Tag Archives: social media

The end of email?

I caught a comment from SXSW yesterday, where my friend Suzanne Minassian sent a tweet from a panel she was at:

are we going to lose email to social networking – discussing in panel #sxsw (minassian)

*insert backward-playing tape noise sound effect here*

So when I left university in…. oh… 90-something 🙂 I ended up joining the UK Post Office IT Services (weirdly, this is my second PO-related post today, albeit more tenuously-linked than the first). As part of the interview process I was asked to give a presentation about ways that the organisation could adapt to the electronic age and the challenges of the Internet. The content of the presentation has long been filed away somewhere dusty, disposed of or lost, but I do remember that my main points were:

  • Physical mail won’t ever go away. People like to receive physical objects, letters, and parcels. Humans are fundamentally social and tactile.
  • As e-commerce grows, parcel mail will grow.
  • There were other ways that the PO could get value from the Internet – I didn’t suggest the ISP route but did talk about, for example, local printing of electronically-transmitted letters as a kind of bridge between the physical and electronic worlds (well, it seemed like an idea as a student at the time, what can I say?!).

I like to think that my first two predictions were pretty accurate – since the mid-1990s the volumes of mail have indeed grown. In my own case I suppose I get a lot less post in the way of bills and statements since much of that is done online; and I write and send fewer personal letters, although birthday cards and the like remain physical objects of importance. I do a lot of online shopping and physical shipping of goods, and ebay has of course increased that trend (and helped the rise of the Mailboxes, Etc chain, as far as I can tell). So in a very real sense, snail mail has not been lost to email. In one way it’s been multiplied by it, and looking at it another way, you could say it has become more focussed by the rise of the Internet and online business.

*fast-forwarding tape sound effect*

And now, back in the present day…

I think the same thing is true of social networks and their effect on email. Much as I admire and respect my good friend Luis Suarez‘s assault on the tyranny of email, I think what he has found is that there’s a base level of mail which he continues to get, as email is often still the most appropriate channel for certain, private or behind-the-firewall communications, for example. In fact, I’m willing to bet that he also gets a bunch of messages that have been generated by the social networks he’s part of, too – I get emails when I receive direct messages, or someone new follows me, or whatever, although it’s possible to opt-out or filter them out.

The core of the email I receive though, is also focussed or narrowed down by the networks I participate in. It’s often far quicker to drop a short line to a friend over IM or direct message then it is to send an email, and I can broadcast status and information to groups more effectively via a Facebook profile or whatever than I could by mass-mailing them all.

I think the effect we’re seeing is a levelling out and an adjustment whereby the relevant tools and means of communication – phone, text, mail, email, IM, and social network messages – all come together and start to be used in the most effective ways, where one size does not fit all.

Thoughts on Thames Valley Social Media Cafe

I’ve long been interested by the Twitterings and blog posts about the Social Media Cafe / Tuttle in London, but since I’m so rarely in London these days I haven’t yet had the opportunity to get along to one of these gatherings. When I read that Neville Hobson, Drew Benvie and Benjamin Ellis were proposing to have a similar gathering for the Thames Valley region in Reading, I was was one of the first to put my name on the wiki.

The event was held at Workhouse Coffee in Reading, which as it turns out it pleasantly close to Reading West station, so I caught a train up on Friday morning and wandered along. Despite the fact that I took both a camera and a camcorder, I entirely failed to take any footage, so I’ll have to refer readers to Drew and Neville’s photos from the event. Workhouse Coffee is a wonderful place – the owner has a great deal of knowledge and the beans are freshly ground in perfect measure to create just the cup you’ve asked for. I noticed on the blackboard that they have a MySpace page… and apparently they are also now on Twitterread Drew’s blog entry for the details! If you want something strong, I recommend the Java, incidentally.

What about the content? Well I wanted to go to meet people, and I had no preconceptions as to what the event entailed. As it turned out, Steve Lamb (@ActionLamb) and Drew (@drewb) are folks that I’d met briefly in the past, and I’ve been following Neville (@jangles) for longer than I care to remember, or so it seems in the modern world where the Internet randomly compresses or extends time in my mind. Everyone else counted as a new acquaintance – it seemed as though we gathered an interesting mix of tech and business perspectives, PR and journalists.

I’m not going to recount every discussion, but just to give a flavour of the variety, there were about 15 of us and in a 90 minute period I had conversations with most people, taking in topics such as: Government 2.0; Agile development, large corporation software development practices, and componentisation; coffee (!); podcasting; Blue Fusion; using social media with a marketing focus; how best to combine social media tools for a seamless customer experience; why it’s still important not to have a Flash-only website; Online DNA; Grown Up Digital; Home Camp; how to use social bookmarking; the slow death of print media and how bloggers might save local journalism; rebranding; flexibility at work; and Twitter (phew!).

A whole bunch of new contacts and, I hope, some interesting new side projects have been generated as a result of the discussions. Based on the meetup I’m delighted to have met (as well as those I’ve already mentioned) @warrilowpr @adrianmoss @nickydavis @ravinar @mattbrady @johnmcg and @saqibs.

I hope to be a regular(-ish) attendee at these, but it’s going to be dependent on schedules. I highly recommend the mixture of people and opportunity to share new ideas – do come along in future if it sounds interesting. Thanks again to Neville, Drew, Benjamin, and our unsuspecting hosts at the coffee shop!

Other write-ups from Adrian, Catherine, Drew, John, Matt and Neville.

Shout out social!

My friend, colleague, blogging buddy and Opportunity Australia Ambassador Jasmin (aka the remarkable wonderwebby) is spearheading the social media drive around an event called Shout Out Social:

Shout Out Social is a community organised and created art exhibition to be held 14th -15th March 2009, raising awareness and funds to help women free themselves from poverty.

Jasmin invited me to contribute some images to the Flickr pool. The idea is that you either include a ‘word that matters’ in the image, or in the description, for the cause you are ‘shouting out’ for. I’ve contributed a number of photos – here’s my “shouting out for friendship” image 🙂

Keeping them clean

The event itself is in Melbourne which is a little far for me to travel, but I’m looking forward to seeing media and how my work contributes to the cause.

It’s a fantastic campaign and a great idea for an event. Please take a moment to explore Jasmin’s sites and contribute.

Some thoughts on openness and trust in government

One of the things I’ve been taking an interest in lately is the slow progression of Internet technologies into UK politics – or should that be the progress of UK politicians onto the web?

We have a small number of Members of Parliament on Twitter (you can find them at Tweetminster), and a few have their own blogs too. Sadly some of the initial government moves to use social media were a bit of a disaster (remember David Miliband’s efforts in this area?). Things have improved as the individuals themselves are more savvy (increasingly true as new generations of MPs come into politics) – Tom Watson is a good example and I was delighted to be able to contribute to the open discussion he invited on the proposed Internet site classification idea.

Recently I was particularly pleased to hear Jo Swinson defend her use of Twitter on Radio 4’s Any Questions. I was also impressed with the tech-savvy she showed in a defence of Wikipedia, and her willingness to respond to people who are not even her direct constituents during a subsequent discussion on Twitter. I don’t want MPs on Twitter so that they can lecture me or send out press releases on their politics; and actually, I don’t see it as a gigantic waste of their time. It’s an excellent way to build relationships, and it can also make them seem more human too. Blogging and twittering encourages the use of more conversational language, and that is important particularly in the political sphere.

In an age of increasing distrust and apathy in democracies around the world, I’d like to see more of this. I’d like to see it extend to both the local level, and the international level, too. Local councils in the UK should be encouraged to make more use of social media. Larger bodies like the EU should be making better efforts in this space too – it’s all very well for them to stream proceedings online, but without a level of human interpretation of the jargon and dense documentation that comes out of the European Parliament, it’s very difficult for ordinary citizens to make sense of what goes on.

Pop quiz: does covering up a significant budget scandal in an intergovernmental body give opponents of that body less, or more, to complain about? Thanks to Google Translate I’ve been able to read a Swedish MEP’s blog entry on the subject

One of [my colleagues] argued for example that I should propose to discharge only to “avoid giving boost to European opposition before the European elections”. A hair-raising way of arguing, I think! This is exactly the opposite. If we do not take problems seriously and sweep justified criticism under the carpet, then we give arguments to the EU opponents!

I have to say that I agree – and more open attitudes like this would do a lot to improve public trust in the institutions that work for us.

IBM and the Twittersphere

This was one of those comments you start to write on someone else’s blog entry, which morphed into a post all of its own.

As an IBMer who Twitters, I’m pretty astonished that the company hit this list of “brands that suck on Twitter”… in common with Adam, Ed and Ryan’s comments on the post (which Ed follows up in a post of his own).

I’ve spoken about the organisation’s engagement with social media of all kinds before. Looking at my own Twitter usage, I would guess that of my current ~500 followers/followees, a fair percentage of them are folks from across the company I want to keep in touch with, or people that share common technology interests that I want to learn from or that are watching and listening to me. I have search feeds set up for topics of interest (products, brand names, etc.) in my feedreader and make an effort to check what people are saying about our stuff – where necessary I highlight those comments to people internally, or try to talk to the original commenter. I’ve observed IBMers using Twitter to build communities and connections across the company, and with both customers and others outside it too.

I guess that the original post bases the assessment on the @IBM account alone, and reaches the conclusions it does… but look at all the ways in which we use social media and you might arrive at a different endpoint. I’d say we’re listening, engaging, talking, and take these communities seriously.

Adam Christensen sums it up neatly in his comment on the original post, also re-quoted by Ed Brill:

IBM is nothing more than a collection of a gazillion individual IBMers. Really smart ones for the most part, I think. And thousands of those folks are on Twitter. So rather than have a centralized – yet generic – IBM account, we’ve opted for a decentralized approach and let those many individuals be the IBM face to the Twitter world.

Actually that has been our approach with social networks from the outset. If there was a single @IBM account that tweeted about everything that the company touches it would be pretty noisy – our business is diverse. Instead, you can choose to engage with individuals and what their individual voices offer. I think it’s a nice way of working, and I like that my company trusts us to be out there.