TBD: Do More Good


If you believe in the power of good, you may enjoy TBD – a newsletter that, much like Good Magazine, shares positive news about our world. A welcome change from the doom and gloom most newspapers bring, for sure. One of the interesting companies I learnt about from TBD is Vittana, which is a sort of Kiva for education, that allows people who are so inclined to lend money to contribute towards the education of people who need financial aid in developing countries. Once the beneficiaries have a job and income, loans are paid back in full. It’s a simple enough idea that amazingly enough hasn’t been put into practice before. The Grameen Bank showed us that microfinance can work, and Vittana, hopefully, will show that it can work for education.

Facts About Your Job

I was pointed to a very interesting site recently: JobFact. Essentially it is a database of what salaries look like for people in different industries, all entered anonymously by employees themselves. A European website that has recently launched in the UK, I think it is a very interesting concept – especially from the point of view of employees because it gives them a much stronger position when they talk money with their employers and allows them to see peers’ opinions of different companies, but also to the recruitment industry in general because it encourages transparency. I’m sure all of us at some point in our careers have really really wished we were in a better position when negotiating salaries. JobFact really helps those of us in situations like that. And as you all know, I believe in crowdsourcing

Have a gander.

I’m A Social Media Celebrity…..Get Me Out Of Here!

social media specialist

I was talking to a couple of friends over the weekend about how the internet has made celebrities out of nobodies. I was put in the spotlight because I work in the general digital/social media space, and was absolutely ashamed when they asked me to name a few famous people who blog and what exactly they do. I realized that so many people on the web today (I don’t want to name names) who claim to specialize in ‘social media research and consultancy’ or something along those lines, have effectively built their reputations on the basic abilities to use e-mail, blog, tweet, use Facebook – or a combination of these. And they in turn advise businesses on how best to use these web spaces. Isn’t that a bit sad? Where is actual knowledge being created? It’s like the joke about management consultants in the old days: management consultants are people you pay good money to tell you that you messed up and how to run your business. (If you don’t see how that is ironic, this post is not for you).

Are social media consultants the management consultants of today?

Doesn’t the whole social media business model need to be re-vamped? How sustainable a model is it, because at some point aren’t all industries going to be web 2.0-compliant, so to speak? I mean, we have a whole generation of kids being born right now, for whom blogging, Facebook and Twitter will be like breathing air.

Are ‘social media consultants’ essentially people whom nobody would pay to do a proper full-time job, as my non-geek friends said? My first reaction was that that comment was rather harsh. Every industry has consultants, doesn’t it? Technology consultants, investment consultants and so on. Why NOT social media consultants then?

The truth is, the entry barrier to becoming a technology or an investment consultant is reasonably high. The entry barrier to becoming a digital/social media consultant is very low, on the other hand. Your kids are probably going to be better digital consultants than you in a few years’ time. Scary, isn’t it?

Is there a way where to raise the entry barrier for social media consultants, like making it mandatory to pass certain exams in order to lay claim to being an expert in the field so that clients are guaranteed a certain minimum level of expertise? You know, to minimize the amount of junk being spewed into the internet. I’m sure there are clients who are just not aware that the spiel from any particular social media expert is just hot air. When they hire them, those experts produce, or are key advisors in the production of, social media rubbish.

I’m just throwing some ideas around. Thoughts welcome.

Image credit: Hugh MacLeod

The Demo Graphic Replicator : Virtual Reality

I am tremendously excited about the Demo Graphic Replicator project. Remember Dolly the sheep? This project takes that one step (many, actually) further. Using open APIs from social tools like Twitter and We Feel Fine, ag8 in collaboration with artist Rob Myers have created this experimental bot that develops its personality as a reflection of what others are saying about it on the web. Essentially, as their website says ‘internet publishers (blogger and microbloggers) are informing the development of a fictional character in real time.’ Currently, the project is using re-tweets on Twitter to build the bots’ personality:

The DGR builds up a persona through small amounts of information – at present – by using Retweets. It’s about maximizing a character’s development through the generation of the smallest amount of addition – specifically – the ‘RT’ prefix.

Bit by bit they begin to create a character’s possible motives, direction and purpose.

One of them is called Felix Freeman. (@Felix_Freeman). Using MindMeister, a mind mapping application, Marcus Brown (who’s done quite a few cool things on and related to the internet including the Tweet Readings I attended earlier this year), created a personality for Felix, replete with avatar.

Marcus has even used Google Street View to create a video that visualizes Felix’s commute to Liverpool Street, London, where he works, to make the character more real. Check it out:

As David Bausola from ag8 says on the blog, it’s a very useful experiment if we keep an augmented reality future in mind. The ultimate aim is to enable the creation of characters for entertainment and education.

The project will publish the full source code and a wiki soon. In the meantime, Felix and his fellow bot-characters @krankychloe, @igguggogg, and @ohlaylala will slowly be formed by us, the general public.

One step closer to a rather spooky and simultaneously, ridiculously exciting future as far as technology is concerned. It was actually a relief for me to read that the DGR’s aren’t passing any Turing Tests yet – but who knows what the future will hold?

Blog Action Day ’09

As Neil says, I’m not sure if this sort of a thing really makes a difference, but I’m putting my hat in the ring nevertheless because I’m a believer in the power of mass action.

Started in October 2007, Blog Action Day aims to get bloggers the world over to write a post about the same cause on a selected date. The first year, it was the environment, last year it was poverty, and this year it is climate change. As I write this, 3,895 blogs have signed up to be a part of Blog Action Day – October 15th.

The Past, Now

So Twitter is saving our tweets. And Songkick has added the ability to automatically pull in real-time tweets to a gig’s page. I was thinking that in the future our kids can read a direct, live-tweeted record of  important events of our time, like the Mumbai terror attacks, for example. Or at a more personal level, the different gigs I keep a log of on Songkick. Isn’t that quite cool? I’d love it if I had access to a record of things my parents did when they were young. Many, many years later.

Closing the circle

I’m reading Groundswell at the moment, and call it coincidental but I’ve had a couple of very positive experiences with brands this week that I’d like to share. One was Symantec, the people behind Norton Anti-Virus. Despite renewing my anti-virus protection a while ago, my computer kept notifying me that it was unprotected. Numerous attempts to fix the issue on my own were of no avail. Finally, last weekend I decided to use Norton’s online chat facility to talk to a support representative. Now, my experience with support representatives in the past (in general – not specifically with this brand), has not been very pleasant, so I wasn’t hoping for much. But my problem was resolved professionally, politely and speedily in much less time that I thought it would take. I was very pleasantly surprised, not to mention relieved. I won’t have second thoughts about renewing it next time.

And then the kind folks at We Are Social. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I was offered a free Pizza Express blogger lunch a while back. Due to a postal strike, the vouchers they sent me didn’t arrive on time, but they ensured a fresh set was sent directly to the restaurant on the day I’d chosen. Today, when the long-overdue vouchers finally arrived, they kindly said I could keep them. 

Social media might be a bit overwhelming at times, but one thing is for sure: a brand who uses the medium the right way makes consumers’ lives better. The focus shifts back to the consumer, from a few decades ago when all the power was with the brand (Think Mad Men). The truth is that brands wouldn’t really exist without consumers – so the circle has come back where it started. And that’s the way it should be.

Food for thought

A heads-up about a couple of things: the first is PSFK’s Good Ideas Salon London in association with The Guardian, which is happening this Friday, the 30th of January. If you go to the site regularly like I do, then you’ll know that the event is likely to be full of nuggets of knowledge. I’d especially love to hear Matt Hardisty from AnalogFolk (a champ of a guy if ever there was one and I’m saying that based on experience), Paul Graham from Anomaly UK (again, one of the more innovative companies around) and Sophie Howarth (because I’d really like to hear about her experience at the School of Life). Tickets are still available, so if you’re in London then you should think about picking one up.  

The second thing I wanted to mention is Alfie Dennen‘s AGIT8, a movement about modern technologies and how they are changing the way we live. Alfie’s the brains behind some very interesting ideas like What is the question?’ and ‘Britglyph’, and I think the way he translates his ideas into actions (usually a concept based on interaction and playfulness, because who can resist having fun) is pretty darn smart. In fact, I amused myself the day ‘What is the question?‘ went live by figuring out the answers to some of the riddles sitting at home. I should have actually gone out and been on the treasure hunt myself, I know. You can follow Agit8 on Twitter here and Alfie Dennen here. 

The SpinVox Wishing Well

I wanted to see the SpinVox Wishing Well ever since I first heard about it, and managed to go to Covent Garden to take a look a couple of weeks ago (I’m not sure if it’s still there – it was a Christmas/New Year installation from what I could gather from this SpinVox post). Comments I heard while I was in the well itself ranged from ‘What is this thing? It’s spooking me out, man’ and  ‘What’s going on?’ to ‘Wow’. I thought it had an Alice in Wonderland element in it. There was something rather magical about seeing people’s thoughts appear and disappear in the wishing well. If you’re wondering, all you had to do was call a number, speak a wish and then see it displayed on the walls of the well. 

Well worth my time.