Campfires, tents and the future

So this my final post in this week of blogging about the challenges and issues I have faced/been talking about with colleagues – with the express aim of trying to draw out who is thinking about what and what happens next.

It has been an amazingly useful exercise, taking time to write down these thoughts and discussions; I have found myself researching more, asking questions, learning and meeting new people. I shall certainly continue to write posts more often and in this style of writing less about what I think and asking more about what you think.

It strikes me that there is still a great need to seek out the futurologists of today, to reignite the discussions about what the landscape might look like in the digital world as well as in the political and social realms.

So I would like to suggest that we have a weekend away towards the end of the Summer, where we all get together in an informal setting to talk about this. I do not think we need to have people formally speaking, nor any organised activites – but what we do is have people of different interests and specialities having conversations. What comes out of these should be tweeted and blogged over the course of the weekend – to engage those unable to attend and to widen the conversation.

We should hold it somewhere with a big field for camping as well as being close to accomodation for those who just hate camping with a passion – we have fun, we relax, we talk and most importantly – we amplify the conversations. Nothing is disallowed (families are welcome) but I don’t imagine this working if it is in any shape a conference or unconference. However, I am going to give it the hashtag of #campcon because that is all I can think of.

So who’s in? I am happy to throw my hat in and help organise some of the logistics, also spread the word with the developer communities (including Young Rewired State) and people with whom I have the most interesting discussions. But it will need far more than me to get this off the ground.

Just to reiterate, this is a weekend about the future, not issues and problems of the present – there are many, many people successfully holding local and national events to try to address these issues. It is about painting a picture of the world into which we are going to be delivering digital products and solutions:

  • borders: are they open or shut? what happens in either case?
  • data – is it open or increasingly regulated?
  • space travel
  • virtual reality
  • climate
  • natural disasters
  • population
  • migration
  • shopping
  • music
  • travel
  • television
  • time machines
  • science
  • politics
  • royalty
  • gypsy weddings

Anything, anything at all – but it must be about the future. Probably need a wiki for this…

Who herded the cats?

In the early hours of this morning the lovely Jonty Wareing (@jonty) tweeted this:

The Present is colliding with The Future slightly faster than I’m comfortable with.

I am not entirely sure what context he had in mind but I know that for me it is something that has been tickling the back of my mind for the last week or so.

A few years ago there began a seismic change in all things digital, with special focus on communication and technical delivery. Many things occurred to make this happen, and each of these have been charted by many a blog, news article and twitter stream – so thankfully I don’t need to rehash that little piece of history.

The utterly excellent Steph Gray mentioned often that working in the public sector at that time was like herding cats: a busy, sometimes apparently impossible and sometimes seemingly pointless task. However it does feel as if said felines have been ringfenced, for now.

Yes it is chaotic, there is much unrest and feeling of loss of control because there are very few who seem utterly, uncompromisingly confident in the immediate future. For this reason, I believe, all the people who a few years ago were considered the futurologists of note, those whom people would pay to hear talk, would read their blog posts avidly and follow their twitter stream with reverence – with almost daily revelations affecting and reinforcing the behaviour of those in the field (whichever field that may have been) – have been gripped on to, employed, drafted onto boards.

To some extent, the very beauty of twitter’s snappy communication has synergised with this increasing lack of time and could be held accountable for the death of the big, mind-changing blog posts. Those thought leaders, now so busy nurturing change, choosing to tweet their glances forward rather than writing blog posts (this is a generalisation – but notable).

I look about and there is a dearth of people mucking about at the edges of reality. Everyone to whom I looked for guidance and inspiration, those who fashioned my thoughts for sure and focused my attention when the future seemed such a vast and exciting morass of possibility – are really flipping busy. They are busy back with those cats, encouraging, teaching, guiding, assuaging fears and – when they have time – glancing quickly to the future to make sure they were still going the right way. This is natural – I am sure someone has a formula for this behaviour after a big change has occurred.

The problem is that the future is catching up with us, and we need to free the thinkers again. A collective deep breath needs to be taken and we all need to be a little bit more brave and trust in our own abilities, despite the occasional hissing and spitting, and free up some time for those we respect. Of course there is a mammoth amount of work to do and people who still need help working through everything that has changed, but this needs to become part of the day job for everyone now.

And so what Jonty said this morning is so right: The Future is rapidly catching up with The Present, it is uncomfortable because we are all gripping the hands of those who we need to set free. My own teensy little offering to supporting this, is to blog more myself as – hopefully – the thought leaders I value who sometimes do comment here, will still have time to comment: commenting is not as time-consuming as blogging and perhaps will spin-off into other much bigger discussions, hopefully mapping together lots of little discussions (as so often happens).

I have often used my blog to scribble down things that have occurred to me, long before I have thought about them too hard, as I learn so much more by conversation and community debate than navel-gazing. So for a week I am going to:

  • write a little every day about those things that have been tickling my brain, it may work, it may be pointless, but I am going to give it a try (I would really appreciate comments and discussions)
  • try to let go of the hands I cling to, set them free and strap on a pair
  • look for groups of people saying interesting things. Matt McAlister says the cryptologists are having good discussions and we all know that I am partial to a coder – but who else is fascinating you?

I don’t usually ask for things here, but I would love to know who you are getting your inspiration from – point me to their blogs and tell me when they are speaking. And if you are mindful that you too may be gripping the hand of someone who needs to have some time to gather their thoughts – please let them go a bit. We need those future-casters out there.

The cats are OK.

Social media toolkit: I have been complicating things far too much

Any of you following my blog posts recently will have seen my vague attempt to create a simple social media toolkit for people to use in order to join in the fun.

Whilst on holiday in Kenya, I spoke to lots of people about the stuff I do, particularly this:

Many of them considered themselves novices in all things web, and certainly thought that Web 2.0, or social media, was beyond them (except for Facebook, of course!). So, over many suppers with a variety of people I explained that it was not a thing, rather a more effective use of online communities – and your interaction with them. (I am a fascinating guest).

The theory behind your web presence is no different:

1. What are you wanting to do?

2. Who are you doing it for?

Now you need to find out where the communities are that exist online already. At this point I recommend you use a listening service such as Addictomatic. (In a previous post I have explained how to use this – although it is really simple so you don’t need to read the post unless you love my prose so much you can’t get enough – understandable of course :))

Once you have spent some time listening, finding the places where your target market are already conversing and collaborating, you can then begin to join in the discussion. This will enable you to really understand how you can effectively meet the needs of your audience and refine your own offering online accordingly.

At the same time as doing this, you are establishing a solid piece of online real estate – proving that you are not just shoving stuff out there. People will begin to recognise you if you join in the conversations online, (the simplest way of doing this is by commenting on blogs – yes it is that simple).

Finally, you need to start your own conversation.

An example

Let me run through the Soy Sambu conservancy online offering:

Kat Combes, the Director of the conservancy, had set up a website and was looking to start a blog to:

  • raise awareness of what the conservancy was doing
  • attract funds
  • share experience and learn from others

Kat is web savvy, however considered setting up and running a blog way beyond her abilities. In fact the more she googled, the more scared she became. I sat with her for about an hour and ran through Addictomatic and WordPress; showed her how I manage my own blogs and how simple it actually was – even for the technically impaired like myself. We then created the conservancy blog and I walked away. Kat has since then played extensively and here is the fruit of her labour:

Now, the blog will stay pretty much as it is, whilst Kat ‘listens’ using Addictomatic and a variety of key words. However, please do comment and send links to any other websites that you think would be good to look at, and keep an eye on how it grows from here (on the conservancy blog of course not here!).

Whilst talking about the conservancy site, Graham Vetch – the manager – spoke about how the conservation was not just about the land and animals, but also about the people living there. How part of the challenge was to take the indigenous people from poverty to self-sufficiency. He is frustrated as he has many plans and is not sure where to start. Now this is where I believe blogging really can come into its own. We discussed how Graham could just throw his hat on the ground, sit down and start blogging about his plans  taking us with him on his journey.

Now this will achieve two things:

  1. Share a journey that could help numerous communities and community managers
  2. Give Graham access to feedback on his plans – enabling him to find out where to start and learn from others’ experience

I am very excited about this and as soon as we have set it up – I will show you.

So, the tool-kit?

Addictomatic and WordPress are the tools I recommend for the moment. However, it is less about the tools and more about changing the way you think about your online presence – use the community, share your knowledge, take people on your journey with you rather than simply talking about it after it is done.

All sorts: Paul Carr, WordPress, Toolkits and holidays

Once more, apologies for the slightly erratic blogging of late. Cutting to the quick, and following my title… here goes:

Paul Carr

His book is now available on Amazon – buy it/review it. Here is my review, unlikely to be published as I owned up to swiping one of his books at the launch (when they were there for ‘reference’ only… so, sorry):

5.0 out of 5 stars Paul Carr embarrasses me on the delayed trains from Waterloo, 11 Aug 2008

Bringing Nothing to the Party: True Confessions of a New Media Whore

I stole Paul’s book from him last Thursday – thank God I did! (I have run dry of ‘holiday reading’ and need some respite from the PID documents generated by Directgov).

I don’t *know* Paul, but I know of him and have met him a few times (enough to bully him into inviting me to his launch party, sort of).

So, to the book… I started reading it on a super-delayed train from Waterloo last Friday. The carriage was so packed that people were reading it over my shoulder (so the embarrassment factor of laughing out loud was lessened by the stifled snorts of laughter behind me). The stifled snorts were enough for an opportunist like me to start a conversation, which started with Paul and who he was, leading quickly to me and who I was.

So buy this book, it helps you network on trains.

Other reasons to buy this book:

1. It helps you embrace your inner jealousy streak
2. You take comfort from knowing that however bad your unrequited love-life is, it is not as bad as Paul’s
3. For a brief moment you step into the drunken and hedonistic world of internet entrepreneurship – and realise it’s not all that (apart from Robert Loch’s legendary parties of course)
4. You can get the gen on many of the internet billion/squillion-aires, and dine out on the stories (adopt them as your own – why not)
5. Google party description – from the point of view of a normal person i.e. you – Chapter 9.0 (all of it)

Um.. I had better now buy the book – from Amazon 🙂 – for someone else

PS I read it twice


The lovely, lovely, lovely (OK enough) people at WordPress put me as 78th on their ‘growing blogs’ list. Too cool, my standards are not high – 78th is enough for me. The tag-line for the link happens to be: Watch live streaming Beijing Olympic Games 2008, then you have to scroll like mad to get to me, but hey… it’s there!


I am STILL working on this – but in the real world, so it is taking time. I will be running an event in October that should give us the Toolkit part one… hopefully. If you want to come, email me.


I am in Africa from the 21st with my girls, concentrating on my cause: so will not be blogging, nor will I be working officially; however, I shall do sub-blog-management: sorting comments whenever I can get access.

I will post again in October, but will be managing the blog, so please do keep me entertained, horrify me, with your conversation.


The problem with social media – there’s no cash to be made… so what?!!

So much has come from the last GovBarCamp in the UK public sector, believe you me – blimey, even DJ Collins from Google came to the last Heads of ecomms meeting. However, if we are to do it again – we need to do it better. The reasons I heard for why some people did not turn up were:

  • I did not know about it
  • It was a weekend and I could not leave the family

The first problem is easily solved, let’s give it a longer lead and a greater audience. The second is also exciting, bring the family. As I have shown here, people were interested in what my daughter had to say. This may not be appropriate for all of our proteges, they may be too young, our partners not so keen, but this is not insurmountable.

The problem with social media is that there is no money to be made, so people tend to off-set the value of their time spent at events against time with family or friends. But this then counts out some realy cool people that we know about – and some that we might not.

I propose a reconvene of the last BarCamp, in say October/November – somewhere where children and partners can come too and join in. A festival – with toilets.

Hopefully I will generate a small group of willing people here to help me move this on from a musing to a happening – but I think it has legs.

Let’s not forget that the kids we have are the future users of anything we try to change, and our other halves have more than a vested interest in what we are doing.

If we cannot make cash, let’s create a movement for change.

It will end in tears

I hate the way people communicate at the moment. It is an orgy of self-indulgence, navel-gazing, gossip and muttering…

Cue everyone gulping and staring at Emma as if she has lost the plot

OK, my first sentences may have been strong but I feel lost in this Alice in Wonderland (after the pill – when she was small) world, and I am an expert in communication; I should be able to cut through the noise and find a direction for people, and create protocols that enable conversation without:

  1. wasting anyone’s valuable time, and
  2. pissing anyone off

But I can’t… I am struggling to find the way through. (I am obviously talking about digital media here, Twitter, Facebook, email, Bebo, Pownce, texting ad nauseum – so ignoring completely telephone, snail mail and F2F.)

What we seem to have enthusiastically entered into is an orgy of communication, braying with our own success, or craving the news of others every minute – sometimes second – of the day.

How many of you are eternally thinking up the next natty update? Or fail to relish any precious moment in our eagerness to share it across our personalised digital gob?

As ever, such delicious self-indulgence has a cost, and this cost is what I am currently pondering and trying to find the tools to mitigate… just for fun, of course 🙂

Take for example a story that was related to me by a close friend: A young lady was stepping out, often horizontally, with a fella. After a few dates he promised to call… and never did, prompting the bewildered maiden to call up her mate and declare his death – assuming that there could be no other reason for his sudden and complete silence. (He wasn’t he had just naffed off.)


But, it makes me think. All of our relationships are developed through communication – in person, on the telephone, through stories from friends and family, in texts, IM, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, &c &c &c

It is a primal instinct to communicate our needs to the person or people we deem most likely to be able to fulfil them, and the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest dictates that we are programmed to be pretty good at this stuff… so what happens when we are able to SOS our needs to one person or many immediately, through – say – five hyper-efficient mediums (at least). Our expectation is that within seconds we will be satisfied – of course, it is Darwinian, it is the way the world works, right?

Nope, not the digital world, the theory of evolution is completely flummoxed by digital comms – communicating our needs is something that the highly evolved have nutted, very well – and that is good. Responding to the relentless demand for attention that these tools enable requires biological, human input. And that will never, ever compete with the eternal quest for survival that commands us to eternally communicate our needs and only when they are fulfilled, can we properly help others.

See the problem? We are forever SOS-ing, and in an eternal quest for resolution, yet rarely satisfied. Without satisfaction/peace we are not programmed to help anyone else (except superficially).

You see the problem I am picking at here?

I have no solution yet, but it is niggling me enough for me to share it with you and see what you guys have to say 🙂

geeKyoto – aftermath

Well, Saturday’s event was really quite stonking. I was not sure really what to expect, Mark and Ben had been a bit vague in their list of speakers, so I rocked up not knowing what the day held, apart from being surrounded by super-cool people.

What we did know was the theme: We broke the world, how can we fix it? A variety of speakers addressed this directly or indirectly, and over the past 24 hours of random reflection on the day, the answers seem to be (for me):

1. Rediscovering the simple joys of being with friends and of being in our natural environment. Adrian Hon & Naomi Alderman, talking up the Secular Sabbath (brilliant, brilliant idea – if a bit daunting), were the most compelling proponents of this. The basic objective being:

Turn off your mobile phone, stay away from the computer, ignore the TV, and settle back with a good book or a conversation with friends.

Those of you who know me, or have followed my recent de-cluttering exercise on this blog, will appreciate how much this idea intrigues me – but I need to work out how exactly I will do it and when – rubbish, hey?!

2. Determination and resolution to continue, even when it gets difficult: the keynote was Ben Saunders… a brilliant and eloquent speaker, inspirational and the rest, I am sure you can imagine. The challenge he set himself – to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole – was really an exploration of his own ability: How far could he push himself? (And of course, the age-old knee-jerk reaction to being told that something is ‘impossible’).

Read his blog, it does a far better job than I ever could in explaining what he did and why, but his words were inspiring and he challenged us to test our own boundaries, take charge of the hours of life we had been given and to do something with them that pushed our comfort zone. I like that, I am not sure what it means for me – yet – but I will.

3. Collaboration – this is not news, but it seems to be gathering strength in practical ways: Open Source clearly being one, cross promotion of good ideas, events that are run specifically to encourage collaboration between all sectors. I cannot pick out a specific speaker to represent this, it was just a running theme.

4. Money – cool toys can be made, but they are expensive to make and therefore cost a lot to buy. Some people are already sharing some of their secret ingredients on Open Source, but others were not.

This created a bit of a stir, but quite frankly, it is all very well being noble and doing all of this great stuff to help improve the legacy of the world for our children, but you can’t do it for free. People need money to live, so that they can afford the time to spend designing, creating and selling all of this great stuff. You don’t have to be a martyr to the cause, if you have a great idea, do it, make money if you can, but find ways to give back/share as well, whether that be through Open Source, or reducing the carbon footprint in manufacture/delivery of said cool toy, having a pricing plan that brings down the cost over the years and enables everyone to benefit, regardless of financial status. Collaborate with other people in your field, or related to it.

Making money is fine, but best done with a fully operational social conscience.

I think that is it, well for me this is what I took from the day. As soon as Mark and Ben put up the video and other links from speakers I will ping back from here so that you can share the joy.

Come next year, you will like it.

What is happiness if it cannot be shared?

(I just wrote that title mis-spelling shared as shred :))

As you can probably tell if you have been reading my posts in order – hello Mum – I have been navel-gazing for a month, not working as I usually do with government departments, rather choosing to have a little look at it all. (I go back next week… phew :))

I tell you I feel as if I have been completing a degree in four weeks. So much I have missed, so much to learn… too much. This has led to my monastic casting off of digital noise, and pushed me into the ‘hippy’ version of the web.

I watched the film: Into the Wild last night and it was both beautiful and brain-shatteringly obvious (if a film can be such a thing). Based on the story of Christopher McCandless, it details the frantic journey of a young American bloke, desperate to leave behind the shackles of the societal expectations of their young in the 1990s.

What resonated with me, and why I am sharing this with you, is that actually shuffling off this mortal coil alone and scared is not cool at all, and is not what we are seeking.

I have been pretty much married to the digital journey since 1997/8, when I lived and worked online overnight whilst my young daughter slept. Since then it has been a subversive family for me: my interaction with it has been fairly promiscuous: sometimes I have allowed indulgence and absorbed myself in online communication, at other times I have rejected it utterly and played rounders – or whatever 🙂

Lately I seem to have been going through my online menopause (sorry cannot find a pretty metaphor) and have embraced the hippy web. All is free, we can indulge and enjoy whenever we wish – anything I need to know I can find, gratis! It has been good, but something is nagging… something is wrong.

I am exploring the outer-lands of the Internet, through blogs, YouTube etc and am discovering such beauty – equivalent to Chris going to Alaska, but with crumpets. It is feeding my soul but I have had to cut off so many people in order to achieve this nirvana that my discoveries are starting to pall.

I want to share what I find, but I cannot do so without interacting with everyone – and once I go down that route, I have no time to explore. The choice is impossible, and yes, work will remove the issue, but…

Oh Emma, not another Twitter rant

No… but a Twitter-induced rant.

I have been gearing up to taking on a serious amount of work this week – OK, seeing my mates, taking the odd telephone call and playing; all in the knowledge that my life was about to be taken over by work once again, come May.

Inevitably the conversations I have been having have been supremely brilliant at completely confusing me about what I really think or feel. I have my young, free, whipper-snapper friends snapping at the heels of VCs in San Francisco, chiding me with their success; jaded worker bees who, like me, have no such luxury as far as fabulous travel is concerned – but still have brains that jolt and purr with new ideas; newbies who are so brilliantly clever and so enthused with ideas and healthy livers…

I want to go back to work for a break!

Inevitably, Twitter has played a part in this mayhem of being work-free, and I have either indulged fully, gorging myself on talking about ME every few seconds (yes I do manage to bore myself as well!) to just popping in and out checking up on my colleagues there.

My last moan on Twitter was about community vs. commune.

What a commune brings to mind is a peaceful, hippy place, where everyone is there to do good and help each other – of course there is more, but frontal lobes people, frontal lobes – this is where Twitter and social meja come in.

Community is starting to feel a bit bingo-y, if you know what I mean. What is an online community? Who creates them? Organisations, based on the knowledge they have gleaned from your/our behaviour online.

I don’t want to be in a community, I want to be in a commune… but not on Twitter!


I have a frontal lobe? Or two?!

Here is a description of what your frontal lobes do:

The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior. (This was copied from here)

The most important roles of the frontal lobes for me as a communicator are:

  • their ability to exercise judgement
  • initiation
  • problem solving

Many of you have mentioned the fact that you have one (or two :)) – presumably triggered by a throwaway comment on one of my other posts. We do have them, they have taken many millenia to develop and adapt, so we do not need to have our information mashed and nuked in order for our brain to digest it.

What we do need is for the information to be targeted enough and delivered to us in the format we are most comfortable with. (Without any data mining or any of that rubbish).

So, rather than spending time and energy looking at all the hundreds of possibilities for ‘engaging with target audiences’, we should employ experts to deliver those once that has been identified as a valid route. (der)

We need to go back to the drawing board and understand what people need to know and how they would prefer to get that information. This is not new, people have been creating great businesses gleaning customer insight/intelligence – my very favourite company who were always brilliant have now gone out of business… hmmm (they had the best contracts and consistently performed well, the market has moved on). This leads me to the conclusion that the value of social media might be in looking at customer behaviour and finding out where they would prefer to receive information – or how they interact with an organisation – without sticking them in front of a computer and watching them through a two-way mirror whilst they complete a set of tasks, or shoving an annoying pop-up box on a website when it is visited.

I have no idea how you would do this without echoing the voice in the pub I spoke about in my last post – I am not trying to solve that here, I am just suggesting that someone does.

Let me know when you do 🙂