Are blogs really dead?


Some have argued that blogs have had their day, for example: Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004.

A blog (a contraction of the term weblog) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary …

I still think that some topics need more than 140 characters, and some topics call for a narrative integration & dialogue not open to us in many of the briefer social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook posts.

But perhaps we are seeing a move away from the old fashioned blog – e.g. Blogger, Movable Type or WordPress – for some users?

Along side this we are seeing the evolution of newer platforms like Tumblr and Posterous that are changing the way we can easily share different forms of content. They seem to sit between a short message sharing medium and a traditional blog, and they also easily incorporate multimedia content.

Seeing how all this will feed into other new stuff (like Google Wave) is going to be very interesting.

You can check out my Posterous – have been signed up for ages but had not really played with it much until recently.

NB: I am conscious of the irony inherent in a discussion about the death of blogs on a blog – it’s almost as amusing as reporting the death of newspapers in a newspaper 😉


don't fall in love with your social networking platform


I remember that two years ago the we were all fussing about MySpace. Then last year we were all abuzz about Facebook.  And this year the big thing is Twitter.

What this means for most of us is that we ought not fall in love with a particular social networking platform.

I don’t know what we’ll all be talking about next year yet.  But I do know that it will be something new.

At this stage I have a glimmer that Google Wave might be part of the next big thing (Chris Penn‘s got some interesting thoughts on that). But I’m still waiting for my Wave beta invite so not sure on that personally.

One thing is certain, those who cling to brands & platforms in this space rather than focusing on good enough functionality, community, and just enough utility will be disappointed. Sometimes the product that captures the zeitgeist is not the best product (remember VHS versus Beta?).

An interesting lesson from Twitter is that not the best platform won. There were several similar competitors (e.g. Pownce or Jaiku) that had arguably better functionality. But they have fallen by the wayside.

What is important for businesses & individuals is how we can ensure that moving our data – relationships, contacts, information and messages – to the next big thing is not only possible, but relatively easy. Perhaps it’s time to think about that?


Is social computing just increasing our anxiety?



Since the early days of the internet revolution and web 2.0 I’ve been watching & participating in various ways.

And over the past few years I’ve seen its powerful properties of network amplification working in practice. My friend and colleague Mark Pesce has recently discussed these properties in his Big Ideas talk.

But with all of this I’ve also observed how the internet has amplified our anxiety as well as amplifying goodness.

For example, on Twitter over the past 12 months, it has morphed from a casual communication and community platform into a sales and spruiking platform, with increasingly desperate multi level marketing or affiliate schemes.

It seems to me that much of what we do as humans merely seeks to assuage anxiety, and the internet is the latest place to manifest that anxiety.

So much of the activity that I see online now reeks of desperation and striving to sell, be successful and rich. But it seems that we have the opportunity to create a different kind of world with this technology and its ability to connect people beyond borders and barriers.

Never before have we had technology that supports openness, collaboration and sharing on such a broad scale.  We have the opportunity to use this technology to do good & creative things – like Action Aid’s Project TOTO that I’ve mentioned before, or the recent Live Local Challenge.

Perhaps one way to assuage this anxiety is to use up our personal energy (and use the technology) to change the world for the better in little, local ways every day?  We could choose openness over constriction, expansiveness over constraint, collaboration over competition, sustainability over wanton waste.


From society of the book to a networked society


Neerav Bhatt did an interesting post about Encyclopedia Britannica, saying:

Organisations in the information industry such as Book Publishers and Libraries would do well to learn from Encyclopedia Britannica’s precipitous fall from grace. Formerly a powerful company that could demand and receive large payments for access to it’s storehouse of human knowledge, it’s now been reduced to near irrelevancy and suffers the ignoble fate of being sold by discount clearance stores. — Neerav Bhatt

It is very easy to sit here in 2009 and critique Encyclopedia Britannica’s decisions with 20/20 hindsight. But it is a difficult situation for a business when:

  1. the world you inhabit has been stable & profitable for a very long time, and your product has worked very well in that environment;
  2. then quite quickly the very thing that has made your product valuable (i.e. fact checked and professionally researched articles delivered in hard copy volumes) is no longer valued in the same way as previously.

Few organisations seem able to develop metrics that help them to detect seismic shifts in the competitive landscape. An interesting parallel is the iPhone & all the other mobile phone manufacturers. The entire playing field has shifted from the simple mobile phone to a converged mobile computing/music/video device and the other manufacturers are scrabbling to catch up.

The problem for Encyclopedia Britannica was that they were in the middle of a genuine paradigm shift (in the Kuhnian sense) and that they did not realise it (nor did many of us back in those days). This is the shift from a society of the book to a networked society. We are still only at the beginning of this shift and Encyclopedia Britannica was an early casualty.

The shift from a society of the book to the networked society has been made possible by the emergence of the internet and its continued evolution.

What do I mean by this? In the past we had the book as a unit of collected information. It was revolutionary! A book was easy to share with others and to transport anywhere. Knowledge that was once transmitted by one person to another orally could be translated into a book and shared with many. Nor did the author need to be physically present to transmit their ideas. It was only necessary that the audience become literate for books to revolutionise the world. The power of the book is evident in the Protestant Reformation and the various European revolutions of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

But the problem with books is that to merge ideas from two texts it is necessary to create a new book. However, with the internet and HTML we moved from the unitary texts to hypertexts. With web 1.0 many us whiled away hours surfing the hyperlinks to find new information and find things we’d never know existed before. With the current phase of the web (sometimes called web 2.0), we have moved beyond textual linking to linking people, information, groups and applications. And the next generation of the web, sometimes called the semantic web, will enable networking to be taken even further. This is sometimes referred to as the internet of things, and it will enable us to connect people, places and things.

It is this growth of networks that will create a networked society.  And it is one of the reasons why Twitter is such an interesting example of how these network based technologies can be a force for social change.  Unlike Facebook, which is all about people we already know, Twitter is about people we don’t know yet.  An important part of this change is the ability to recreate a village like set of relationships that are not constrained by physical co-location.  These social networks give us the ability to experience non-localised proximity with other people.  They extend our reach from those physically nearby to anywhere in the world.

When we put this all together with the democratisation of technology that has accompanied web 2.0 then it is the beginning of a shift in societal relations akin to the printing press. I wonder where it will take us?


Power of the personal


We are rapidly moving away from the old impersonal world of broadcast media. This has important implications for getting our messages out to people. It means that we need to discover the power of the personal.

One person who really got this – or at least whose advisers got it – was Barack Obama.  He used the power of the personal to drive his election campaign through email, social media and MyBarackObama. Even now the election is a distant memory emails are still coming out to his supporters.  And each of these emails is personally addressed, includes some information update and a call to action.  Each email is signed by a person – Barack or Michelle Obama, David Plouffe, etc.  The calls to action are personal and local.

It’s all about the power of the personal – that means engagement, connection & participation on a person to person level. These are the keys for digital.

Let’s just consider what the power of the personal does when combined with the reach of social media and social networking. Suddenly we have interlinked networks capable of mobilisation by people who know the peculiarities of each group, who already have established links, and who are already known and trusted by the members of the network.

Now we can be approached, not by a faceless company, nor by its celebrity talking head, but by someone we already know. We can be approached by someone to whom we might already turn for an opinion on product selection or advice in daily life. And, even more imporantly, that person probably  already knows our stance on life, politics and the universe.

We are already seeing the power of this kind of personal connection in such things as the Facebook group for The 12for12k Challenge where:

The concept is simple:

* 12 months of the year
* 12 charities, 1 chosen every month
* $12,000 per charity
* $144,000 raised overall by December 31 2009

Using the power and outreach of social media tools from Twitter to Facebook to blogging and more, we can show that social media can make a difference.

The 12for12k Challenge – changing the world through social media.


Or another great example of this is JobCamp Australia where a bunch of people have got together and decided to do something, saying:

“We want to “get Australia Working”, and we want you to help us! JobCAMP ONE09 is the first in a series of 2 day events to help arm you with the right tools, information and connections to get working! Whether you be looking for work, looking to make more connections or simply want to help out to get Australia WORKING, then we would love to see you at JobCAMP.”

How did I find out about these things? A friend told me. How are these campaigns being activated? Friends are telling friends. In the past individuals could only activate campaigns like this on a small scale unless they had the support of commercial broadcast media like radio or television. Now, with the power of social media and social networking, individuals have the ability to gather and activate participation and engagement on a much grander scale than ever before.


Social computing & IT Governance


The democratization of software that has occurred with the development of social computing raises some important issues about IT governance. When we are dealing with consumer to consumer applications like Facebook or YouTube issues of governance are not that significant. That is, where netizens are connecting with each other and choosing to create or co-create applications and/or content. However, when we move into enterprise computing and business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) applications governance does become an issue.

What is easy to manage in the private realm often becomes much more complex for the corporation. For example, some jurisdictions require companies to be able to roll-back a website to exactly the same version as on any date in the past, thus giving rise to the need for sound version control. Or, if the system in question has life and death impact – e.g. medical systems, water treatment systems, or building management systems – version control and system integrity become paramount.

While ordinary netizens can and do create and share software artifacts it becomes an issue when they undertake these same activities in their roles as representatives of a corporation for which they work. Who owns the artifacts? There is an assumption that the employer will own it as with other intellectual property created in the workplace. But who then has liability for harm that flows from creation of that artifact? I suspect that it would be the employer, and the question arises as to how the employer might protect themselves.

Spoke with some folks at the Australian Computer Society event recently after my presentation on the Future of Technology. One factor that really came out as important in our discussion was the impact of social computing on ICT governance within organisations.  Governance has been enough of a challenge for ICT up until now, and it is about to get a lot more complex due to social computing.

The democratization of computing is one of the important consequences of the web 2.0 social computing movement. And it has consequences that flow on into the realm of IT departments everywhere. It is giving rise to a kind of a ‘shadow‘ IT department. Users are no longer constrained in their use of systems to those provided officially by the IT department.  Instead, now users can often access equivalent systems via the cloud (often through port 80) and the IT department can be oblivious. 

One company I know of had an entire department start using a cloud based accounting package and it was only noticed when the quarter ended and their numbers were missing from the central ERP system.  When asked why they had done this the business users commented that the functionality offered by the external provider was easier to use and better suited to their business needs than that offered by the IT department. 

It is interesting to consider what will happen as individual business units start to vote with their feet like this.  This is especially true as cost constraints hit home and business units start to assess if they are getting real value for their money from the centralised IT department offerings. Perhaps we could be about to see the balkanisation of centralised IT over the next few years?


Democratization of Technology


This is a term I’ve used for a while now and never really defined.  It is probably worth discussing as it has come to form an important part of my thinking.

Starting with democracy in its ancient Greek meaning of popular government, or government by the people – δῆμος (dêmos), “people” and Κράτος  (krátos), “rule, strength”.  And, it is worth noting, that in those days people meant citizens or free men, not women or slaves.

The notion that citizens of the internet, or netizens (sometimes referred to as users), should determine their own future has been substantially excluded from the domain of technology until very recently.  This is particularly true with regards to both software and *hardware.

In relation to software this exclusion has largely been due to the highly technical nature of skills required to create software artifacts.  But with the advent of web 2.0 and social computing the nexus between technical skills in software development and the creation of useful software artifacts has been broken. It is no longer necessary to find an adept of the art of software to create online applications.

It is the breaking of this nexus between technical knowledge and the creation of software that enables the democratization of technology. Now ordinary people who can read and use some basic equipment (like a keyboard, mouse and a web browser)  can create and share software artifacts.  The simplicity of the act of creation in a web 2.0 world means that citizens of the web can create their own artifacts now.

In the recent past to create similar kinds of software it was necessary to master a programming or scripting language and, in addition,  learn how to use tools like FTP and a web server. Now this technology is still required to create and share software artifacts but the explicit use of these things is abstracted from the creator’s gaze.

Thus we are seeing online applications becoming utilities, much as a light switch it for most of us.  We press the light switches in our homes and offices without much thought, except for an expectation that light will appear.  Most of us do not understand how it happens. We don’t know or care about the breakers and switches that make it work, nor do we care that it is single phase power of a certain voltage.  We simply expect it to work and are mildly annoyed when it does not work.

This kind of utility perspective is increasingly common for online applications.  And it is a very big shift from the realm of the expert (who still exists behind the scenes) to the ordinary person using it in everyday ways. The shift of software is from that of an art to an engineering based utility.

This shift has important implications for the technically skilled people who enable the abstraction of the ordinary user away from the technical complexity.

More on this later …

* Note: For the purposes of this discussion consideration of hardware has been put aside.


Blogtalk Downunder part 2

Reviewing the pictures on the Blogtalk Downunder site and it occurred to me just now that I have not seen so many Mac notebooks in one place ever before. Then I went to check out one of the tools that was recommended Tinderbox – which only works on Macs. This subculture is one that I’ve not had much contact with. Generally, people I know seem to use either Windows or Linux – cannot think of one person I know who uses a Mac as their primary device. Anyone out there who uses a Mac – I’d be interested to know why.

PS: Must confess I used to have a Mac a few years ago but replaced it with Wintel due to incompatibility issues with family, friends and university.


Blogtalk Downunder


Just back from the Blogtalk Downunder conference that was held here in Sydney over the past few days. The conference was organised by the education department from the University of Technology Sydney, and the attendees were largely academics and teachers. There were a few industry people there, notably Trevor Cook from Corporate Engagement. Senator Andrew Bartlett from the Democrats was also there – he did admit his ignorance about blogging but continued on to make some comments.

The conference was interesting for me on several levels – firstly as a blogger, secondly as a practicing technologist, and thirdly as a student of communication. There was a lot of information presented and I’m still digesting it all.

One issue that came out very clearly is that a lot of people – especially academics who write or theorise about blogging – are not necessarily bloggers. Instead they read about blogging in the media rather than reading & writing blogs. Also the level of comfort with technology varied, from uber geek to technophobe.

There was very little to be heard from practitioners of blogging.  Perhaps that is because there are not many in Australia?  In any case it was a little disappointing.