Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

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A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

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Twitter, commonsense and journalism #groggate

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I’ve been observing the discourse in the mainstream and social media worlds about the ‘outing’ of the blogger Grog’s Gamut – the so-called #groggate. Craig Thomler has made an excellent aggregation of the various sources of comment.

There were two things that really irritated me recently:

These articles irritated me because they each conflated ideas that were not necessarily related – activism and social networks.  And, in the case of Elliott’s article, he disingenuously used Gladwell’s arguments to continue the justification of The Australian’s recently declared war on bloggers and Twitter.

In my opinion Gladwell does his usual trick of lightweight commentary without bothering to delve into any level of depth or subtlety. This seems to be his stock in trade (and he writes entertainingly) so I tend to let it pass by.

But the value of Twitter in respect of creating loose ties than enable the development of deep, real life, and personal relationships cannot be underestimated. Twitter provides the regular interaction – much like at the water cooler in the office – that let’s us understand who we might want to get to know on a deeper level.

The ambient knowledge about people in your network that Twitter affords is invaluable.  It assists us in transcending physical separation and allows us to stay in contact with friends without the need for physical co-location. Another great benefit with Twitter is the ease of making new connections with people who share common interests.  The recent Social Innovation BarCamp in Sydney is a good example of an event that brought together many people with common interests – it was organised and publicised mainly via Twitter.

But Elliott notes “Malcolm Gladwell writes that social media is really activism-lite and a tool that makes participation in a cause more efficient: that is, through the click of a mouse one can make a donation to a cause or send a supportive tweet”.  He then argues that because Greg Jericho (who we now know as the author of the blog Grog’s Gamut) was not entitled to privacy because he was merely a “commentator” and not a “whistleblower”.

Elliott then goes on to compare Jericho’s situation with that of famous activists like Martin Luther King or Steve Biko and to note that Jericho is “now even more popular, thanks to The Australian“.  This comparison of Jericho to famous activists is spurious.  He never claimed to be an activist.  Jericho’s only claims were:

I’m a guy interested in sport, literature and politics. I have in turn wanted to be captain of the Australian cricket team, Olympic gold medalist, PM and Booker prize winner. Now I’ll just settle for blogger.

Thus no claim by Jericho to special privilege or “whistleblower” status.  Just an ordinary citizen taking advantage of the freedom of speech afforded in Australia to share his opinions and insights.

And, as for action by the people in the Twitter-sphere in response to Jericho’s outing by The Australian, no physical action was meaningful or relevant to the situation.

What physical action was possible, reasonable or sensible in the recent #groggate case? No physical action would do anything for Jericho except to inflame the situation. There is no direct analogy between the Grog’s Gamut case and calls to action like those issued by Martin Luther King or Steve Biko. Twitter is not peopled entirely by complete idiots.

Using Twitter to organise a picket line at The Australian’s offices would have been foolhardy and would have made Jericho’s situation at work more difficult. No need to take up a collection for Jericho’s legal fund as The Australian did nothing illegal.

All we can do is express our dislike of the actions of the publication and the journalists involved and express our disapproval of their continued self-serving justifications. We can mourn the death of any notion of journalistic decency.  We can feel sad that Australian mainstream news media is becoming as polarised and polemical as that in the US.  And we can note that by their actions James Massola and his colleagues have done a huge disservice to freedom of speech in Australia, especially for public servants. The use of pseudonyms has been an important part of free speech for a very long time. Pseudonyms proliferate in the mainstream news media – so why are they unacceptable from a blogger?

This whole affair does make me seriously question the journalists – what are their positions on political, social and religious matters. I want to know more about their backgrounds. What are their political and religious affiliations? And what about these mysterious people called Editors? Who are they, what do they stand for? Perhaps they’ve unwittingly raised the issue? But we need transparency from journalists as well as bloggers. It’s time for journalists to come clean about their personal viewpoints and perspectives, no more pretending to present facts in an objective and disinterested way. We need to admit that there is no such as as unbiased reporting and embrace transparency for journalists too.

As for activism, we are seeing real action happen as the result of social networks.  GetUp! is a good local example of this. Say what you like, but  raising enough money to put ads up on prime time TV via social media channels counts as real action, as does winning a High Court action regarding the enrolment of voters.

Many other NGOs are also working out how they can embrace the new media. It’s a pity the old media folks are so busy fighting a rearguard action to save the past that it seems they cannot consider the future in a positive way.

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It's real people and real communications

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This past week I spoke at the Sydney session of the International Customer Service Professionals (ICSP) on the topic of How can Social Media benefit our business? along with several other well known professionals (@carolskyring, @jasonealey , @CatrionaPollard).

It is always interesting to see how business people – whose real jobs are something completely unrelated to technology and social computing – are grappling with the digital revolution.

There is a dawning realisation by these business people that something different is happening. That old ways of marketing are shifting. That new modes of communication and conversation are evolving. And they are questioning.

The questions are to be expected. What is it? How do I do it? What needs to change in my organisation to make this happen?

Answers to these questions are both deceptively simple and fiendishly complex.

The real challenge lies with the simple fact that now there is no avoiding interaction with real people. It also means that all of the assumptions that we’ve made about our customers for so many decades might just be wrong (or they might be right – who knows?).

The one sure thing with this digital revolution is that our businesses are now marketing to audience of one. And that this audience has the ability to talk back to us in no uncertain terms.

A new challenge for business in the age of digital revolution is dealing with real people and undertaking real communication with them. No more set and forget above and below the line marketing campaigns. Now we might just have to think about it a bit more than we’ve been used to.

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Social media: blurring the boundaries

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In the past we used to be able to separate the public from the private and business from the personal quite easily. But this was an aberration.

Privacy was a tiny blip in the long history of human existence. Going back only as far as our great grandparent’s generation privacy was relatively rare. And in the generations before that privacy was considered almost absurd, even for the very rich.

Most people lived in small cramped houses and shared their space with many others. In those days even conjugal relations were not private for most people.

Most people lived in villages too, where just about everyone knew each other’s business. But for a very short period, during the mid to late twentieth century, privacy was possible in the western world due to a new standard of housing.

It was the post World War 2 housing – where each nuclear family had its own house – that made privacy possible. Finally Mum and Dad had personal space and sometimes even the kids had their own rooms. For a brief period in the twentieth century privacy became the norm.

But with the Digital Revolution in the early twenty first century we have made a return to the village. And this time the village is virtual.

This digital village means that the boundaries between public and private, business and personal are becoming increasingly blurred. I’ve taken to drawing them as a Venn diagram.

As we adopt the various social computing platforms in our personal lives – such as Facebook, Digg, Slideshare, YouTube, or Twitter – we blur the boundaries between public and private by our own making. Then, as companies and other organisations adopt the same technologies for business purposes and ask us to drive them, we begin the blur the boundaries between business and personal.

As a result we are turning into:

“ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities.”

Source: www.webpronews.com/topnews/2010/07/09/millennials-won%E2%80%99t-quit-facebook-and-twitter” Mike Sachoff webpronews.com

And, by means of this broadcasting of our information, we are paying the social media platform providers through our data. These providers are not making their platforms available to us for free. They are doing it because our data is the goldmine of the twenty first century. We are paying them by giving away data about our lives, which are increasingly exposed online in the virtual village.
web 2.0This view of data as critical to the new internet (often called Web 2.0) was explained by Tim O’Reilly back in 2005 and is summarised nicely in this diagram by Ajit Jaokar.

And this new interactive and easier to use web is compelling to many of us. It enables us to do many things including:

  • Build friendships
  • Find and form communities
  • Seek or share help and expertise
  • Build reputations
  • Find out who is trustworthy and reputable
  • Do business and make money
  • Find jobs
  • Have fun

But let’s put all of this aside for a moment to consider human nature. And to start let’s consider an old saying:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. ”
Source: Ecclesiastes 1:9-14

Thus one thing we need to keep in mind about this digital village we’re living in now is that no human behaviour happens online that does not already happen offline. What is different, however, is the the amplification effects of the web and the way that the medium facilitates amplified responses.

We’ve all seen the poor secretary somewhere who writes an email only have it go global almost overnight and then lose their job. That’s the amplification effect of the web. In the past that conversation might have got out to a small group of people via word of mouth. But now it truly can go global in a matter of hours.

And, while this digital village gives rise to an enormous number of benefits and opportunities, it also gives rise to some risks.

The three key risks I see are:

  • Reputation. The amplification effects of the web mean that news moves fast and bad news moves faster.  Thus while it has become easier and faster to build a reputation online, it is also easier for unflattering images and commentary to proliferate.After all how many times have you gone out with friends only to find the pictures are already up on Facebook or Flickr by the time you arrive home? Here is a great example of this phenomenon (no it’s not me in that picture 😉 ).
  • Job. The blurring between business and personal currently gives rise to a number of conflicts in the workplace.  Some employers frown upon online participation by their staff, others demand it of unwilling staff.In any case, we are still working out the boundaries for social media and social networking in business and the workplace. And, until we settle on the new norms, there are going to be some casualties.  I know several people who have lost jobs due to their online activity.
  • Personal safety. This risk is especially linked to the ease with which disputes can be amplified in the absence of physical interaction.There is much more effort involved to escalate a dispute if you have to walk over to someone’s house, knock on their door, ask their parents or partner if they are home, and then have a fight. But if there has been insults flung back and forth in the equivalent of a digital village square then physical action can seem to be a logical next step.An example of this is the tragic case of teens who escalated an argument online (effectively in public in the digital village). The result was one was killed due to a perceived loss of face.

This leads into the question of how we can mitigate these risks.

  • Use commonsense – if you wouldn’t disclose offline why do it online?
  • Trust your gut – if you are not comfortable doing something why do it?
  • Ask your friends
  • It’s just like the ‘real world’ so look for patterns
  • Be conscious of the power of amplification online and use that power wisely

The main thing is to:

Accept the changed landscape and plan accordingly

The human race has survived the advent of many revolutionary technologies – including the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. Each was predicted to cause disaster to our kind and, miraculously, we appear to have survived. But, rather than the doom predicted, each of these technologies has opened up remarkable vistas of opportunity, wealth and social good for humankind.

I predict that we will adapt to the digital revolution and be as unable to imagine life without it as we can imagine life without the telephone.


Note: This post is based on a presentation at Social Media Women on 13 July 2010. The slides are up on Slideshare.

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OMG the Onion is right about social networking – IMHO it changes nothing yet it changes everything

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This post was inspired by a humorous post on The Onion, titled:

“New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It: Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit”

It was shared by my friend Mark Pesce via Twitter this morning and gave me a chuckle while I was on the train. But then it reminded me of the well known Christian/Jewish scripture:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Which is the ancient wisdom that explains why 1980s fashion is trendy again. However, it also gives us an insight into humans. While we change the tools – from stone axes through to guns and computers – it is hard to change the fundamental architecture of humans and their behaviours.

We’ve all seen the breathless announcement of yet another innovative/ groundbreaking /game-changing/ revolutionary /cool /[insert appropriate PR buzzword] social networking application. But what does it change really? Certainly not the people who use it.

However, what it does change is the affordances available to the person. For instance Twitter enables almost instantaneous broadcast communication around the world (of course that is when the API is not down). Thus a cranky comment, that would once have traveled all the way across the office without that technology, can now annoy someone in London quite easily.

Thus it never fails to amuse and annoy me in equal parts when people act just like people do everywhere on social networks and it is reported as if this is some special property of social networks. 

Those people who are ill informed idiots were like that before they ever defaced a Facebook memorial or something similar. These behaviours do not arise ex nihilo in a person just because they signed up to a social network. But the social network context might help to amplify that behaviour.

The case is well argued by Tom Stewart in his post Don’t blame social media for bad behaviour.

The technology creates new affordances for people. It amplifies any behaviours and actions far beyond what used to be possible. Thus my comment that “it changes nothing, yet it changes everything”. We as a society will have to find new ways of dealing with this amplification of normal human behaviour and actions. I suspect it’s the beginning of a long journey.

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The digital revolution is not going away

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The following post is from a talk I gave at the Gov 2.0 lunch on Monday 31 May 2010 at Parliament House in Canberra.

The internet is a strange beast; it is everywhere and nowhere all at once. Unlike traditional media – with its registered offices, chief editors, and boards of directors etc. – the internet is amorphous yet powerful – and it is still only a teenager. And it is changing the face of human communication in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

As a business person and former public servant I can see the organisational challenges thrown up by the digital revolution. As marketer I adore the power of the digital revolution for marketing and communications. As a technologist I find the democratisation of technology world-changing. And as a citizen I wonder how this will all affect my world.

The digital revolution is manifesting changes in social behaviour and consumer expectations and this has implications for service delivery and communications in both business and government.

Let us firstly consider how the rate of technology change is increasing and how adoption is becoming faster. We can see that the rate of change is increasing in these examples [1]:

  • Radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users
  • Television took 13 years to reach 50 million users
  • The Internet took 4 years to reach 50 million users
  • The iPod took 3 years to reach 50 million users
  • And the iPod reached 1B application downloads in 9 months .

Now let us consider Facebook [2] , which is probably the most mainstream of the social networks in the western world. If Facebook was a country it would be the fourth largest in the world:

  • Facebook currently has more than 400 million users
  • About 50% of those users login each day
  • The average user has about 130 friends
  • There are approximately 500 billion minutes of time per month spent on Facebook
  • More than 70% users are located outside the United States
  • More than100 million users are currently accessing Facebook via mobile devices
  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is women 55-65 years of age

Don’t forget China has Qzone (from Tencent Inc.) which is growing at a similar rate to Facebook on their first quarter report [3]:

  • Active Instant Messaging (“IM”) user accounts increased 8.7% QoQ to 568.6 million
  • Peak simultaneous online user accounts for IM services increased 13.2% QoQ to 105.3 million
  • Active user accounts of Qzone increased 10.4% QoQ to 428.0 million
  • Peak simultaneous online user accounts of QQ Game portal (for mini casual games only) increased 9.7% QoQ to 6.8 million
  • IVAS paying subscriptions increased 16.1% QoQ to 59.9 million
  • MVAS paying subscriptions increased 14.8% QoQ to 23.3 million”

The behavioural changes that sites like Facebook and Qzone are creating in ordinary people are vast. Everyday large numbers of non-technically skilled people are actively engaging in the online social communication and sharing of images, links, and videos with friends, groups, and events. They are engaging with software and becoming skilled at use largely without the support of technical support. They are using technology to mediate their social communications in a way that was not possible only a few years ago. The technology has become democratised and the barriers to participation lowered drastically.

Now let us consider Twitter [4]. While it is much smaller than Facebook, Twitter does have a very different focus and its use case is very different. While Facebook is about who you already know, Twitter is about who or what you don’t know yet.

Some basic facts about Twitter [5] include:

  • Twitter has more than 75 million users
  • It distributes more than 50 million tweets per day
  • And there are between 10-15 million active users

Increasingly Twitter is the home of breaking news – some good examples of this from 2009 are the place crash in the Hudson River in New York, the Chinese earthquake, and the Iranian revolution. Journalists are now lurking there instead of the pub to get tips. All around the world Twitter is becoming entwined with mainstream news providers, with tweets showing on screen during telecasts (for example, the Q and A program Australia’s ABC).

And some more interesting facts that demonstrate how intertwined social media platforms and technology are becoming into our everyday lives include:

  • YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world
  • Wikipedia inadvertently crushed earlier competitors and now has more than 13 million articles with 78% of those non-English languages
  • 80% of companies in the United States use LinkedIn to find staff

Another feature of social technology is that it is not tied to the computer; it is becoming mobile. For example, Generation Y and Z do not use email except to talk to old people like us (as my university students told me so kindly) or to institutions like school or university. Their preferred medium is text messaging via mobile or instant messaging via data networks.

What we are seeing is a shift in behaviours – it is not that certain behaviours are ceasing. Instead they are moving into a social networking context. For example, social network traffic now exceeds traffic to adult sites[6]; it also exceeds email traffic . Not because either adult content or email are disappearing, but because these activities are moving location into a social networking context.

Additionally, we are now seeing the emergence of physical location based social networks. Grindr, Gowalla and Foursquare are some new entrants. Also sites like Facebook are working on adding location based functionality to their offering. This is bringing physical presence into the social network experience enabling serendipitous meetings in real life. Thus physical presence is now becoming part of our digital matrix. And this leads to the new digital divide. As I’ve said for a while: “The willingness and desire to be hyperconnected via technology will become the new generation gap.”

This is a social media ecosystem that is interlinked and hyperconnected in ways that old media did not enable. The desire to connect was always there in humans but the technology did not support the desire. Now people can be connected constantly and ambiently – and this continuous electronic presence is a new stage in human relations.

For each of us there is a myriad of data points about us out there on the internet. It’s like an impressionist painting, one dot tells nothing but many dots create an artwork, or in the case of our data many data points tell the story of our lives.

As with many other innovations the social web is here and now we’re trying to work out how to (a) Use it; (b) Regulate it; and (c) Police it.

We’ve made good progress on how to use the social web from a personal perspective. But business and government are just starting to understand how it might be possible to use it. However, regulation and policing of the new social web is under fierce debate around the world. For example the various internet censorship moves in Australia, France, China, and North Korea. Also, as Danah Boyd commented[7], Facebook is a utility and that those tend to get regulated.

Some of the key issues that need to be debated and resolved include:

  • Ownership of personal data
  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Transparency
  • Law – copyright, intellectual property, defamation

These are all important from a personal, business and government perspective. Without clarity on these issues we face continued debate and uncertainty and this is never a good thing for business or government.

Another key thing is infrastructure – that is why Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) is a brilliant thing. For those who can’t see why we need one it is worth remembering that nobody could see the purpose in having a fax machine before it was in use, and in the early days of computing some people saw the need for only a few computers in the world. If we build it, then the business and commercial opportunities will come. And not to build it means that Australia will become the digital poor relation in Asia.

The internet is now the largest word of mouth transmission mechanism humanity has ever seen. It amplifies communication in ways we are only just beginning to understand. And its immediacy and reach have irrevocably changed the communications landscape. Some of the changes in consumption patterns that arise from the digital revolution are about realtime expectations.

Changes in consumption patterns mean that we no longer consume media when publishers want us to. We do it when we want, on whatever device we choose, and on our own terms.

Let’s also look at some simple everyday behaviour. Who reaches first for the hard copy phone book to find a business anymore? Hardly anyone uses their old fashioned paper phone directory anymore.

Where are all of your personal contacts stored now? For many of us contacts are stored in our mobile phones or in our email accounts. But also many people are finding that their personal contacts are in their preferred social networks, and for many sites like LinkedIn or Plaxo store business contacts.

Social networking is crashing the degrees of separation between individuals. Even between the governed and their governors the degrees of separation are being crunched. People are having conversations with the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, State Premiers, and their local councillors via social networks such as Twitter. This unprecedented access to people in authority is changing the demands on the organisations that support them. Previously letters went to a Minister and into the carefully crafted ministerial system. Responses were considered and carefully crafted according to predetermined service level agreements. Now the potential response needs to be turned around within minutes. This is a seismic shift in communications and in the demands upon organisations.

Expectations of response times are dropping. Have you ever had a phone call or text message asking why you’ve not responded to an email that just arrived? That expectation is now on steroids due to the growth in realtime web. Delayed gratification is becoming a thing of the past.

We are moving into an expectation of realtime responses from service providers. This is evident in TV shows – now we no longer wait until a show arrives for showing in Australia, we just download it and watch it whenever we want. Anyone who has teenagers has seen their internet download limit chewed up via this kind of immediate consumption behaviour.

The technology (including mobile) is shifting the notion of what form an acceptable communication takes. Now people receive confirmation of bill payments made or alerts about bills due for payment via text message to their mobile phones. Businesses are now embracing these new channels, with banks and airlines sending information via SMS as well as email. They are also building iPhone applications in their droves – for example most Australian banks have either launched or are building an iPhone banking application.

The modern Australian user is increasingly consuming media on a mobile device. The shift will continue as lower cost devices become available. Apple changed the game entirely with their iPhone and now the rest of the pack is playing catch up. There are also new entrants to the mobile game like Google.

The social web is not going away. It is going mobile. It is going realtime. We need to find ways to engage and deliver services using the social web that work for our constituents.

NOTES

[1] Source of these statistics is http://www.youtube.com/user/Socialnomics09 video dated 30 July 2009

[2] Source of the Facebook data is http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics at 30 May 2010

[3] Source Tencent Inc. 2010 First Quarter Results http://www.tencent.com/en-us/content/at/2010/attachments/20100512.pdf at 30 May 2010

[4] Tweet statistics are from http://blog.twitter.com/2010/02/measuring-tweets.html at 30 May 2010

[5] Twitter user numbers are from http://themetricsystem.rjmetrics.com/2010/01/26/new-data-on-twitters-users-and-engagement/#more-1430 at 30 May 2010

[6] Source Hitwise http://weblogs.hitwise.com/robin-goad/2009/01/social_networks_overtake_adult_websites.html and http://weblogs.hitwise.com/to-go-ap/2008/05/social_networks_the_new_email.html at 30 May 2010

[7] Danah Boyd, http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2010/05/15/facebook-is-a-utility-utilities-get-regulated.html at 30 May 2010

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The Digital Revolution and the Educator's Dilemma

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The digital revolution is already here and it is changing the way people expect to communicate or share knowledge and information. Educators are facing technology changes together with changing expectations from students about the use of technology in an educational context.

A key challenge for teachers is also the delivery of personalised learning. This is happening the context of the growth of social and collaborative technologies, that reach outside the traditional walls of educational institutions.

The digital revolution has seen a shift in communications technology that has even begun to engulf the traditional book. Newspapers as we knew them are a dying breed. Television is now mobile and digital, and we can consume it wherever we like in the western world.

We are seeing a shift in communications from the old style broadcast towards an interactive and mobile style. Advances in mobile technology mean that handheld devices like iPhones and Android mobile phones often have just as much computing power as desktop PCs. Once these devices proliferate the ability to deliver localised, customised and personalised content to users regardless of location will be generally available.

Traditionally education was a teacher centred process with the teacher in the role of an expert who delivered objective information in a linear fashion. The teacher was the owner of the privileged truth and the role of the learner was to acquire the knowledge and demonstrate via exams their successful acquisition of knowledge. Teachers were in control and learners were not in control.

For 21st century education computers are the norm. But also the notion of education taking place in a particular fixed location is becoming irrelevant with proliferation of mobile computing and wireless broadband. It also means that collaboration does not need to be confined to a group who are physically co-located. Learners can collaborate with people all over the world using cheap and accessible technology. It also means that teachers are liberated from the tyranny of place too.

Over the past few years the social web has built up a value system that is quite different to the educational and business value systems of previous centuries. This shift is now flowing out into general society and influencing news media, social interactions and education. It informs the expectations of students in both explicit and implicit ways.

This new digital world looks very daunting to most of us. I love this picture by Alec Couros that shows the teacher at the centre of this bewildering new world (it applies just as well to other knowledge workers).

The teacher is at the centre of all of these new technologies, expected to master new technologies as well as their specialist knowledge domains.

But that is old world thinking. Because in the old world the teacher had to be the expert in every sense. But now the teacher is liberated to be the expert in narrow areas and facilitating the learning experience. Thus the picture above is not so daunting at all. And, most of all, it is not about the teacher as entertainer. It is about using the technology resources available so as to engage the attention of learners enabling them to discover information and build appropriate knowledge sets. The role of educators in this model is that of facilitator, as a guide on the journey.

The problem is that we’ve all been educated to know the answers. And we feel bad or inadequate when we do not fulfill that image. But knowledge today is so vast that even experts of have huge swathes of things they do not know. The leadership that our learners need is for us to model the behaviour of discovery rather than knowing in many cases.

While there are simple things we can know (multiplication tables are a good example) there are many more things for which knowing how to find them or how to derive them is more important. Thus educators are moving from purveyors of facts into facilitators of discovery.

The average person confronted with the plethora of social media and social networking sites is confused. And educators are being asked to assess which of the many platforms available they should incorporate into their classes. It’s enough to make the average person break out in a sweat.

The transparency enabled by web 2.0 is also enabling comparisons to be made more easily. And, while we all love it for shopping, it is not so much fun when you’re the one whose performance is being publicly monitored and compared with your peers. Looking on the bright side, it is happening to many others (even kittens).

Some people talk about the new pedagogies of engagement or inquiry but I prefer to think about it in terms of attention, engagement and discovery.  Teachers have moved into the engagement economy.

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TAFE Showcase – some cool use of technology in education

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I love going along to the TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute Showcases because they always have demonstrations of innovative uses of technology. It is great to hear practising teachers share how they are using technology to improve outcomes for their students and also to make their own jobs easier.

Often with limited budgets these teachers are being extremely creative, sometimes without much prior technology experience or skills. Today I saw an excellent implementation of moodle in an automotive parts course; good use of wikis for delivery of IT, fine arts and hospitality/tourism courses.

One really nice feature of this Showcase is the humility and openness to new experiences these teachers demonstrate. They appear to have a genuine lifelong learning style approach to their craft. I learned a lot today from the sharing of their real life adventures, tips and lessons learned.

I’d love to see more things like this happening in business.

The slides from my presentation this morning follow. Any questions please let me know.

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Real world social values and social networking

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Social media and social networking do not reduce the need for good social skills. Rather, the disconnection from physical presence in online communication makes social skills (what some call EQ) even more critical.

Some of the recent fracas rebounding across Twitter are a good example of this – covered well by various people including @kimota and @mUmBRELLA.

The basic skills for building relationships include reciprocity, negotiation ability and sharing. Also critical are the skills of walking away gracefully from an issue or staying to fight with dignity.

For many people these are skills that were learned in the playground. But what happens when people have missed these important lessons?

What happens if the person who’s been asked to run your firm’s social media activities never developed those skills in the playground? And what are the essential skills required for effective social interaction?

It seems to me that we’ve been putting up with a paucity of social skills in the workplace for a long time and it is only now that there is traceable evidence we’ve noticed that it’s a problem. Social media merely provides us with documentary evidence of the kinds of human social interactions that have been happening for aeons. The problem is that this documentary evidence now gives these unfortunate social interactions a much longer lifespan than a cranky comment in passing conversation.

Evidently on a quick shot medium like Twitter it is easy for a grumpy day or lack of coffee combined with quick fingers to lead to an explosive incident for your brand. Then the Streisand Effect can amplify the incident so that it resonates for days or weeks afterward. And, as an added benefit, the whole thing will get indexed by search engines and be findable for ages.

Social media is now providing us with tangible evidence of how many people lack (or fail to demonstrate) the basic skills required to get along well in the playground. And these are the same skills we need to work successfully with other grown-ups, both online and offline.

Goleman, one of the gurus of emotional intelligence, offers twelve questions to assess emotional intelligence. Answer ‘yes’ to half or more, (and if others who know you agree with the self-rating) then you are apparently doing okay.

The real question is how can we apply this to social media and learn how to channel the best of ourselves rather than the worst?

Goleman’s 12 Questions

  1. Do you understand both your strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Can you be depended on to take care of every detail? Do you hate to let things slide?
  3. Are you comfortable with change and open to novel ideas?
  4. Are you motivated by the satisfaction of meeting your own standards of excellence?
  5. Can you stay optimistic when things go wrong?
  6. Can you see things from another person’s point of view and sense what matters most to that person?
  7. Do you let customers’ needs determine how you serve them?
  8. Do you enjoy helping co-workers develop their skills?
  9. Can you read office politics accurately?
  10. Are you able to find “win-win” solutions in negotiations and conflicts?
  11. Are you the kind of person other people want on a team? Do you enjoy collaborating with others?
  12. Are you usually persuasive?

[Source: Goleman, Daniel. “Working Smart.” USA Weekend, October 2-4, 1998, pp. 4-5.]

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Digital citizens need real world knowledge too

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It was fascinating to be at the inaugural Digital Citizens event in Sydney last week – the topic was: Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space.

There was a great line up on the panel with visiting US lawyer and social media specialist Adrian Dayton (Social Media for Lawyers), Sam North (Ogilvy PR), Damian Damjanovski (BMF), and Renai LeMay (Delimiter), all wrangled expertly by the moderator Bronwen Clune (Strategeist).

It was a very thought provoking session with the panel and audience discussion. And the big takeway for me is that social media and its practitioners need to accept that we live within a particular social and legal context.

No matter how much we ‘social media’ types decry how poorly the law is setup to deal with what we do everyday, that is the situation we must deal with. The law moves much more slowly than changes in technology, and, upon consideration, maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

For example, Damian Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?”

The fact is ordinary people are doing something that was once privileged – publishing. We are publishing content in many places now in the same ways that publishers (who have lawyers vetting much of their content) have for years.

Now that everywoman and everyman is a publisher we need to understand the rights and obligations that come with publication. We are no longer having a chat about something over dinner or at the pub with a bunch of mates. We are posting content (pretty much) for perpetuity and complaining when there are legal ramifications associated with that act.

It all made me think that perhaps a good topic for another Digital Citizens session would be about the legal issues associated with the act of publication on the web? Since, while Adrian Dayton was great, it would have been handy to have Australian lawyer on the panel.

A brief write-up of the event is also available on mUmBRELLA

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