Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating women in tech

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, the international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology, science and engineering. Now in it’s second year, the day is going very well indeed with hundreds of people talking about women that they admire. You can see people’s contributions on our map or in list format.

If you haven’t joined up already, please take a moment today to write a blog post about a women in tech that you admire and add it to the ALD10 mash-up. The hashtag #ald10 is already trending on Twitter in the UK and we’re hoping that the noise will encourage more people to join in!

My own Ada Lovelace Day entry, over on Chocolate and Vodka, was about legendary Tomorrow’s World host, Maggie Philbin. Who’s your heroine?

links for 2010-03-23

  • Kevin: When I covered Obama's campaign in 2008, I did a lot of coverage of how he used social media and a very savvy mobile strategy to fuel his historic campaign. The big question was how he would use this grassroots campaign support once he was elected. The answer would be not much, until the push to pass health care. Ironically, loud (beyond their numbers) Tea Party protestors were beat by behind the scenes advocacy. Organising for America (was Obama for America) made 500,000 calls to Congress. They sent 324,000 letter to Congress. They held 1,200 events.
  • Kevin: C.W. Anderson writes about what he says: "it’s clear with a little hindsight that late March and early April 2009 marked a turning point in the conversation about the economics of online journalism." Read this post. He goes on to say about arguments from major news organisations and their legal counsels: "Both arguments can be unified in terms of their basic hostility to the current citational structures that undergird the web." I wrote about it last year in what I saw as a growing hostility amongst newpapers to things that are foundational to the way most internet users expect the web to work.

If you want innovation, let people do it on their own

Mitch Anthony links to a post form PsyBlog about how groups redefine ‘creativity’ as ‘behaviour that conforms to group norms’:

When groups are asked to think creatively the reason they frequently fail is because implicit norms constrain them in the most explicit ways. This is clearly demonstrated in a recent study carried out by Adarves-Yorno et al. (2006). They asked two groups of participants to create posters and subtly gave each group a norm about either using more words on the poster or more images.

Afterwards when they judged each others’ work, participants equated creativity with following the group norm; the ‘words’ group rated posters with more words as more creative and the ‘images’ group rated posters with more images as more creative. The unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative. In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.

In another part of the same experiment these results were reversed when people’s individuality rather than their group membership was emphasised. Creativity became all about being different from others and being inconsistent with group norms. When freed from the almost invisible shackles of the group, then, people suddenly remembered the dictionary definition of creativity: to transcend the orthodox.

If you want people to innovate, you need to give them the room to work things out for themselves. I have always thought that innovation works better when the innovator is tackling a problem that affects them on a regular basis, an itch that they just have to scratch. Certainly in web innovation it seems to work best that way.

How do we best enable individuals to innovate? Simply being able to think through their problems and propose solutions might be a good starting point. Innovation isn’t, after all, about massive step changes – although they do happen they are really quite rare – but about incremental improvements. If one person saves his or her department of 12 people just half an hour a week, that’s still going to add up: to 44.5 person-days per year, to be precise. Now, if you extend that to a company of 10,000 people, each saving just half an hour a week, that’s 37,000+ person-days per year.

Social media can probably achieve that simply by shifting some types of email to more appropriate platforms. Think of a what a concerted drive to help people make life easier – aka innovate – for themselves in their day to day life might achieve.

links for 2010-03-22

  • Kevin: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer celebrated a year as an online-only operation. It's an interesting article. They mention the work of Monica Guzman. I 'bumped into' Monica on Twitter when I was covering the 2008 US elections. She's got the right formula for high-engagement journalism. "But some of the new generation is relishing the conversation, which may be epitomized by Guzman, 27, and the followers of her popular Big Blog. She celebrates funky, techy, alternative Seattle in her posts and weekly coffee house meetings with readers."
  • Kevin: Google has a service that allows you to place ads on TV in the US. Seth Stevenson at Slate V(ideo) tries it out and found that they could buy a 30-second spot in the early hours of the morning on Fox News. For about $1300, their video was viewed by 1.3m people and they got about a thousand people to visit a special website that they had setup. Very interesting.

links for 2010-03-20

  • Kevin: Media think tank Polis at the London School of Economics held a panel about social media and journalism in conjunction with the Press Complaints Commission (a self-regulatory industry body here in the UK that has come in for criticism for its deal objectively with complaints). The panel was Chaired by Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis, the discussion began with case studies from Stephen Abell, Director of the PCC and included statements from Janine Gibson (editor, Guardian Online), Anna Doble (litigation specialist, Wiggin LLP), Torin Douglas (Media Correspondent, BBC), Jeremy Olivier (Head of Multimedia, Ofcom), and Professor Ian Walden (Professor of Communications Law, Queen Mary, University of London and PCC public Commissioner). It's worth a look and looks at the complex relationship between social media and journalists.
  • Kevin: Very interesting developments in terms of new news models. John Temple (formerly editor of the now the Rocky Mountain News which shut after almost 150 years of publishing) is the editor of the new Peer News site which is being funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Temple said that there was no silver bullet. He cast the site as an attempt to create a "new civic square". Even more interesting, he's talking about creating a site based on living articles.

links for 2010-03-19

  • Kevin: From O'Reilly Radar: "According to Eric A. Meyer, an author and HTML/CSS expert, the answer is a definitive yes. In the following Q&A, Meyer explains why HTML5, CSS and JavaScript are the "classic three" for developers and designers. He also pushes past the HTML5 vs. Flash bombast to offer a rational and much-needed comparison of the toolsets."
  • Kevin: I'm not sure I agree with the dissenting opinion of the Judge Frances Rothschild who said the appellate court ruling “alters the legal landscape to the severe detriment of First Amendment rights.” The exemption of 'fighting words' from First Amendment protection was established in the 1942 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire case. This case may very well be another that refines the 'fighting words' doctrine. However, one of the students threatened to kill the plaintiff with an ice pick and then tried to pass that off as 'jocular' online hyperbole.
  • Kevin: A chart of 2009 media industry ad revenue in the US by Kantar Media. "The only major growth area: Online ad spending. Internet ads — display only — increased 7% in 2009, according to the report. … Magazines dropped 17%, newspapers and radio each dropped 20%, and outdoor fell 13%."
  • Kevin: Viv Mag shows off an example of a new video heavy, motion magazine cover for the iPad. It's an interesting look into some of the design thinking behind new content concepts for the media slates like the iPad.
    (tags: ipad media design)
  • Kevin: Stephen Brook (my colleague at the Guardian) highlights a memo from News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to staff about an upcoming paywall for subscribers to the Times and Sunday Times. She writes: "Of course, we expect to see the numbers of unique users of our sites come down dramatically. But the people who register to our new digital products will be customers who have made a positive decision to pay a fair price for journalism that they value, and they will be those who are more committed to and engaged with our titles." It will be interesting to see how this works.

The Blogger/Evangelist Lifecycle

For years I’ve been talking about the Blogger Lifecycle – the way in which business bloggers react to the act of business blogging. Last week this topic featured in a workshop I was running so I finally drew the graph that has been in my head for the last several years.

Blogger/Evangelist lifecycle

Based loosely on the Gartner Hype Cycle, it tracks the emotional response of business bloggers and social media evangelists as they develop their online presence. In reality, people’s response to the act of blogging (or other social media activity) varies depending on a number of factors, including:

  • The evangelist’s personality
  • Amount and quality of reader feedback they get, e.g. comments
  • Quality of feedback from peers/managers
  • Time pressure
  • Success of venture as they perceive it

In my experience, evangelists tend to start at either:

1. Scepticism/Uncertainty: They are unsure of themselves and/or of the value of social media.


2. Enthusiasm: They are keen to engage with social media.

As the social media project progresses, the novelty wears off and the evangelist is faced with the reality that:

  • Social media takes time and effort
  • It can be hard to get comments and feedback
  • It can be hard to become a part of the wider community
  • Enthusiasm doesn’t always result in action

That last point is a broad one: It’s not just the enthusiasm of the blogger we’re talking about, but of their readers, colleagues and managers too. Although the blogger might be getting enthusiastic responses from readers, if those responses don’t result in an action, e.g. discussion in the comments or even sales calls, it can still be demoralising. And if enthusiasm by colleagues and managers isn’t matched by relevant actions on their part, e.g. helping promote the blog, that can also damage the blogger’s sense of how things are going.

Lack of comments/feedback can make the evangelist feel isolated and unappreciated, undermining their enthusiasm. Even as an experienced blogger, I still suffer from this. Starting a new blog these days is really very hard and if you get no feedback or, worse, negative comments it’s easy to feel disillusioned. And at the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment is when a blogger or social media evangelist is most likely to quit.

This is the point at which the good social media manager steps in and supports the blogger/evangelist, encouraging them to carry on, helping them refine their blogging style and giving them tips on how to promote it. Evangelists whose work is appreciated internally, who are supported by peers and management, and who feel that they are producing something of value are more likely to persist with their social media work during these difficult periods.

Evangelists are subject to the same time pressures as anyone else and if they are are not completely committed to their social media work they will find it too easy to sideline it. Successful evangelists find ways to embed their social media activities into their work day and create new habits that support those activities.

If I were running an evangelist programme, I’d create internal communities of practice and encourage evangelists to support one another, share best practice, and sense-check each other’s reactions to difficult situations. This kind of peer support has proved very helpful in some of the projects I’ve worked on, and often it’s so useful that it springs up all by itself as the evangelists naturally start to help each other. Giving them a place to talk right from the beginning jumpstarts that process.

Now, you might wonder why all this matters. So what if someone starts a blog or a LinkedIn Group and doesn’t carry it on? Blogs die all the time… Well, frankly, I think that abandoned blogs, Twitter streams, LinkedIn or Facebook Groups do not reflect well on the company. If I turn up at a Twittter page or a blog and see that it’s hasn’t been updated in months, it tells me that the company just doesn’t care about communicating with its customers, which I interpret to mean that it’s not going to care about me either.

Even in a professional context, using social media is an experience that involves human emotions. It’s easy to lapse into the ‘we’re all professionals here, emotions are irrelevant’ attitude, but that’s clearly nonsense. Business is made of people and people are emotional. Pretending we aren’t doesn’t get us anywhere useful. Acknowledging that we all have ups and downs, that social media is a long term investment requiring long term emotional investment, and supporting that investment are essential to the ultimate success of any social media project. Company ignore the emotional at their peril.

Making the Connection: The use of social technologies in civil society

Last year I wrote a report for the Carnegie UK Trust’s Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland. That report, Making the Connection: The use of social technologies in civil society, has finally been published and you can get it from the Inquiry website (direct link to the PDF). The contents are:

Executive summary
What is social technology?
What are the main types of social technology?
What is civil society?
Key characteristics of social media

Part one: Introduction
Background to the report
Building civil society 2.0
A changed world
Challenges and risks posed by social technologies

Part two: Social media in civil society
The state of play: How are civil society associations using social technologies?
Why are civil society associations using social media and how successful are they?
A failure of leadership?
Myths of age and technology
Case study 1: Joseph Rowntree Foundation (full version)
Case study 2: YouthNet (full version)

Part three: Alternative scenarios for the future
What might the year 2025 hold for social technology and civil society associations?
How might the social web develop over the next 15 years?
Key drivers of change
Future scenarios
Questions raised by the future scenarios

Part four: Recommendations
Recommendations for governments and policy-makers
Recommendations for funding organisations
Recommendations for civil society associations
Looking forwards

Plus there are four lovely appendices – including the full results of the survey and assessment of civil society websites – a glossary and a resources section. Lots to keep you occupied during a long commute! If the report is a touch too long for you then I’d recommend the Futures and the Recommendations sections.

Although the report is about the third sector, it could frankly have been written about the public sector or business: a lot of the problems and recommendations are the same. So please do take a look, even if you’re not in the charitable sector, and let me know what you think in the comments.

Case Study: YouthNet

As part of my work on the report Making the Connection: The use of social technologies in civil society, written for the Carnegie UK Trust’s Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland, I put together a couple of case studies. The final report carries shorter versions, so I though it would be useful for me to post the full versions to provide extra detail and context. Here is the second, focused on YouthNet.

  • YouthNet focuses on understanding which social technologies their target audience use and then adopts those tools.
  • Their use of social media is part of a broader strategy which embraces offline as well as online activities.
  • Understanding and keeping up-to-date with social technology is the responsibility of everyone at YouthNet and everyone has the opportunity to engage with the tools if they wish.

YouthNet is a charity that provides online services and information to young people in the 16-25 demographic. Originally conceived as a book, YouthNet moved its service directory to the net in 1997 two years after it was founded.

YouthNet currently runs two websites:, a community of 30,000 members which provides advice on life issues and receives 500,000 unique users each month; and which helps people find opportunities to volunteer, and receives 80,000 – 100,000 unique users each month.

The organisation uses social media tools to both connect with their community and to communicate and collaborate internally. Externally, they maintain a presence in a variety of third party tools such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, Flickr, Ning, YouTube and Delicious. They also run a number of blogs — written by both YouthNet staff and volunteers — and provide RSS feeds of content.

Natasha Judd, YouthNet’s Marketing Manager, says that social media allows YouthNet to “have individual conversations with individual users in the spaces which are relevant to them”.

Their social media usage is, however, part of a broader strategy which also embraces traditional communications such as e-newsletters and print materials as well as offline events and outreach. The difference between online and offline is blurring, explains Judd:

“It’s quite difficult to say, ‘This is the online part of my identity,’ now. So it’s about having online and offline services which work together as a coherent whole for the young people who need them, or who may only ever encounter the offline or may only encounter the online.”

Internally, and with its charity partners, YouthNet uses Basecamp (a hosted service that combines wikis, a calendar and messaging), Yammer (a Twitter-like tool that creates a closed network based on email addresses) and Delicious to collaborate. There is a very open culture where employees are encouraged to use whichever tool they feel will work for them. They mix social tools with traditional working methods rather than trying to replace them.

Judd explains how the use of social media is ‘baked in’ to the organisation’s culture: “A lot of us use [social media] in our personal lives and know what tools are out there, what is big, what people are talking about.” Indeed, anyone within the organisation can write on the external blogs, or talk about their work on their Twitter account.

“It’s not an official YouthNet voice,” she says, “it’s our voice. Anybody at YouthNet can blog about anything that is relevant to our work. All of us can use social media. A lot of us are on Twitter. We will talk about who we’re meeting, what we’re working on, when we need case studies for, or when we’ve got new surveys up or want people to sign a pledge. It’s about sharing what we are and what we’re doing, and having the trust that everyone is a fantastic representative for YouthNet.”

YouthNet is a very flat organisation, open to ideas from any employee, so keeping an eye on tech is a part of everyone’s job. The Communities Team especially tracks popular tools and when they spot something that’s creating a bit of a buzz they will test it out and update the rest of the staff if they find it interesting.

Equally, if any member of staff stumbles across a tool they feel might be useful, or has an idea for how to use social tools, then there is a lightweight decision process which allows them to test and roll out small projects. Larger projects receive more attention and are planned accordingly but this agility allows YouthNet to quickly test and adopt or drop tools and services as they come along without a large technical or administrative overhead.

The nature of social tools makes it easy to be nimble — many tools, such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, and Delicious are free, with the cost of any paid tools very low, in the region of tens of pounds rather than hundreds. When budget is required it comes from individual team or project budgets, whether that’s the communities team, marketing, or another team. Each team or project group invests in what they need, but the main cost remains the time it takes to investigate and experiment.

“When the communities team was starting up the Lifetracks consultation on Ning it required a lot of investment of time to get something working,” says Judd, “but they’d experimented with it previously and they knew it was the tool they needed for a consultation. We could always do more. We could always have more conversations. We could always use the tools better. But it is a trade-off.”

YouthNet do look outside of the third sector for knowledge as many businesses and independent consultants have relevant expertise to share about their use of the social media.

“That’s something that we need to do more of in the future,” says Judd. “Going along to MeasurementCamp, for example, was not just about the third sector, it was about what agencies are doing in terms of measuring social media.”

When it comes to measuring success, YouthNet look beyond the obvious statistics and try to consider their reasons for using a particular tool for a particular project to shape their aims and expectations. For example, they’re not just looking at how many visitors they get to a particular site or page but also at how engaged people become and what the quality of interaction is.

“It’s not just about numbers,” says Judd. “It’s about creating loyalties with youth and about having conversations with young people, or having a certain number of people involved in a focus group.”

Social media also provides valuable information about their user base:

“It has given us a huge insight into who our user base is, how they talk to us, how they talk to each other. On Facebook, for example, I can get demographic [information on] the fans of”

Watching how their community uses social tools provides YouthNet with an insight into they type of tools YouthNet could use and how their audience might react. This insight which can then feed into project planning. Judd believes that it is important to understand which services their audience already use and then to adopt those so that YouthNet can have a conversation with their users where they, the users, feel comfortable. This allows them to raise awareness of their services amongst a variety of different groups.

“For example, our members had created a Facebook group themselves,” she says, “which was fantastic, so we looked at doing Facebook groups for other brands.”

YouthNet are aware that social networks such as Facebook act as ‘walled gardens’ so ensure that all of the information provided in such networks is also available on their website. Judd describes their presence in sites like Facebook as “a way of providing personalised help, for example, on how to browse for volunteer opportunities in a particular area”.

Organisations do need to be aware that their community and, indeed, their staff also have an online life of their own. They can take the conversations off onto other tools where the organisation has no presence. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it extends reach. It is, however, something to monitor because if the conversation shifts to another tool then that might be an indication that the new platform is worth investigation.

The issue of privacy is an important one to YouthNet’s users. Jim Valentine, Communities Manager, explains that because the discussion on sometimes addresses “taboo, secret and distressing issues, users are more likely to join using pseudonyms and tend to avoiding inviting friends”.
“This creates unique issues around privacy and confidentiality,” Valentine says. “One of the biggest issues we address is concern about friends of users finding out about their activity on After discussions with users this can lead to the deletion of their account in order to protect their privacy and confidence in the service.”

The issue of abusive behaviour is dealt with “holistically”, explains Valentine. “Although individual behaviour may need to be addressed, more effort is spent on creating a supportive environment that reinforces positive behaviour. This isn’t just a role of moderators, but the community as a whole — who are the first to address abusive behaviour and encourage new users to be supportive of other members. Moderators monitor the discussion boards and respond to reported posts, which ensures problematic or abusive behaviour gets a fair and balanced response.”

Spam is unavoidable but when it is reported it is dealt with promptly and a CAPTCHA image and question on the registration page helps reduce the amount of automated spam.

The vast choice of social media tools, platforms and services can be daunting but it’s not necessary to have an active presence on every one (although it is a good idea to register your brand names in the most popular services, just in case you want to use them in the future). When deciding which tools to use, take the lead from your community, Judd advises, and don’t feel that you have to be everywhere.

Judd sums up her attitude to social media: “It’s not about the tools, it’s about communicating with people, engaging them and inspiring them to trust your services and get involved in your organisation.”