Category Archives: Communities

Open Plaques: joining the blue dots

Writing in the Telegraph last year, Stephen Fry reflected: “Many of us like to believe that we understand the point of history. We all pay lip service to the idea that yesterday makes today, but it is hard to make the imaginative leap that truly connects us to the past. It is as if we are forced to move forwards in such a narrow passageway of time that the act of stopping to look behind us is difficult.”

Fry surmised that the UK’s blue plaques – erected to mark the physical locations occupied by people from history who have left a notable mark on our culture – were a living corrective to this. But are they really? What if these inert short-form stories were re-animated by augmenting the physical markers with a layer of digital information that made looking back in time from the present day a far easier, richer and more immediate experience? Wouldn’t that be a greater step forward in terms of bringing history to life?

WB Yeats open plaque on Flickr courtesy of ChicagoGeek

Even as Fry was writing this in June 2009, a project was already underway do just that – to open up that heritage and make it accessible, expanding the narrow passageway of time that Fry lamented.

Credit to kickstarting this goes to Frankie Roberto who came away from a conference on mobile learning for the museums and archives sector in January 2009 with a bee in his bonnet:

“You see them everywhere – especially when sat on the top deck of a double-decker bus in London – and yet the plaques themselves never seem that revealing. You’ve often never heard of the person named, or perhaps only vaguely, and the only clue you’re given is something like “scientist and electrical engineer” (Sir Ambrose Fleming) or “landscape gardener” (Charles Bridgeman).

I always want to know more. Who are these people, what’s the story about them, and why are they considered important enough for their home to be commemorated? I’d like to be able to find out all this, and to do so at the point at which I stumble across a plaque – which to me suggests something on a mobile platform.”

In the 15 months since, this desire for deeper and more accessible context to these static emblems has crystallized in the Open Plaques initiative. An open source community project; it is also community-driven by necessity, due mainly to the data surrounding the UK plaques being fragmented between hundreds of bodies, and not only inconsistent but sometimes totally absent.

It gathered momentum when Frankie’s early efforts caught the attention of Jez Nicholson, Simon Harriyott and Marvin Baretto who’d already (coincidentally) teamed-up to do a blue plaques project for the Open Hack London event in May 2009. So it happened that they prototyped a website that could pull this information together.

Open Plaques London Map

The Open Plaques service which emerged from this ad-hoc grouping (which I joined later last year) synthesises a number of tactics and workarounds to overcome the challenges it faces. As the plaques by their very existence are in public domain, Frankie has made a series of Freedom of Information requests for data and records of the plaques to several of the bodies that hold them, so they can aggregate them together and offer the data in standardised form for free re-use by others.

In turn, the already existent Blue Plaques group on Flickr proved useful and amenable, and the idea of using images from Flickr on the Open Plaques service gained an important leg-up when Flickr agreed to grant a “machine tag” option to photographs of plaques uploaded under a Creative Commons licence.

It’s remarkably simple and works like this: each plaque location listed on the Open Plaques database (which you can search on their site by name, place or organisation) has a number. When the number is added as a machine code in the tags of the corresponding photograph on Flickr by the user – and if the user gives the photo a Creative Commons licence – the image is pulled from Flickr onto the Open Plaques website. The service also allows geo co-ordinates to be imported.

The site itself is still in Alpha phase of development but is already substantially populated – with 38.44% of 2297 known plaques in the database now having a corresponding machine-tagged photograph.

William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect on Flickr courtesy of Sleekit

The whole project is still in the earliest of stages. Making it fully functional and accessible on mobile devices still lies ahead. Any number of possibilities for what could be done going forward suggest themselves. But in the very act of pulling it together, it already bears the DNA stamp of what it could some day become. The plaques themselves encapsulate people-powered history: a history of action, ideas and invention. Open Plaques has the potential to transform them into a living resource – and make each one a porthole that helps us connect with, understand and traverse moments in place and time, just like Stephen Fry said.

Re-shaping historical interest points nationwide as dynamic experiences is a mammoth task but Open Plaques – which is unfunded and 100% volunteer based – is already gearing up for a productive 2010. In February, Simon and Frankie attended the first ever English Heritage conference on commemorative plaques (yes, they’re not all blue) to find out more about the organisation’s thinking and plans, and talk to people about the initiative. Simon also talked about the project at last week’s £5 App Meet in Brighton.

In the meantime, we need more people to help fill up the image database – yes that’s you Flickr users! – plus help with the technical development. Spreading the word also matters and you can stay in the loop by following Open Plaques on Twitter.

Any input is welcome. You can even source and suggest plaques that aren’t on the website’s (incomplete) list. So if you’d like to get involved in connecting past and present, and do some local or further-afield exploring in the process, visit the site’s Contribute page for more instructions, see Jez’s blog and the Open Plaques group for simple Flickr tips or get in touch directly, and lend a hand in joining the blue dots.

[UPDATE 12/5/10] We now have an Open Plaques blog and I’ve added my first post: Meet the time bandits.

Rebooting the association

While media budgets are squeezed still further as we trudge onward under the cloud of recession, trillionesque debt and the massive public spending cuts gathering on the horizon, the focus on social media ROI grows ever sharper, but less energy is expended looking at the benefits that focused online communities can bring to businesses.

Communities for not-for-profits and membership bodies have a slightly different flavour to those developed for commercial entities. While commercial brands answer to shareholders or private owners, NFPs and membership bodies exist for the benefit of their constituents. There is already a genuine, real-world community or shared interest in place – just as there isn’t (really) between me and say, Sainsbury’s – so a digital community is a natural fit.

But that doesn’t mean it’s any simpler, nor is the transition to deeper member or supporter engagement any less challenging for the organising bodies than a renewed focus on customer engagement is for businesses. There is a lot of overlap. An event I attended at the Law Society on 6th October, “Surviving in a Recession – What Member Organisations can Learn from the Commercial World” addressed the challenges and opportunities in this area.

One of the things I liked about it was the way it set online communities in a longer timeframe than we’re used to talking about. Many membership bodies have been around for 50-200 years. Most started out when enthusiastic and committed people come together informally – usually in a bar room, hotel or coffee house – to improve and professionalise emerging crafts and knowledge.

Fast forward to now, and these bodies occupy grand buildings, wield influence with governments and business, and provide letters after your name. But are they achieving their original aims? How close are they to their members today, and how can a geographically dispersed membership benefit from the knowledge and experience of their fellow members and the wider interested audience? In other words, can we re-boot the association?

The event was co-hosted by Sift – who are the technology and consultancy supplier for CIMAsphere, the online community I manage – and Madgex. Rather than reading a re-cap of the discussion, you can watch the presentations from two of the speakers that morning.

First up is Adam Cranfield, my former colleague, who was at the time Digital Media Manager at CIMA.

The second presentation is from Lawrence Clarke, Head of Consultancy at Sift. Sadly you can’t see his slides in the video, nor Adam’s in his. But the stand-out points for me were Lawrence’s thoughts on the tendency of subscription-based associations to rely on inertia and top-down, one-to-many communications, and how that is being undermined by the connectedness and transparency the web brings on the one hand, and recessionary pressures on the other.

That talk is a companion piece to this post Lawrence wrote a month earlier on the Sift blog. Highly recommended.

Community management under the bonnet: 23 things

Online communities have been around for as long as the internet itself, but the path technology has travelled in the last decade means the options for what you can offer and what you can do with them today have exploded.

Despite this, they’re still viewed as a bolt-on or feature of a brand’s web presence and their internal workings and dynamics are little understood. This has led to what’s been termed as the “iceberg effect of community management”. In other words: there’s much more going on in an online community than is visible from the surface. Especially in the initial stages, just as much of this hidden activity involves the community manager as it does the community members.

Image courtsesy of Rita Willaert, Greenland, 10th September 2005 on Flickr

Image courtsesy of Rita Willaert, Greenland, 10th September 2005 on Flickr

The full-spectrum of web and social media tools is now being vacuumed up into and integrated with communities: so beyond forums and chat, we now have blogs, RSS, aggregation, email, polls, Q&A, photos, video, audio, virtual worlds, groups, ratings, attachments, events, microblogging, profiles, focus groups, networking, widgets and wikis, to list only the most obvious…

These tools protrude the ocean’s surface, along with the reams of content created by community members. But that is only a small fraction of what is happening. As more brands and organisations come to recognise the potential value of facilitating their own communities – but still consider it as an “add-on” to their main website – what does this mean for the role of community manager? What do they need to know and what do they do all day?

Image courtesy of The Brain Toad on Flickr

Image courtesy of The Brain Toad on Flickr

This is my off-the-cuff list of community management under the bonnet. I prefer the engine metaphor because communities commonly have a goal – they’re supposed to get you somewhere. I’ve also included the pre-launch stages. Depending on your product and whatever way you slice it, there’s a lot to get stuck into!

1. Business Plan
Translating business objectives into a workable plan that is agreed with stakeholders across the business. Finding and agreeing a budget. If you’re already on board at this stage, you’ll need to be involved in this in order to understand the business needs, if you’re hoping to translate it into a successful product that is…

2. Technology Platform & CMS
Choosing a technology platform – low-cost off the shelf packages you can tailor to suit community interaction, eg. Ning, Squarespace, Joomla; bigger-budget customised developments based on for example Drupal (the system I’ve worked with in my last three roles); or maybe you go totally bespoke whether in-house or with an agency (potentially the priciest, and beware proprietary lock-ins that could come back to bite you).

3. Personas & User-Centred Planning
Personas are a useful heuristic for surfacing the needs of the different key groups who’ll be using your community. You think you have your audience all figured out, but have you thought about their activities and requirements in community terms? Explore this in workshops if you can.

4. Design & Build
If you’re around during this phase, you could be called upon to input from the following (and more) perspectives: web design and wireframing, information architecture, usability, accessibility, user experience, on site search, SEO, taxonomy and folksonomy, APIs, browser compatibility and web standards. Many brands are still lacking in some or all of these departments, so your broad knowledge and experience can help make or break the end product! In terms of collaboration and notation around refining design and navigation concepts with your devs and designers, I can’t recommend Conceptshare strongly enough. I used it for that purpose in Chinwag‘s previous re-build and it is genius.

5. Registration & CRM Integration
The first experience of a community member is often to register; don’t make it painful and onerous, you’ll annoy and lose people from the get go. Communicate the importance of this to direct stakeholders, preferably with story boards and demos of best practice. The experience generally is so poor and under-thought that Joshua Porter’s writing a book about it. Get advance estimates for the costs of integrating community registration / login with your current CRM system (preferably when you’re in Business Planning stage). The figures – and actual effort – can be unexpected. Is there another solution?

6. Testing & Tweaking
When you have early “alpha” versions of the site to play with, plan for an extended period of UAT (user acceptance testing). Get people across the business involved. Allow for some less structured “guerilla” usability testing too, at different stages of the build. You can learn as much from this as from pre-scripted interactions. Make sure your community manager is involved for most if not all of it and has oversight on the final sign-off.

7. Guidelines
Social networks revolve around me and are a bit of a free-for-all, they’re social but generally selfish. Communities bring benefits to people by having a common purpose that may facilitate but also overrides pure self-interest. So community rules and a general etiquette are essential. These guidelines need to be agreed by your organisation, and include some legal considerations. You may also need specific guidelines: for your bloggers, for group managers, for staff members and for sponsors, depending on the scope of your endeavour.

8. FAQ / Help
The more multi-faceted your site, the more bases your FAQ will need to cover! Basic instructions on your different areas, tools and registration are essential, should be visibly linked to everywhere and also feature somewhere in the site-wide navigation. Keep them readable and concise. A good FAQ is not an afterthought, and harder to write than you’d imagine. Be community-minded and have a site help discussion forum too, where your input and peer support can mingle to the benefit of all concerned.

9. Seeding: pilot before launching
There’s nothing worse than being told of some cool new community or cutting edge network, and hoofing it over there only to find it bereft of visible life forms. Counter this by running a closed pilot, while you also beta test the site’s taxonomy and functionality. Invite a segment of your audience to participate in the pilot. Make sure they know they’re getting a special preview, listen to their feedback and iterate rapidly to solve key technology, content and user experience design issues during this period. Allow for a couple of months minimum, or at least until there is lively activity before opening up. Then when the world turns up, they won’t be confronted by a confusing environment of unusable tools and tumbleweed. [See also .17]

10. Moderation
Think about posting controls, editing permissions, alert systems, freezing tools, spam filters and of course, moderators! Which is better for your community: external agency moderation, user-mods, or moderation by the experts, contact centre staff and people who know the answers and issues themselves inside the business? As community manager for CIMAsphere I run staff training workshops, and oversee the moderation workflow and rolling schedule. A closed group on the community for geographically distributed moderators to discuss issues and share best practice is another plus. Relying solely on external mods can be un-feasible and also means the brand is not fully engaging.

11. Inboxes
Not everything happens *on* your website, so common community inboxes you may have to set up and manage include: info, help, feedback, and abuse; plus the community manager’s personal inbox of course. That’s a lot of email! Who else can help you mange these inboxes? Hunt down the most apposite or amenable folks and spread the inbox love to spare the pain!

12. Enhancements & bug fixing
Gotta love those bugs as a community manager! Living in perpetual beta with a modest budget, bugs follow you wherever you go. Users complain on the site, people email for help, some people struggle to even login if your registration process isn’t perfect (and whose is?). Bugs perkily await you in the morning, and they’re there when you go to sleep each night. The thing businesses need to consider is that bugs impact users much more directly and frequently in communities than in other websites. And who else can communicate these bugs’ intricacies and preferred fixes to developers apart from the community manager? Prioritise ruthlessly, and use a good bug-logging or collaborative project management tool. I recommend TracAdminitrack, or even Basecamp (but not Bugzilla – it’s strictly for the engineer contingent). Realise you’ll never get them all fixed if your support budget is minimal. Communicate with your users about the bugs, and discuss with the business how they plan to support product development in the future.

13. Analytics
Unique users, dwell-time, page views, referring sites, search traffic, browser and device breakdown, exit pages, pages per visit, popular keywords and content, campaign tracking… this is just the beginning, but if you can’t report on the above, something’s wrong. Even if you use a paid analytics vendor like Neilsen, Omniture or Nedstat, it should be possible to also plug in the wonderfully free Google Analytics. But realise there’s more to GA than meets the eye – look into its deeper facilities.

14. Community & engagement metrics
Another beast from analytics entirely: clicks are not the bottom line! Value comes in many forms. Most active participants; most active groups / forums; total posts / interactions; average posts per user; ratio of posters to passives. These are some fundamentals, but don’t tell you much more than if you’re properly monitoring the community from a managerial perspective in the first place. But how many go onto recommend you, or redistribute your content elsewhere? How many buy? How many change their sentiment from negative to positive, and vice versa? How many act creatively? How many contribute valuable feedback and knowledge to other users and to your organisation? Only some of these metrics are directly monetary, others contribute to site and business objectives in the broader sense and longer term. Think about types of value, what you want to measure, and what you effectively *can*.

15. Bloggers
Internal or external, expert or enthusiasts, detractors or advocates? Okay, it might not be the most sensible move to hire detractors as bloggers, but critics will have a voice on your site nonetheless, and are part of the positive future of your organisation, catalysts for beneficial change. This is because they often speak loudly the frustrations and uncomfortable truths that the brand smoothes over. That’s because they’re passionate, so some could be bloggers eventually 🙂  Get a mix of bloggers on board, make sure a variety of business and community interests are represented, and within your guidelines allow for freedom. Give them ongoing feedback. Run training for internal bloggers and monitor their progress. Try out different things and don’t expect it to purr along like a dream. Expect it to be bumpy.

16. Groups
Groups are very powerful clusters: a key trait of people is to identify by similarity of experience, location or interest. According to the Ruder Finn Intent Index, 72% of people go online just to become part of a community. Groups in communities facilitate this clustering further. Do you have pre-defined or user suggested groups, or both? Devolving group control to community members is common practice. Group guidelines and moderation can ameliorate the risks involved, as well as reassure the group managers that you’re taking their group’s good health and sanity to heart.

17. Advocates, evangelists & early days participants
Prior to launching, identify and open a communications channel with brand or business advocates who can get motivated to sign-up and post when you launch, and help spread the word. These could be dynamic individuals already championing your brand elsewhere in the social mediaverse, or people who present themselves and have good ideas when you (for instance) do a mail out to your audience asking for ideas and involvement before the community goes live. In turn, your first active users should be carefully listened to and responded to. Those first weeks are critical. Having turned up first to the party and said hello, they deserve special attention!

18. Getting to know you
If you don’t “know” your community, you’re onto a loser. By know, I mean get familiar with them as participants. You don’t need to be the resident expert on the community’s focus (though input from experts is essential) but you do need to know who’s unhappy, who’s helpful, who’s critical, and who’s smart. Many community users will be a combination of these and other types. Some people can even be accidentally evil and destructive. Unless they’ve been heinously bad, don’t jump to cast judgement! We’re complicated creatures after all.

19. PR, content and attention planning
Do you know why you’re building your community? Then the PR and content planning should be seamless. Schedule in some eye-catching events and content around your launch; but remember it’s not about broadcasting “messages” or parading shiny baubles. Instead it’s about being interesting by providing value and being relevant and useful. If your event isn’t going to really matter to those early days and ideal users, then all the press coverage and email-outs in the world aren’t going to get people logging in and participating! It’s the same with content and event programming going forward. What might impress journalists and influential bloggers on the one hand and what tickles your community on the other don’t necessarily correlate.

20. Culture shift and cross-business input
The governance and ongoing development of the community shouldn’t be left to one person, or even one department. A cross-business steering group is one way of bringing a range of business eyes and knowledge to bear on the project and prevents it being siloed or becoming a political football for competing fiefdoms in the organisation. Communities languish and fail every day due to the latter scenarios. Breaking down those barriers is one of the great leaps forward that a community can begin to facilitate. People talk about operational efficiencies, but they’re rarely delivered in a meaningful or positive way. Well managed communities make this approach tangible, and eat away at the barriers and inertia both within businesses and between them and their customers.

21. Direct engagement and response
Follows from the above. If your community is a platform for CRM, R&D, product development, PR, marketing or customer insight, direct engagement must be baked in. As community manager you should liaise across the business to make sure the right people are aware, listening and acting upon feedback – whether that’s publicly, or off-line, or in specific community spaces. And the community needs to know you’re listening, even if you don’t respond publicly on every single occasion. Ignore them at your peril. Creating community areas and content that your users have suggested and asked for is one of the best outcomes of engaging with them. Hosting raw, unfiltered and real-time feedback is also a wake up call to complacent businesses; you can gain insight and improve your key business offerings based on monitoring conversations and analysing positive and negative comments.

22. Communications & Marketing
Communities do generate their own buzz, but those who can gain most from community often don’t have the time or aren’t in the right context to pick up on these vibrations. That said, neither does traditional marketing always reach the parts that other, more context-specific comms can. Marketing in and for communities often falls flat, or as one marketer has put it “there’s a hole in my funnel“. It’s got to be clear: what’s in it for them? Reaching out and partnering with other networks is likely to be more fruitful (see 23.). In turn, setting up group, discussion and blog alerts, and a community newsletter, can also spur new members and accelerate activity. Working with advocates in your community and elsewhere also has a grassroots halo effect.

23. Off-site community: partnering & networks
Linking with or extending to external communities can create a virtuous circle, with value for the brand and community flowing in multiple directions. Are there directly-related or relevant groups elsewhere? There were already 30+ CIMA student and member run groups on Facebook when I started at CIMA, which up until then had been ignored by the business. We decided to work with some of the livelier groups rather than starting our own, we recently set up a Facebook page and Twitter accounts, and we’re reviewing other networks. Think about the positive impact of reaching out, but beware duplicating your product and effort on a platform you don’t own. Be realistic about your workload but inform the business that your customers are out there – they’re organising themselves and being courted by others. So for how much longer will your brand be relevant, or will it soon be surplus to requirements?

Think a lot of this is a job for other people? Web editors, web designers, CRM staff, digital marketing and PR folks, web producers, brand managers, product and business development, perchance even some community assistants? That’s as may be, but community management is an emerging profession and – in the main – little understood.

Online communities are viewed much like websites were 10 years ago – “oh, that new thing, let’s get one”. As time goes by, community management will become more specialised. But for now, it’s a whole lotta skillsets rolled into one…

So it follows that I’ve actually left out some things – 23 things is enough to be getting on with 😉  What else do you think goes on under the bonnet of community management?

In line with this (if you’ll forgive me for mashing my metaphors) it’s also time to ask: what other new roles will emerge to power communities forward and keep the iceberg’s complex ecosystem intact?

Round up of my Chinwag events

Sheesh, is it really six months since I left Chinwag? Crazy times. Half of my hybrid role there (the other being planning, wireframing and launching/editing the new website) involved hatching ideas for and bringing to life their wish for an events programme…

Chinwag Live banner

What shall we call it, Sam mused, when I joined in October 2006. I processed this while getting other stuff done. A few hours later I blurted out “It’s a bit cheeky, but how about Chinwag Live?”. So, he asked with his customary chortle, what’s it all about then D? “Casting light on trends in the digital media and marketing industry” I reasoned, deadpan. Actually, it was Sam who insisted we add the words “and marketing“.

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised - part of Widget Week 2007

Me introducing Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised - part of Widget Week 2007

So I got onto it. Oh yeah, and the marketing and the PR and the whole social media fandango. Bloggishness? Obligatory. Old skool press release? Easy. Facebook Goup? In an instant. Upcoming? Check. Oh, now we need a Facebook Page too huh? Sorted. Flickr photos of every event? At once. Multiple Twitter accounts? We have the technology. Endless networking across the digital fleshpots of London (and Texas)? But of course…

All the good people at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised 16th May 2007

All the good people at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised 16th May 2007

It would all be nothing of course without the thousands of incredible people who were there over the 24+  events… Whatever happens with the recession and the government’s Digital Britain initiative, I know that the UK is a very special place for digital debate and enterprise…

Chinwag Big Summer 07 sponsored by Channel4, Adobe, Neutralize, Agency.com and The Big Chill

Chinwag Big Summer 07 sponsored by Channel4, Adobe, Neutralize, Agency.com and The Big Chill

Here’s a run-down of the Chinwag Live events that resulted during my tenure, plus the offshoots: Chinwag Clinic; Widget Week 2007; and not forgetting Big Summer ’07 – officially the biggest ever party for digital practitioners in the UK with some 2,000 folk attending.

Chinwag's Big Summer party 5th July 2007 dancefloor moves to The Big Chill's DJs

Chinwag's Big Summer party 5th July 2007 dancefloor moves to The Big Chill's DJs

MY CHINWAG EVENTS CALENDAR:

Chinwag Live: Wobble 2.0 – 6th Feb 2007

Chinwag Live: Mobile Metamorphosis – 26th Feb 2007

Chinwag Live: PPC Earthquake – 27th Mar 2007

Chinwag Live: PR Unspun – 24th Apr 2007

Chinwag Live: PPC Earthquake @ Internet World – 2nd May 2007

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – 16th May 2007

Widget Week 2007 – 14th-22nd May 2007
(in collaboration with Mobile Monday & NMK)

Chinwag Live: Dark Side Of Social Media – 19th Jun 2007

Big Summer ’07 – 5th Jul 2007
(a superhuman team effort!)

Chinwag Live: Web TV Takeover – 18th Sep 2007

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised @ Ad Tech London – 27th Sep 2007

Chinwag Live: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? – 5th Dec 2007

Chinwag Live: Skills Emergency – 29th Jan 2008

Chinwag Live: Measuring Social Media – 18th Feb 2008

Chinwag Live: Tomorrow’s Ad Formats – 18th Mar 2008

Chinwag Live: User Centered Advertising (with Manchester Digital) – 15th Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Real World Usability – 22 Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Measuring Social Media @ Internet World – 30th Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze – 20th May 2008

Chinwag Live: Search vs Recommendation – 2nd Sep 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze @ Ad Tech London – 24th Sep 2008

Chinwag Clinic: Search Marketing Surgery – 30th Sep 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)
[Testimonials For Search Marketing Surgery]

Chinwag Live: Search and LBS – 7th October 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)

Chinwag Live: Social Media ROI @ Ecommerce Expo – 28th Oct 2008
(in co-ordination with Julia Eilon)

Chinwag Live: MoSo Rising – 11th Nov 2008
(in co-ordination with Julia Eilon)

Chinwag Live: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? – 2nd Dec 2008
(in c0-ordination with Julia Eilon)

That is all.

Want more? Are you for real? Okeydoke, here’s a round-up of My NMK Events.

Widget Week part 1 – Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets

Widget Week kicked off last Monday 14th May, and hard to believe though it was, there was me at a MoMo London that I’d come up with the theme for, and someone thought I was called Brenda. Typical 😉

After a quick intro from MoMo’s Alex Craxton and myself, it was on to the substantial roster of speakers – most of whom also gave demos.

David Pollington of Vodafone R&D gave the opening talk – a scenesetter that summarized the key issues and opportunities he saw clustered around the emergence of mobile widgets.

First off – do we want a mobile internet or a mobilized internet? What do people want when mobilized? They certainly don’t want to have to fire-up a browser and search – so widgets are the perfect solution, or at least that’s the hypothesis.

Self-service approach to the Long Tail

Widgets are good for users, Pollington said, giving a threefold justification. You can provide customisable widget templates, hence enabling a self-service approach to the Long Tail; widgets are more bandwidth efficient; and they enable and embody always-on connectivity.

They’re also good for developers, he continued. By leveraging web technologies widgets open mobile service development out to the web development community.

They’re good for business too, he added, but I couldn’t keep up with his rapid-fire delivery! In terms of exploring new presentation options, Pollington said he would like a snapshot option, so he can tab though his widget screens.

In turn, widgets are enabling mash-ups. As a mash-up example he cited the single-click download of a map for one of the addresses in his address book.

Wigdets contextualize

In the same vein, when capturing a camera event a widget can offer the user options for annotating and blogging that image. Widgets aid contextualising services. The contextualisation comes with utilising location data in the calendar.

2008 will see a paradigm change in how widgets change mobile access to web information and services, he concluded.

Then came a short presentation on uiOne, the [event sponsor] Qualcomm user interface profile that according to representative Anwar Ahmed “enables rich and dynamic user experiences on wireless devices”. The speaker stressed the rapid development of customisable interfaces on uiOne. End users can also use it for presentation, theming and micro-segmentation.

Then it was the turn of Cees Van Dok, the creative director of Frog Design. Their strapline is ‘evolve, expand, envision’. Their relevant product is Celltop. It runs on the Alltell mobile carrier network in the US, who approached Frog to develop it, and from the demo it seemed rather nifty.

Open source-powered platforms

Ganesh Sivaraman of Nokia (who also came along to Chinwag Live Media Widgetised) was next up. His talk was quite compelling. He spoke of taking web apps and widgets to mobile devices on Nokia’s S60 platform. S60 has over 50% share of market on converged devices.

Built on top of the Symbian platform, it offers page view, toolbar, web feeds (RSS and Atom), and visual history. He described it as a world class browser developed by embracing and participating with the open source community.

The next step, reasoned Sivaraman, is internet going mobile, taking all Web 2.0 websites and web services to a mobile widget. With Web Run Time, S60 extends and integrates the best in class web components across the platform, he continued. It leverages all known web technologies with two principal outcomes: (1) They develop with standards-based web technologies; (2) Millions of web developers can now go mobile.

By 2010 Nokia predicts 4 billion mobile device subscribers. It will be much easier to facilitate the spread [of mobile web?] by creating templates to crank out widgets.

Web standards and then some…

Charles McCathieNevile of Opera Software kicked off with a bunch of Opera-related statistics. In 2006 they shipped about 140 40 million high-end browsers on four of the major converged device platforms [thanks to Chaals for the correction]. 2006 also saw 40m Opera desktop browser downloads. There are 10m Opera Mini users; and 500,000 My.Opera.com community users. There are around 1,000 Opera widgets; and Opera also runs on the Nintendo Wii, airplane seats, Archos, and the Nintendo DS.

If the browser is the platform and Opera widgets are cross-platform, then web standards are the glue… but there is more! The Opera platform also dug into the camera, for example, so you can use it for photo uploads to a widget [if I noted that correctly].

Widgets everywhere!

Opera took a draft widget packaging spec to the W3C to ensure that widgets can work anywhere. [UPDATE: McCathieNevile has since contacted me to stress that the point of taking the spec to W3C is to kick off the collaborative work of coming up with a single widget standard that everyone implements. So instead of developers being asked to build on X, Y or Z’s platform, they just build widgets and the user decides what platform offers them the most, since platforms will be compatible]

So what can we expect in the future? Messaging between mutually trusted widgets, Charles posited, and mash-ups between widgets – although that poses bigger technology and security challenges.

Widgets will be interoperable soon, he reckoned in conclusion. When you can take your widgets everywhere that’s when it’s really going to take off and make a big difference. So true!

Following Charles even deeper into the web domain (or at least, deep by MoMo standards) we got a short demo from Paris-based personalised homepage outfit Webwag who I’d just stumbled across a fortnight beforehand. Adding to the night’s predictions, their able COO and co-founder Florent Pitoun said that by 2010, 50% of internet users will have a personalised startpage.

Widgets on demand

In my opinion, the Webwag homepage is akin to that of Netvibes and Pageflakes, but it has unique strengths, as Pitoun demonstrated. They provide the facility to create widgets – including mobile widgets [UPDATE: enabled further by their recent aquistion of Mobease] – through their Widgets On Demand function.

Webwag will be LBS-enabled in the near future Pitoun added, and you can checkout what they’re doing at http://beta.webwag.com. He also demonstrated Webwag’s intra-widget communication ability between the Flickr widget and background widget, both on his mobile phone.

Then we had a quick talk from Ray Anderson, CEO of Bango. He made a call for interested mobile folks to contact him about the “web trigger” widget they are developing that will both collect user numbers, and offer the “read and sign terms and conditions” facility (if I understood him correctly).

Last up was Kaj “Hege” Häggman, the business development manager and inventor of Widsets (run out of the Nokia Emerging Business Unit) who also spoke at Chinwag Live Media Widgetised two evenings later.

Facilitating user-created apps

Given David Tollington’s and Charles McCathieNevile’s insightful contributions, and the limitations on time, he passed over the implications of widgets for a quick overview of the technology and usability aspects of Widsets. As such, it has a user-customisable UI; produces mobile mini-apps that perform a specific task; and is good for keeping an eye out for updates.

Widsets have an SDI coming out this summer that allows complex widgets for communities. They also facilitate user created apps – you can create a Widset for your business, or a Widset for your blog.

Widgetisation simplified

Collaborative filtering is important, Häggman continued. You can trust your community when it comes to selecting widgets for your mobile. What’s more, distribution channels will come pre-installed on all new Nokia models, and also on selected Blackberry, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG handsets.

They’ve also partnered with Netvibes to get mobile widgets on there, he explained. So why should content providers work with Widsets? Because they’ll get many distribution channels, it’s easy to do, all mobile technology challenges are dealt with by Widsets, the server is stable and it will enable new business models.

I loved how this MoMo looked at mobile development innovation from a broader web perspective without recourse to the standard mobile web 2.0 clichés. Opera, S60, Widsets and widget aggregator outfits like Webwag are very well placed to both benefit from and push forward innovation and convergence in this area.

Widget Week hypothesis proven?

It also dovetailed – far beyond my expectations – with my previously-stated view that the UK, Ireland and North-Western Europe as a whole is better placed and (currently) much farther ahead of the US and the Far East in terms of understanding and innovating in this space. Feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong.

However, that’s not to detract from the topical span of MoMo’s global chapters – which is *hugely* impressive. Check the worldwide MoMo aggregated events here: http://www.mobilemonday.net/community

Big thanks to Daniel Appelquist, Alex Craxton and Jo Rabin (the MoMo London trio) for running with my Widget Week idea. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. Hopefully we can get the web developer community properly on-board for Widget Week 2008!

[UPDATE: Rod McLaren of Mobbu has also provided a great write-up here, via Florent]

Why Widget Week?

When I said May 2007 is going to be the month of the widget perhaps I was over-stating the case.

But let’s face it, the fact is that in our attention-strapped times we’re all dependent to a degree on a bit of hype to get our notice.

As a very few of you might know, I have very definite views (for once!) about what it is that companies of Chinwag‘s ilk are doing (or aiming to do) for the industry. I’m not talking about notifications by RSS or any of the other delivery mechanisms or software apps for structuring and sharing information. No, that’s just the plumbing, and it’s on it way.

What I’m talking about is the purpose of what we do. To me it seems two-fold – firstly, to provide support and a vibrant community space for people working (at the broadest level) in the digital media and technology industries; secondly, to be a viable business. The two are interdependent.

The networked ecosystem

Other digital networks, communities and businesses exist and have similar purposes, though the details may vary; others still are run as side-projects for no immediate finacial gain; but IMHO (at least in theory) we share a common purpose – supporting success and understanding in this dynamic and innovative media/technology sphere.

So, if we’re to look at it from that meta-perspective, collaboration is surely the way forward. There are competing agendas, and there is competition from larger media companies. But there are also things we can do together that benefit all our respective communities and networks. Not everything we do will fall into this category, but sometimes it’s just obvious.

Events are a key element of this equation. When I saw that Paid Content were having their first mixer in London last October on the same night as both Swedish Beers Mobile Networking and Beers & Innovation 5 (both of which had already been announced and were looking busy) I contacted Paid Content publisher Rafat Ali to let him know. He hadn’t been aware of these events and in a reasonable (and gracious) move, shifted his to the next night. The night after that was the TechCrunch UK lanuch party. It was a busy week in London.

Acting together – for everyone’s benefit

Things have cranked up a gear since then eventwise and that’s a sign of our industry’s recovery so I’m not complaining. But I also feel that when we’re focusing on early-stage innovation it makes sense to support each other and join forces where possible and appropriate. It mightn’t work out perfectly every time, but if we collaborate intelligently we can all have successful events, and the industry as a whole can benefit and be advanced.

So I’m sad that Chinwag Live: PR Unspun this Tuesday 24th April clashes with mashup* Identity 2.0 (and not just because I’m very interested in the online identity issue and the work being done by the OpenID community). However, by the time I heard about it – a week after we announced the Chinwag event – it was too late for either party to change their arrangements.

But I’m very pleased to say that three events addressing the widgetisation phenomenon are taking a broader view and joining together for the world’s first Widget Week (14-22 May – disaggregated weeks last 9 days dontcha know 😉 ). And for just £43.50 you can partake of all of them [*]. Given the range and calibre of these events, that’s more than equal to some big conference, and hugely cheaper.

Widget Week 2007 calendar:

Mon 14th May – Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets (MoMoLondon) – sign up here (focus – mobile tech and UI)
Wed 16th May – Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised (Chinwag) – info & bookings here (focus – media and marketing implications)
Tues 22nd May – Beers & Innovation 10: Widget Nation (NMK) – info & bookings here (focus – business models)

It might seem full-on to the weak-hearted (or the remote, but that’s excusable), but when is the UK going to get events on this topic happening again? Probably not for several months, at *least*. But the subject is rapidly evolving and potent. So to get a complete update of all issues widget-related, sample 2 or 3 of these events. I believe you won’t regret it.

Marc Canter posted something just yesterday that is relevant by way of inspiration (even if we’re not there with meshed content just yet):

“Next step is to keep the conversation persistent and create ‘aggregated conversations’ – which theoretically could bridge between different vendor’s conferences. So a discussion on DRM could start at the econSM network, get trashed by the end-users at Gnomedex, lauded by the copyright holders at Supernova, circumvented by big shots at Web 2.0 and end-up as a best hit at the Calacanis-Arrington show.

Connecting networks together takes on many guises and shapes and its gonna take ALL these different techniques to provide the open infrastructure we need to move forward – together.”

[Note: I wanted to get the developer side of the community involved too but it was just too short notice. I approached BBC Backstage but they’re all tied up over at Xtech then (Backstage’s Ian Forrester is doing a talk on ‘Pipelines: Plumbing For The Next Web‘). But if any developer group want to do something relevant in London that week in a free time/day slot – get in touch, we’d love to co-ordinate!]

So Widget Week might be a tad hectic, but at least no-one can accuse us of bad faith 😉 We do have some freedom after all, and we’re not playing a game here, are we?

My personal motivation for making this happen derives from my view that we’re best-placed to make this kind of thing work. Silicon Valley may be geek-heavy and VC-happy, New York is advertiser-central in the shape of Madison Avenue, Korea and Japan may be furthest ahead in consumer uptake of gadgetry, and China and India may simply have numbers to die for, but the UK is where the best of media and technology intersect.

Widget Week is the world’s first co-ordinated cluster of events on things widget-related. It’s not heart-stopping news for sure, but I hope it will be a catalyst for broader and better understanding.

—————-

[*] Mobile Mondays are free but have a massive, event-hungry audience on their mailing list and usually book up within 1-2 hours of announcing, so sign-up now to the MoMo London Yahoo Group if you want to be notified of when bookings open and have a chance of attending! There’s usually about 150-200 spaces available, but they get snapped up pronto).

[UPDATE: Chinwag Live Media Widgetised is also here on Upcoming]

[UPDATE 2: The Media Widgetised panel has a welcome additon in the person of Kaj Häggman, Business Develoment Manager and Inventor of WidSets, born out of Nokia’s Emerging Business Unit]

Roll on SXSW Interactive in Austin!

I’m off to SXSW Interactive in the morning! And it’s in Austin, a bohemian oasis isn the middle of redneck Texas.

Went last year, had a tremenduous time, and have been planning my return pretty much ever since I arrived back last year.

I think it’s the only large-scale digital / tech conference (in the English-speaking world) that’s also a festival.

Daytime sessions that have caught my eye so far include:

Online Publishers & Ad Networks
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060200

How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060169

Turning Projects Into Revenue Generating Businesses
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060246

Under 18: Blogs, Wikis and Online Social Networks for Youth
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060248

Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060180

Tag. You’re It
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060222

Everything’s Gone Douglas Coupland
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060283

Games + Entertainment Brands: Five Top Trends In 2007
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060284

Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060187

Web Hacks: Good or Evil (or: Welcome to Web 2.666)
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060263

Every Breath You Take: Identity, Attention, Presence and Reputation
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060150

Using RSS For Marketing
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060252

Web 2.0 and Semantic Web: The Impact on Scientific Publishing
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/conference/panels_schedule/?action=show&id=IAP0602

Why We Should Ignore Users
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060271

Non-Developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060196

How to Convince Your Company to Embrace Mashup Culture
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060170

User Generated Content and Original Editorial: Friend or Foe
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060251

Why Marketers Need To Work With People Media
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060270

Open Knowledge vs. Controlled Knowledge
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060202

MobileActive: Mobilizing The Masses With Mobile Technology
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060190

There’s no Such Thing as the Mobile Web (Or Is There?)
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060244

The Global Microbrand: Are Blogs, Suits and Wine the New Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll?
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/?action=show&id=IAP060165

And that’s just the ones I *really* want to go to!!

All the panels:
http://2007.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/

I’ve also put myself down for more than a few parties over the 10th – 14th March duration:
http://upcoming.org/user/45382/

Stamina will be required 😉