Colin Walker

on social media, tech, blogging and the internet.

Changes.

As you may, or may not, have noticed the colinwalker.me.uk domain now redirects to colinwalker.wordpress.com – this is purely is an effort to save the expense of hosting costs (the email at that domain also now points to my gmail account).

The blog has been imported over but I will have to run through re-uploading the images and correcting links at some point.

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January 26, 2009 Posted by | Blogging | Leave a comment

Lessons learnt or common sense?

So, I took most of August out and distanced myself from social media and blogging – it seemed a good time to do it as I had some other stuff going on (a mini cruise to Amsterdam and a weeks holiday).

I had an occasional glance at FriendFeed but only very rarely and Google Reader went begging – there are thousands of unread items I need to wade through/mark as read and a number of feeds that I will most likely unsubscribe from.

Before I start anything here I’d first like to say thanks to Mark and Hutch for thinking of me while I was away, it’s always nice to know that out of site isn’t always out of mind.

Have I learnt any lessons from my time away or is it all really common sense? Let’s have a look.

Who needs social media?

What did we do before we had what we currently think of as social media? We found other things to occupy ourselves, and that’s exactly what I did during last month.

As a family we have started playing World of Warcraft so that’s good to eat up a few hours and it also helped that the UK domestic football (soccer) season has started again so that provides something else to keep me occupied.

Do I need social media? No, and to be honest I haven’t really been missing it as I have been spending more time with my family in the ‘real’ world.

Social media, just like anything else, is habit forming – we can create our own addictions by getting, and wanting to stay, involved. Conversely, distancing ourselves from something for long enough reduces the craving until you can quit. Will power is needed and having a distraction is very beneficial.

Common sense. The above can apply to just about anything and not just social media.

Who needs blogging?

I have had no inclination to blog during my time away and have had to force myself to write this; do I feel I owe it to myself to summarise what happened, or owe it to you the reader? Why should we owe anyone anything?

Blogging is a tough mistress and we often put undue pressure on ourselves. Whether it is because we feel that our readers have invested their trust in us by subscribing to the feeds so we feel compelled to explain ourselves I don’t know but we are always our own worst critics when. let’s face it, most others couldn’t care less. For every social media blogger who disappears there are dozens more to take up the mantle – this is not an area that will dry up anytime soon.

Hutch remarked that if you are having problems blogging then you should return to what interests you but it can be worse than that: what do you do when the blogging process itself doesn’t interest you? You just have to step back like I did and wait for the enthusiam to return. I think I’ll be waiting for a little while longer yet.

Addiction

I’m the kind of person who becomes addicted to things very easily but I also have a very low boredom threshold. If I’m not kept interested then even the strongest addiction doesn’t stand a chance (alcohol and gambling in my past can attest to this) so I need to keep myself challenged in order to thrive.

We’ll have to see what happens over the coming weeks.

September 2, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 9 Comments

Before I go…

I’d just like to thank those who left positive comments in response to my post yesterday.

The question now for anyone who agrees with any of what I said is: what can we do about it, or is it now beyond our control? Should we even try?

You are most likely reading this because you have an interest in some aspect of social media so, to keep you going while I’m away, I thought I’d share my list of those bloggers I have turned to for intelligent discussion in this area. I tend to mainly clear of the larger blogging networks and stick to those who, while they might not be the biggest names on the web, I consider to have the most to say – and not just about social media.

In no particular order:

Louis Gray
Mark Dykeman
Steven Hodson
Hutch Carpenter
Alexander van Elsas
Daryl Tay
Eric Berlin
Rob Diana
Ryan Brymer

I’m sure they’ll take good care of you.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 7 Comments

Hiatus?

You’ll have noticed that things have been a little quiet around here lately, as they were for a bit not too long ago. It appears that it is not just me. Others have been quieter than usual with Corvida giving an eloquent explanation as to why.

I completely agree with her.

It’s not just that the technology has plateaued, it’s not just that the conversation stalled but, somehow, that the social web has lost its spark.

We moan about the echo chamber and dream of social media ubiquity but once things get more ‘mainstream’ our precious corner of the web seems to become less relevant. We seek out friends who are not talking about the same old stuff but end up with a screen full of items we have no interest in.

I’ve spoken about balance on many occasions but it appears that a balance is almost impossible to achieve. Do we embrace the noise or just stop lying to ourselves and admit that the echo chamber is where we belong and is what brought us here in the first place?

We demand a wider scope of interest but get bogged down in the inevitable banality that accompanies it.

Mark mentioned that we can welcome the late adopter if we can be willing to go over old ground but we have already been recycling the same things over and over amongst ourselves even without the late adopter exacerbating the problem; it is hard to stay positive and focused amongst the endless repetition.

I have had post ideas but have not been able to complete them, is that burnout or just apathy? Perhaps a bit of both.

Social media can be tremendously addictive and I’ll admit to getting addicted – wanting to miss a trick and having the desire to be involved in every conversation. Now, however, I am like the addict in therapy going through the withdrawal looking for a less potent substitute to wean me from these stuff.

I had a post in the works about the causes and nature of addiction as it related to social media and the web as a whole (is there a better or worse type of addiction) but lost the flow. I also know many would not read it all as they do not like long posts so there developed an element of ‘why bother’.

There is a lot of rubbish spouted in the name of web 2.0, SEO, blogging and social media – a lot of what gets rolled out as trade secrets is really just common sense and breaking the so called golden rules is really normally more effective.

Who created these rules anyway?

Do we really want a web full of generic content because a few individuals show us the ways to be a success? Of course not and if you flood the market with an army of clones then nobody wins as there is only so much ‘success’ to go round.

What was special about the social web has been swallowed up in our quest to educate the masses.

Looking back over recent posts I suppose that that has been coming for a while; I have spoken about the need to do something different and to change the record so that is what I am going to do.

I am going to take a break from blogging and even the social web itself. Perhaps after some time away I will be able to return refreshed and maybe, just maybe, the conversation will have moved on. I have a couple of short breaks coming up so this seems the ideal time to get away for a while.

In the meantime please feel free to get in touch by email as I’ll at least always have that to hand on my phone.

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 12 Comments

Dispensing with the trappings of technology.

I wanted to post something a little different today and look at how my use of technology has altered which, in turn, gives an idea as to how my perception of social media has changed.

This blog took over from the old Randomelements site which I had self-hosted on one flavour of SharePoint or another since 2003. I was also running my own Exchange Server and handling all my own emails. Initially, these endeavours were useful in that they forced me to learn: managing and maintaining a Windows 2003 based network and the related server applications but, once things were established and I was able to troubleshoot any issues that arose the learning stopped.

While other people were content to have their sites and mails hosted remotely I was dealing with everything locally just for the sake of it; being able to say I could.

I changed ISP and in doing so lost the static IP address I had been using. While dynamic solutions exist – such as DynDNS – managing things became a chore, especially when it became apparent that the IP addresses I was being assigned by the new ISP were on the PBL. Any change of IP address meant that I had to request it be removed from the PBL before emails sent from my server would be accepted by an servers checking the originating IP address. At the same time, SharePoint no longer cut it as an effective blogging platform.

Consequently, the move to WordPress and remotely hosted email have been made and life has been simplified from a technical perspective. Outlook and my phone are both accessing email via IMAP this keeping in sync and I have been able to shut down the server at home – it is no longer being used so why waste the power.

I was using technology at home just for the sake of it under the misguided impression that it made a difference but I still have full control over my blog and emails so what is the difference? I treat them now as a means to achieve something rather than as a focus in themselves, and this is how I see social media. Social media should not focus on the tool in use but on what that tool allows you to do so we must not get caught up in the trappings of the technology as they will distract us from our goals.

July 15, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , , | 4 Comments

The social media time crisis.

time Brandon Werner left a comment yesterday which, for me, really illustrates the need for us to know both ourselves and our audience. He says that he is a victim – like many others – of the problems we have with attention in modern society and on the web. He says that we have reached the point where you can only effectively get your point across in short ‘microbursts’ and that if he writes more than three paragraphs on the same topic he notices a difference in the traffic and comments on that post.

It would appear that his audience is either unwilling or unable to read a long post. He says himself that he skimmed my post to get the salient points and this is a worrying thought and an obvious sign of the times.

Now, if you are investing the time to make a comment on an item that to me indicates that you have an interest in the subject but if you feel that you haven’t got the time to read through the entire item then something is going very wrong.

Analysis

I am lucky enough to converse with a number of bloggers who are really thinking about the online environment that they are engaging in such as Hutch Carpenter, Rob Diana, Julian Baldwin, Steven Hodson, Alexander van ElsasLouis Gray – there is a whole group now who strive to provide some comprehensive analysis rather than a couple of bullet points and let the readers sort it out for themselves. They are digging in to the heart of the matter and trying to provide some answers or, at least, lay the ground work and ask some pertinent questions.

As far as I am concerned, that is was online communication is all about. That is where we’re heading with FriendFeed rooms and what they are designed to achieve; the ability to dive in to discussions in the right environment. It is what I’ve been saying all along about Twitter being the facilitator and not just Twitter.

Sow the seeds

The global conversation is the breeding ground where we sow the seeds and ideas grow, we then have to take those ideas and transfer them to the best environment possible in order to expand upon them and take them to their logical conclusion. The blog is obviously a great place to do this as it is totally under your control. There are no restrictions on what you write – you can be as in depth or as brief as you need based on the subject.

But, if the whole social web is facing an attention crisis then we can’t possibly hope to resolve any issues. If all anyone can stand to read is three paragraphs how can you hope to convey all that you need to in such a short space. It’s a mirror to the argument over discussions on Twitter as opposed to those on FriendFeed. The 140 character restriction on Twitter prohibits meaningful discussion either due to the lack of space in a single post or because parts of the conversation will become spread out in the timeline.

Three paragraphs may be considerably more than 140 characters but it is the same problem. You cannot use such a short space to identify an issue, provide related links or information, assess that information and then provide any kind of resolution or ask relevant questions.

How do we get round it?

Is it because we are trying to do too much? Is it because there is too much noise and we are either not filtering it correctly or haven’t yet got the tools to do so? Where do our issues really lie? Louis Gray says that he lives in a permanent state of continuous parallel attention but not everyone can – or should – operate like that.

I know myself that I’ll sign up for all sorts of services to see what utility they offer and if they will help me in any way but if they don’t offer something to differentiate themselves then they can’t warrant my permanent attention. Why should I waste my time updating too many duplicate services when I can far more effectively concentrate on a limited set and make a much better job of it. It’s nice to contribute but we have to pick and choose where we will do so.

I like socialmedian for Jason’s efforts to really make it a global service with a good degree of user control to differentiate it from other news sharing services. Toluu again differentiates itself by not being just another RSS application. Mark Dykeman asked for a reason to use it instead of other feed tools – the reason is that it is a feed discovery service which works in tandem with Google Reader rather than being another ‘me too’ service trying to compete with it. These are the types of service that I feel I should invest my time in.

Reduce

simplify We need to streamline and to simplify. By all means try things but don’t struggle on with them if they don’t work for you. We mustn’t be hung up on trying to be ever present on all services so must find a good base and which tools work for us. What utility they offer and what they allow us to do so that we can concentrate our efforts and really get the best out of them.

If we are not jumping between multiple services and duplicating our efforts we will have more time for reading, for research, for writing, and more time to concentrate on the important aspects rather than what tool we should be using or what site you will be hopping off to next.

This time is much better spent on planning what you want to say, what posts you want to comment on, how you feel you can contribute to the conversation. Just as Ryan posted in the second part of his communicating with integrity series, rather than jumping in with both feet as soon as we see a point we can relate to we have to look at all of the information. If it’s a long post take the time, and show the decency, to read the whole post; if there are supporting links then visit them as they will be pertinent to the arguments. Read the reference material and get a full understanding of what the author is trying to say – only then can you craft the proper response that the post deserves and add value to the conversation.

Conclusion

If your audience can’t (or won’t) spend the time to properly go through what you are writing then you are pitching to the wrong crowd. You need to either rethink what you are writing or who you’re writing it for. The intention is that we should all be writing for ourselves based on our passions and then find like minded individuals who will appreciate what you have to say – even if they don’t agree.

The value comes when we build on what has been said, whether we refute an argument and give reasons why or expand on an existing idea and spin them off in directions we hadn’t previously thought.

We need to be true to ourselves then find our place and find our audience.

Related Posts

Images by sarmax and diva bex.

May 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 14 Comments

Who are our audience and what do we owe them?

AudienceToday I wanted to touch on another hot topic doing the rounds but look at it from a slightly different angle and that is the idea of a ‘Social Contract’ between users (or friends) on social networking services.

I mentioned before that while there was no contract between the blogger and the reader there is, perhaps, an implied promise as to what your blog will contain – that’s the reason your reader subscribed in the first place after all. Does the same principle extend to the connections we make in social media circles?

Birds of a feather

As a general rule we make connections with those of similar interests to ourselves whether it be to further the discussion about a particular subject or just to have some common ground in order to avoid the awkward silence. It is natural, therefore, for us to expect items of a specific type to crop up in our ‘friends’ streams but, with the breadth of services aggregated by sites such as Twitter, we must also be prepared to see items that may not necessarily interest us.

You will often get comments on blogs relating to personal posts saying that it is nice to see the person behind the words; the truth is that relationships have as a goal the aim to get to know the other person, find out who they are and what makes them tick – this has the added benefit of helping to understand why someone may write in a certain way or have a particular opinion. It has been asked “how personal is too much” but this can only be determined in each case by the individuals concerned.

Filters

FriendFeed has the ‘Hide’ feature which helps us filter out the things we aren’t interested in (I now filter out all Last.fm items) but it probably doesn’t go far enough. Hutch Carpenter calls for full semantic filtering and I think it is only a matter of time before we head in this direction but the question being asked is not should we filter what we consume but whether we should have to filter what we produce and take our audience in to account. There are cases for both sides of this argument but I feel it is down to the individual to make their own decision on the information they share in ‘social’ circles.

I use FriendFeed as an example here as that is where most of the debate is centered and it must be remembered that hiding has different options. It is common for users to hide items of a particular type that have no likes or comments – the implication being that for someone to make the effort to ‘flag’ it in either of these ways that it is considered of interest. An item may be ‘liked’ as a way to mark it for your own reference but by doing so you may also be forcing items into the stream of others; perhaps FriendFeed needs a favouriting system for your own benefit rather than just replying on likes and comments.

Who is our audience?

Robert Seidman made a comment on FriendFeed that we “look at the world through a very, very different lens than most people who use the Internet” and as such, are the discussions we have relevant or the points we make true for most people. This leads us to ask who our intended audience is.

As early adopters we do have a specific view based on our point of reference and we communicate this accordingly. Our current peers will be ideally placed to understand our opinions but this again fuels the argument that we are living in an isolated bubble – the echo chamber. Are we becoming too self absorbed or is it a natural process for the early adopters to keep moving on and discussing the way ahead rather than focusing on educating others to the present.

As can be seen in the many conversations recently, any social media enthusiast is hopeful that social media services – or at least the concept of social media – will go mainstream (be that 33%, 50% of internet users or whatever metric you want to apply) so the discussion turns to the future of the social web. Once this occurs then the current conversations will become a lot more relevant to a greater number of people so should we hold ourselves back in the short term or prepare for what’s ahead?

Where does our value lie?

Ryan of Tilling the Soil commented on “Evolution of the social web” saying that the post (and those related to it on other blogs) had lead him to contemplate about how we actually add value to these conversations. He says that we need to rethink not just what we communicate but how we do it so that the social web does not become a “system full of noise” with everyone just shouting their opinions at each other. He’s probably right. In the first of series of posts he says

“I think that many of us have lived for so long just talking without a specific purpose in mind that it is an easy rut to fall into. If we take the time to be intentional in our communication, the conversations that take place will be significantly richer and have the potential to impact far more people.”

We are growing to used too shouting to be heard over the noise which is why I suggested that for anything meaningful to be achieved there would be the need to take elements of the conversation away from the public eye. Doing this will enable us to communicate more effectively and allow us to give what we truly owe: our properly considered opinion and our honesty.

What do you think?

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Image by felipe trucco.

May 23, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 5 Comments

Disqus comments now enabled here.

DisqusThat’s right, I have taken the plunge and enabled Disqus commenting for the blog. I was originally in two minds as to whether I should go this route, I was unsure about having the comments held away from the site but soon realised that this is a minor issue when you look at the benefits Disqus can provide.

When you also consider that the majority of the conversation is now happening out in the cloud it makes a lot of sense to also have the blog comments available in places like FriendFeed to enable additional exposure. I haven’t gone as far as adding video commenting as I don’t feel that this adds sufficient value at present, especially when I am not creating video posts myself (yet?) but that is always an option for the future

Thanks to Steven’s short guide, I have made sure that the existing comments were not lost but all posts going forward will be using the new system.

May 20, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | , | 12 Comments

Signal to noise on the social web.

No SignalThere are some discussions that just don’t go away and one in particular is that around fragmented conversations. The main catalyst for keeping this conversation alive is FriendFeed and the effect it is having on commenting. This has been getting peoples backs up for a while and recent events are just adding to it.

Signal v Noise

The conversation has taken an additional twist as it has been drawn in with the one about the noise to signal ratio on social sites and services. A post on Mashable asked “Does FriendFeed enrich the conversation or add to the noise?“. Corvida at SheGeeks responded with an emphatic “Don’t Be So Naive: Friendfeed Adds to the Noise” but the truth is that is does both.

It has been suggested that Web 3.0 should be about filtering the streams and reducing the noise and that aggregation services such as FriendFeed should implement more controls to allow the user to do this. Hutch Carpenter over at I’m Not Actually A Geek likened our individual data streams to TV channels and suggested that the first step to controlling the noise is to choose your channels wisely but he also defends the noise.

One mans meat is another mans poison

What is noise to some is interesting to others and must never be discounted out of hand – filtered yes, but not discounted. Robert Scoble is the biggest noise advocate out there, not because he enjoys reading idle chat but because the noise stream will contain the odd nugget – just like panning for gold. He argues that only those willing to sift through the dirt will strike it rich and those covering only the same old sources will only ever skim the surface. He maintains that the traditional news sites are often unwilling to run something from a relative unknown as “You have to convince multiple people who control these sites that your stuff is important” – easier said than done.

And this is where the likes of Twitter and FriendFeed come in.

Despite their obvious facility aggregation services are, however, causing a new problem – duplication. Not just the duplication of content but also duplication of the discussion and this, it is argued, is just compounding the noise problem.

Take for example my recent post “A static FriendFeed is a worthless FriendFeed“. As well as the listing from my RSS feed this post was referenced in the following ways on FriendFeed:

– 3 shares on Google Reader
– 2 stumbles
– 1 bookmark on del.icio.us
– and my reference on Twitter those not on FriendFeed or subscribed to my blog

That’s 8 separate conversations on FriendFeed alone about one single blog post and don’t forget the actual comments on the blog itself. While it is good for any conversation to have as much exposure as possible it is hard to track the threads.

The post achieved it’s aim to get people talking but not necessarily about the point in question. It did, however, identify a real need for services like FriendFeed to look at how data is presented or to allow the user additional control.

Consolidation of aggregation

I have added a search link to each post to show all the instances of a conversation on FriendFeed about my posts but people are calling for ways to combine entries. If someone has already shared an item via Google Reader why isn’t this tracked so that any subsequent shares are entered as ‘likes’ rather than new entries in the stream? Why can’t different sources refer back to the same item?

FriendFeed currently supports 35 services and looking through these there are potentially 16 ways (including disqus comments) that a blog post could be referenced on FriendFeed, be it via RSS, Digg, Mixx, Google Reader etc. If you then consider that numerous users could carry out each of those activities in relation to the same post then the true potential for duplication becomes clear and is frightening.

I’ve always maintained that I don’t care where a conversation takes place as long as I can gather the strands and weave them together to get a full picture but gathering this many strands will become an increasingly harder job and it is therefore easy to see why bloggers are becoming frustrated.

Blogging 2.0

Duncan Riley has taken the whole issue one stage further in his post “Blogging 2.0: It’s All About The User” He takes the current arguements over whether services such as FriendFeed are in the interests of the creator and likens them to the debate about whether bloggers should publish full or partial RSS feeds – a full feed benefits the consumer but a partial feed attempts to drive traffic to the site in order to benefit the blogger.

Now, we all know that partial RSS feeds tend to act as a turn off to consumers, instead of driving traffic to the source it is more likely that people will unsubscribe as they don’t have the time or desire to follow links back to blogs just to read a story – instant fail. The chances are that the same thing will occur with bloggers who try to control the conversation.

“You can’t stop a conversation occurring on FriendFeed, but you can do things like including that conversation on your blog”

Duncan has it spot on but at present the options available to bloggers just don’t quite give them what they need. We have plugins and services to gather the threads of the conversation (Glenn Slaven’s FriendFeed Comment plugin for WordPress, YackTrack etc.) but they are reliant on the APIs of those services that hold the threads.

“I will bend like a reed in the wind” – Paul Atreides (Dune)

Louis Gray breaks this down further when he says that the blogging world has changed and we as bloggers have to change with it. he points out the various ways that he has embraced the social web as a place to hold conversations and highlights that some bloggers are now reporting that FriendFeed is high on their list of referring sites – it is in also my top four.

Just as bloggers have had to relinquish control when it came to publishing full RSS feeds they must also relinquish the control over the subsequent conversation but, if history is anything to go by, this will have a positive impact on the blogging experience. Those who fully immerse themselves in the conversation regardless of where it lies are going to be those that are recognised by the community at large. Those who are participating in all avenues will be the ones to watch and this will drive additional ‘friending’ on social sites and extra subscriptions to RSS feeds.

Engaging in the conversation and being willing to takes those steps necessary will enhance the reputation of any blogger willing to put themselves out there which in turn lead to the secondary benefits we all go on about.

Think not what your community can do for you but what you can do for the community – it will help you in the end.

Related Posts

Image by La Niña Graphics.

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 7 Comments

A brand is a promise.

ReliableI was driving home along the motorway last night and passed a lorry bearing the tag line “a brand is a promise” – it got me thinking.

A brand is a promise

It’s like a line from an inspirational speaker at a dodgy weekend, residential seminar but it does have a very valid point.

Blogging is a strange beast, there is no contract between the blogger and the consumer but by setting out your stall and publishing a feed there is an implied promise that your brand will maintain a certain quality. That is why people subscribe to RSS feeds – they like what they have seen so far and sign up to receive more of the same; they are investing their trust in the author to deliver.

Blogs that fail to keep that promise will lose their subscribers as they move on to a more ‘reliable’ source and seek to control the amount of information they consume in these data saturated times.

Your brand

With this in mind, what makes up your brand?

  • Have you identified your voice?
  • What is your writing style?
  • What makes you tick and what are you passionate about?

If you can’t answer these questions your brand will be incoherent and your readers will not want to subscribe as there will be no consistent message.

As for me, my voice is that nagging doubt that questions what we do and why we do it. My style is to step back and examine things from as objective a standpoint as possible and not be a ‘yes man’. I aim to get people talking.The rebrand has allowed me to focus on my interests and explore them with a passion that was previously lacking.

Your turn

So, I ask you, what does your brand promise and do you live up to it?

Image by Eva.

May 17, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | | 9 Comments