Talking Social Technology at the Digital Minds Conference

I’m very happy to say that I will be facilitating a roundtable discussion on social technology at the Digital Minds Conference on 7 April at the QEII Conference Centre. Indeed, I will be available throughout the London Book Fair to talk to publishers, small and large, about how we might work together on social technology projects, whether outreach, community building and marketing, or internal communication and collaboration. 

The Conversations session at Digital Minds will start at 14.30 in the Whittle Room (PDF), and will continue, with a break, through until about 16:20, so there’ll be plenty of time to discuss lots of topics. There’s no set agenda, so you can come with whatever questions are relevant to you, although if you need a deep dive into a particular area or want a confidential discussion, email me now and book a time to talk during the fair.

Some ideas for conversations might include:

  • Getting started with social media marketing: If you’re new to social media, how do you know where to start? How do you pick your tools? Where should you focus your effort?
  • Social media reboot: You’ve already got various social media accounts, but you’re not getting the results you want, or you feel lost in the social media forest. How do you get yourself unstuck? How do you assess what to continue, and what to drop?
  • What to say on social media: Creating accounts is the easy bit, the hard bit is keeping them going with compelling content that will drive loyalty, sales and traffic to your website. So what sort of things should you be Tweeting and Facebooking? And when?
  • Integration with traditional marketing: Social media marketing should not stand apart from the rest of your marketing work, so how do you integrate it? How do you get the best of both worlds?
  • Building communities: One of the hardest things on the web is building a genuine, long-lasting and constructive community of interest. Publishers can benefit hugely from such communities, but there’s so much to think about when building the technology, nurturing early adopters and scaling your user base. What tools does a community need? How do those tools affect behaviour? What usage and moderation policies should you have? How much outreach will you need to do? How do you keep people coming back?
  • Designing social apps: The tablet is revolutionising the way that we consume and create media, but many book-related apps don’t fully exploit the things that make tablets, and smartphones, different from paper or laptops. How do you start to think about creating a social app? How do you even start thinking about apps, social or not? Is the effort worth the expense?

There are, of course, many more topics we can talk about, so you can bring your ideas to the table and we’ll get stuck in to what I know is going to be a fascinating conversation!

If you want to talk about any of these or other topics privately, or are interested in my workshops, consulting or research, then just email me and we’ll book in a meeting. I’m particularly interested in meeting publishing companies in America, as I’ll be spending a fair amount of time there from mid-summer onwards. And, finally, if you’re not going to be at the LBF, or you’re not in publishing but are interested in these issues, get in touch anyway and we can discuss your needs.

Letting sleeping blogs lie

Now that I’ve moved everything over from to, there’s really no need for this blog. If you want to read my ongoing thoughts on social media, then the new improved Strange Attractor is for you. But now it’s time to let this sleeping blog lie. It will lurk in the archives, just for the sake of preventing link-rot, but it won’t be updated again. The rest of this site, though, is due a big revamp, so that’s where I’ll direct my energies next!

An interview with Ada Lovelace

This morning, I went to the Science Museum to talk to Ada Lovelace herself about Charles Babbage, his computing machines, and her vision and brilliance.

Ada was a most fascinating lady, and I hope that because of today, more people will know not just about her, but about all the other amazing women in technology.

I’d like to thank Steph Troeth and Steph Booth for helping me with Ada Lovelace Day. Both of them helped me to figure out what shape the campaign was going to take and were then invaluable in kick-starting it. Without their help and encouragement I’m not sure that Ada Lovelace Day would have happened at all. Thanks also go to Vicky Riddell at the BBC for deciding to run with the story on the BBC News Channel and doing such an amazing job of getting so many smart techie women on the news.

I also need to thank two men, firstly Tony Kennick, who very kindly cobbled together the Ada Lovelace Day Collection mash-up, and who put up with my last-minute-ness with grace and good humour.

And secondly, my wonderful husband Kevin who has provided me with endless support and help over the last three months, who shot the video above, and who came with me to BBC Television Centre this evening and helped me calm my nerves before my interviews.

Thanks are also due to everyone who has taken part. Ada Lovelace Day was a community effort, with everyone playing an important role in making it the success it is.

But it’s not over yet! We have another 15 hours before the day that is Ada Lovelace Day is finally over as midnight arrives in the Baker Islands, and we have a lot more blog posts still to be added to our Collection.

Even then, it’s not over. We have our first event booked at NESTA for 10th June – on which more to come – and I have a few other ideas up my sleeve too. So don’t go away – keep in your RSS reader, or follow us on Twitter, and keep up-to-date with our news.

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Join me on Ada Lovelace Day

I’ve mainly stayed away from the discussion of gender issues in technology. I didn’t think that I had any real expertise to share. But over the last six months, after many conversations, it has become clear that many of my female friends in tech really do feel disempowered. They feel invisible, lacking in confidence, and unsure how to compete for attention with the men around them.

Then I see the stupid puerile misogynistic manner with which some of the more powerful voices in the tech community – some of them repeat offenders – treat women, and it makes me very cross indeed. The objectification of women is bad enough when it’s done by the media, but when it’s done by a conference organiser or tech commentator or famous tech publication, what message does it send? Nothing but “You will never be taken seriously, but we might take notice of you if you’re hot.”

But what to do? Well, let’s pull back from the anger a little, and start to look instead at why it might be that women feel less secure in their abilities than most men, and what might help change that. Undoubtedly it’s a complex issue, but recent research may shed some light: Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones.

Well, that’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.

Thus was born Ada Lovelace Day, and this pledge:

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

— Suw Charman-Anderson (contact)

Deadline to sign up by: 24th March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited to take part. All you need to do is sign up to this pledge and then publish your blog post any time on Tuesday 24th March 2009. If you’re going to be away that day, feel free to write your post in advance and set your blogging system to publish it that day.

You’ll notice that I’ve asked for 1,000 people to sign the pledge, which is an ambitious number. Indeed, PledgeBank makes a pretty strong point during the pledge creation process of asking people to limit their requests to 20 people, but I am sure that over the next 77 days we’ll be able to find another 989 people to join us!

What can you do?
Obviously, and most importantly, please sign the pledge. If you already have a blog, then it will be easy for you to take part. If you don’t have a blog, this might be a great reason to start one! It’ll take you about five minutes to get yourself set up on WordPress and then you’ll be up and running!

Please also consider putting a pledge badge on your blog now or writing a short post about the project to help spread the word. You can also use the “Share This” link on the pledge itself to send the pledge to your favourite social bookmarking or news site, or to email it to a friend. The more people who send this link to Delicious or Digg and the like, the more likely we are to hit our target!

Also, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, or any other microconversation tool, please ping a message to all your friends about Ada Lovelace Day, and don’t forget the link! If you’re on LinkedIn, you could also add it as your temporary status for a while.

It is going to be a challenge to hit 1,000 people – we’ll need an average of 13 people signing each day – but if we all tell our friends about it, I think we can do it!

Keep up with Ada Lovelace Day news
I’ve got a Twitter account, mailing list and blog set up, so feel free to follow, subscribe and add to your RSS reader, as you wish!

What will happen next?
If Ada Lovelace Day is a success I’d like to make it an annual event. And, once the economy is in a better position, I’d like to put together a one day conference called Finding Ada. We would cover presentation skills and would introduce women to tech conference organisers, with the aim of getting more women up on stage at tech conferences. At the moment, I’m short of money to get Finding Ada moving, so if you’d like to be a sponsor please get in touch and I’ll tell you more about it.

Finally, who was Ada?
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built.

The Email Problem and How To Solve It

Leisa Reichelt very kindly took notes on my talk for me at today’s Web 2.0: Practical Applications for Business Benefit. Thanks Leisa! Luis Suarez recorded the talk on his mobile, I think, and the audio is now also available. Thanks Luis!

The Email Problem and How To Solve It
I want to talk to you about email, the psychology of email

It is a vital part of business, we all depend on it and we don’t even think about how we use it despite the fact that it’s really very new – only had it in business for the last 10 years or so. As email spreads it tendrils and becomes more and more common – it’s ubiquitous now, there was a time when you had to make a business case for email, now its the first thing you get. And it’s starting to become a problem.

Clear Context: 38% of people get more than 100 emails a day, 13% get more than 250 a day. 22% spend more than 4hrs a day in email. For some people email is an intrinsic part of their job but 4hrs a day is mind numbing.

I worry that people underreport how much email they get.

A study recently said that some people claimed they checked email every hour, 35% said every 15 minutes. But when observed they were actually checking email every 5 minutes. Who hasn’t had a moment when before they know it you’re checking your email again, even though you only checked it a moment ago?

There is an assumption that email doesn’t interrupt us because we chose to go to our inbox and check, but this is false because people don’t chose when to check. We tend to have alerts set up – I actually heard someone who had an alert that said ‘you’ve got mail’ – every time an alert comes through, people respond. People take an average of 1 minute 44 seconds to respond and 70% of people respond within 6 seconds of getting the alert.

It’s well known that phone calls interrupt us and it takes time to get back to what we were doing. It takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after you have checked your email and get back to work.

So if some people are checking their email every five minutes and it takes 64 seconds to recover, they are taking 8hrs a week just to remember what they were doing… this is a big problem! We don’t really know how big a problem because there has been little observational research done.

There are two problems here – they’re different and they require two different approaches.

The first is to do with the tool, more particularly the way we use the tool. The second is to do with culture, the way that culture shapes the way we behave with certain tools.

A few questions:

– how many used to check your email occasionally but now you check all the time, it’s compulsive?

– how many feel you don’t really have control over when you check your email?

– how many feel pre-occupied by email i when separated you wonder if anything interesting has come in?

– how many have lots of emails in your inbox?

– how many feel anxious that something has happened when separated from your email?

– how many did not you put your hand up at one point or another?

Ignoring Luis, it’s just two.

Unfortunately those questions aren’t about email at all, they’re about gambling addiction.

I did this at a large company and despite answering positively to these questions, they said ‘we don’t have a problem, we have smart people.’

But the last symptom of addiction is denial – we are all in denial. The tool is so widespread it is hard to believe we have a problem with it. But the reason that email is an issue is the same reason that gambling is an issue – it’s called operant conditioning. If you do something and you get a reward for doing it you are more likely to do it again in the future – this is how training dogs (and cats) works.

Operant conditioning was discovered by BF Skinner who experimented with rats – in a cage with a lever, when they pressed the lever they’d get a food pellet. They’d press the lever to get a pellet until they were sated. Then he changed the schedule, first to five presses, which they learned, and then to random. When it changed to random the rats became obsessed with the lever, pressing and pressing, and stockpiling food that they didn’t need and continuing to press even when the food reward was no longer forthcoming.

This is like us with email – we get nice emails from people, but randomly. We like these nice emails, so we check our inbox over and over just in case those nice emails turn up… and we become obsessed, like Skinners rats.

Not all email is created equal, most of it we find boring – we’re looking for that nice email.

So we have to deal with this in a way that deals with this – just quitting email is not the answer (except for Luis). Will power isn’t enough to do this. But what can we do?

We could remove the random component – we can try to ensure there is always a nice email waiting for us. It’s very difficult to ensure this though.

We can try to break the link between the behaviour and the reward (eg a five minute delay), but it’s not really feasible in a business context – some businesses have tried this and failed.

We can remove the reward completely – stop using email altogether – this is very difficult though.

We can, and should, remove stimulus to check – get rid of the alerts.

We can remove free will – remove the choice to check email – for example, we schedule our email usage (most common times: first thing in the morning, just before lunch, just after lunch, and just before you go home). This is a good time for you to check email because you can be more responsive to others and get more response from others because everyone is more active at the same time. [Leisa correctly adds: “Assuming you are in the same time zone”.]

Reinforce incompatible behaviour – bird training – you can’t train animals to NOT do something you can only train an alternate behaviour – instead of trying to train a bird NOT to land on your head, train it to land on the green mat instead. We need to try to positively reinforce behaviours, like using instant messenger or other social tools.

What we need to do in order to achieve this is to determine how we use email on a day to day basis. So, in a business context, there is what’s called Bacn – like spam but tastier – information that come to you that you’ve probably signed up for (notifications) but are not all that interesting. We could do this much better via RSS than email.

We can move broadcast email to blogs – eg. where is the new expense form – you don’t need this in your in box because it’s not an action, and when you do need it the last place you will look is your inbox.

Move collaboration to a wiki – ref: Common Craft video of wikis. The number of emails we send around asking people to review and comment on stuff – this would all be done much more effectively on a Wiki. Ask yourself where would this discussion be done more effectively.

Real time conversation – this can be had much better on instant messenger or chat rather than in an email conversation or – heaven forbid, picking up the phone and talking, or walking over to someone’s desk.

No email days don’t work – all they do is push it to one side – people email more on either side of ‘No Email Wednesday’ – it doesn’t deal with the underlying cause so it’s not effective.

There’s also a cultural side to this and this is the thing that is really hard to deal with. If 13% of people are getting 250 emails a day somebody somewhere is sending lots of email. It has become a proxy for work. In the manufacturing age we could tell how productive someone was by how many spanners they made. In a knowledge economy it is hard to know what work is, let alone how productive they are. Other proxies are time spent in meetings, distance travelled to meetings, time spent at desk.

Because these have become proxies for work they have become a point of pride. There is a martyrdom complex – the more email you get the more productive you are. Lots of email = status. The more email you get the more important you are – this is a social reward for getting/sending lots of email.

There is a lot of CYA email being sent – they don’t think you need to know, but they need to know that they have seen your email. It is a defence ‘didn’t you see my email?’ a lot of this is driven by job insecurity. They are defensive about their position – they think ‘I cannot afford to be the person who takes the fall if something goes wrong’ – email becomes an audit trail in case something goes wrong.

There is lots of corporate spam and this creates bad email culture – broadcast email sends a message that is is ok to bombard people in the company with useless email. We hit reply to all rather than reply to sender with no thought at all. If I could get rid of one button it would be the reply to all button.

It is about changing behaviour, changing norms. It takes a long time and it’s difficult. We need to discourage reply to all, and the expectation of instant reply – pick up the phone, use IM, walk over to them. No one states their expectation in an email re: whether they need a reply at all – eg this is just FYI and I don’t need a response, or this is v urgent and I need a response in an hour, or this is not urgent you can respond by 20 October.

Example: my husband checked his email on a Friday night, and he got an email saying that there was a problem at work and spent time fixing the problem on the Friday night. Then got into work on the Monday and they were surprised that he’d done anything – but his expectation was that he needed to sort it out immediately.

Email is fundamental to business – if you took away email tomorrow the economy would collapse, it’s our key way of exchanging information and communicating, but we know very little about email, and we assume far too much.

After today bear two questions in mind as you get back to work and settle into your routine: How many of us truly understand email? And how many are really in control of our email?

Web 2.0: Practical Applications for Business Benefit

I have spent the last couple of days at the Unicom seminar, Web 2.0: Practical Applications for Business Benefit, hosted by Dave Gurteen. As usual, I have notes from the sessions up on Strange Attractor:

Had a great couple of days and met some really lovely people. David’s conferences are always interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the talks by Ron Donaldson, Luis Suarez and Dominic Campbell. Would recommend those ones if you’ve limited time to read through talk notes!

Enterprise 2.0 Forum – video

The video of my presentation at the Enterprise 2.0 Forum in Cologne on 18th September is now up on the Enterprise2Open blog. Unfortunately I can’t seem to embed it here, and the audio quality’s a bit overdriven, but if you’re curious about how to nurture the adoption of social tools in business, you might want to give it a shot.

The Guardian: Breaking the email compulsion

I have an article in The Guardian today (in the paper and online) about email, how it’s getting out of control and what we can do about it. It contains some of my thinking on email, operant conditioning, and how social tools can help us reduce the amount of email we send (and therefore, hopefully, receive). Here’s a taster:

Back in the early 1990s, email was a privilege granted only to those who could prove they needed it. Now, it has turned into a nuisance that’s costing companies millions. We may feel that we have it under control, but not only do we check email more often than we realise, but the interruptions caused are more detrimental than was previously thought. In a study last year, Dr Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after interruption by email. So people who check their email every five minutes waste 8.5 hours a week figuring out what they were doing moments before.

It had been assumed that email doesn’t cause interruptions because the recipient chooses when to check for and respond to email. But Jackson found that people tend to respond to email as it arrives, taking an average of only one minute and 44 seconds to act upon a new email notification; 70% of alerts got a reaction within six seconds. That’s faster than letting the phone ring three times.

Time out
Added to this is the time people spend with their inbox. A July 2006 study by ClearContext, an email management tools vendor, surveyed 250 users and discovered that 56% spent more than two hours a day in their inbox. Most felt they got too much email – by January 2008, 38% of respondents received more than 100 emails a day – and that it stopped them from doing other things.

Dr Karen Renaud, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, and her colleagues at the University of the West of Scotland discovered that email users fall into three categories: relaxed, driven and stressed. “The relaxed group don’t let email exert any pressure on their lives,” Renaud says. “They treat it exactly the way that one would treat the mail: ‘I’ll fetch it, I’ll deal with it in my own time, but I’m not going to let it upset me’.” The second group felt “driven” to keep on top of email, but also felt that they could cope with it. The third group, however, reacted negatively to the pressure of email. “That causes stress,” says Renaud, “and stress causes all sorts of health problems.”

Read the rest on The Guardian website or in the paper.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this article, especially Tom Stafford who was my original inspiration!

Autumn events

My diary for the autumn is chock full of conferences, many of which I would highly recommend to anyone interested. Here’s where I’m going to be:

Fruitful Seminars – The Email Problem and How to Solve it
Wed 3 Sept, London
Email is becoming a problem, with people sending and receiving hundreds each day. ‘No Email Days’ don’t help, nor do inbox size limits. So just how do you reduce email and improve people’s relationship with their inbox?

There are still places available for this seminar, so if you’re interested please sign up now!

Fri 5 Sept, Brighton
Going as a punter and very excited to be seeing Steven Johnson.

Fruitful Seminars – Making Social Tools Ubiquitous
Wed 10 Sept, London
Social tools help improve business communications, increase collaboration and nurture innovation, but what do you do if people won’t use them? And how do you grow from a pilot to company-wide use?

There are still places available for this seminar, so if you’re interested please sign up now!

Going Solo Leeds
Fri 12 Sept, Leeds
I shall be reprising the talk I gave at Going Solo Lausanne, When Passion Becomes Profession (Balancing Work and Life).

Enterprise 2.0 Forum
Thurs 18 Sept, Cologne
A conference mainly in German, but I shall be keynoting in English:

Keynote: Potentiale und Herausforderung bei der Einführung von Social Software für die interne Kommunikation und Kollaboration, or Potentials and challenges of the introduction of social software in corporations for internal communications and collaboration enhancements.

Unicom, Web 2.0: Practical Applications for Business Benefit
Wed 1 – Thurs 2 Oct, London
Conference hosted by Dave Gurteen about the business benefits of blogs, podcasts, wikis, online video and other collaborative technologies. I’ll be presenting:

The Email Problem and How To Solve it

* Occupational spam, cc/CYA email and fractured conversations are causing email overload
* Constant interruption reduces people’s ability to focus and attain a state of flow
* Attempts to reduce email usage via “No Email Days” are ineffective
* The email problem is psychological, not technical
* Social media can help reduce email by providing alternative ways to work, collaborate and communicate

Fri 10 Oct, London
An unconference bringing Web 2.0 tools and ideas to the built environment community. I will probably present on the psychology of email.

Web 2.0 Expo
Tues 21 – Thurs 23 Oct, Berlin
TBC – keep your eyes peeled.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks
Wed 28 – Thurs 29 Jan, London
Examining electronic data gathering, storage and sharing using electronic lab notebooks. I’ll be giving a presentation:
Collaboration and communication using social tools

* How to use social software to both organise your own information and to share it with others,
* Collaborate with team members and across teams/departments
* How to improve communication and reduce reliance on email

Adding to the archives

I have to admit, poor old has languished a little bit lately, as I’ve been so busy with all my other projects. I’m now on a drive to try to create the fullest repository of my work and output possible, so I’m going to try to post at least one archival item each day until I’ve got a copy of everything I can find online. I’ll be dating them so that they pop up in the archives on the day they were published, so don’t be surprised to see ‘old’ posts suddenly appearing. If you have links to any of my presentations, audio, video, or press items, please leave them in the comments!