Monthly Archives: March 2006

Breaking the mould or daydreamers?

Thursday night’s Beers & Innovation saw the bar being raised on discussion of user-generated content among a UK-only audience and clearly being taken to a new level.

And I say this not out of gratitude to the speakers Richard Sambrook and Paul Youlten for their thoughtful contributions and nimble responsiveness – which I have in spades – but with respect to the level of insight and challenging thoughts coming from the assembled crowd.

Digital marketing agencies were notable by their absence – with the admirable exception of much-garlanded and recently aquired Glue London.

Secret society?

While a fair few agencies are beavering away secretly (as is their time-honored approach) in this area, it still makes me wonder – don’t agencies want to be part of real, networked debate or publicly discuss Web 2.0? Are they somehow immune from – or above – so benefitting? Okay, the question is rhetorical.

At one point amid the fast-flowing discussion – like a kind of reality check – someone pointed out that we in the room were “the converted minority”.

What about everyone else in the UK digital media and technology industries who are still stuck in their ways and not plugging into the debates that actually describe, acknowledge and engage with the innovations and opportunities happening across the spectrum of user generated content – from citizen media through to untested or hybrid business models?

Where is the UK equivalent of Google, Newsvine, Digg or Craigslist? And where is the innovative community (is part of it springing up on UK-headquartered Soflow)?

Risk-averse culture

Such businesses and organisations are the pioneers that are making a difference in this transitionary period for business models and newsmaking that we have now unquestionably entered.

Yes, some of them will fail – let’s not be rose-tinted hype merchants already – but as we discussed at B&I in February and again this time, failure once should not equal a lifetime’s damnation.

And this is where the UK-US cultural chasm is really writ large… So must that difference be set in stone forever?

The message emanating from the crowd (still heterogeneous in backgrounds) was: don’t let the b******s grind you down, as we (all) love to say – some secretly, some with a t-shirt!

Thanks again to everyone for coming. A full report on the event will be available soon on the NMK website.

[NB. We were planning to podcast the event but our podcaster-in-crime couldn’t make it at the last minute. If anyone else fancies recording an audio file of Beers & Innovation 3 on 27th April – drop me a line in the comments or here where I’m listed under Editor]


Citizen media – where next?

The debate about citizen media is snowballing and the more discussion the better.
Tomorrow the next Beers & Innovation takes place, and one of our speakers, the Head of BBC’s Global News Division Richard Sambrook has penned an interesting post for Cybersoc as a guest blogger.

In it he talks about the acceleration of an:

“idea as big as citizen journalism – with all its implications for the way public information is mediated, the democratisation of information and the dilemmas and doubts it raises”

In terms of how the debate is moving on, he comments:

“Underlying [it is]… a continuing drumbeat of concern about the value of news and journalism – indeed what is journalism in a fully digital world where information is a commodity?”

Big question!

So even though Beers & Innovation is sold out, if you aren’t coming along you can get a thought-provoking slice of his thoughts and have your say on Cybersoc.

The next NMK B&I night will be announced at the event, but I’ll post it on the blog within 48 hours too.

[UPDATE]: Richard is also speaking at a forthcoming London summit, the We Media Global Forum in London which runs 3-4 May 2006. They also have a blog.

Knowing me, knowing you

Scavenging the shelves of the Austin Airport newsagent looking for an alternative to the dreaded airport novel, I happened upon a magazine I hadn't seen in aeons – Fast Company!

Fast Company?!! Oh dear, is this Web 2.0 fever I've caught on the way back from SXSW Interactive? Nurse, the screens!

Back in the almost-heady days of 98/99 when I was Web Editor at Ernst & Young International, our Web Manager – the awesome Mr Paul O'Shea (a Cork man you see) – was an avid FC reader and I'd regularly browse his copy.

Anyway, it just so happened it was a great issue of FC I purchased – more than adequate brainfood for the return trip.

Right at the back was a great big 'ol feature on careers in the the networked age, entitled 'Creating a Gem of a Career' with the standfirst (as we old-school journos call it): ' History. Networks? Everywhere. Five trends that will shape your career in the coming decade'

You can read it here 

Big Brother right back at ya

The passage that really stood out for me was this:

"Your network may make companies transparent to you, but you're transparent to employers as well. Anything online, whether easily available or tucked away in a private network, is fair game. 'It's a big problem when someone's Facebook profile says that her favorite thing is to get s–tfaced on a Saturday night," says Masie.'Google is the first stop for finding info [on potential hires], then Facebook,' he says. So there may be a number of versions of "you" being projected into the world. Not all of them will necessarily be what you want an employer to see. Can you control that? If not, can you live with it?"

The networked generation goes mainstream

…but here's the bit that really twisted my melon – and offers hope for folk like myself who angst about "life-caching":

"Over time, hiring managers will be less interested in the salacious stuff that a Google search might reveal. 'So you were president of your frat," says Morris. 'As more information gets out there about everyone, it diffuses the importance of each individual piece of information. It will be okay.' "

A VE-RY interesting perspective, and think of the implications. As the MySpace / Facebook / Bebo generation enters the working world, it – the voluminous Buzznet/Flickr-stream, the years of carefree blogging and distributed blog posts, the tracked searches on Google – will (within reason) be immaterial… eventually. In the UK? Maybe in about 5 or 6 years I reckon (stick that in your predictionometer!)

Nonetheless, some issues remain. In terms of dealing with this new, two-way transparency of the distributed self, they cited the (free) service offered by ZoomInfo.

Return of the everywoman/man

Another thing I really rated about the writer's reasoning was the invocation to: "Embrace the Liberal Arts (Again)" ie. a broad-ranging understanding – and experience – of the world, of work and the different components of your business area is what gives individuals the edge in the modern economy.

As FC puts it:

"Many of today's exciting jobs (Java developer, brand-experience designer) didn't really exist 10 years ago. And the exciting professions of tomorrow have yet to be imagined. As a result, what we need from our education has changed. 'What you want to learn is how to learn,' says Taleo's Snell. And that's where the liberal-arts education becomes valuable again.' "

Agreed! Moreover, as I see it, anyone, even the most brilliant of experts, can enhance their standing – and their contribution to human knowledge and enterprise – by not soley operating in or being totally absorbed by the silo mentality.

In turn, this sort of synchs with New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki's analysis in his book The Wisdom Of Crowds (Surowiecki SXSW session coverage coming soon – I promise!).

And "lesser" specialists can learn whatever they want about their discipline or cross-company practices – and build-up new skills – from the internet and the blogs throwing open the doors on the "secrets" of professions in multitudes…

For all those already or aspiring to be working in innovative companies – and for Britain's economy in general – yet another wake-up call…

[PS. Turns out, while getting you the article link, I found out Fast Company also have a blog]

SXSW Notes: Book Digitisation And The Revenge Of The Librarians

This session on Saturday 11th March had me from hello, after a fascinating half-day conference on book digitisation I attended and reported on last month in London held by the ALPSP

SXSW 2006 session page 


Liz Lawley – Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, a trained librarian who used to work at the Library of Congress and visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, Liz blogs at mamamusings, Corante's social software weblog Many-to-Many, and
Danielle Tiedt – Head of Microsoft’s Books Program and General Manager of MSN Search
Bob Stein – Institute for the Research of The Book, visiting Fellow USC Annenberg Center for Communication and founder Night Kitchen 
Daniel Clancy – Director, Google Book Search


Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media at de Montfort University (UK) jumped right in with a question about trans-literacy just as the session started. And a guy from Cyworld asked how does something written now fit into future writing – “the living book” – and changing texts (eg Wikipedia)? A delegate from New York Library asked as we digitised things, are we actually shrinking the realm of knowledge as people will be thinking that’s everything?

Liz Lawley first addressed privacy concerns, for instance the privacy surrendered by having to log-in through Google to look at books. An easy criticism of Google Book Search is that it only had options of where you could find the book online, but they now also include where you can borrow it from / ones in the public domain. 

Daniel Clancy recounted how he went to a talk recently where half the students hadn’t been in the library in the last 6 months. There is a vast amount of authoritative content available and Google want it to be available at anytime and everywhere. To this end, Google has their Book Search and their Library Program.

Mary Hodder spoke up from the floor, positing that Google are not being good community members if they are signing exclusive contacts with publishers, etc, because others should be able to crawl and re-scan that information… Tom Clancy responded that for the public domain, it’s limited, but Hodder queried in turn, can I crawl all Google’s public domain content and use that for other things? Can I build new knowledge on top of it and build communities? 

Danielle Tiedt said she got into book search for a lot of the same reasons as Google, for example to improve the answers in Microsoft Search. Only 5% of the world’s information is online today. Book digitisation is a very long-game process and is going to require a lot of people working together to make it happen. One of the reasons Microsoft joined the OCA, she continued, is because it is specifically focused around public domain work and they make it freely available to everyone. There are 3 copies of everything – one goes to the Internet Archive [run by Brewster Kahle – cheers Brewster, fragments of three former websites I’ve worked on that went bust or were retired are stored there!], one to the OCA, and one to a commercial company eg. Microsoft. 

At this point Bob Stein countered that it is scary that Mary Hodder has to act like a supplicant if everything is “going to be okay” Hodder commented that Kahle says “trust me” but if you put the info out there, the concept of having as many copies as possible forces you to make a business model around better services, based on better user interfaces, and trust that validates (eg make an API for all the content so others can remix, mash up and build upon it). 

Stein said he has a tremendous problem with any commercial organisation controlling the archive that is our culture, citing the instance of censorship in China. Ceding our culture in this way to large organisations is scary. We are giving up the role of the public librarian too easily, he stressed. 

Danielle Tiedt noted that Europe is taking a more public approach with governments supporting digitisation. There’s not enough money to make it happen without public involvement, she added. 

Daniel Clancy explained that 30 million books takes $1.5 billion to digitise – so how would Bob Stein et al have Google behave, and is Stein comfortable with the US government being the source of digitisation? 

Liz Lawley interjected that maybe we need to look at more decentralized options, wondering how much would they have costed Wikipedia in advance? 

An issue around the idea of the perfect book was raised from the audience – if pages online are collected from different editions, what edition [or what translation, I wonder] am I reading? What effect is this having on scholarship, he asked.

A delegate from iBiblio described the broadcasting and webcasting treaty currently being negotiated as “the Rome Convention” on steroids!” as it transfers the copying rights onto the web and broadcasting world. 

Responding to the point that there is not a lot of demand for digitisation, Danielle Tiedt, said there is in regards to search. People want authoritative, book-sourced / originated content and a lot of search queries aren’t being answered because there’s a lack of authoritative content in the search results. 

Bob Stein put forth the case that the books Google has digitized are reading us. But Daniel Clancy countered that you don’t have to login for public domain content, if you check 'fully accessible' in Google's 'advanced search'. 

Liz Lawley asserted that Google aren’t organizing anything, they’re just indexing it, and usability issues have to be addressed. For instance the best edition of Hamlet for a six-year-old and the best for a PhD scholar aren’t one and the same. Librarians however, do have expertise in searching and sourcing the correct texts.

Danielle Tiedt took up the point about indexing and organizing – how pages are ranked for search is a lot harder to do with the types of technology we have today and she reckoned we’re still going to need a lot of human intervention.

SXSW Notes: Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds for Grandma

I joined this session late on day one, Saturday 11th March, as I had to queue for 40 minutes to register. The crowds overwhlemed even the plentiful organisers!

The session‘s obvious premise was to examine how we move beyond the simple folksonomy / taxonomy debate and look at how tagging could and will impact the wider public. Other blog coverage to fill in the gaps is listed at the end… (thanks Technorati!)

Event page on SXSW Interactive 2006 site


Mary Hodder – CEO Dabble and
Liz , Rochester Institute of Technology, Corante contributor & visiting Microsoft Researcher)

As I came into the session, having missed the first 20 minutes, David Swedlow brought up the concept of the “attention tracker”

Mary Hodder brought to our attention the fact that she’s on the Attention Trust board (which I first heard about from Marc Canter at the Mash Up*  event in London in February – Marc is also speaking at Content 2.0 in June BTW!). She talked about their Attention Recorder – you voluntarily download it. She feels strongly that people shouldn’t have to give away the information it gathers.

The Attention Recorder (AR) is very interesting – and a new AR plug-in allows you to visualise what you do online (what you search for / what sites you visit).

She’s not a fan of automated tagging, but Hodder is creating a company called Dabble that allows you to bookmark videos online and save them (still in Beta) – there are over 10,000 videos saved by Beta group users so far.

There’s a big difference in the type of media that’s tagged so far, she revealed. Their video searches and bookmarks are tagged, and people don’t even use the video title to choose what to watch. The two things that matter to users on Dabble searching for content are
(1) the length of the video clip
(2) the tags.

The human input creates better information and text – the quality for non-automated tagging is much higher, Hodder extrapolated.

Swedlow noted that as James ‘Wisdom Of Cowds’ Suroweiki (more on James’ Sunday session soon!) says, if you can get people to give authentic information and answers that is very different from getting them to say what is expected.

Each of us is an expert filter (implicit and explicit tagging…) and mass authenticity allows another level of meaning to form on top of that. Implicit tagging is also about creating and maintaining context. Everyone is an aficionado of some sorts, so why can’t we tap into their expertise?

Liz Lawley interjected that most people do not use tagging-enabled sites (eg. Flickr, Technorati, Delicious).

On the last count there were 44 social bookmarking sites, she continued. We have to start integrating bookmarking and tagging into things we already use, and this is just starting to happen. Microsoft Vista is going to start to incorporate tagging into al lot of things.

How is it going to help teachers get stuff out to their pupils? One of the reasons Liz has started to use her Delicious (social bookmarks) is for her students as using it saves them writing down all the URLs for the class the next day.

The wisdom of crowds can be overstated Lawley reckoned – it’s god for some things but not for others. Sometimes I just want a particular subset, and she’s not just referring to friends, but to expert information filters…

People will do a lot of things that aren’t effortless every day if there’s a return or perceptible value for them, she insisted.

Swedlow then concurred that tagging also has to be experienced as useful.

A guy in the audience wondered if it’s an unspoken thing that when you tag, it’s like you’re also doing it for a community. Plus he liked the idea of being able to search the content of your bookmarked sites…

Liz Lawley countered that you need to have a lot more user scenarios. Of course there will be serendipitous uses that you can’t plan for but they also were – like Delicious – more commonly built to solve a problem for a reason.
Someone else asked what is the tag for the conference? Liz replied “SXSW”.

Another guy in the audience reasoned that folders are hierarchical but tags cross-reference (or are heterarchical as another blogger termed it). – You’re It! was mentioned. The idea is to build tags into what you use, but you don’t have to share it.

Someone in the audience said Apple has a taxonomy which is political. But (who spoke at the first B&I), on the contrary, has groups. And in Ann Arbor University a fan club formed in around a group and the record label they were signed to didn’t know what to do about the fan club…

Swedlow responded that groups do make a big difference but that we are entering a time where boundaries are fluid and ambiguous.

Hodder added that she has been working on a project called which was deeper, combining identity and tags, and if you publish through it you can build a Creative Commons licence into the object. We need, she stressed, much more usability from the beginning.

Other blogs of this session include:
Scott Hacker
Squidoo – SXSW Folksonomy session resources
Power Of Many – Cristian Crumlish’s SXSW session notes:

SXSW Interactive notes – preface

Ah, I came back from SXSW Interative in Austin, Texas last Thursday full of good intentions…

Thought I would write up all the sessions wordsmith style, and share with the people. But I was in denial about my daily workload, and, well, I’m still just getting to grips with the whole blogging whatchamacallit.

In short, somehow the occasion for wordsmithery just hasn’t presented itself… so I’m going to blog it *almost* as if live.

Not the same as truly live, but ya know… maybe this is the first lesson.

It’ll come through in dribs and drabs but in chronological order, so bear with me, and feel free to fire any comments or questions right back at me.

I feel so damn lucky to have been there, with a fiesty handful of other UK innovators, so I’m only too happy to share and respond. Which is probably even more idealsitic than my initial “good intentions”.

Apologies again for the delays in getting this all out there.

Beers & Innovation 2 sold out!

The next NMK Beers & Innovation on 30th March is now sold out.

Here’s the finishing touches to the cake.

User generated content is the theme and on this occasion citizen media and UGC-based business models will be up for discussion.

Providing the solid foundation of the sandwich upfront – the speakers.

Folks who have booked will hear from Richard Sambrook, Director of the BBC’s Global News Division. Richard will talk about how the BBC is engaging innovatively with user created content and the broader repercussions of citizen media for mainstream media and reporting – a particular interest of his.

Paul Youlten of Yellowikis will talk about the day-to-day realities of user-provisioned information systems as well as the strengths and weaknesses of community based projects.

And then comes the tasty filling – the speakers will take questions and have a good chinwag with the assembled crowd. All ably assisted by our chair Jo Twist – Senior Research Fellow and Team Leader, Digital Society and Media at the IPPR. Thanks Jo!

The icing on the cake – some free beers and a chance to mingle afterwards.

The next Beers & Innovation is in April. We’re keping it micro-sized as this seems most conducive to good discussion. So if you’re thinking you might like to come along, keep your eyes peeled.

NB. For those who came to B&I 1 on 9th February please note the venue has changed! See here for details.