Category Archives: Social Media

Debating the Digital Economy and the Creative Industries

Beyond Text

But where’s the Jet Packs?

When I was a kid – programmes about the future always had Jet Packs. But Sunday’s Home of the Future programme didn’t have any – though it does reduce one family’s energy use by 40%.

Working with Amplified, Christian Payne (@documentally) and I were asked to see whether we could help to generate conversations and wider interactions around a TV show, and more particularly to see whether we could help to add more members to and raise awareness of an innovation challenge which is sponsored by E.On the giant energy services company. The challenge, E.ON Innovation is about finding new ideas to help the UK save energy. It’s based around a Channel 4 TV programme “Home Of The Future”.

Amplified is a Not-for-profit; a social business, we have a network of freelancers (me included) who use social media to ‘cover’ events aiming to enable and encourage community participation around events, conferences and public conversations.

We are independent. We do loads of events, mostly for Charities or 3rd sector organisations; sometimes for big public organisations; occasionally for big companies. Our experience with bigger organisations, especially public companies has varied. Bluntly, if it’s about PR spin and ‘control of the message’ then ‘we’re out’ (as they say…) if it’s about conversation, good intentions and opening up then we’ll have a go.

We did our due diligence. The opportunity came through a conversation between Roland Harwood and Steve Lawson of Amplified on Twitter – actually they were talking about Jazz, I think, and then the idea of Amplified helping with the E.ON Innovation project came up. Amplified has worked with Roland and his 100% Open business a number of times before and he helped with Amplified getting started while he was at NESTA. Christian pinged his various networks asking about E.ON – you can read his post about it. I got stuck in to the websites.

I spent time on the Home of the Future website, read the background on 100% Open’s involvement and spent more time on the E.ON Innovation website and I read the Terms and Conditions. The Ts&Cs were interesting (bet this is the first time you’ve read that!).

You can submit your ideas on the “Open ideas track” where they can be seen by the members of the site and they can be openly discussed and voted on – with obvious impact on any potential rights you may have – and you’re eligible for the prize. There’s also a “Private venture track” and the document says “Private submissions are suitable for those who wish to enter into a business relationship with E.ON. You won’t be eligible for a prize.” If you go this route – 100% Open becomes your Agent; you can sign them up to a confidentiality agreement and your idea doesn’t get seen by E.ON until both you and 100% Open agree. The site makes it clear that you need to think carefully and take independent advice. In other words, you need to be a grown up about this stuff!

I like this approach. It’s completely transparent. And the other thing is – there’s no shortage of ideas; getting them to turn into something tangible is the difficult bit. As early stage and Angel investors often say “Ideas are easy; execution is hard”. Sometimes, collaboration and involving others can be a way to move things on; and you always have the option not to share stuff. For well developed ideas or businesses that have an existing product or service then you can opt for the private track.

We agreed terms of reference for Amplified’s work; we’d Tweet, do a liveblog, have editorial independence and use the same protocols we have developed in our other work on events. We’d use our judgement. The liveblog would focus on the programme and we’d have conversations around it and the E.ON innovation ideas. Then we’d review it – see how it was and have a chat with 100% Open about it – which is what we’re doing this week.

It was an odd experience – but fun. Normally with Amplified we are at an event, working as a team and there’s a lot of interaction; side chats and banter. And we’re in the same physical space as the participants at an event. This time it was all online; and it was fast and furious. The time really flew by, I watched the programme with my family; hearing their comments and following the timeline on both hashtags and monitoring the liveblog. The show itself is very ‘wow gadget’ and a bit light on implications – it’s entertaining. The fact that they’ve reduced the family’s energy consumption by 40% even with 3 electric cars and all the gadgets is impressive. I watched it again on C4+1 as my lot went off to do other stuff. As I’d seen the programme once already, I had a bit more time to look at Twitter and see what other people were saying.

We talked about it over a family dinner. Someone had tweeted (Christian, I think?) that it’s when you see programmes like that and other people’s responses to it – you realise that not everyone is an early adopter! My kids thought that it was only a bit in the future – and we talked about how difficult it is to see what might happen. We all know that we have to look hard at ways to save energy.

We also talked about all those programmes when we were kids – Tomorrow’s World, Horizon; and that we were promised jet packs. We were certainly promised jet packs!

Here’s the Liveblog – let me know what you think, especially if you have views about Amplified’s involvement:

INCA Seminar – Models for Next Generation Broadband

In collaboration with NYnet and Manchester Digital Development Agency
Sponsored by Fujitsu Telecom and the Nominet Trust

24th November 2011 Royal York Hotel, Station Parade, York, YO24 1AA

National Freelancers Day

The Freelance Lecture 2011

I covered this event for PCG and Amplified Networks (both Not For Profit organisations).  PCG is effectively a ‘trade association’ which speaks out for Freelancers.  This is the third year they have sponsored National Freelancers Day – and it seems to be getting bigger every year.  It was great fun and I learnt a lot. (Photo courtesy Benjamin Ellis)

I talked to a couple of the speakers after the event and made some audioboo.

Karen Stephenson was insightful and the way she spoke about how freelancers in organisations can ‘connect’ and innovate gave me a lot to think about.  She focused on the importance for freelancers of building ‘trust networks’ both inside client businesses and with other freelancers.

I also interviewed John Brazier – he’s the Managing Director of PCG and I spoke to him about how he sees the role of freelancers developing, and in particular, the descriptor; should it be “Freelance” or “Independent Professional”?

I like the term Freelance…

Working with Steve Lawson and Benjamin Ellis is always fun.  Benjamin ran round taking photos, Steve concentrated on generating conversations on Twittter about the event and I liveblogged using CoveritLive – incorporating Tweets from a number of hashtags.  It’s high pressure stuff – but a great buzz.  There was a lot of action on the #nfd23nov hashtag.  Here’s a report from Tweetreach:

Here’s the liveblog:

Phone hacking – ethics and tabloid journalism

At the Frontline Club for this event.  More info here: Ethics and Journalism

From the Frontline Club site:

“Chaired by Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow.

David Banks, former editor of the Daily Mirror and editorial director of Mirror Group Newspapers. Worked in London, New York and Sydney over a thirteen-year career with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp during which he edited two papers in Australia. Now a columnist and regular broadcaster.

Jane Martinson, women’s editor of the Guardian and former media editor;

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, an independent charity that looks for ways to foster high standards in news and a founder of the Hacked Off campaign;

Toby Young, freelance journalist and associate editor of The Spectator, where he writes a weekly column. He also blogs for the Daily Telegraph and is the author of  How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping.”

I’m liveblogging using coveritlive.

Watch live streaming video from frontlineclub at

“Social Networks for Business Advantage”

I spoke at the Communications Managers’ Association conference “Communications –  the Key UK Growth Accelerator” on March 9th; I had a 10 minute plenary slot.  The CMA is a trade association whose members are responsible for about £15bn of spending on IT/Comms. I’ve written up the notes I used for the talk and they follow.

I said I was ‘the light relief before coffee’  – talking about ‘Social Networking for Business Advantage’.  Two global brands and an ex Ofcom senior person spoke before I did.

I started by saying – of course, this audience will probably regard Social Networking  as “all that fluffy stuff your marketing and PR people may be waffling on about” – the audience’s body language said as much!  “Oh and a few geeks might be going on about it as well.”  You can just make them all go away; but it’s coming to something when the marketing and PR people  and your geeks are on the same side!  Might be worth thinking about a bit.

The question is, can we gain Business Advantage from Social Networking?  My approach was to talk about three things which make it important for me, and which might be useful in thinking further; it’s about

  • Being entrepreneurial; and taking a bit of risk in a new area
  • Avoiding being caught in the hype – but don’t let your predjudices (people Tweeting about what they had for breakfast for example) drive your behaviours
  • Being prepared to have a go at it  – for yourself; to see how it might work (or not!)

Being Entrepreneurial

I was described as “Entrepreneur” in the programme and I joked that the conference organisers had looked at my bio and thought “No idea what he does – just put Entrepreneur – he won’t mind”. You’ll also note that that they didn’t put “wildly successful and influential” in front of “Entrepreneur”.  Nor did they put “failed”.  I’m working on the former – and have had a bit of the latter (but not too much).

I set up on my own in late 2002 – and I now do lots of things.  Consulting with Complexity Partners where I work with Thias Martin and Neil Gregory and a network of other business partners.   I’m on the Board of CBN (a Coop) and Aquafuel Research Limited (a venture capital backed technology business).  I work closely with Amplified Networks (a not for profit) at the cutting edge of the use of social media and collaborative working.

I use Social Networks to sustain meaningful conversations with customers, stakeholders and business partners.  I’m actively using technology to generate realtime and near-realtime content using widely available technology; mostly for C4CC and Amplified.

Over the past 6 years or so, Social Networks have become an integral part of the way I do business.

One of Complexity Partners’ major projects is the Centre for Creative Collaboration (“C4CC”).  C4CC is a joint venture between the University of London, Goldsmiths, Central School of Speech and Drama and Complexity.  C4CC exists to support collaborations that can deliver both economic impact and public value.

The hypothesis is that by focusing the development of Creative Industry businesses – most of them SMEs (as one of the key outcomes of the work at C4CC), we can make rapid and meaningful economic impacts.  These businesses can grow faster (and fail faster!) and offer the potential for employment growth over and above that of “traditional” STEM based businesses.

As part of this, the management of the Social and other networks around C4CC is an integral part of the design.  We actively manage the Physical, Virtual and Social ‘spaces’.  We have a Social Artist in Residence.  We host London’s Leading Social Media Cafe (aka the “Tuttle Club”) and a number of other business, cultural and artistic and performance networks.  And we do this for reasons of ‘Business Advantage’.

The power of the approach I describe is that it brings the kind of people we want to work with into the space.  And we invite them in on their terms – not ours.  And it’s working.

Avoiding the hype

I warned earlier about not being caught in the hype; a collection of anecdotes (sometimes called ‘”case studies”) does not deliver actionable data.  However in using Social Networks we can both set sensible metrics and track them.  So, in the case of C4CC what are the data for our first 12 months of operation?:

  • Collaborative projects; target set 20; actually achieved 80
  • People involved in projects and events; target set 200; actually achieved 2,100

And we were told “There’s no demand” for this kind of neutral collaboration space combined with high quality support and facilitation services.   We also have 4 start-up businesses (2 emerging from projects at C4CC and 2 we have brought in from outside).

Being prepared to have a go

Over the past 12 months or so, interest in Social Networks from businesses has grown and seems to have accelerated over the past 6 months.  Much of the action has so far been in the B2C area with ‘Big Brands’ using Social Networks to promote themselves and communicate.

And there is massive potential in B2B and also in internal communications; Enterprise versions of Social Media tools for example.  But to capture the value in this, it’s necessary to ‘have a go’ and not leave it to the PRs and the geeks.

Recently I was at a Round Table discussion of the use of Social Networks by business; a scattering of Fortune 500 companies, technology companies; a mixture of operational people, public affairs people and consultants.  All discussing the impact of Social Networks on business; and one of the participants,  a very senior corporate public  affairs person said “The Genie is out of the bottle – it’s just that the “C-Suite” hasn’t accepted it yet”.

So the best thing to do – is have a go.  And remember, this is what we wanted – pervasive, ubiquitous, accessible IT/Comms technology.  Deeply embedded in our lives  and businesses.  So we have to deal with it by getting involved.

Widening the exposure of change and protest

It’s clear that the internet and social media have played a part in recent events in Egypt and in Bahrain.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen on mainstream media uses content from protesters and others as source material, subsequently reinterpreted by journalists.  In other words, the content being generated in the social media sphere is an ‘output’ and results from what is happening.  The question is whether such content is also being an ‘input’; and is being used by protestors and other observers (for example you or me) watching the #egypt or #bahrain hashtags on Twitter to follow, communicate and perhaps shape events.

Three observations, and then some discussion:

  • The dispersed nature of the leadership of the protests in Egypt made it very difficult for the centralised leadership of Mubarak to respond and control events;
  • The visibility of events in Egypt to the wider world (often unmediated by mainstream media) and the use of the internet and mobile devices in realtime to communicate and, presumably, organise made a big impact.  Compare the cases of Egypt and Bahrain with the terrible events in Libya over the past 24 hours; and,
  • It is probably not going to be possible to distinguish between the extent to which we are seeing the impact of ‘influence’  versus ‘homophily’ (sometimes called ‘flocking’) in network behaviour.  Remember this when you hear the term ‘Facebook Revolution’.

“Tweetin’ bout a Revolution”

Have a look at this:
It shows an analysis of trends on Twitter of certain recent country names over the past 90 days. That’s all. But the implications are worth considering.

The compelling discussion at the “FIRST WEDNESDAY SPECIAL: Egypt – what happens now?” at the Frontline Club and the insights of the panel in London and Cairo (via Skype) set me thinking about whether the changes in Egypt will persist and what the impact on the rest of the region might be.

During the event (which I livetweeted alongside the tweets of the indefatigable Julie Tomlin), Alan Patrick tweeted a link to his post “Talkin ’bout a Revolution” where he has begun to analyse what he describes as the “Revolutionary Media Ecosystem” together with some of the implications. Yesterday and today, largely because my sister is in Bahrain (she’s a teacher), I’ve been glued to the #Bahrain hashtag on Twitter and looking at Sky News and the Al Jazeera English service. Most of the media coverage is way behind what I can find out in realtime for myself.  So I thought, could I use some of the social media analysis tools I know about to investigate and try to see the potential for links between what is happening in Egypt and what might happen in Bahrain?

Now look into the detail of period since 24 January, showing trend analysis for Egypt, Bahrain and Libya:

Examine the features of the Egypt trend timeline and think about the dates and what the various peaks relate to.  You can clearly see the ‘false alarm’ on February 10th when Mubarak agreed to ‘step down’ (but not until September) and the subsequent peak when he actually did.  Worth looking at the early part of the period too – especially where the trendline really begins to move on 28th January.   Now look at the Bahrain timeline (updated to 1000hrs UTC today).

Of course, it’s too early to draw conclusions on this – but collecting the data in realtime is something new.


Thanks to Trendistic for their trend tracking tool.

Particular thanks to the Frontline Club (of which I am a member).  Their First Wednesday series, directed by Julie Tomlin and brilliantly chaired by Paddy O’Connell always provides insight – particularly so last week.  You can see the video of the meeting here:

[Graphics updated 26 February to 1000 utc]

On the Media: WikiLeaks – holding up a mirror to journalism?

An ‘On the Media’ event from the Frontline Club

From the Frontline Club/ On the Media event site which describes the event and speakers:

For the first On the Media discussion of the year we are going to be putting the spotlight on the media and asking what the WikiLeaks operation and the media coverage of it tells us about the press.

How have journalists responded to this new kid on the block? The future will no doubt see the emergence of similar organisations, but what impact will this have on the culture of journalism? How will the media adapt and how will this currently uncomfortable relationship develop?

Chaired by Richard Gizbert, presenter of The Listening Post on Al Jazeera English.

David Aaronovitch, writer, broadcaster, commentator and regular columnist for The Times;

Mark Stephens, media lawyer with Finers Stephens Innocent and Julian Assange’s solicitor;

Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian;

Gavin MacFayden, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

In association with the BBC College of Journalism.

Localism and the Media – team up the geeks and journos

Setting out the ground

I heard the Jeremy Hunt MP, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport deliver his first keynote on Media and Technology on 8 June 2010.

Jeremy Hunt spoke with the confidence and assurance of someone new in a job he’s wanted to do for ages and an awareness, I felt, that this bit is the easy bit. He also mentioned his happiness at having a new baby recently. If he has a 100 day plan (which I suspect he has – look at the 15th July date mentioned in his speech), then the first 30 are going well. He set out with clarity the areas he will focus on; three main strategic objectives:

  • Rapid roll-out of superfast broadband
  • Access to infrastructure
  • A new vision for local media

The real strategic goal is, of course, the new vision for local media. It plays strongly into the New Localism agenda and potentially opens up a way of unlocking the over dominance of Big Media. By relaxing (perhaps abolishing) the cross-media ownership rules he may stimulate local developments that will rescue some of the sub-scale regional media groups. Forcing the Telcos to share infrastructure through access to ducts and poles also opens up interesting possibilities for new entrants.

In all probability, we won’t be able to realise the new vision for local media without the rapid roll-out of (carefully undefined) ‘superfast broadband’ and that will require shared infrastructure. Hence why we have the 3 areas he will stand and fight on.

I say ‘stand and fight’ because the existing mainstream media and telco players with Significant Market Power will, while smiling, fight him every step of the way. The broadcast media industry hasn’t spent the last 20 years consolidating just to give it all up to a ‘New Vision for Local Media’. And there will be lots of reasons why access to infrastructure will be ‘problematic’ – some valid; many specious (remember all the shenanigans at the beginning of the unbundling of exchanges!).

Zero-basing the media

The existing models can’t deliver local TV/radio news, the IFNC idea was never going to work and the public service regional news broadcast model has over-centralised – look at the BBC and ITV. I live in Kent and my ‘local’ news often features things happening in Oxfordshire; well over 100 miles away.

We need a radical rethink of how local news is generated, managed and delivered. And that means teaming up communities, bloggers, journalists and coders. It means finding ways for local advertisers to support local news stations (I think you can make local advertising ‘cool’ on the web) and it needs to be done over broadband.

I think if you start from a zero-base and team up geeks and journos – you just might get somewhere.

I also made an Audioboo with other thoughts: