March 25, 2009
Here are the slides from my talk this evening at Twitter Dev Nest. It was great fun writing and delivering this talk, and thanks for the great feedback in person and over Twitter.
March 20, 2009
|24 March, 2009|
|6:00 pm||to||10:00 pm|
I’m giving a talk at the first Twitter Developer Nest in London next Tuesday, with a talk titled You are a Neuron, on something that has been floating around in the back of the old mind for a bit. It is less of a technical ‘how to make this’ or ‘how I made this’ developer talk, and more of a call-to-arms or provocation to developers.
I’m going to step back from Twitter and look at the whole of it. And draw some parallels with other things in the world, like your brain.
It ought to be a bit of fun and provoke some new thinking. I’m thinking we need to go a bit deeper with these social utilities and really think about why something like Twitter is attactive and interesting. I’m quite sure it is not just about my friends and I having a chat.
Anyway, I’ll post slides and stuff as they come together.
January 11, 2009
If you haven’t checked it out yet, have a good look at Message in-a-Box “A toolkit for communicating your cause”.
It’s relevant to anyone that needs to communicate in life and work.
When Nodestone was commissioned by the Tactical Tech Collective earlier in the year to help bring it together, I faced a somewhat overwhelming task as you might imagine when you see it.
What is it? A rather large online resource for learning how to communicate better, to put it simply.
More specifically, it’s an international educational platform for people in NGOs and campaigning organisations that demonstrates how to use low-tech and high-tech tools and tactics to work on some of the hardest issues of our times.
We show you how to think strategically (about goals, resources and time) and then know which tools and tactics (eg. images / print / audio / video / internet / mobiles and media) to choose to get your message across.
Here’s how Tactical Tech describe it:
“…a set of strategic guides to using communications tools for social change, together with a suite of open source tools to get you making your own media. The toolkit is designed for small and medium-sized NGOs, advocates, and citizen journalists to help them create and distribute content for their advocacy efforts while exploring the constantly evolving world of campaigning and communications.”
The feedback has been excellent around the world. A much needed resource.
Here’s an example of how it works:
This section helps you find out how others have used images effectively and creatively. It helps you learn how to find, create, edit, share great images, with an emphasis on photographs, comics, maps and simple animated images.
Images add impact to stories, blog posts, websites, posters,brochures, email campaigns – whatever campaigning channels and tools you are using.
What do you need?
Essential: ideas, creativity, imagination, a strategy.
Extra: people to help, internet access, mobile phone and/or a camera (digital or other), source books/comics/cartoons collected from anywhere or commissioned.
Having worked in communications as a consultant, writer, activism and educator for (gosh!) over 20 years, it was a dream to be able to put these threads of life to good use. To make something practical and tangible.
Message-in-a-Box is about the power of PR being brought to the people who have historically had least access to it. Things were all explained in the simplest possible terms with examples and free software downloads. From human rights abuses to clean water – NGOs on little or no budget obviously need education and support. It’s an egalitarian Aussie’s delight.
In London, Botswana or Mumbai, Message-in-a-Box is now available for free, 24/7. A print version with DVD software is also being distributed. It’s actually a good resource for anyone a clear (hopefully) perspective on getting your message across.
Along the way we got to massage the words and ideas of some great folk like Becky Faith, Dr Dan McQuillan and Heleana Quartey. Hopefully to first incarnation is already being put to some good use.
Once thing I’m hoping Tactical Tech do soon is to improve collaboration and “stickiness” on the site. Feedback, registration etc… Also the use of images and stills, sound and video clips to make the resource more visual and interactive – to practice what we preach!
Over the years we have increasingly worked on projects that pass positive screens for social / eco accountability. Put another way… that feel good. Like:
- widgets for TrickleStar and the BBC
- social carbon measurement for Global Action Plan
- edu-marketing for the Guerrand Hermes Foundation for Peace
- teaching blogging to communities and companies
- setting up The Big Love Gift Guide
- running a massive campaign for TV Turn Off Week.
But as long as you aren’t arms dealers, we can usually find or create some positive values in just about any project. Get in touch if you want to know how Nodestone can help you feel good about your work.
October 9, 2008
The Future of Web Apps spent thursday afternoon in that pleasant reality that is the most positive future. What I mean by that was we were all buying into business as usual — there’s a rich VC market waiting to snap up and fund innovations and we all have a shot at being rich, well, any time now.
But before I get into that, here’s a review of this afternoon’s sessions:
I missed most of Alvin Woon’s presentation, but took away this, badly paraphrased: You can do user centered design with users that domn’t know what they want. If users have never had it before, the can’t know what they want. There’s something wise and hopeless in there. Mostly a cry for iterating to solutions. Building something new is learning, for all involved. The learning journey is the key here.
XMPP and PubSub
Blaine Cook was back on the stage talking about XMPP and PubSub as a way out of endless wasted polling of site A by site B looking for, say twitter updates. It sounds great. I’m a huge fan of XMPP as a mechamism for handling the more complex connection cases than simple HTTP. Good stuff. I asked a question about the requirement of the server, now, to have to manage potentially millions of subscriptions. Blaine says it will be no worse than current, but I’m still left feeling that my app that is PubSub aware is going to be having to keep some sort of state for the potential millions of connections. I’m not sure about this, just a feeling. I’m dying to do some XMPP experimentation soon, maybe with secret project BrightLunch or something.
Dave Recordon from Six Apart did some nice work on stage, putting the case for open standards, like OpenId, OAuth, microformats etc as the essential next steps in blowing the social web wide open to all. Thanks Dave, it made sense and was a compelling case for all the pen tech that you and yours been working on.
Objective J and Cappucino
Thanks Francisco. Interesting. Not sure I want or need Cappucino, though. Unless I was quickly making a desktop app for the web, but not sure I want to replace a desktop app with a web app just because I can. Sorry, but it all felt a bit 4GLly to me. “We’ll solve all your problems for you, etc….”
The Pitch Competition
Are we noticing what is going on out in the real world? The pitch comp felt a bit weird. I’m sure I saw the panel talk down at a solid business model that might work now and encourage the pitcher to go for some model of giving it all away for free for a bit. Maybe they were right, but I’m getting the feeling that we’re in a bit of an unreal bubble. The economy and banks are in trouble, and we’re still going on like there’s a lot of hot VC cash for your ideas. Is that true? Or are we living in a cute little bubble for the next couple of days.
A great day all around, though. Thanks Carsonified people, and especially Mike for the handwritten note on the postcard attached to my badge. And as the train pulls into Brighton, I’m ready to do it all again tomorrow,
October 9, 2008
I’m at the Future of Web Apps conference today and tomorrow in London. Here are a few summary notes from this morning.
Note: this gets pretty technical in places.
The mornings’s theme seems to have been about operations and development isuses.
Kevin Rose, from Digg, talked about Digg and the new Digg recommendations. I’ve done lots of work in this area with our Recommendation Ventures web services, so it was really interesting to hear Digg’s experiences. A few points:
- When Digg added recommendations, they saw a 4 times increase in the number of people ‘friending’ other people, and a 40% increase in diggs (votes on news stories). This goes along with the conventional wisdom regarding recommendations — they help keep visitors on your site longer and encourage interaction.
- Digg generates recommendations by clustering around keywords in their existing taxonomy. This generates better recommendations, by allowing a person to have differing interests, and generating and blending speciific recommendations for for those topic areas. I suspect the do the clustering/bucketting to make the calculations less expensive, too.
- Digg have built custome graph stuff in Python to generate recommendations. Nice to hear the Python namecheck there.
Edwin Aoki from AOL talked fairly generally about the Web Application Ecosystem.. A few points:
- Web apps have probably suffered from the release of a lot of device development kits this year: iPhone, Android, more Flash development. So, a step back into putting programs on devices rather than developing apps to run on all devices.
- Basically, end user consumers don’t care about open web standard and that. They just want ot do stuff in usable apps.
- Web Services are important for building the fundamental services for creating enduring value, rather than another website. (I think I got the point of that comment…)
Languages and Scaling and Operations
I guess every tech conference has to have a session to poke fun at programming languages. Jokes cast at Ruby, PHP, Python and Perl by Joe Stump (Digg) and Blaine Cook (ex-Twitter). But some important points as well:
- languages don’t scale. Scaling is something else, comes from actual systems architecture. (Therefore, who cares what language is used, keep developers happy)
- Web Apps need to be able to scale horizontally onto lots of small cheap boxes. Architect this in from the beginning to avoid pain later, but don’t sweat it too much.
- Capacity management matters.
- Use message queues. Defer tasks into the background if you can. This is essential when systems grow, and add lots of flexibility.
- Use caches such as memcache, but do it intelligently: cache invalidation is often a hard problem to solve. Easy to add to the cache, harder to keep it consistent.
- Look out for herd-effects on cache invalidation: All servers then go and re-fetch data at once. Stagger invalidation times across servers.
Matt Biddulph from Dopplr talked about using message queues. Interesting stuff. Basically, this is all about moving server processes into queues, so you can have one or more worker save servers to handle less-time-critical parts of the application in the background.
A few notes:
- Queues make life easy because:
- Easy to add and remove slaves, which means easy scaling
- Improve application performance by delaying things that don’t matter now to lower priority background processing
- Easy performance monitoring .. look at the queues
- “Enterprise Integration Patterns by Hohpe, Woolf et al.” is worth reading.
October 3, 2008
Back in my dark old days as a corporate PR consultant, we had a room full of poor sods somewhere in the bowels of the machine, cutting out column cms from dead-trees-pages. Why? So we could justify our exorbitant fees and monitor our clients reputations. It was also so we could respond to a debate or manage an “issue”.
In some ways, nothing’s really changed. That is still going on, but many people would say the real action is now happening online. And the best thing is, I don’t have to feel sorry for the Google search spiders having to crawl through the myriad pages to retrieve what I want. It’s what they love best!
Here’s a helpful piece from E-Consultancy about how to monitor opinions, articles, conversations relevant to you and your organisation – without paying a brass razoo (in most cases).
Before you get cracking (because you know it’s time) – here’s a quick Nodestone guide to getting sorted.
1. Know what your goals are
- Do you just want to know what being said about you online, or are you planning to enter the conversation (and if you are not sure, best you be reading up on the power of web 2.0, blogging and the social web. See our presentation here for a start.
- How far do you want to go and what resources do you have to manage your responses?
2. What key words are most relevant to you
- Various spellings and shortened versions of your company, major projects/products and names of key people
- Major stakeholders (eg. legislators, major customers/shareholders, funding partners).
- The sector that you are in
- Other key words, eg topics you would scan for when reading a newspaper
3. How are you planning to circulate and act on what you find?
- If there is a live debate on a blog or in a forum about your key topics, what will you do? Who will be ready and able to respond to misinformation or genuine criticism?
- If there is a chance to offer a positive follow-up story to an influential blogger or mainstream journalist, who and how will (you) act?
- If there is a positive story about your project/organisation – what will you do? Who will you share it with?
- If there is an interesting story written, how can you use it in your own communications?
- Will you carefully subscribe to certain blogs or newsfeeds and read them?
Welcome to the great conversation of “us”. In some ways it’s never been easier. If you do nothing more than have a play with Google Alerts – you will learn a lot.
If you want to discuss a proper strategy about media monitoring and reputation management, give me a tinkle. We’ld love to help you improve your communications. It might be as simple as a short chat and a sign post to send you off in the right direction.
September 16, 2008
We did a car boot sale on the weekend.. and amongst the pile of books that we keep trying to sell but never do was one I bought a couple of years ago. The topic of that book was how to price various kinds of exotic derivative contracts, as used in a range of complex ways to buy, sell, spread and mitigate risk and make loads on money for investment bankers.
Derivatives start out as nice simple ideas, but before you know it, things get very complex. And if you trade lots of derivatives with lots of other parties, you end coupled to your trading parties in lots of weird ways.
So, what started out as a possibly sensible risk management exercise becomes so complex and you end up so tied to everybody else’s success that you’ve got a Lehman-sized problem.
The trouble here is:
Complexity: it gets too hard for humans to understand what is going on. Everybody kind of pretends they do, but nobody really does.
Coupling: it gets very hard to work out how to untangle the knot of relationships you’ve created.
Trouble. So the investment bank solution was to create more and varied derivatives to cover all of that, making it worse. Pass the coke and let’s do some business.
What has this got to do with the social web? Lots.
If we layer API on top of API, and couple all our social web services together without a lot of thought about systems architecture we run the risk of making something complex, over-coupled, and utterly unstable.
And when we start building businesses on top of all of that, things get risky for those businesses indeed. And if we start relying on complex, over coupled web services, what happens when something’s business model fails and it goes into the deadpool. Could the whole lot fall over and be hard to get working again?
So, I’m thinking we need to start thinking about the discipline of social systems architecture, where we manage and look at the interconnected web as we do large distributed systems, taking note of single points of failure, instability, reliability, complexity and coupling.
Sure, we can integrate lots of social web stuff, but we need to keep a systems engineering mind while doing it. Otherwise it is a bit like running your billion dollar derivative contracts out of an Excel spreadsheet.
September 8, 2008
There’s been a bunch of speculation as to just why Google has taken on the browser market with Chrome. Everybody has a good idea as to why. Now it is my turn. And while I’m at it, I want to give a quick review of the features of Chrome and why they might be important. We don’t get a new browser to play with every day of the week, and this one is different.
Okay, so what is Chrome all about? Why?
My take is this: The important features are not in the UI. Chrome usually refers to pretty UI stuff that isn’t important. Google’s being ironic here. Chrome looks ok but is nothing startling or beautiful. It is low key. Few menus, calm UI features. As if the served page matters more than the browser. Yup.
Basically, Chrome is the first browser that is designed from the ground up to serve web applications fast and seamlessly. Engineering-led Google has built something to serve Gmail, Google reader, Gears, and other web apps without getting in the way. In fact, accelerating these applications and all other web applications to make them snappy.
Strategy: Raising the Bar and Elevating Best Practice
Oh, and it has to nicely unnerve Microsoft. Always a good thing.
Chrome is fast and tidy and usable, and that’s using it on a Mac using Parallels to run it under Windows XP. Can’t wait to see a native OS X version. It ought to fly. Best feature for me, apart from the Internals, is the ability to turn any web app into a single-window application. We’ve been messing with this in OS X a bit and it is a nice idea, but Chrome makes it easy.
Neat little browser. But don’t forget the real chrome is on the inside.
September 2, 2008
We’re just back from August holidays, and have arrived back to find a comic from Google explaining the why and how for their new open source browser called ‘Google Chrome’.
Nice idea. The comic introduces the Google team working on the product, and then they talk their way through explaining what they are up to with the browser. The team become characters in the story and get in and interact with the new features of the browser, at their scale, playing with it. It is a long comic but the way it explains some quite technical concepts is very clear. Worth a read. Much, much better than a boring FAQ or press release.
Chrome, they say, will be released tomorrow. We’ll have a bit of a go and see what it means to the web. I’m hoping for a bit of a revolution as I’m feeling that the browser metaphor is a bit stuck and is holding us back from making and using fully on-the-web applications.
July 21, 2008
These slides from the training session for the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce last week. Let me know if you want us to come to your event or run a bespoke event or Masterclass.
More details on our Social Media for Good course soon (looks like next date will be Oct 3 in Brighton).
Covers a bit of an introduction to social media and blogging, plus some questions to get you thinking about your own context, opportunities and challenges.
Some good thinking in the room and animated conversations. Quite a few organisations ready to get blogging and exploring integrated social media in more depth.
A few of you made pledges are you walked out the door about your goals and intentions, so let me know how you get on!
Thanks to all for your warm feedback and to those who helped make it a positive event, especially Lorraine Bell (BCP), Tania “Radiance” Fullerton (Brighton Steiner School) and Fay McDonald.