I was a twit not to Tweet!

twitter-logoMany moons ago I posted a piece on here – ‘Am I a twit not to twitter’.  Well, I’ll admit it.  Yes, I was a twit not to Tweet, and I’m happy to say that.  I can’t argue with objective facts, so here’s my brief thoughts on what converted me.  Just in case anyone wishes to follow me, I’m on twitter, funnily enough, asJoePritchard.  Serious lack of imagination there but no excuse for missing me! 

So, here are my hints and observations from a beginning Twit!  There are plenty of articles around with more detailed hints and tips of how to use Twitter, and I’m not going to re-hash what’s said elsewhere.  These observations are my personal thoughts and insights, for what they’re worth, as to how I found that Twitter could be useful.


Two Way Street

I think the first thing that I learned about twitter (or rather had it pointed out to me) was that it’s a two way street; if you want people to follow you you need to follow people, and that you need to have an idea of what you want to gain from Twitter.

Identify what you want

Apart from keeping up with your friends and colleagues, I’ve found Twitter invaluable for getting a good newsfeed from sites of interest.  In fact, I’ve found it a better proposition than RSS feeds.

Use a Twitter Client

When I first tried Twitter out, I used the Twitter web interface to use the Twitter service. It didn’t work well for me – so this time I decided to try out a couple of dedicated Twitter applications.  I have Twhirl and Tweetdeck installed and they’ve both made using Twitter on a regular basic much easier – I just leave them running quietly in the background, they dynamically update, and they make it a pleasure to Tweet.

Think of it as less intrusive MSN

I’ve actually used Twitter as a form of MSN with some people – it’s more spread out in time than a typical MSN conversation, more compact than Email and certainly doesn’t clutter my inbox with lots of short mails.

Use it for promotion

I’ve recently re-activated this Blog and integrated it with both Twitter and Facebook, and have been studying the referral logs to see where blog referrals are coming from.  There does appear to be a fair amount of traffic from Twitter.  A recent event I participated in – ActionForInvolvement’s Climatewalk – made significant use of Twitter in the run up to the event to promote it and encourage re-tweeting about the event.  Again, I gather that the results were well worthwhile!

If you need to, run multiple accounts

I was considering tweeting on behalf of my business from within my ‘personal’ Twitter account but I’ve decided to set up a separate account for the business.  The reason?  People following my business may not be very interested at all in everything else I do.  Let’s call it ‘brand protection’ – I want my business brand and my ‘JoePritchard’ brand to be different entities online.  Whilst folks who know me will know that I run ’em both, the separation will be useful for business connections who I really don’t want in my personal life – and vice versa!

Be picky in following and blocking

Spam has certainly increased on Twitter.  When someone follows me, I’ve got Twitter configured to mail me.  I always go and check out their profile, and then determine first of all whether to block or not.  Folks who look like spammers always get reported; if someone seems to be mainly pedalling MLM or just looks ‘dodgy’ in terms of their content or places linked to – again, block ’em.  I can’t understand why American High School kids of either sex can think that I can be interested in reports of their weekends drinking or shopping and don’t bother completing any parts of their profile  – sorry guys, you get blocked.  I know this sounds arrogant of me, but I want followers who know me or who are interested in what I say or consider that I somehow add value for them.  If you are a US High School kid who IS interested in what I say, then let me know – but have something of interest to me on your profile, somewhere!  In return, when I follow, I want to be following people that I know, am interested in or who add value to my online life by introducing me to new stuff or ideas.  Twitter does seem to encourage the ‘numbers game’ in people.  I prefer quality.

And that’s that – I’m going to start using Twitter Lists shortly and will let you know how I get on.  And then there’s the API stuff….watch this space.

A bundle of needs…

I appreciate that this is likely to be read as a massive attack on the Welfare State by some, and that I’ll be suspected of channeling the political spirits of Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher and Atilla the Hun by others.  However, that’s not the intention.  As some of you will know, I hold Libertarian views and am a believer in as small a Government as is practicable, but that does not mean that I take the view that the State should not intervene to help those in genuine need.

This entry grew out of the ongoing study-tidying process that’s been going on for a few weeks now here at the Towers.  I came across a newspaper article that I’d clipped in June of this year, and in the article was an interesting observation from William Beveridge – the architect of the modern UK Welfare State.  In 1948, 6 years after he originally wrote the report that gave ultimately gave birth to the benefits system, he expressed his fear that the reforms he’d introduced might encourage people to be passive about their needs.

The Government of the day didn’t take his words on board; the rest, as they say, is history, and we’re now able to look at the society that was created and wonder whether the result of 65 years of cradle to grave Welfare State has been, in the words of the journalist Camilla Cavendish who wrote the piece, to reduce people to a bundle of needs.

And I agree with her; one of the side effects of the Welfare State, especially in the increasingly Nannyish manner that it has been implemented in the last 12 years, is that many people have been dumped in to a dependency culture.  The risk to entitlements and benefits if a job is taken means that many people are not going to run the risk of taking a job that will result in them losing money from their weekly income – and I can see their point.  For all the talk of dignity of work, self respect, etc. the bottom line is that if you don’t have as much money coming in to the household then, in the words of Quark, the ferengi bartender from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – “Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack”.

In 2007, roughly a third of all Government expenditure was in the from of State Benefits.  This constituted around 11% of GDP, and about half of the population of the UK were recipients of some form of state benefits.  Now, we live in a system where inevitably some people are going to slip to a point where they need state intervention to keep a roof over their heads.  And it’s appropriate that they get that help.  But half the country?  This is obviously not half the households; many households on benefits slip will involve a number of adults.  Some households can’t get much help at all; anyone who runs their own business or is self-employed will understand that if their business hits trouble they are very much on their own unless children are involved. 

But for those households and individuals who are dependent on benefits, and in many cases have their whole lifestyle driven by the need to maintain their access to the benefits system, let’s take a look at what this means:

  1. There are restrictions on paid and voluntary work that can be done whilst claiming benefits.  In other words, you are effectively being paid to do nothing for part of your week.
  2. The crossover between benefits and work is fraught with problems – it’s very easy to get a nice little job and lose out bigtime in the ancillary benefits that your household may be entitled to.
  3. The problems in moving in to and out of benefits – as may take place if you do contract / temporary work or find yourself on a series of short term contracts (not uncommon in a recession when piece work may be increasingly common) again discourages people from stepping out of the benefits pit to seek ongoing work.
  4. Some people with occasional illness that will prevent them working for a month or so here, a month or so there, again find it easier to stay on sickness and disability benefits rather than step in and out of the workforce and lose the regularity of cashflow of being on benefits.

There are some people for whom a loosening of the restrictions around working whilst on benefits would be a great advantage.  For example, allowing someone on benefits to do a paid job for a couple of months without losing access to benefits might seem strange, but think about what it would permit:

  1. Ongoing guaranteed income over the first month or so when pay in a new job may not be immediately available.
  2. No sudden shock to the family finances.
  3. The work is bringing in extra money for a month or so – it is worth doing.
  4. At the end of this period then the benefits can be stopped. 

There are people for whom this sort of movement in and out of the workforce would never be possible, due to illness or disability, and it should therefore be possible to allow them to do voluntary work / temporary work as required again with no financial loss.

This would require a synchronising of the Tax and Benefits system.  And the Government would also need to make it very clear (and structure tax and benefit regimes accordingly to ensure it) that if you wanted to sit on your backside you could do, but that your income would be less than someone on benefits who is working as and when they can. 

The aim is to encourage self-value, self-determination and get out of the need trap.  We cannot carry on like we are doing producing multiple generations of families in which no one has worked.  This is wrong, it’s perverse and we simply cannot afford it financially or as a society.

Live together or die alone

This article in the BBC’s online magazine rather intrigued me; basically, are we heading for a dislocated society in which the relatively wealthy live in walled communities whilst the rest of the population exist in a less secure ‘open world’?

When I was a kid I remember reading a suggestion that the evolution of community resources, like street lighting, sewers, etc. came about because the rich had to share the world with the rest of us.  A wealthy man might have a well lit private estate and safe water, but if he, or his family, had to go outside the confines of their safe zone they might soon be in dark, dangerous streets and exposed to foul standing water rife with disease. 

So, philanthropically minded individuals acted from enlightened self interest (and then from the profit motive) to create municipal organisations that provided street lighting, paved roads, sewers, etc. for everyone.

It’s ironic that a century or so later we’re heading in the other direction by starting to consider retreating from these communities in to walled communities and other protected environments.  The wealthy no longer choose to collectively improve the commmunities that they interact with on a regular basis, but instead choose to isolate themselves from them and rely on defences rather than building a ‘common treasury’ in their communities form which all can benefit.

I have recently become very interested in Permaculture and ‘Transition Towns’   as means of addressing the pressing problems of Peak Oil and Climate Change.  Both of these philsophies reflect the enlightened self-interest approach to surviving massive cultural shocks.  They assume that the ebst way to make lives in a future totally changed by fuel and energy crises and climate modification is to survive as a community.  Compare this with the alternative approach – wealthier individuals building individual bolt holes for themselves and their families shows admirable foresight and planning but there remains the problem that at some point, after the MREs have run out, the inhabitants of these bunkers are going to have sally forth in to the world they left behind.  At that point they’re going to have to interact with those who didn’t have bunnkers – either by force of arms or by negotiation. 

I see survival built purely on personal and family group provision as being short sighted and, whilst for some it may be the only way open to them, for the vast majority of us we need to work out how we’re going to mould together the communities in which we live to prepare for changes in the future.


Attrition vs Shock and Awe in the Online World

Anyone who’s spent time in any online communities will be aware of the feuds and fights that take place between users of those communities.  Whilst some degree of conflict is inevitable, there always seems to be a few people who move it form debate and discourse in to abuse and harassment.  I’ve concluded that there are two forms that this takes – attrition and ‘Shock and Awe’. 

What’s motivated me to raise this at this time?  Firstly – personal experiences and observations, secondly the return of Channel 4’s Big Brother to the TV screens and finally a piece of legislation from Scotland, which, although aimed primarily at sexual harassment, may have implications for anyone running an online community.

So…let us begin…

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Reflections on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

I read this short story again recently; it’s by Ursula Le Guin and is one of the most haunting short stories that I’ve ever read.  The only short story that sticks with me more than this one is Parke Godwin’s ‘Stroke of Mercy’, which is stunning.

I’d suggest you go and read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ before you hit the link below, but, if you can’t, to save the plot summary, here we go:


I guess the question for me is whether I would choose to be one who walked away; I suppose that in our heart of hearts we all like to think that we have in ourselves the courage and self-knowledge to ‘do the right thing’.  For several years after I first read this story – which must have been in the mid 1980s – I guess at one level such thinking was hypothetical and rhetorical; it wasn’t the sort of world we lived in, after all.  But today I’m not so sure that it is rhetorical anymore, and also I’m not sure I’ve got the guts to walk away.

We in the ‘developed world’ live a materialistic and consumer driven lifestyle, which has had an increasing amount of impact on the state of the world.  For us to have many of our goodies, it could be argued that somewhere else in the world someone else’s lifestyle takes a kicking.  We have an oil-driven economy; if you’re cursed enough to live above rich oil fields then start running now.

We want high-technology equipment; if you’re a young, female, circuit board assembler in a sweat shop then be aware that some of the processes that are involved may expose you to fertility affecting chemicals.  In order to provide us with cheap electronics, some of the safeguards that we adopt in the developed world are ignored.

Have a think about it, please.

I guess my hiking boots and rucksack are still in the store cupboard right now, and I sincerely doubt that I’ll be walking away real soon.  But I do wonder whether I should at least dust the rucksack down and polish the boots, figuratively speaking, for the day when I too start looking to the distant hills of a less consumption oriented lifestyle and choose to walk away from Omelas.

Salad Bowl or Melting Pot?

The other day I was reading an old favourite of mine ‘The Networking Book’, by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps

In one chapter an interesting observation was made about the nature of networks; should a network be regarded as a salad bowl or a melting pot?

Before you start wondering whether you’ve encountered the rogue ramblings of a wannabe chef, I should explain; a ‘salad bowl’ network is one where the individual members retain their identity and collaborate together, much like a well designed salad’s ingredients do.  The ‘melting pot’ network, on the other hand, is one in which the individual members no longer retain their individuality but become ‘one’.

This observation was made about a ‘real world’ network, but it is equally applicable to online networks and communities. My own preference is for the salad bowl, but with a few safeguards.  After all, whilst it’s great to have the individual flavours of the ingredients of a salad be distinctly noticeable, if whole cloves of garlic and a few anchovies were to be added to a salad bowl supplying a whole table, those who didn’t want the strong flavours would be rather annoyed. So, it kind of makes sense to not throw all the strong ingredients in to the bowl when only a few may want to have them; why not have a few alternative salad bowls, or even small side dishes with garlic cloves and anchovies in (and a further dish with walnuts for those of us suffering from nut-allergies) that diners can take from at their leisure without inflicting their tastes on others.

Electronically, therefore, the analogy would be create a community that meets the needs of the vast majority of people, whilst either providing sub-sections of the site for specialists, or even pointing those who require something slightly spicier to other sites.

A classic example here is the frequent cry for ‘Adult Sections’ on web sites, or ‘Games’ sections to include Flash or other online games.  These would, to me, be the garlic cloves or anchovies; a ‘Warez’ section or part of a site that suggest locations for illegal copies of media would be ‘Walnuts’, as such a section is likely to get you in to big trouble with the authorities, just as a walnut where it’s not expected can cause serious illness for an allergy sufferer.

My own approach is that there are already many sites offering these options for people; rather than re-invent the wheel, it may well be better to direct people away from your salad bowl to someone else’s.

Online Culture and the Law of Two Feet

Well, after 4 years I recently left an Internet Forum which I’d grown very attached to.  The reason I left was pretty straightforward to me, and in my ‘Bye Bye’ post I simply commented that I was leaving because the culture of the site had changed.  I’d always told users of the site that if they didn’t like the place they should just move on rather than throw hissy fits at how the place was run, so it would have been hypocritical of me to do anything else!

I thought that I’d made my reasons pretty clear, until a user of that Forum posted a comment questioning what I meant by culture.  And it’s a good question, that has set me thinking.  So, for what it’s worth, here’s some thoughts on online culture and when to move along.  So, here’s a few thoughts.

First of all, what is meant by culture in general?  As always, you get a lot of choice with definitions.  I liked these three:

  1. a particular society at a particular time and place; “early Mayan civilization”
  2. the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group
  3. patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. …

I believe they apply equally to an Internet Forum as they do to a ‘real world’ community; what differs is the way in which the culture is expressed.  Online it will be in words and other media, either in real time or time-shifted; offline it will be in words, media, activity and face to face interaction, again either in real time or time-shifted.

I started also considering ‘Ethos’:

“The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement “

so I guess that the Ethos of an Internet site is the outward manifestation of it’s culture? 

Which led on to ‘Rules of Conduct’, which I’ve always regarded as the stick with which to support the two previously defined carrots.  Within any comunity, there are always rules of conduct backed up by consequences which help maintain the culture.  On an internet site these rules of conduct may range from none existent through to fairly tight. Ignoring for the time being the ‘Laws of the Land’, I think it’s fair to say that in general terms the Rules are rarely required if all users of an Internet site follow the Ethos of the site and respect the underlying culture.  This is, at least, what I’ve always thought to be the case.

Culture isn’t static; it evolves.  The degree of evolution (or even revolution) depends, I believe, on the following:

  1. Rate of turnover of users of the site
  2. Strength of the culture and the degree to which the ‘Site Elders’ (old established members and the controlling authorities of the site) support the existing culture.
  3. The comfort of the vast majority of users with the existing culture.

When the culture changes, there is often going to be a correspoinding change to the ethos of the site, and hence eventually to the Rules.  Should the cultural change be the equivalent of a ‘hostile takeover’ then it is up to the elders to apply the rules of the site to maintain the culture;  should the change be evolution or the acceptance of the need and desire  to change by the population of the site, then the role of the elders is simply to accept the cultural shift and smooth through it’s effects by amending the rules.

My own feeling is that whatever the cause of the change, changes to Ethos and Rules are a given if cultural change takes place or is allowed to happen.  Should those changes not happen, the result is a community which is almost schizophrenic; the culture may have changed but the public ethos and rules may not have altered to go with that change, resulting in inconsistency.

And so to the rule of two feet…

The ‘Rule of Two Feet’ or ‘Law of Two Feet’ was something I encountered many years ago; “If something isn’t working for you, go somewhere else and find something that WILL work for you”.  Another, rendition of this Law is “The people who attend are the right people”.  It is a Law driven by culture and ethos; if follwoed by people it does tend to prevent cultural change and development in a community except in very specific ways.

  1. If enough people walk away, the culture may collapse or be changed to stop the loss.
  2. The people who walk away may, if sufficient in number, gather together to form a new culture with which they are happy.

What usually happens to people who follow the Law is that they find communities with cultures and ethos’ that suit them.

Which brings me to my final observation…why, if an online community has a culture and ethos that someone finds unbearable, do they spend large amounts of time and energy fighting to change it?  Why not go and establish oneself elsewhere?

The Bus Book – w/c 24th March – The Social Entrepreneur: Making Communities Work

Andrew Mawson (now a Cross Bencher in the House of Lords) has written a very important book with this work.  It chronicles his experiences in Bromley-by-Bow, an impoverished area of East London, from his arrival there as a United Reform Church Vicar in 1984 through his driving of the the development of social enterprises, health centres and other vital services to this community – with the whole hearted support of the community and despite the best efforts of local and national Government.

I picked this book up almost by accident and I’m so glad that I did.  I found it incredibly motivating – whilst there are some good, practical hints in there it’s more of a history and how problems were coped with as they arose – I think the author should settle down and write a further book ‘Practical Lessons from Bromley-by-Bow’ – I would certainly buy a copy!

Rather than pontificate too much, I’ll refer you to an article by Andrew Mawson himself:


I have to say that the experiences he documents reflect the sort of experiences I’ve had in a much smaller way with many funding organisations and local authority, national Government and EU bodies over the years.  This was the original impetus for my CommunityNet and CommunityHost projects, and reading this book has made me want bigger and better things for the projects that I’m involved with.

I agree with Mawson’s basic tenets; it is essential that anyone wishing to develop their community needs to get buy in from the bottom up – from the people who are suppsoed to benefit from the efforts being expended.  This means involving these people, and letting them become the architects of their own solutions – not watchers and observers.  This is the ‘CommunityNet Philosophy’ that I elaborate on here; I now feel in excellent company.

An excellent and motivational book; one that I whole heartedly recommend!

Reluctantly joining Facebook….


That it should come to this.  Unfortunately a group I belong to is going to be using Facebook, and given that I’m supposed to be the IT guy, I am expected to know how it works.

So, I’ve registered and am working out how little I need to put up there whilst still making any use of it whatsoever.  I have to say that you won’t find much in the line of my social and business calendar up there – I cannot understand for the life of me why people publicise where they’re going to be and when they’re going to be there!

Or am I missing something?

People I know have started increasingly living their lives through bloody Facebook and so as these folks are fairly normal, well balanced individuals I assume that there must be something there that I’m not quite getting.  I’m not at all convinced that social networking sites are going to be with us for much longer, and I await to be convinced by my experiences on there.

Having said that, I just encountered this story on the BBC Website, which points to a future in terms of more local social networks.  Sort of like sites like Sheffield Forum or any other site of a similar nature that’s been around for 5 or 6 years.  There genuinely is nothing new under the sun…

So, poke away – I’m to be found here.