Tag Archives: social networks

When Blocking the Web… Stops Work Getting Done

Interesting situation recently. As long-time readers know, I’ve been a big fan of the Stop Blocking campaign for a number of years, and I tend to find it frustrating when I come across blocked networks. Trust and empowerment make me feel great in my job.

I’ve spent most of October and November travelling to speak with customers and present at a couple of conferences around Europe. In that time, I generally had very few problems with network access.

On one occasion though, I realised just how tricky things are becoming, as “social” elements become increasingly baked in to the fabric of the Web. I was in Switzerland, and the plan was for me to present locally during the morning, and then to host and facilitate a conversation with a number of my colleagues in the Hursley lab during the afternoon. The hosts arranged guest wifi network access for me, so that we could make this work. I’d be able to use Sametime to receive files to present locally (we couldn’t access LotusLive), to clarify questions with the remote team, and to coordinate other team members to join the conversation as we went along.

This plan was initially all looking good, until I found that the VPN connection I was using to tunnel in to the corporate network would suddenly and apparently randomly, drop in the middle of a conversation.

After a while these VPN disconnections became more frequent, I became more frustrated, and the meeting became less productive.

… and that’s when I looked at the piece of paper I’d been given with my guest network credentials. To summarise, it said that guests would be subject to all of the same restrictions as employees regarding network access and specific sites were disallowed including “Personal email: Hotmail, Gmail etc; IM: Skype, Google Talk, etc; Social networking: Twitter, Facebook, etc”.

The penny dropped that my browser was sitting there with tabs open on sites like Gmail and Twitter. I shut them, reconnected, reconnected to the VPN, and things…. were better…. well, better, for a while.

I still wanted to use the Internet, of course, so I continued to do so – searching Google for relevant issues when questions were asked in the workshop. That’s when the VPN started flaking out again…. and that’s when I realised that with the Google redesign, the +1 features in the header bar were accessing Google+ when I loaded the Google page, treating that as a “social network”, and silently dropping my wifi connection.

This was a case where a heavy-handed filter, no doubt designed to “protect” the users from themselves and the organisation from inappropriate behaviour, actually impaired real work getting done. Either this technology needs to get a lot, lot smarter; companies need to reconsider these blocking rules, and trust an increasingly savvy workforce to behave responsibly; or the Web just needs to stop getting so darned social and… troublesome. Which option do you prefer?

Living in a sweet shop

IBM - apparently, like a candy store

When my friend Suzanne Minassian-Livingston described IBM as “like a candy store” at last year’s Web 2.0 Expo conference in Berlin it immediately struck a chord with me; and I’ve reused her slide (based on a Creative Commons-licensed image from a Flickr contributor) many times over the last year.

One of the things I’ve learned about the company I work for (particularly as a result of getting involved with social software, networks and communities both internally and externally) is the massive diversity the organisation has and the enormous strength that it delivers. It’s a diversity that is constantly being refreshed as new acquisitions are made and new thinking and innovation joins the existing talent pool. It’s a diversity that’s reflected not only in the global nature of the business, but also in the different areas in which the company is engaged – from hardware, software, services, methodologies, research, all kinds of cool thinking. It seems lately that almost every day I meet someone new who has something different to share with me.

Yesterday I was presenting to a customer about what IBM has been doing internally with social networks, and how we collaborate both internally and externally. That brought me back to the diversity slide – the sweet shop, the candy store. What was really cool about that was that it enabled me to tell the story of how I’d widened my network internally, and began to reach out to people across the organisation – making friends in Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Delhi, all over the world as well as around the UK, and from all different areas of the business. One of the things that I learned as part of the briefing the IBM team delivered yesterday was about IBM’s green strategy and Project Big Green – I’d heard about it before and been excited, but I learned a lot from one of our VPs about a number of different client stories where value and environmental improvements have been delivered.

It’s just incredibly exciting. That, and that the fact that there’s always something new to learn, coupled with the rich cultural diversity and the enormous amount of trust that I feel that the organisation places in its employees, is really what makes it such an enjoyable place to work, and that I believe makes it a really strong organisation.

Poken are growing up?

Poken Me! It seems like just a few short months ago that I discovered Poken – neat little USB keychain devices which you can touch together when you meet someone else with one, in order to electronically exchange social network IDs and contact information. Actually… it was only a few months ago – we talked about them on Dogear Nation episode 88 in February, and in an example of serendipitous discovery, I picked one up a week later at Twestival in London. I immediately thought the idea was cool, but I was disappointed to discover how much they cost, and how few people had them.

I mentioned Poken in my presentation at SOMESSO a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I love the idea, I simply haven’t come across enough people who have a Poken to have made it worth my while. My basic comment at the time was that I felt they needed to make themselves more widespread in order to be useful. Since then, I’ve continued the discussion in comments on a couple of blogs. To quote myself:

However, I think there are a few issues…

  • [they] cost more than most people are prepared to pay for what is essentially a small capacity but cute looking memory stick, and they are not very readily available;
  • the cuteness factor can also be off-putting to some people, particularly those with a business purpose in mind and the disposable income to buy them;
  • too few core connectors and salesmen have them (see Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), IMHO they should seed more;
  • the value-add of the site (which actually manages the contacts) is low, so the business model is presumably centred on selling the devices.

I had yet another conversation about Poken at a tweetup in London last week, and again heard comment that they were too toy-like for business users, and too few people had them.

Well – things appear to be changing. For want of a better phrase, it seems as though Poken are going slightly more corporate.

In particular, I was delighted to discover that they are being used in a much broader context at IBM’s Information on Demand conference this year – shedding the cute image, and hopefully becoming a bit more widespread.

This is all great stuff. I engaged with the idea of Poken as soon as I heard about the concept, and I hope that I’ll be able to share and manage my information more easily in future. Maybe Poken won’t be the answer, but I’m glad to see the idea broadening out, and hopefully reaching a wider audience.

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.

On being part of a tribal movement

Looking back over the past few years, I find that I’ve somehow become part of a tribe: eightbar.

What is eightbar, again?

We’re a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK. We have regular technical community meetings, well more like a cup of tea and a chat really, about all kinds of cool stuff. One of the things we talked about is that although there are lots of cool people and projects going on in Hursley, we never really let anyone know about them. So, we decided to try and record some of the stuff that goes on here in an unofficial blog, EightBar.

This hasn’t been part of “a grand plan”. All that happened was that before I was even “officially” a “Hursley person”, I got to know a bunch of people with whom I share attitudes and interests, and started to explore some new spaces with them – virtual worlds like Second Life, enterprise social computing, bleeding edge technologies, collaboration that extends outside of enterprise, geographic and social boundaries.

I am very fortunate to become good friends with some inspiring people such as Ian Hughes (epredator), Roo Reynolds, Rob Smart, Darren Shaw and Andy Stanford-Clark – among many, many others – and found myself being asked to talk about some of these new areas with IBM customers and other groups. Without even realising it, I started to be viewed as an authority on many of these topics. I’m immensely grateful that people like Ian and Roo recognised my passion to communicate and gave me these opportunities to break out of my day-to-day role.

Ian has a great presentation and a blog post on how all of this has come about, by the way.

I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants for the past couple of years and I completely recognise that. It’s awesome that this little group, loose band, motley assortment, whatever we are – this body of interested techies and thinkers has been identified by top analyst James Governor as his Team of the Year.

This idea of grassroots movements at work is summed up in a great soundbite from the Don Tapscott interview with Net@Night this past week (listen out for this one, about 41 minutes into the discussion)

… social networks are the new operating systems of business…

He’s so very, very right. I owe my successes in the past 2-3 years to my social networks – and to eightbar.

(this is Captain Slow, signing off…)