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! fixed!

Since I updated in March it has been a little bit flakey, sometimes displaying properly and sometimes displaying a blank page. It got half-fixed a couple of months ago, but it’s taken me til now to find the time to sort it out properly. Thanks to Vero Pepperrell and her husband Andrew for figuring out the problem and giving me a working test install, and thanks to Stephanie Booth for helping me apply that fix to the main site.

Everything appears to be working again now, but if you notice any problems, please let me know.


I just upgraded WordPress, a task which was long overdue. It’s all gone relatively seamlessly, although it has turned all my apostrophes to ‘’’, so please bear with me as I go through and tidy up a bit.

And huge thanks to Felix Cohen for fixing up my theme so that it works with widgets.

Kits and Mortar

Surprising though it may seem, it’s not often that I start a new blog these days. I still have a lot listed in Ecto – about 20 – but many of those were project blogs that I could probably delete. I really only write on Strange Attractor and Chocolate and Vodka with any regularity.

So I’m quite excited to have started a new blog – Kits and Mortar – about researching and designing an eco- and cat-friendly house. Kevin and I are collaborating on the project, as we try to figure out what building our own home would entail. Right now, we know really very little about self-building, or even about what we want or where we want it. We’re not entirely sure what “cat-friendly design” means either, although I suspect that it’s going to involve providing our future moggies with somewhere from where they can look down upon us.
Kits and Mortar really is going to be a voyage of discovery for us. If you’re into house building or cats (or both), please do pop over and have a look, or add our feed to your RSS reader.

Where the really juicy stuff is

You might notice that I don’t update this blog particularly often. That’s because this is more of a portfolio site that uses blogging software than a blog per se. If you want the juicy stuff, then pop along to Strange Attractor, my blog about social media, which I now write with my partner, Kevin Anderson. And if you want to read more about me, then my personal blog is called Chocolate and Vodka*, after my two most favourite foodstuffs. That’s if vodka can be called a foodstuff, of course.

Here on Blogiculum Vitae, you’ll find articles I’ve written, information about my work, my clients, and a bit more about me. For a full CV, see LinkedIn.

* 8 Nov 07: I’ve just moved Chocolate and Vodka on to a new server, and a new installation of WordPress. It looks a bit ugly at the moment, and sadly some of the formatting’s been lost along with commenters’ names, but all the content’s there!

Updating my LinkedIn profile

In an ongoing attempt to rejuvenate all things socal-y and software-y, I have updated my LinkedIn profile, at long last. I’ve now tweaked quite a few of the positions to more accurately reflect reality, and have added in a few more to bring everything up to date. If I know you and you want to link, send me an invitation (although I don’t link to people I don’t know).

Giving Blogiculum Vitae a little love

I wasn’t kidding when I said in May last year that I was a bit busy. The last eight months have seen me focus mainly on the Open Rights Group, the NGO that I started along with a bunch of other digital rights activists in July 2005. Now, 18 months down the line, ORG has a new full-time Executive Director, Becky Hogge, who has taken over the reins from me. I have one last week working part-time for ORG before I move to a position on the Board and refocus myself on my business.

It has been an astonishing time, working as ED of ORG. We have successfully lobbied the Government on, amongst other things, digital rights management and the term of copyright protection given to sound recordings, which we believe should stay at 50 years. Our big project last year was to prepare a submission for the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, and to deal with a huge amount of press surrounding the Review’s release. We did really well, but it took a lot of focus and a lot of time and effort.
Now I’m soon to be released from my ORG duties, and so I’m celebrating having a bit more time on my hands by updating my poor, neglected Blogiculum Vitae. You’ll see in the sidebar now a selection of the columns I wrote for Linux User, and the Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein case study I wrote for Socialtext last year. And I’ll be adding more over the coming weeks.

So much to write, so little time

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.

New Media Knowledge Seminar: Blogging – A Real Conversation

Went to the New Media Knowledge seminar Blogging: A Real Conversation on Tuesday and did a 14 minute (it was closely timed!) talk on objectivity. Although I decided not to show my mindmap to the world during the talk, I’ve uploaded it to Flickr. It doesn’t encompass everything that I said – for the last five minutes I was extemporising on the blogosphere and how subjectivity is an essential art for marketers to learn if they are going to be capable of understanding and fitting into it. (Must learn to judge the timings of my talks better.)

Still, it was very interesting to see what else was said. I enjoyed Johnnie Moore‘s discussion on authority – who gives it to whom and why – and why we blog. Less of a talk and more of a chat, it was a nice change of pace.

I disagree, however, with Johnnie’s dislike of having speakers. Yes, having speakers stand up in front of an audience does create an us-them dichotomy which is especially false when you are in a room full of your peers, but in an ideal world that’s because the speaker knows something the audience doesn’t, and the audience wants to find out what. As a speaker, I don’t feel that I seize the authority to stand up in front of people talk about the stuff I talk about, I feel that I am granted grace to do so by the audience and that I had better damn well say something interesting. I do like more open-space/discussion type formats too, but I do see the value in a good keynote.

The corollary to that, of course, is that a crap keynote makes you feel like you’ve just wasted precious minutes of your life that you are never going to get back. But then, so does a crap discussion or a crap open space session. Can’t win ’em all.

Adriana Cronin-Lukas outlined a stark choice for marketers: either learn how to engage with your customers in a way which they find acceptable, or find yourself being forced into more and more outrageous attempts to capture attention. Her point that interruption-based advertising is outmoded and doomed to failure as we find better and better ways to route round it was well made. We are in an arms race now, as the marketers find new ways to grab our attention and as we create new filters (both mental and technological) to get rid of adverts. I wonder what the future of advertising holds – people are generally pretty media savvy these days, but when the kids of today grow up, having been used to dealing with the media their whole lives, will they be so savvy that advertising no longer works? Or will they be just like us, perpetually annoyed each new crappy gimmick?

I also liked Adriana’s equation:

bias + transparency = credibility

Works for me.

Was lovely to finally meet Rafael Behr, journalist and Observer blogger, and I say that not just (although possibly partly) because I’m on their blog roll. He had some interesting stuff to say about blogging and the media. I really like what he’s doing with the Observer blog – I particularly like the fact that it really is a bloggish blog, which just rambles along from day to day covering whatever subjects Rafael feels like writing about. Just like a normal blog, and not at all the journalistic behemoth that some people seemed to assume it would be. Good to hear Rafael’s perspective on how all that works and what the pitfalls are, though.

Sabrina Dent, the beginning of whose talk I unfortunately missed because I was a bit delayed getting to the venue, talked about whether or not blogging is a new communicationsn paradigm, and decided that no, it wasn’t. I missed the quote about the bees, so have had to lift if from Paul Goodison (who took notes – I’m going off memory):

Of most interest was her quote from a book called Out of Control by Kevin Kelly, which described the behaviour of bees when they find new food sources and how they communicate this back to the hive. The more vigourous and exciting the dance, the more bees visit that location.

Nice analogy.

Mike Beeston talked about how people have been doing bloggish things for centuries, but that the shift now has been the immediacy with which we can make links and transfer information. Couple of hundred years ago, one had to send off horsemen into the unknown with messages in order to organise insurrection. Now we can do it instantly via a whole bunch of technologies.

I think he missed a point out though – it’s not just instantaneous communications that are changing the way that we act and interact, but also persistency. Arrangements can be made for a temporally constrained event synchronously (e.g. proxy meetings which are organised on the fly via mobile phones) or asynchronously (e.g. via email).

We’ve always had asynchronous communications, and the problem with them is if you miss the boat – if the communication goes astray and it is ephemeral (a letter lost in the post, for example), then you never know that you didn’t get it. The difference now is that both synchronous and asynchronous communications have persistence – they exist online allowing that data to be more easily and more widely disseminated. If you miss the IRC chat in which your insurrection is being organised, the logs can be made available. If you’re using a blog, then it doesn’t matter when the details were posted, people can continue to read it up to and beyond the event you are organising.

Lloyd Davis has made a wiki for notes, and has posted the audio up too. I’ll be interested to listen to it, if only to find out what I said. (Oh, and on that note, if you were there, please do give me feedback on my talk – I really want to know whether it was any good or not, and what I could do to improve my speaking style.)

Cross-posted from Strange Attractor, so see there for comments.

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Blogging: A Real Conversation

New Media Knowledge are hosting Blogging: A Real Conversation – an event in London, on the afternoon of 28 June 05:

The trust people put in blogs, their simplicity and interactive character, and their ability to be aggregated via RSS have combined to grant blogs a unique status in the communications spectrum.
This event will examine the increasing importance and influence of blogs – as sources of trusted opinion and as a barometer of the shifting balance of power in media publishing.

Is nano-publishing a new communications paradigm?
The growth and popularity of blogs embodies the shifting balance of power in the media continuum. But with the onset of what Demos recently dubbed “the pro-Am revolution”, are amateurs really the new experts? Or is it less a case of insufficient fact-checking by bloggers passing for journalists and more an emergent preference by consumers for personalised content, peer-review and transparent motivation?

Are blogs the new voices of authority?
Blogs were supposed to be unmediated, immediate communication, and content that could be delivered on the hoof (via moblogging and WiFi). But can this be a marketing model? The informal nature of blogs – and their simplicity for the user – has been key to their appeal to date. So will this democratising type of social software transfer so easily into the marketeers toolset as a more authentic way to foster relationships and loyalty?

I’ll be on a panel along with Mike Beeston, Fjord; Sabrina Dent, Mink Media; Johnnie Moore, Marketing consultant & facilitator; Adriana Cronin-Lukas, The Big Blog Company. This is actually going to be the first time I’ll have been on a panel discussion with people I actually know, and I’m looking forward to it.
On the other hand, I will only just have got back from America and will be horrendously jet-lagged, although it has already been proven that my mouth can continue working long after my brain has fallen asleep. I’ll let you decide if that’s a good or bad thing: Beercasting in Vancouver (MP3, a bit clippy at times, fast forward to about halfway through.)