The irony of being a successful, busy consultant is that you never have time to write about what it is that you’re doing, so you appear to be doing nothing when you are, in fact, up to your eyeballs in work. That’s how it’s been for the last six months, which is why I haven’t blogged here as often as I would have liked. I haven’t kept my events log up to date either, which might even be worse than not blogging.
So, what have I been up to? It won’t be any surprise to PR Week readers (login required, sorry) to hear that I have been retained by Jackie Cooper PR for the next six months to help their staff learn about blogging: how it relates to PR, how to do it well, and how to engage with bloggers in a respectful manner. My official title is Blogger In Residence, which sounds kinda cool.
I have to say that I’m really enjoying my work with JCPR. Their staff are already clued up as regards the net, so are quick to grasp the concepts I am explaining, from the importance of voice and transparency, to RSS, to what trackbacks are. The usual place for beginners fall over is with the explanation of RSS. Now, either I’ve become a lot more adept at explaining it, or JCPR’s existing experience of running web campaigns has equipped them to deal with jargon more easily. I suspect the latter.
I’ve also been working very hard with one of Socialtext‘s clients, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, an investment bank in the heart of the City and JP Rangaswami‘s place of employ. It’s been fascinating for me to go into the heart of exactly the kind of business that I’ve been watching from the outside over the last couple of years. Working in such an environment is invaluable, and I have had a lot of thoughts about adoption of social software that have been informed at least in part by that experience, and which I really must blog soon.
I was working with DrKW to help them understand and adopt Socialtext’s wiki, a wiki which I very much like for its ease of use: the WYSIWYG editor made it a lot easier to sell to new users because it almost completely removes the need to use wiki mark-up. Although us geeks often use the phrase ‘But it’s easy!’ when confronted with someone who finds the concepts of wiki or hypertext mark-up too hard to wrap their heads round, the truth is that we’re wrong. It’s not easy. Most people in business have a hard time figuring out how to use email, so expecting them to grasp any form of mark-up is setting the bar too high.
I have to admit, I am looking forward to a more stable and reliable WYSIWYG editor, and a better looking stylesheet, but I am sure Ross and the Socialtext team are working on that.
Other client work has included one-offs for various organisations, including some training with MSN and their PR consultancy, Red, and editing a report for them entitled How to Blog for Business: A Guide to Corporate Blogging (PDF, 5mb), which has been doing the conference rounds in dead-tree format whenever MSN are sponsoring. Like all reports, the stats are out of date now, but it’s still a useful introduction – take a look if you’re new to this blogging malarky.
Of course, when I’m not working with clients, I’m working on setting up and running the Open Rights Group, a new NGO concerned with digital rights (i.e. your digital civil liberties). We started ORG on July 23rd last year at the OpenTech conference, and have been playing catch-up ever since. We now have a great group of volunteers who are helping to whip ORG into shape, a paid PA/Researcher, and a lawyer who’s going to be helping us out by running our legal discussion list.
Much of my time with ORG is spent just doing organisational hacking – getting the damn thing to work. I also spend a lot of time talking with journalists, either giving them direct quotes, finding experts for them, or giving them background for their stories. I’ve been invited on to the evening news (Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5) at least a half-dozen times now, although every time the story has been dropped. Take a look at the ORG wiki press page to see how many mentions we’ve managed to get in the last few months, though. Not bad going.
Then there are the governmental inquiries and reviews that we have had to prepare submissions for. That’s a whole nother level of stress, I can tell you. So far, we’ve done the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group‘s public inquiry into digital rights management, and the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property. For an organisation as small and new as ours, these sorts of reports are a major undertaking, and not even the power of wiki can make it easy.
If you were wondering where blogging was in all this… well, I’m still writing on Chocolate and Vodka, my personal blog. Not as often as I’d like, but often enough to feel like I still have a presence. And Strange Attractor has benefited immensely from the addition of Kevin Anderson – my partner in blog and real life. A first class geek and journalist with the BBC, (currently on attachment to the World Service’ daily radio show, World Have Your Say), he’s brought not just a new audience to Strange Attractor, but a whole new perspective. Plus he’s really good at sorting out our home wifi network.
As usual, I’ve been going to my fair share of conferences and seminars too. I’ve documented most of them on Strange Attractor, but by far the best of the year has been The Future of Web Apps, which I just loved. A full-on geek-o-rama, it rang my bells and made me very excited about the possibilities ahead of us. Not that I have time to fully explore those just yet, but it’s always good to see things from a different perspective and to regain that sense of anticipation, that we can do anything we want on the web, we just need to build it.
And for the journalism? Well, I now have a column with Linux User & Developer, where I talk about digital rights issues, and am about to join .Net‘s Big Question panel to discuss a different net-related issue each month. This is the first time I’ll have had regular columns, and whilst it is a challenge to meet the monthly deadlines (a month goes by so quickly!), it is great to have an ongoing presence in the press. I’d very much like a regular column in one of the broadsheets, but with my current work schedule, perhaps I should wait a bit before chasing that one down.
Of course, the book about blogs that I was hoping to write last year never got written. I had some interest from some publishers, but they were all a bit worried that perhaps a book on blogging wouldn’t sell. In the meantime, loads of people wrote loads of books about using blogs as a marketing tool, so now blogging books are passe. I’m instead reworking the proposal to be much more practical, and with a wider scope taking in all social software. Will be interesting to see if anyone picks up on it, but you know, I might just write it anyway and publish it under a Creative Commons license.
On the fictional front, I’ve decided to take my screenplay from several years ago and turn it into a novel. Whilst it worked very nicely as a screenplay, I don’t have time to market it as such, and I figured it is too unBritish an idea to get made, so I’m turning it into a novel. I’m writing it all out long-hand in a Moleskine book, with a Lamy pen. Oh, how old skool! However, it’s turning out to be fun, which was a bit of a surprise. I thought writing long-hand would feel tedious, because it’s so much slower than typing, but I type all day every day, so it’s a good way to differentiate between what’s work and what’s play.
So now you can see why I’ve not been quite so active online as I used to be. I’ve a bit more time on my hands now, so I’m trying to catch up with all the stuff that I’ve been wanting to do for weeks, or even months, but the backlog is huge! Truth be told, it’s not until I sit down and go through all of the things that I’ve been doing and am doing that I realise how busy I have been. It’s too easy to focus on what remains to be done, instead of looking at what I have achieved.
And now for the obligatory pitch: If you’re interested in social software, and want to talk to me about how I can help your business, just email me. I don’t bite.