was missing for me was:
What the aggregation of information carried across Twitter enables (the analogy from Bill Thompson of the Twitter ‘seismograph’ is insightful);
The speed at which news can propagate through memes and hashtags and the level of self-organisation enabled by this form of cooperative production (Retweets, comments, links to blog posts, realtime and near realtime video streams and websites); and,
The need to filter true signals from the sheer noise and volume of the information available.
Sources, editorial control and workflow
The panel did discuss the risks of ‘opening up’ the news process and the potential impacts on the way news is made and perceived. I wonder what happens to the ‘news cycle’ in a General Election when many of us have access to realtime video production on our mobile phones or can report events directly as they happen over Twitter? We’ll find out soon!
The panel focused on the risks. An example of the risks seems to have been happening while the event was on, but I’m not sure anyone realised it.
Skynews.com used Coveritlive to add a Tweetstream to their site. There seems to have been no filtering so there was lots of spam. And seemingly little editorial control over the Tweets. Just what risks Sky may have been running can be imagined; the links to ‘goldencasinoflash’ could have been links to anything. Anything at all….
My Tweets were being carried live by Skynews also – even though I was effectively doing competing realtime coverage using a rival platform to Sky. I don’t know to what extent there was active editorial control of the Tweetstream – the amount of spam they let through might suggest very little?
One of the few times in the event when the room went really quiet and people listened really hard was when Guy Degen, freelance journalist and a member of the Frontline Club, played some audio and video footage from Tblisi. He was sent there on his own for Deutsche Welle; he had no gear and no time to get any, no crew and used a mobile phone to cover a riot. Frontline indeed.
Kevin Anderson was insightful on the impact of social media on reporting on a roadtrip style assignment in the USA.
Local and human
Local news = newspapers? #fail
Joanne Jacobs ably chaired the final panel session and brought the whole event back pretty much on time so kudos to her. It was an interesting and stimulating panel – and you can pick up some of the flavour of the discussion from pp 6-8 of the liveblog.
Given what’s happening in local and regional news, the discussion after the short presentations seemed to spiral into being about newspapers. But surely local news is going to be much more than papers – but I can see there’s a painful transition to go through for a lot of people. Some of the more ‘gung ho’ social mediarati might like to think about that.
No-one mentioned the ‘backchannel’
The backchannel (what happens in the social media space during an event or presentation) didn’t get a mention.
Here’s an example from media140:
I first came across the backchannel in tech conferences in the USA about 5 years ago – using chat room software over local wireless networks and, in some instances allowing external participants ‘listening-in’ to audio streams to interact with the chat. All these messages were projected on a screen behind the speaker so it was generally impossible both to present to the audience and watch the backchannel at the same time. The backchannel often had more stimulating and interesting stuff on it than was happening on the panel. And dangerous sometimes for both speaker and audience. I remember taking my PowerBook onto the stage and using it in a panel session both to contribute to the backchannel and comment on what other panelists were saying. Apparently, this was unusual at the time. The audience reaction was interesting!
So it seems to me that the Potential Legacy Media faces the same risks as a pompous or tedious speaker in perpetual broadcast mode with an active backchannel. Like a politician giving the answer to a question the interviewer didn’t ask, the risks of audience alienation are high. And when the real backchannel turns against you, as it has for our MPs recently, life can get very unpleasant.
Being Human and Connecting
Jeff Pulver over a quite good Skype video link finished off on an optimistic note. We can move from a position where the one-way broadcast mode can become much more interactive. It has to be more than ‘promotion’; it must be much more about connection. Above all, it’s about being human and taking that humanity with us into social media spaces and connecting.
Can we ‘hack’ our way to Environment 2.0 or are we too Human 1.0 to cope?
Adam Greenfield’s talk at Futuresonic last week was insightful; how cities will look and how we will use them once networked sensors are embedded in pretty much everything, pretty much everywhere. I liveblogged it using scribblelive here. You can see the way he developed the argument and the way some of the tweeters to #futr09 reacted.
But what really galvanised the audience and set the tweets flying was an apparently casual remark right at the end of his session in response to questions. What most of us thought he said was along the lines that sustainability wasn’t possible and we should all just do our best to make whatever time we have left valuable.
This rather punctured the somewhat gung-ho ‘tech can solve it’ bubble blown by Jamais Cascio in his heckled-by-a-drunk-person and subsequently much-blogged opening keynote. You can see a liveblog by Martin Bryant here which gives you a ‘feel’ for the gala event. The idea that we can ‘Hack the Earth’ in some massive geo-engineering intervention is a big, scary idea and was presented in a deliberately provocative way. It seems to me that we’ve already hacked the poor old Earth about rather a lot. Tech-driven re-hacking of what is a deeply non-linear system where we’re not too certain we can model next week’s weather carries perhaps a few additional risks. But rather than get dragged into that, what I really want to focus on was both the reaction to Cascio’s thinking and the much more stunned interpretation of Greenfield’s remarks as being ‘we’re all doomed and there’s no point trying’.
The false poles of optimism and pessimism
We got back to Greenfield’s remarks at the end of Roland Harwood’s session on Deciphering Trust in Networked Innovation where there was some discussion and I raised the issue of ‘the guy from Nokia’ when Adam’s name went right out of my head at the crucial moment (sorry Adam!). The following extract from the indefatigable Martin Bryant’s liveblog illustrates the point:
And from then on, we ended up labelling those who believe that we can ‘fix it’ with the support of wizzy technology, like Cascio, ‘the optimists’ and anyone holding a negative view, like Greenfield, ‘the pessimists’. It wasn’t really possible to develop the arguments from then on – the labels stuck and the polarity increased. Which was inevitable, I suppose, but a shame.
Deal with it ‘in the now’
Greenfield was trying, I think, to make a much more subtle and nuanced point – that feeling we ‘might not make it’ shouldn’t stop us doing the right thing. That the future vision of the City with its open sensor-based networks and connected people could flip into dystopia. That ‘optimisim’ could actually be myopia and unwillingness to confront the reality of our situation. There is much more to this than ‘hacking’ our way into the Earth’s geocode; Cascio points out the risk of hubris in that. The idea that we have enough control of ourselves, let alone sufficient understanding of the potential system impacts of what we do, to be effective may be an illusion. So perhaps, the best we can do, is deal with what we can deal with and make sure we keep our values in mind.
How do currents develop? How do we not lose stuff?
Where does everything go?
Artist Lanfranco Asceti gave a charming presentation on how, when we are creating a record in the flow of information through digital behaviour, we create the potential for conflicts with ‘real life’.
Lanfranco uses a transmedia artistic approach to investigate the intersections (or not) between the digital world and the real world.
His presentation began with a video made as part of his artistic process in seeing how messages are transmitted. “How can we understand the flows of messages?”. He has thrown a message in a bottle to his friend Henry Jenkins, a Professor at MIT, into the sea in Istanbul.
The question is?
Will Henry Jenkins hear about it?
The most compelling image for me is of the bottle being thrown into the harbour and then ‘bouncing’ back out and into the thrower’s hand. Made me think of e-mail bouncing or of servers being repeatedly ‘pinged’.
We are throwing bottles in the sea with a message to Henry Jenkins as well as throwing a message in the sea of the information of social networks on Facebook to see if Henry Jenkins will stumble upon the event online first or will receive the message in a bottle. The object of the game is to see if and how he will find out about the project.
I’ve also been thinking for a while now about ‘where do all the tweets go?’ and what ephemera now means in the Digital Age. And as the ‘digital noise’ in our social media environment increases how do we deal with what is likely to become a decreasing ‘signal to noise’ ratio. I see the development of new kinds of social media tools – ‘inference engines’ that help us to locate what they think we might be interested in. Prioritising our attention will become a key skill in digital engagement. Lanfranco suggests that the issue of voice and the need for a very varied network is important in ensuring that no one voice can speak with unquestioned authority. This will be an interesting and innovative driver of behaviours across the world.
Digital squatting the Googleplex –
artists occupying digital space
Lanfranco is also a ‘Digital Squatter’, running exhibitions on ‘Google’s territory’ in virtual space. Who owns the virtual space? Layering information over Googleplex. He also squatted at Tate Modern and a few others. Just to see what happened. You can find out about it here.
He argues that the ownership of digital space needs thinking about – and talked about how there are dangers in the alerting and reporting of activity in digital sapace, he says
“reporting” over the internet is the moral equivalent of the Stasi
And that we will all be turned into ‘digital informers’ as we monitor our digital ‘neighbours’ through our Net curtains. One to think about that.
On the day of the G20 protests, I was in two places at once. At home working and listening to Radio 5’s somewhat hysterical coverage, and also watching the Twitter #g20 hashtag and following the tweets of people I know and others from the protests.
Covering live events with Social Media
The ‘coverage’ aggregation I was able to do was amazing. In particular (until his battery ran out!) Steve Lawson (@solobasssteve) was using Qik to report in near realtime from outside the Bank of England where the Police were involved in the bizarre and, I consider, unlawful tactic of ‘kettling’; constraining peaceful protestors and not allowing them free passage through the streets of the City of London.
Watch Steve Lawson’s footage and you will see what I mean – you can hear the stress in his voice and others’ around him as they realise they are hemmed in by Police.
The footage which everyone knows about is of the sad death of Ian Tomlinson. Brought back to mind yesterday again by the failure of the Police to obtain an injunction against Channel 4 News. But the thing I keep remembering is the statement made by the IPCC and immediately carried without any question by conventional media – that “there were no cameras in the locations he was assualted”. I felt cold when I heard that. Close to the Bank of England, in the heart of the City in a country where there is a CCTV camera for every 14 people? Not credible. And the IPCC subsequently admitted they’d ‘mis-spoken’.
Most people must think CCTV cameras in all our towns, cities and villages is a ‘good thing’. Few seem to object and, for example, the residents of a village near ours actually petitioned to have one installed. And then we see the objections to Google Streetview – while I think it sensible for faces to be obscured in Streetview; I don’t know of any reason why the faces of people in a public street taken incidentally to a more general view should not be shown? Should we be bothered that out-of-date images of the street we live in should be available globally to all but happy that live video of us is being monitored locally by people we don’t know – but it’s ok because they’re the Police?
The watched are becoming the watchers
We’re seeing the unintended consequences of pervasive social and new media. We all have cameras, all the time and many of us can upload ‘feed’ from live events immediately. So now the watched become the watchers; we all have our own ‘CCTV’ and we have a new set of tools which could, I hope, be used for positive change and digital engagement but are, if needed, available to watch our own backs.
I live blogged the Digital Summit at the British Library – using twitter and a blogging tool called ScribbleLive. Independently, unofficially; because I wanted to. You can see the results here. Also, If you look at the #digitalbritain hashtag on twitter you will see a mass of tweets many insightful and thoughful; a few negative and destructive. I was watching Tweetdeck, trying to take my own notes and include tweets I thought were useful.
There’s been a bit of activity on blogs. Not much. Some of the ranting appears to be about the surprising fact that most of the people running our incumbent Big Media and Telco businesses are white, male and wear ties. Some of the people in the audience were like that too.
Yes, it was frustrating and yes it was quite a lot of the ‘same old same old’ – but saying ‘you don’t get it’ to people who don’t get it isn’t going to advance the debate. Shouting “You horrible green scaly monster” at one of the many Media Dinosaurs still roaming the planet may be true but it doesn’t help at all. In fact it polarises the debate and makes it less likely that we, who passionately believe that we need serious bandwidth, everywhere, for everyone will carry the argument.
Of course, the agenda for the meeting deliberately tried to polarise the audience. The idea that you can separate the Poetry from the Pipes for example – you need both and they have to work together to create Digital Britain. The idea that you need a ‘one size fits all’ solution or all else is chaos plays only into the hands of a small number of players with market power.
We need events like this one, where at least there was some cross-sector presence. Notable that many of the questions and points from the floor were raised by people from community-related organisations.
We need more events and dialogue – preferably designed to work out ‘how it can be done’ rather than finding all the reasons ‘why it can never happen’. We need the sorts of Unconference activity proposed by @dbuc09 and we need to do them on our territory and make the invitations as open as we all want the networks and services to be.
Ultimately, I think we will need a ‘Patchwork Quilt’ of solutions that meet local needs – not some top down model. Enterprise networks are patchworks, the internet itself is a patchwork where the pipes and poetry can coexist. Our job is to get out there and build the Patchwork.
Graham Kidde of Kodak (right) demonstrates a location- and time-aware spiral browser. Newer images are presented at the front of the screen; older ones further back. Spirals can be ‘rotated’ and examined from different angles. Photos can be ‘tagged’ or grouped or organised according to the people or places they depict. Cool! Very cool!