Social Media Cafe Columbus: The elections and foreclosures in St Louis

Sorry for the blogging silence here on Strange Attractor, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m currently driving across the US covering the elections. One of the things that Emily Bell at the Guardian wanted me to do was to meet up with bloggers and other social media folks on the trip, and I’ve managed to meet up with bloggers in LA, Denver and tonight a great meet-up with the Social Media Cafe crowd in Columbus Ohio. Thanks to Tim Eby of WOSU for the invitation. I met Tim and Robert Patterson in London a couple of years.

I came in a little late, but there was already a discussion about local community blogging project Ganther’s Place. People who live in the neighbourhood were using the blog to name and shame absentee landlords. They also mentioned how the blog was helping to gain the attention of traditional media to cover their concerns.

After that, Robert, Andy Carvin, who heads up the social media desk at NPR, and Anna Shoup also of NPR joined the meet-up through the magic of Skype. Andy talked about a project to monitor voting during the elections. They will use Twitter and SMS with the hashtag votereport to collect reports on voting, now during early voting and all the way through election day next week. You can already follow some early Twitter reports via Summize of Dwigger.

Robert has an absolutely fascinating project with the public broadcaster in St Louis. They are using social media to help people either facing foreclosure or falling behind in their housing payments to keep their homes. The entire focus of the project is to help people help themselves but giving them information about resources in the city. It’s about fostering community even as the fabric of the community is under strain from the housing crisis, and it’s about people finding ways to help themselves. Robert’s overall message was the potential of social media to renew community bonds and give people the tools for self-reliance.

I gave a quick overview of my social media efforts during the road trip. Twitter helped me arrange the blogger meet-up in LA. Twitter also helped me to cover the rise of homelessness during this housing crisis. I talked about how Ralph Torres in California contacted me because of the blog and gave me a foreclosure tour of Riverside California.

I also gave a quick overview of some of the technology that I’m using on this trip. I showed off Twibble, the Twitter client that I’m using on my Nokia N82. I also showed the Twitpic and geo-tagging features of Twibble. I’ll be writing more about all of this once the trip is over.

Thanks again to the folks at Social Media Cafe Columbus for the warm welcome. I’ll see you on Twitter.

Web 2.0 Expo – Gender Issues in Web 2.0 Careers: A Discussion

I’m happy to say that my Web 2.0 Expo Europe session on gender issues is going to be held on Thursday 23rd October, from 2:35 pm to 3:25 pm, in room B8-9. The blurb is:

Are you frustrated that there aren’t enough women in tech, that women are not well represented at conferences, or that the culture appears to favor male accomplishment? The issue of gender is not a simple one: there are complex societal and psychological pressures that influence how we all behave, men and women, and we’re not always clear on what drives us to do what we do. This participatory session will attempt to tease out some of the threads around gender and produce ideas for how we can collectively act to level the playing field.

I’m really excited to say that my fellow panelists will be:

I’m really looking forward to a wide-ranging and constructive discussion!

links for 2008-10-14

A recession: Perfect time to implement social software

We’re in recession. The global economy has bronchitis and is coughing up dead and dying banks all over the place. Governments are scrambling to put together bailout plans. The housing market has zombified, with house values plummeting and foreclosures sky-rocketing. Consumers have no disposable income and are struggling with food and fuel prices. Businesses everywhere are pulling their horns in, wondering how – and if – they are going to survive.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that businesses reconsider how they communicate, collaborate and converse, which means that the most important thing they can do is invest in social tools. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Suw, what are you smoking?” But bear with me here.

Recessions mean you have to do more with less. You can’t afford to have your people wasting time, even unintentionally, using inefficient tools or sticking with bad habits. For many, that means that email is a liability. As I found when I was researching my article for the Guardian on email, some people in business are checking their email every five minutes. Given that it takes some 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after being interrupted by a ‘new mail’ alert, that’s over 8 hours wasted each week.

Of course, that’s not the only way that time is frittered away in the course of day to day activities. Using email to collaborate on documents is astonishingly wasteful, compared to working on a wiki. We lack studies that specifically look at how email is used in this way and how long it takes to collaborate via email attachment compared to on a wiki page, but my experience is that using a wiki really cuts down on the time and effort required to co-author a document.

Then there’s duplication of effort. I did some work with a company recently who had started to use social tools to improve collaboration. One unexpected side effect was the discovering that there were two teams, in different locations, both trying to solve the same problem. Once they knew that they were both working on the same thing, they could share resources, information and expertise.

Institutional knowledge also often gets lost: people end up re-learning what others already know, because there’s just no communication between them. That’s especially true of day-to-day knowledge which is important, but not the sort of thing that gets encoded into documentation (which is out of date as soon as it’s published anyway). Opening up the conversation by encouraging people to do their work on a wiki is a great way to capture information as it happens. It’s not about cataloguing it after the fact, but keeping info alive as a side-effect of just getting on with things. In a recession, you can’t afford to be reinventing the wheel all the time.

A recession is also not a great time to just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But businesses don’t need to experiment, they just need to work with people who truly understand social tools. More than anything, businesses need to invest in their people, in understanding how they work right now and how they could be working.

Personally, I fail to see how any business right now can afford not to address the inefficiencies inherent in their organisation’s existing comms tools. Now, more than ever, businesses need to raise their game, improve communication, improve collaboration, improve conversation. But in this climate, they can’t afford to get it wrong – there’s no slack in the system anymore. Luckily, there’s no need to get it wrong. There are some great people out there who can help you do it right.

Future of Web Apps: The psychology of compelling web apps (and email)

I had a last-minute opportunity to speak at FOWA yesterday, as unfortunately Matt Webb had had to drop out. Luckily I had a few days to prepare, so I put together a version of my talk on the psychology of email – with added Dilbert and ICanHasCheezburger – and it seemed to go down fairly well.

Thanks to Marc Berry

Simon Perry took some notes, and Jemima Kiss covered it for The Guardian’s PDA blog.

FOWA have also put the video up online too: