Monthly Archives: September 2007

An excellent September Minibar

As I type this, I’m on the train on the way back from the September Minibar meetup at the Old Truman Brewery in Corbet Place.

Very cool to get along to a Minibar meetup again after a break of a few months. It was interesting to see the number of my Twitter contacts who wish they could have made it! I’d been hoping to meet Chris Dalby, and my colleague Shiyghan… neither of whom made it this time.

Instead, I had some very interesting conversations with, amongst others, Matt and Katherine Cashmore. Matt is from BBC Backstage and ran the BBC/Yahoo! HackDay in London. I’d seen him on stage at the event, but hadn’t had the opportunity to connect with him… so it was good to finally have an opportunity to talk to him about all the cool stuff that BBC Backstage does, and with Katherine about all kinds of social software topics. Matt also made the announcement that Backstage is about to launch a new website, which is something to look forward to. I also had a fascinating conversation with Martin Kamara from BBC World Service (who is very tall – definitely taller than Roo) about my social software evangelism, and what his organisation is up to.

Finally had a chat with Christian, the organiser, and Hannah from OpenBusiness … they are about to celebrate the first anniversary of Minibar with the next “special” meetup on October 19th in association with Seedcamp. It has been a great effort so far. Also, Hannah put me in touch with some really great people – looking forward to developing the new connections.

On to the presentations… which were a little hard to hear at times, thanks to a power blackout depriving the venue of a PA system.

Spreadshirt enable users to create their own t-shirts and other branded products… so far so standard… except that they also enable sites to embed the shop platform. It is all RSS and CSS-based, so it is highly customisable, probably more so than Cafepress (which I immediately thought of when Larry Ryan started talking about the concept). I’ve been burned by import duty on stuff from Cafepress in the past, and following a chat with Larry it sounds like Spreadshirt could be a great alternative. Turns out that these folks have been around for a number of years (they started in Germany in 2002, and expanded internationally in 2005). One to check out… plus they were handing out discount vouchers and free Minibar shirts! 🙂

School of Everything
These guys were funded by Seedcamp one of the Seedcamp finalists, and the alpha version of the site launched today. The concept is that “everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach”… you can set yourself up on the site as being able to provide training or education in a particular subject, and local users can find you. SoE will then take a small cut from helping to manage your profile and schedule. Apparently this is built on Drupal in PHP, and the presenters were talking about an API, although what form this could take was unclear. There were questions around how this would work though… at the moment, anyone can set themselves up as a trainer, and although there will be a user recommendation system to weed out bad ones, there appears to be no need for any kind of accreditation. Lots of enthusiasm from the team, an amusing presentation, and an interesting concept. Oh, and a man who needs help finding a place to buy a tank that he bought (long story, kinda).

Babyfy has been open for a couple month and is aimed at the ~1 million people who go through the “babification” (pregnancy and birth) process in the UK every year. The concept is that it is a social website to help new parents find products, recommend hospitals, and provide reviews and support to one another. I’m personally somewhat dubious – I see a bunch of potential holes in this, from disgruntled parents making unwelcome comments about hospitals, to companies pushing products more than having users recommend them… the main thing that sprang to my mind was a recent controversy in the UK about baby formula advertising, and whether the site would accept such advertising. It is early days though, and I’m sure the developers will have to think about these things as they go forward. I can see that it has some great potential, and who knows, I may even need to take a look at it in the future… (!)

This very nice-looking website is apparently built entirely in HTML and Javascript at the moment, which is impressive. The idea is that you can browse a timeline of history. Memories – both public (culled from Microsoft and Wikipedia) and private (your own audio, video, image and text feeds) – can be stored and browsed. This really reminded me of Rememble which I heard about at a previous Minibar (and which, incidentally, is due to launch publically soon). Apparently these guys will allow companies to sponsor events and timelines or years, and also allow users to embed the timelines on their own sites. A Microsoft influence is evident – the map is based on Virtual Earth, and the developers mentioned that a Silverlight version might follow soon. The idea kind of appeals to me, but a) in common with my reservations about Rememble I’m not sure how this differs from other lifelogging solutions like Tumblr or, increasingly, Facebook and an aggregation of Twitter, blogs and Flickr (apart from the timeline); and b) more scary than Rememble, there was discussion of automatically sucking data from the web, which bothers me as I’d rather explicitly authorise what content of mine becomes part of “world history”, in a way… maybe I misunderstood.

A lot to think about, new stuff to check out, and some great company and conversations. Well worth the time.

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We had a team event yesterday – lots of fun, although my arm is bruised today… I’d like to apologise to my team for reducing our performance so we only came 3rd!

Battle at the cornerKart

Waiting to get startedReady to go

More on Flickr.

Stop Blocking

There’s a new campaign aimed at companies who obstruct employee access to the Internet (via Neville Hobson).

This is timely, given the recent hoo-hah about Facebook … see Dennis Howlett for some more balanced analysis.

So the blocking thing is something that affects me every day. One example – my blog is my CV. When I’m going to a new customer, and they want to know a bit about me, I point them here. Unfortunately, I recently found that some businesses block * as a matter of course. That’s even more annoying when I’m trying to recommend that a customer reads some troubleshooting article on the Hursley on WMQ blog, for instance.

As a consultant, it is interesting to see how my different customers address the issue. The one that popped up today is that Dopplr is blocked under the category of “Personals and Dating”. Right. Clearly I’m trying to setup a date for next week, not share my travel plans.

After speaking at a conference last week, I was chatting to my colleague Karl on the way to the tube and we noted that we do have a huge degree of freedom in terms of our access to resources and information at IBM. That’s a good thing. It means we can share information and build relationships with one another, and others.

I’ll be following the Stop Blocking campaign with interest. I’m sure a lot of people will have contrary opinions, but I’d like to hope that a sense of responsibility can open up people’s access to useful resources on the Internet.

Windy City

OK, well town. And this in the UK, not Chicago.

So it seems that we live in a hotspot (windspot?) for tornadoes.

We were getting ready to get out to work yesterday morning when we heard the wind absolutely whipping at the building. Ola actually commented on the noise. As we drove out of the car park we saw that a branch had been brought down onto the nearby bus stop in the street.

Coming home in the evening it turned out that the UK had been struck by a series of tornadoes, and one of them was in Farnborough. The major damage was about a mile away from our place. This follows earlier extreme weather conditions, making this the second time in a year.

I wonder what makes the place such a magnet for high winds…

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IBM and Social Media

I’ve put my deck from yesterday’s conference up on Slideshare. I need to add some speaker notes too, please bear with me.