Tweeting in meetings….

I came across this rather interesting article from the personal blog of a Pastor in the US recently in which he suggests that Tweeting in Church might be a good idea.  Now, I have to admit that I was something of a late adopter with Twitter (and Facebook…and for that matter with SMS texting….yeah, OK, I’m a bit of a Luddite in some respects!) but I have to say that this suggestion surprised me.  I’m afraid that when I’m in Church I’m focusing on my own engagement with God, via my participation in the collective experience of the congregation in the church.  Which sounds more like an academic treatise than a celebration of faith, but that’s me!

the idea was that by tweeting ‘commentary’ on the sermon and other aspects of the service it could be regarded as a means of evangelising to the outside world and so bringing the Word to others – perhaps, but I think it’s one tweet too far for me.  Which then led me on to business meeting tweets, conference tweets, etc.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing but despite having a Blackberry, a Netbook and enough technology at home to sink a small boat, I still go to meetings armed with a pen and paper for note taking.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s reliable, no batteries to run out, makes no weird noises, doesn’t force me to think ‘How do I do that?’, will take text, drawings and doodles and isn’t ostentatious.  Pen and paper is what I like to call ‘humble technology’ – it does what it says on the tin, no muss, no fuss.  I’ve been in meetings recently where iPads have been deployed, tweets have been made (as I found out after leaving the meeting and looking at twitter) with no apparent damage to the business of the meeting…but…looking at my own notes taken in the meetings concerned, I’m wondering whether the meetings were actually needed / useful as my notes are pretty skimpy, and I take good notes.

We then have the recent debacle in the UK where some aspects of an industrial relations negotiation between British Airways and Trades Union representatives was tweeted to the outside world, resulting in a ‘pitch invasion’ of the building where the negotiations were taking place.  I’m sorry…negotiations are supposed to be delicate affairs between the parties involved and any mediators.  If someone feels they can’t negotiate without doing the equivalent of bellowing from the window, perhaps they need to be in different jobs.

As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a fan.  My own rules of Twitter are pretty straight forward:

  • If I’m in a meeting, focus on the meeting. 
  • If I’m at Church, focus on that.
  • If I’m at an event and want to tweet, I’ll wait until a ‘natural break’ and do it then.

I recently read a good tip about the etiquette of Texting and Tweeting.  Basically, imagine pulling out a crossword puzzle and doing it.  If you wouldn’t do that in the situation, then you really should think hard about whether you should tweet / text (emergencies excepted, naturally!!)  I was at a social event the other evening and I found that tweeting is sort of like smoking used to be (never smoked so maybe on tenuous ground here…) – it gives you something to do with your hands whilst you’re nervous!

In most meetings, unless you’re there as an observer or reporter tasked with providing a running commentary, I can’t imagine a need to Tweet that can’t wait an hour or so.  So just focus on making the meeting effective.

Social Search…waste of time?

I’m a big user of search engines.  Despite my grumblings and pontifications on here about Google, I still use them the most because they’re still the best out there.  I hope that Bing – despite the daft name – will one day come to challenge Google, but until then, I just Google.  It’s been interesting recently to see Tweets start appearing in search results, and I’ve commented in this blog on the topic.  The most recent work being done by Google that they feel will improve the search experience for us all is explored in this piece from the BBC, and I’m particularly interested in the comments made about ‘Social Search’.

First of all, what is Social Search? 

My definition of a true Social Search tool is one that would give weight to a number of different aspects when searching.  These would include:

  • The normal search criteria as entered in to any search engine that you care to use.
  • Your location, intelligently applied to any searches that might be expected to have a geographical aspect to them.
  • A weighting applied to favour the results based upon material that meets the criteria you’re searching on that may have been placed on the Internet by people or organisations within your personal or professional network.

To give an example – you do a search for restaurants.  The search engine makes a guess about your location based on previous searches, geocoding based on your IP address or, coming real soon, tagging provided with the search request specifying your location based on a GPS in the device that you’re using for the search.  The search engine then determines whether your ‘friends’ have done similar searches, whether they’ve done any reviews or blog posts about restaurants in the area, posted photos to Flickr, or are actually Tweeting FROM a restaurant as you search, whatever.  The results are then returned for you – and ideally would be tailored to your particular situation as understood by the search engine.

And this is roughly what the Google Social Search folks are looking at.

“….returns information posted by friends such as photos, blog posts and status updates on social networking sites.

It is currently only available in the US and will be coming to the rest of the world soon.

Maureen Heymans, technical lead at Google, said this kind of search means the information offered is personal to the user.

“When I’m looking for a restaurant, I’ll probably find a bunch of reviews from experts and it’s really useful information.

“But getting a review from a friend can be even better because I trust them and I know their tastes. Also I can contact them and ask for more information,” she said.

In future users’ social circles could provide them with the answers they seek, as long as individuals are prepared to make those connections public.”

Of course, the million (or multi-billion) dollar question is how far are people to go in terms of making their networks available to search engine companies in such a way that results can be cross referenced in this way.  Once upon a time I’d have said that folks wouldn’t, as they value their privacy, but today I’m not so sure.  Given that we have seen sites where people share details about credit card purchases, I’m not convinced that people value their privacy enough to not allow this sort of application to take off, at least amongst the ‘digital elites’.

Of course, hopefully it will be up to us whether we participate in using Social Search – I guess all of us who blog or Tweet will find our musings being used as ‘search fodder’ unless we opt out of making our contributions searchable.  Will I use Social Search?  If it’s at all possible to opt out, No.  And here’s why.

Because I doubt the results will be as relevant to me as Google and all the other potential providers of SOcial Search think they will be.  Let’s face it – these companies will not be doing it for nothing – some where along the way the ‘database of intentions’ will be being supplemented and modified based upon the searches carried out, and such information is a goldmine to marketers and advertisers.

But the relevance to me?  I’m yet to be convinced – and here’s why.

If I really want the opinions of my friends, family and occasional business contacts on what I eat, wear, watch or listen to then I’ll ask them directly.  Just because I know someone doesn’t mean that I share any similarity in viewpoint or preferences at all.  I have friends with very different interests – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics  and Atheists, people from the political left and right, party animals and stay at homes…the differentiation goes on.  This is because I pick my friends based on what they’re like as people – not necessarily because they share interests or beliefs.  As it happens, I’m occasionally quietly offended by what some of my online friends say – but that’s life.  We don’t always have to agree or share the same beliefs.  

Therefore, the idea of biasing my search results based on what people I know search for, prefer or comment on is potentially useless.  If I wish to know what my friends think or say – I’ll talk to them, email them or read their tweets / blogs / whatever directly. 

I feel there’s also a serious risk of ‘crystalisation’ of beliefs – a sort of friendship groupthink emerging.  Think of what it was like when you were 13 years old and spotty.  For many teenagers it matters to be ‘in with the in-crowd’; Social Search could contribute to the return of that sort of belief structure amongst peer groups.  By it’s nature, the people who will be ‘opinion leaders’ in your Social Search universe will be those friends who are most online and who share the most.  Their activities will hence bias the results returned in Social Search.  It might not be such a problem for them, though – people who have a high Social Search presence will undoubtedly come to the attention of advertisers and opinion formers who might wish to make use of that ‘reputation’.

One of the great advantages of good, old-fashioned, non-social search is taht you will occasionally be bowled a googly (pitched a curve ball for my transatlantic friends!) that might lead you off in to whole new areas of knowledge.  You may be prompted to try something new that NONE of your friends or colleagues have heard of.  Whilst these results will still be in the results, if they’re on the second page, how many of us will bother going there?  We’ll become fat and lazy and contented searchers.

So….I think I want to stay as an individual.  For now, I’ll happily turn my back on Social Search!

Social Media and the mob

One of my favourite films is ‘The Fisher King’ – one of the most haunting scenes in it is where Radio ‘Shock Jock’ Jack Lucas repeats the words ‘Forgive me’ from a TV script he is hoping to star in, whilst, unbeknown to him, thoughtless comments made by himon his radio show have driven a mentally ill caller to take a gun to an upmarket bar and open fire on people there.  The next scene in the film is of him three years later in a drunken rage after his life has fallen apart in the aftermath of the shooting, with his anger being directed at the actor who DID get teh role.

A few words uttered thoughtlessly in a public arena; in the film it was talk radio, but today it’s just as likely to be Facebook or other Social Media.  Of course, Social Media is a valuable tool with which to organise groups that are angry at social and political issues, for example.  But there are also a number of groups that go beyond what is acceptable:

There have been similar items featured on YouTube and Twitter – and as long as there has been any sort of media – starting with the pub on a Saturday night – there have always been public threats made against people.  The reach of Social Media though makes these sorts of groups and viral campaigns different in some major ways:

  • Sheer numbers – let’s face it, with Facebook you have a potential audience of 400 million people for your campaign.
  • Persistence and visibility – until such a group is removed it’s there all the time and can be found via search engines inside the Social Media site and indirectly form outside the sites.
  • Speed of activity – something can grow rapidly – much more rapidly than any campaign arranged through traditional media.

The obvious immediate result of this sort of mobilisation is the generation of ‘flash mobs’ – often for very good causes – where groups of people assemble, do something. then disappear.  This can frequently be done in the space of a few hours, rather than the days or week traditionally required to get a traditional demo together.

However, a less obvious but more sinister aspect of the use of Social Media is what’s best called ‘validation’.  This is something I’ve touched on in a previous blog post here on Joe’s Jottings – ‘Gazing in to the abyss’ – and it’s possibly more dangerously relevant when we look at the role of Social Media in generating a good, old fashioned, pitch-fork and torch carrying mob.

If you’re one slightly disturbed individual who thinks that a public figure deserves death, then the chances are that until recently you’d find very few people who agreed with you – or even if they agreed with you, would be very unlikely to publicly state it.  Today, the world’s a different place.  Your views can find validation in a number of ways – someone may set up a ‘jokey’ ‘Let’s kill X’ group or web site; other nutters may be more serious about it; or you might see groups on the Internet who just don’t like the person.  And you might see all of these people as somehow validating your point of view – a little like Jack Lucas’s deranged listener.

Let’s just hope that we don’t have too many people saying ‘Forgive me’ as a consequence.

Facebook user hypocrisy or common sense?

I came across this article in my Twitstream today about how young professionals are changing their name and doing other things to camoflage their presence on Facebook and other social networking sites in order to cover their tracks from potential employers or head hunters who might find some aspects of their personalities or character less employable than might be desired.

For a while now there has been a suggestion that people should run separate Facebook accounts for their ‘private’ life and their ‘professional’ life, and make sure that all the partying, socialising, membership of bizarre societies, etc. ends up in the ‘private’ account with the privacy restrictions applied to restrict access to friends only, and ideally with a suitable disguised name.  The suggestions made in the article above have included people setting up accounts under their middle names for one account, for example.

At first glance it seems to be a rather sensible idea; but recently I’ve started wondering whether the establishment of public and private personas in this way is not so much common sense as hypocrisy or even dishonesty.  Let me elaborate…

Many years ago – in the days before Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, what have you, the general rule of thumb was to believe that anything you posted on the Internet would most likely come back to haunt you at some point.  this is more the case today.  My personal way of looking at this is to imagine anything you post on a public forum, blog, Facebook or Twitter being read out to your mother, bank manager, boss and spiritual leader on a busy afternoon in the middle of the local High Street. 🙂 

So at first glance it might make sense to get all the less reputable stuff tucked away somewhere safe….

But hang on a minute – it’s still you!  If your politics, religion or sexuality is such that you fear that they may put potential employers off of recruiting you, then perhaps you need to think about whether you would really want to work for such a company, and whether you would be happy there.  Getting recruited in to an organisation where you have already hidden some core aspects of your personality is not the best start to a working relationship; let’s face it, it will turn up at some point in your career!  And if it’s some aspect of your behaviour, then again – it’s still you.  We all have occasions when we get a little worse for wear on drink, and get photographed in that state, and we all make the occasional ‘off colour’ jokes.  As soon as you start hiding these things away from people who’re wanting to employ you then you’re basically selling a false personality to your recruiters – again, dishonest.  And if you’re dumb enough to post up details of serious indiscretions – drugs use, minor crime, etc. – then to be honest you’re an idiot who deserves what you get.

Of course, it’s not always that easy; some employers are so ‘straight up’ that any deviation from the straight and narrow is regarded as evidence of gross moral turpitude.  And you can’t always determine what photographs your friends take and display – I’ve spoken about this elsewhere on this blog – but then again, there is the old saying about ‘A man is judged by the company he keeps.’

My own advice, for what it’s worth?  Don’t bother having dual Facebook accounts; just stick with the one, set up good privacy settings and be civilised with what you post to it.  Anything else is hypocrisy.

Social Media Bubble….here we come!

bubbleAre we heading for a ‘speculative bubble’ effect in the portions of the media and IT economy that are tied up with Social Media and Social networking?  Regular readers will know that I’m something of  a cynic about the importance of Social Media and Social Networking; whilst it’s clearly an important aspect of marketing for the future, I am rather concerned about the importance that the ‘industry’, if we can call it that, applies to itself.

Take the following article, from a Canadian newspaper, for example.  Real world businesses are still doubting the importance and relevance of Social networking and Media to their ongoing business activity.  Unsurprisingly, the practitioners are effectively saying ‘Ignore us and you’re doomed, doomed I tell you! Doomed!’  Now, some of us who were out of school in the late 1990s can probably remember the comments made by a number of folks with possible vested interests that anyone without a web presence would be out of business within 5 years.  What actually happened was that within 5 years a lot of web companies were out of business, and many businesses with no web presence or strategy whatsoever were going along quite happily.

Just because you find something sexy and interesting doesn’t mean it’s important; passion is a wonderful thing to have but one also needs to be pragmatic along with it.  In a recession, surely any business is likely to be most interested in keeping existing customers and is likely to be playing a ‘safe hand’ with it’s resources.  It’s unlikely to want to adopt techniques that it’s customers may not actually be aware of or care about.  There is absolutely no point in extensively using social media and social networking technologies if your customers are not aware of them!  It’s rather like advertising in French when you have no one in France reading the ads!

The arrogance of Social Media zealots in assuming that real businesses are lagging behind is astonishing; surely Social Media / Networking is a support function for most companies, part of marketing and advertising.  It’s not as disruptive a technology as the web itself is, and shouldn’t be treated like it is.  Take a look at this definition of a bubble – the phrases that immediately struck me were “emerging social norms”, “positive feedback mechanisms”,”they create excess demand and production”.  I think it’s fair to say that we’re seeing all these effects.

In addition, it’s difficult to value the Social networking / Media market place and individual services and companies within it.  And then we have the other issues often associated with bubbles:

Moral Hazard– how much of the market place is supported by ‘other people’s money’ – if supported mainly by VC capital then companies may take risks that they wouldn’t take with their own money.

Herding– the more folks who say it’s good, the more the markets are likely to follow.

All in all….I think a ‘correction’ to the emergent Social Networking and Media sector is likely.  And then we can get back to realistic use of this technology as part of an integrated marketing strategy for businesses.