Public speaking made easy

A couple of weeks ago I went to an event organised by Laura North aimed at helping people become better public speakers. I do a lot of presentations. I recently added them up and realised to my surprise that I have done 60 planned presentations over the last five years, not to mention all the unplanned ones! But I still feel that my technique could use some improvement so I was really glad that Laura put this event on. She is now planning a series of speaker training events, which I look forward to.

Meantime, here are my notes from the evening. You can watch the videos and see the slide decks on Speaking Out.

Host: Laura North
Dave Bell, Merrill Lynch
Katie Streten, Imagination
Christian Heilmann, Yahoo!

Dave Bell, Merrill Lynch
When he met Laura, who did the intro, they were discussing her dread of public speaking, and he gave her some insight into his experience, and later was accosted and asked to address a meeting like this because it’s a common fear. We all have to do it, whether we present to colleagues or clients. But the main thing is that everything comes with practice. Don’t worry if you feel nervous – you’re not on your own.

Most of Dave’s roles have included some sort of presentation aspect. Some events would be very large, and there’d be a hall of 400 people, but each time you do it you learn a little bit more about your content, your slides, what worked, what didn’t work. [Tip from me: Don’t spend quite so much time talking about yourself up front, just give the audience to establish context.]

Style and delivery varies according to the type of meeting and your role within it.

– Small meetings: Most extreme form of presenting is to present to one person, need to think about how that individual is thinking and feeling, how can you change what you are doing to suit what they need. Try to work out when they are following you, and when you are losing them or things have got too complicated. Learn to read the person on the other time of the table. Work out what you can do to meet them half way.

– Chairing meetings & large meetings: Let everyone in the meeting have a fair say and to contribute. Work out who are the key influencers, the people who need to participate. Who are the core constituents? Who needs to understand your message? Not the same level of communication as a one-on-one, but trying to build a consensus and that can be a challenge.

– Making presentations in meetings: When you have people who are not engaged, it’s an excuse for them to switch off, so try to make a connection with them. Look them in the eye. When we are presenting we are trying to communicate and make that connection to them. Address yourself physically to the whole room.

– Pitching ideas: When you’re introducing a new concept to people, especially if it’s new, it make take some time to build things up, don’t rush. How would you approach this if you hadn’t heard it before. If people don’t know who you are and what you’re on about. particularly if you’re external and you don’t have that rapport straight away, take your time and don’t rush to get to your message. Why should they be interested? Why should they come with you? Think about their position, not just about your content.

– Asking questions at conferences: Very nerve-wracking, but important in building reputation. Great if you can come up with some ways to get over the nerves and address a question to a conference. It’s ok if you have a question but don’t get to ask it exactly as you want to – don’t beat yourself up about it.

– Presenting at conferences: Biggest arena that you will face. It’s not as much about connecting with that audience [not sure this is what he really meant], but about having the confidence to speak from the stand.

Preparation is the key for being relaxed.

Audience: Who are they? Why are they there? Who are the key influencers in this meeting? What message do you want to leave them with? Who do you need to get on side in order to make your concept/idea get some legs? You can only leave people with a couple of ideas.

Cliche but true: Tell the audience what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.

Materials: Detailed slides can help, but can be a distraction. Presenting is at its best when it’s the big picture. Give people enough to give them energy. Don’t need the fine detail, give them something to take away. Strip back your material to the core ideas.

Objectives: Important point – a presentation is about a transition through a relationship. Often, you are trying to build a relationship. How is the presentation going to help you get from A to B, and how are you going to take your audience with you?

Don’t over-think! But put enough work in.

Style. Once you know what you’re talking about and you’ve thought about the audience, think about your style. Often it will reflect your personality. There are no real rules, but a few things to bear in mind:

Who’s the audience? Tone should be right for the audience. Think about how to connect with people. Think about the subject. Be consistent.

Summary:

– connect with your audience
– preparation is the key to being relaxed
– be selective with your material – think big picture
– your style will develop and it will come with time
– presentations are performances, some times they go better than others. When it goes well, give yourself a pat on the back.
– …and everyone gets nervous! You are not the only one! Your audience is willing you on, they want you to be successful, so they are on your side!

Q: Should you do a dry run?
It helps you master the material, and the more comfortable you are with your core messages, the happier you’ll be doing the ad libbing. If it helps you relax, it’s a good idea. Use colleagues as a sounding board. You might think you’ve mastered the material, but when you get started you find you don’t know it as well as you could.

Q: What do you do if you think you’re starting to lose the audience?
Think about just slowing down and regrouping. The biggest thing is realising that you might be losing them is the important thing. Softly reposition what you are saying, perhaps say it again in a different way. Acknowledge to yourself they aren’t quite with you rather than charging through. But keep calm and try to address it.

Also, people sometimes close their eyes or stare at the corner, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t listening. Some people learn aurally.

Q: Camden Speakers’ Club. Found that getting over the phobia, speaking to the club, 15 people, was the same as speaking to 1000. It’s the same. You said there were differences, what do you think they are?
If you have 15 people sat round a boardroom table, within that room you’ve got a dynamic, some people who are more influential who might lead a consensus, so gauging how they are going is important. That’s different to when you are on a platform, you can’t connect on more than a fleeting basis, you can’t tailor what you are saying for everyone. In a small group, if you lose the key influencer, you lose everyone.

Q: What about presenting over the phone?
Keep calm, don’t try to get out everything you are trying to say straight away. Almost like when you’re losing someone in the audience: adapt what you are saying, take your time, be confident. Have an elevator pitch. What is your one little hook? You need that on the phone as they don’t know anything about you. Why are they going to be interested?

Q: When you need to convince people of your credibility, how do you win them over? Particularly if you are young and talking to much older people?
Demonstrate your experience and knowledge. Until you’re tried and tested it is very difficult. Know your material really well. Be clear when answering questions. Who else in your organisation can you reach out to? Who could do the meeting with you? Who of your colleagues has more experience who can give you back-up?

Katie Streten, Imagination
Goes to a lot of conferences where the speaker programme is packed with men, yet competent women don’t get asked, and don’t push themselves forward as much as they should. Has done two courses on how to present, and they make you very fired up, then you go away and don’t do any of the things you are taught! Have a LAMDA Spoken English qualification, and they do really great programmes where you learn to read aloud, ad lib, etc. Still gets nervous ahead of time and hates asking questions.

Reasons not to like public speaking and suggestions for dealing with them. Asked others why they hate public speaking.

Reason 1: “No one will be interested in what I’ve got to say”.

Well, they are there. They are there for a reason, and that reason is you. In meetings at work, they feel you have something valuable to offer, so remember that when you feel your opinion is irrelevant. Think about them and what you can give them. This isn’t about you, it’s about why they have asked you the question. They want something from you and they think you can give it to them.

Reason 2: “I will start speaking and go completely blank.”

Prepare. If you’re giving a really important talk or if you’re not confident, write your script out longhand. It’s a pain in the arse, but it’s the best way to get it out. Read it aloud to yourself, read it to friends, and just keep going to it. You will realise some of your jokes were bad, it was too long, and gradually you’ll get familiar with your subject matter. Then write out card notes, which should be as simple as possible and just give you your key points. Just glance down when you get lots. Highlight key moments on your slides. Don’t practice too much, because your brain will start to expect a certain rhythm and if you falter, your brain will freeze. Now what you are saying, use the cards to help you maintain your flow but don’t try to have it off pat.

Reason 3: “Everyone out there will find out that I’m a fraud.”

You have been asked to speak, you are there for a reason. People think you have something to say so you are not a fraud. Everyone thinks that. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Armando Ianucci, who has talked about “the fear of being found out for being a bit rubbish”

Reason 4: “I will look out over the crowd and see their faces and go blank.”

If you can make a connection with the audience, that’s great. But if you’re nervous, don’t look at the crowd. Before hand, pick 3 spots in the room, or place your mate at the back to smile at you. Start talking to the first point say something and move on to the next point and talk to that, then the third. If eye contact makes you uncomfortable, then it will throw you, so fake it. Remember that people are more interested in the talk than in you. They are not interested in the colour of your shirt, or your accent, or your hair. They want to hear what you have to tell them.

5: “I will lose my place and just stall.”

This is common, that you’ll kick off, then lose your place and it’ll all go up in smoke. So: Cards. Practice. And remember, the audience is on your side. Everyone is desperate for you not to make a fool of yourself for their own sake. They want you to succeed. It’s ok if you stall. And if you do, ‘fess up. Say “I’m sorry, I’ve just lost my place”, look at your cards and carry on. No one will judge you for that.

6; “I will ask something that everyone else understands, and I will look like an idiot.”

Everyone in this situation is thinking the same thing as you. And others may have the question too, but by asking it you have saved them the trouble. But if you are in a situation where you have paid to be at a seminar or conference, you have a right to ask. The speaker has a duty to you, to explain anything that is unclear. It is their problem, not your. And if you wait long enough, there is usually someone in the audience who makes a statement instead of asking a question, so by asking a question you are doing the right thing and saving the audience from statements. Asking questions is a good thing!

7: “It feels artificial. It should feel like a conversation, I hate the awkward feeling.”

The audience often hate it too, they don’t want formality except in serious contexts. The audience wants to make a connection, to feel relaxed. They want to enjoy it. Say ‘Hello!” at the beginning. That makes it more informal, makes people feel relaxed. Also, your arms. Don’t hold them by your sides but don’t gesticulate too much either. If you move your hands at about waist height, that’s what you naturally do in conversation, and it just makes it less formal and breaks up the space. Don’t have a rigid script, but notes that let you ebb and flow with the audience’s attention.

Powerpoint

Two key things:

* Bullet points. This is not the place to write your script. (Don’t use a script, use cards!). Don’t put too much on your powerpoint, just do it in short bursts.
* Pictures: The things that stick in your head are images. Make the pictures appropriate to what you are trying to say. Makes it less formal too.

Conclusion
* People genuinely want to hear what you have to say. If they have invited you, they think you are capable, and you are capable.
* Think about your audience – what can you give them? Why have you been asked to do what you are doing? What can you bring to them?

If all else fails, try to remember the details of one speech you have heard in your life. You don’t. Some speeches really stick in your mind, as in you remember them, but you don’t remember the detail. So if you feel really bad about it, just remember that no one will remember anyway.

twitter.com/watusi

Q: What about humour?
Pictures can be very useful because a picture can be humorous without you having to be funny. If you feel you have to be funny, that can be massive pressure. You can get humour in via pictures. Obviously depends on context, so it’s not always appropriate.

Q: Struggle with going too fast. How do I calm down and articulate? What are your tips? And also, women should make more statements like men [instead of asking questions at a conference]?
Well, statements don’t hold people to account, so if you disagree with something don’t just refute it, ask them to back it up. You have to make yourself do it, you have to grab the opportunity to do so. Regarding speaking slowly, if you’re very nervous, put your reminders to speak slowly, raise your head, use your arms, on your first card. In terms of tone, the more relaxed you get the more conversational you get, and the more your tone will rise and fall. Think about the words you normally emphasise and do that.

Q: Jokes, sometimes they work once but not again? What’s your view?
Good pictures, quotes that other people have said. Because it’s not yours, then if it falls flat then it’s not your fault.

Q: Biting off, repeating oneself and then realising and ending the sentence abruptly.
Be aware of yourself when you’re speaking. It’s a bit weird, half of you is speaking, and half of you is trying to be aware of what is going on. As soon as you are aware, do something. Also, what that boils down to, is a desire to get your point across, and a feeling that either you’re not getting across well or that they are not listening to you. So be confident of yourself. Ask if someone has understood it, try to get to a point where you’ve said it and then ask, does that make sense?

Q: What do you do when people are behind you?
Depends on your room set-up and what’s your point. Either move out to the side, or turn round. it is worth doing that. Depends on how long your’e speaking for. If it’s short, it doesn’t matter. If a room is set up for training, people should face each other and you walk around. If it’s a presentation, then don’t have people behind you, even sit on a windowsill. Explain that you don’t want anyone behind you. If need be, rearrange the room so that you have no one behind.

Q: What’s the best way to say I don’t know?
Comes back to ‘fessing up if you make a mistake. Best thing to do is to say something along the lines of, “That’s a really good point, I don’t know but if you give me your email address I will find out and get back to you”. People can be a bit mean and want to put you on the spot, but if you don’t know be clear that you don’t, and follow it up. Or ask the audience, “Has anyone here had that situation? Can someone help?” Bring audience into the talk. Worst thing you can do is fake it, because they will know.

Christian Heilmann, Yahoo!
How to inspire as a speaker. Interesting to have this kind of event. Always a bit concerned about how everyone says that there aren’t enough women, as hasn’t had that problem when organising his own conferences.

Focused on how to teach people without them realising. Inspire people to learn more about the topic. Inspire them to find out and do something.

Was voted ‘most inspiring speaker’ in the SlideShare Zeitgeist. Upload the audio to his Slideshare.

Presentation is the flashcards – just one sentence. Records talks so he can remember what he said. You can do it too if you just trust yourself.

Why was he voted the most inspiring? He has very distinctive hair. Has its own tag on Flickr. Clearly it’s his hair…

He tries to look at the topic from a different point of view. What is different? Why would people care? Get out of the spot you are in, and look at it from a different angle.

Shows a photo that is missing a person in the middle. People laugh at the woman who didn’t jump, but people don’t notice the missing woman in the middle.

Toblerone. People don’t realise that if they look at the logo, there’s a bear in the logo. What is the story of the bear? Find the story that makes the difference. Even if it’s just anecdotes, make it lively, make it human.

Speaks in many different countries, different cultures.

People look at speakers first, then the information, then the audience. Although the audience is one of the most important things, people are seeking information. What do people take out of that info? How is that info useful to everyone else?

Know what your audience needs is the most important part of any presentation. What do people want? What is their problem? How can you solve it? This can be hard. Sometimes when you are invited at the last moment, or if you face a hostile audience. What do people waste their time on? How does your info make their time better spent? We should go into every conference asking what the audience asks themselves, what is in it for them? No matter how enjoyable a speaker is if they don’t give the audience what they need, they aren’t good. What would I want off me if I was sitting there?

Having the right mindset as a presenter is also very important. People came to see you speak. They had a choice and they chose to see you. So you’ve got nothing to lose. Even if you’re terrible, even if your slides are terrible, you can still say “I did it”, and dare yourself to get better. You can only get better if you keep going. We all suck, we just get better at faking it or don’t care anymore.

Look ahead at what might be interesting. Don’t just take the obvious topics. Just make something better. Tell a story. Find a story. Your presentation should be a story with a start, a climax and an end, with the repetition to drive it home.

How do you get to that stage? Relax, know your stuff. Not the presentation, but the stuff that you are talking about. People will ask you a question. If you just rehearse the presentation but can’t answer questions you lose everything you built up in the presentation. It’s not about dazzling people, but about learning something. Take the time to prepare your topic. It’s dangerous to just go out there and dazzle.

Own your talk. This is your talk. If someone sends you a slide deck, change it to something you feel comfortable with. Have seen people trying to tell other people’s jokes. It’s your talk, it’s what you define.

Practice. Any chance you get to give a public talk, do it. Go to unconferences. Talk to your friends.

Practice some more. The more you do it the better you get. When you get good, you can start to slip stuff in that people aren’t expecting. Grab people’s attention, and follow it up with lots of good information.

How can you practice? Loud reading in different voices is great training. If you have a kid, or can borrow a kid, read books to them with the different voices. Room on the Broom, great way to entertain the kids and you can train yourself to be a speaker.

Listen to audiobooks. Very good training. Stephen Fry is an excellent reader. Learn how to make breaks in the right spot. Accents. Hear the voice.

Listen to yourself. This is excellent training. When we speak our head vibrates, so our voice sounds deeper than we do to other people. Listen to your own talks, e.g. at the gym. Become your own critic. Find out mannerisms that you didn’t realise you had. Discover your own tics and weaknesses. Force yourself to listen to yourself.

Powerpoint karaoke. Friday afternoon. Beer. Download random Powerpoints off the internet. Then everyone has to give a five minute presentation to a random powerpoint deck. Everything from caring for crocodiles, to environmental physics. Good bonding experience too!

Lightning talks. 5 x 5 x 5. Good way to share information, to learn how to speak. 5 minute presentations of a problem encountered, 5 minute talking about how it was resolved, 5 minute discussion about whether the solution is good enough. Whatever you do at work, you can do this. Everyone in the team has to do one sooner or later. Very good to find new speakers too.

Get inspired by great examples. Sometimes, the quirky ones aren’t actually the best. TED is a great site for videos. Good introduction. Always pick people who are interesting.

Josh Blue, was at Last Comic Standing, and he’s got a Cerebral Palsy, and is very, very funny. US guy. Very in your face. Makes people realise that those with disabilities have something to offer too. Not just being funny, but also saying that we are out there, we are interesting. Anyone can do that too – show people that you are there.

Avoid at all costs:

* Imitation. If you imitate someone else’s style, that makes you a karaoke singer. Find your own style.
* Read your slides. It’s appalling if you read your slides. Slides are a guideline, outline of your story, reminds you where you’re going. Information for people who can’t be bothered to listen.
* Forget your story. It’s not just information. Make it personal if necessary. Use anecdote.
* Blinging it up. Don’t use the fancy transitions. You should never end up having to wait for your slides to build.

Overcoming the fear.
Some people say you should ‘dress a bit better than the audience’, but that’s not the point. Your presentation will talk for you. If you have to abide by company speaker guidelines, smile and nod and think of something happy. Be honest, accept your flaws. The audience is as afraid of you as you are of them. Some audiences are happy and supportive, others are very hostile because they think they are better. If you don’t talk to the audience and get them involved, you’re talking to yourself. The audience wants your information, give your slides to them online, let people relax and focus on your talk.

Instead of seeing a crowed or a sea of faces, pick a new person to talk to with every part of your story. If you’re experienced, try to figure out what they are trying to get out of them. Talking to people one after the other, people who look interested, makes you subconsciously talk to them more.

Has a presentation ebook online for free. developer-evangelism.com. How to write slides, how to get invited to speak, how to deliver the talk.

Twitter.com/codepo8.

Q: Format and structure of presentation. What the background should be? Bullets or no bullets? If you have a 10 mins presentation, how many slides?
There’s another game, Pecha Kucha – 20 slides in 20 seconds. Very fast. Good way to pace yourself and find out. Normally take a minute a slide. Always be faster than you think you are, don’t be scared of 45 minute talk. Don’t like bullet points because they distract the audience. If you structure the points, and show them one after the other and talk them through the process, then it’s ok. Summary slides, that’ where they are good. Other than that, one piece of information. Background – black background with big (36px upwards) white text works everywhere on every technology. Other than that, it’s up to you what your style is. Don’t go after someone else’s style. Think about what might break, and one thing to remember is that everything will break. You will never have a set up that works.

Q: How do you combat nerves of just getting up there?
Be in the mindset. You’re already there, people have already booked, you can’t let them down by not going on. There’s nothing much you can do that would make them hate you. Everybody is afraid at the last moment. You cannot change it just before you go on. You just have to do it. Find a way to calm yourself when you’re stressed. You’ve made the commitment, you’ve prepared, so you’re ready.

Q: How do you deal with people who take over the meeting, and make sure everyone has a chance to talk?
Wish we had more female managers; male managers get into vocal fist fights, talk in circles because they want consensus. Have an agenda, because if you don’t it’s a waste of time. Say at the beginning, this is the agenda, say you are going to stick to it and stick to the time, and be firm but polite with people. When people go round in circles, say, “We’re not going to fix this now, so let’s deal with it after the meeting.”

Q: How do you deal with a microphone?
See it as sceptre. I just earnt this because I have something important to say. It’s my turn. Spotlight situation: you want that question answers. You’ve made the commitment to ask it. A lot of others have the same question, and they’ll love you for asking it.

Christian Crumlish on Social Design Patterns

Last night I went to a great talk by Christian Crumlish about the Yahoo! Pattern Library and social design patterns. Christian has a book, co-authored by Erin Malone, out at the moment on O’Reilly, Designing Social Interfaces, from which part of this talk was drawn.

Brief history of patterns
Design patterns – concept of a pattern language originated in architecture in the 70s. Christopher Alexander wrote two books: A Pattern Language and A Timeless Way of Building. He posited that you could do architecture and could plan towns and buildings and rooms and even construction through recognising a series of patterns that were replicated the world over. Once you had discovered them you could apply them to problems. Trying to demystify architecture by recognising that there’s a syntax. Not one single pattern language, just that they had derived a particular one.

Idea didn’t take off in architecture. Alexander isn’t that well respected, but it’s taken root in other fields. CompSci picked up on idea of patterns in 80s, Design Patterns is famous book, pushed idea into dev world. Concept of wikis and design patterns in software and architecture are siblings. Ward Cunningham built Portland Pattern Repository, pattern libraries and collections often maintained in wikis, and the ideas co-evolved.

Jenifer Tidwell, proposed idea of HCI or User Interaction design patterns. Wanted to apply idea to software that involves human begins. She put together a book, Designing Interfaces, and inspired a number of UI people to think in terms of patterns, which influenced the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, launched in 2005. Internal Yahoo! library. In 2006, decided to make it available in the public at least in part.

Added rich interaction patterns. Idea is you can drop stuff into a page and get it working. Should be able to find the code for each pattern in the Yahoo code library. Not all those links exists, but they try. Crumlish now caretaker for the library and is interested in adding social patterns to it. Yahoo! makes own products and buys companies and a number of the most popular social sites, specially early ones, which are now Yahoo! did similar things in different ways. Flickr and Delicious popularised tagging as a way of letting users add metadata that’s not topdown or hierarchical, but their interfaces are different: comment or space delimiter, compound words or not. Talking a look at that aspects of user interface, compound interface elements that make a social experience. Looking for a language. Also found out you can’t solve the tag problem.

Reason why we have a pattern library is a post from Fast Company, One Company, 100 Designs. Yahoo is essentially one site, but it all looks different. It isn’t just one giant website, but there are numerous examples where things were inconsistent for no good reason, so the pattern library is trying to provide common basis for a starting point so people innovate on top of that.

Social designs, in the early days of social interface, it’s got awkwardness built in because of unfamiliarity, lack of mores, customs and habits that show people how to behave.

Saw the problem with telephones: didn’t now how to use them, didn’t think they needed them, didn’t have a model of speaking to people a big distance away from you and the uses weren’t clear. Network effect is also important – one telephone isn’t useful, you need a network of people to communicate with. Early days of blogging, joke was how do you do business with blogs? Well, how do you do it with telephones. And that’s what these social interfaces are about. You don’t teach them. [I disagree that you don’t teach people how to do business with blogs!]

We figured out how to use a telephone, and the model back in the old days is that you were calling a place and asking for a person. Idea now is that a telephone is attached to a person, so you’re always calling the person with the mobile It’s not that one model is better that the other, but it’s inherently different, which means there are habits which need to be changed. If you can be reached at any time, you need to either let that happen or set boundaries, e.g turn your phone off or not answer late at night. But these things are still being negotiated and not everything has been figured out. E.g. people shouting down the phone, being loud, and it may be that they grew up with a different type of phone, and don’t know how to use a mobile yet.

Users are entering new and unfamiliar situations and they don’t know how to act, or how to behave. So they are going to be awkward, but can try to mitigate that, try to teach people, make it harder to spam people, things like that.

Social patterns informed by the whole web, to inform Yahoo! and if they work, they release them out to teach others. Asked a lot at Barcamps, talked to people, wrote an O’Reilly book. Found overarching principles that should inform this kind of work.

Five principles
Pave the cowpaths. Look at the behaviour that’s already happening and facilitate that, rather than forcing people into behaviour you think is better. Brute force attempts to make people behave in a way that doesn’t make sense will fail. Eg Dogster. When we’re online we’re performing, the computer is between us and everyone else in the network, so we get to chose an identity and perform in a certain way. Dog owners, that’s what they are doing. They are talking about their pets, pretending to be their pets, talking mainly about themselves at one remove in a childlike and innocent voice, and people like it. But interesting thing about Dogster is that when it started it was just a photo sharing site, and one thing they noticed early on was that users were uploading photos of animals, and when you have a social component and let people add the value, it’s easy to decide that people aren’t doing what you want, but what Dogster saw was that people like putting up pictures of pets, and created site that supported that behaviour, then supported other behaviours that people like to do. If they had turned away pet lovers, they would have killed off what turned out to be a profitable business.

Talk like a person
On a social site there you’re trying to create a climate of sociability, it’s all the more important that your web copy is conversational, is human, is about how people really talk. There’s a range here, cases where you want to be more formal, or less. But don’t hide from your users the fact that there are human beings behind the site as well as in the network on the site. Set a humanistic tone. Flickr famous for having a human tone, not a faceless corporation.

How to talk like a person:
* Conversational voice
* Self-deprecating error messages (take the blame, don’t put it on the user or cryptic messages, say that you’re going to try to fix it.)
* Ask questions (creates conversational dialogue with the user, e.g. Twitter “What are you doing?”. It’s just a prompt that establishes a dialogue.)
* Your vs My (If you use Your you create a dialogue. ‘My Yahoo!’ is an asocial thing. If it’s only me, it’s like looking in my filing cabinet, it’s me and my stuff. But something that’s Your, it’s ‘who is the person saying you?’. The way your mind works is that it creates a feeling that you’re not the only person there.)
* No joking around (Tempting, when you want to be conversational, to be jokey. But it doesn’t always translate, as you know from sarcasm doesn’t always work.)

Play well with others
Embrace open standards, technologies, OS etc. What you make will plug into other people’s stuff easily, you won’t create barriers to people building on and extending your stuff. Use standards that are established. Allow the data that’s in the site to be taken off the site and displayed elsewhere, mashed up, etc. There’s almost no way to stop that, as people will scrape, so use XML, Json, microformats, so people can create value around what you’ve done. Have ways to bring data into the system. allow for portability, allow for interoperability. There are exceptions, these are just trends, things you should consider.

Learn from games
One issue is that up and coming generations of users are learning on games more often, on video games. they have high expectations for how rich, responsive and sophisticated interfaces should be. You can’t change enterprise software into a game, but there are elements of game dynamics that help people get into a flow state, and you can get into those things.

E.g. if you gave people a way to collect favourite pages, then you can let them express the collectible behaviour people like.

When you design a game, you’e not designing an end-state, you’re designing a set of rules, boundaries, tokens, a space to play in. Every time you play, it plays out a different way. Social design is more like that, less like creating a device. This is a space where people will meet and interact. People are going to finish the experience themselves. You might build the house, but they’ll decorate it. Give up control, design something that has variables that the users can control.

Game Neverending, by Ludicorp. Very much like a MUD, but had chat element, small graphics, and Ludicorp went ton to make Flickr. It was not a game, literally, but it feels like a game, you discover elements, e.g. hovering over a name to provide a drop-down. Playfulness and discovery. People make up their own games in Flickr, they make badges and award them to each other. Early users fostered game-like behaviour.

Respect the ethical dimensions
Ethics are complicated, you have to balance different goods against one another. There are ethical ramifications behind your choices. You are at least putting together people who might not be put together. You’re playing with people lives, affecting people’s lives. You have to think through the consequences of your choices.

Counter-example: Tagged.com. Once you’ve signed up, they ask for your email address, and if you give them that and your password and say ok, then they spam your address book with a marketing message as if it’s from you. Was clear they were designing it so that users were accidentally “agreeing” to this. Plaxo did the same once. This is ethically questionable behaviour.

96 Patterns
[Nice diagram.] Patterns come in three categories, revolving around ‘social spaces’.
Self >> Activities >> Community

Three stake holders: the owner/designer, the user, the community at large. The community starts to behave like an organism.

Give people a way to represent themselves, and give them a way to customise it, claim their work, identify themselves when commenting, etc. Need to distinguish users from each other, so people can differentiate themselves from someone with same name, for e.g. Colour scheme, avatar, name – all self expression.

Self
Four groups of patterns:

Engagement: e.g. sign-up. to be social you need people and thus they need to join.
Identity: Once they’ve joined they can create an identity.
Presence: who else is here? who else has been here? What have they done?
Reputation: your score, ranking, category, help strangers encountering you for first time understand who you are and what you do

(created flash cards based on the patterns)

User cards, mini-profile, gives basics around the person.

Social objects
Things people have a common interest in, want to discuss or find interesting. things they rally around. Early social networks didn’t have that concept, e.g. Friendster. So there was a ‘so what’ moment. You’d join, find friends “traversing the graph”, you’d add them, and then you’d collect everyone. And at some point you’d go “Ok. Now what? What do I do now?”, and there was noting to do. You could talk to them, but you could do that anyway.

Friendster wanted to have ability to gather round common interests. They created Fakester, e.g. a person like Santa, or an inanimate thing like skiing, and through that connection had created symbolic way to form identity around an object or activity. Friendster didn’t like Fakester. Not necessarily a bad thing, making people use real names has a benefit to some extent (me: not always), but they violated the Pave the Cowpaths principle, and they deleted all the Fakester accounts all at once. Massacre. Friendster had a big scaling problem in their architecture but he big decline was when they kill the Fakester off. So you need not just people but also objects, e.g. photos, or freeform objects/topics people can decide for themselves.

Actions
Give people something to do.

Collecting: which is least social, most passive or individualistic thing you can do, but it’s a starting point. E.g. favourites, bookmarks, adding to a page. Small social element there, if i collect something you made. IF i display that collection it says something about me.

Sharing: bread and butter of social network. Giving stuff to each other.

Broadcasting and publishing: sharing on a megascale. Facebook is bad at distinction between broadcast/individually targeted behaviours. Blogging seen as 1-to-many, which is why blogs don’t always foster communication and conversation.

Feedback: comments, rating, voting, favourites (again). Asking for feedback. Feedback is where you get more viral and exponential behaviour.

Communicating Comes later, after collecting, sharing etc.

Collaboration: managing, voting, editing, wikis.

Social media: Following filtering, recommendations, helping people find stuff and sort out what’s good, recent, etc.

Community
Last three are all community. Let community elevate people and content they value. Allow people to moderate itself, within reason. Selfish reason for self-moderation – third party mod doesn’t scale, can never hire enough moderators. Have to make community responsible for quality of the content. Has to police itself, set its own rules within boundaries. Not totally hands off, have to establish clear norms, important in early days to model good behaviour, participate in the community to show people what the community should look like .But want to create mechanisms by which people can manage it for you.

Connections: Relationships, finding people, friends. Declaring a connection between people, what types of relationships you want to support, do they have to be reciprocal or can they be one way, or only one way? Can people find people or do they have to traverse the graph manually. Do you have implicit and explicit relationships. Can you algorithmically determine if people are in same groups? Can you use that info to create implicit relationships. Fans and fame, one to many relationships. What permissions and authorisations are implied by connections? Should they be announced in an activity stream? But do you announce when people stop being friends?

Community management: Rules, establish norms, manifest in your own site and show people how you expect them to behave, give people way to decide what should happen, e.g. Craigslist. Asked the community to discuss what they should charge for to make it tenable. Give people ways to collaboratively filter information. People need to be able to report abuse.

Place, Geo, Location: mapping, face-to-face meetings, calendaring, geo-behaviours. Just scratching the surface of all this. This is a growth area.

Circles of connections – pre-defined or user-defined groups for permissioning purposes.
Public conversation – e.g. Facebook walls. Curious and interesting thing, as people talk to each other who don’t know each other talking on a third person’s wall. Twitter is all public conversation.
Enable a bridge to real life events. Let people do stuff in person too.

Anti-patterns
Noticed there are certain behaviours used repeatedly that are anti-patterns. Something that seems like a good idea, but has negative consequences. Appears to solve a problem or is a shortcut, but has an aftermath.

Cargo Cult: During WWII in Pacific, US would set up landing strips to supply the troops. In natural course of things, western goods would appear on the island, and the more primitive people on the island liked these goods, but when the war ended the US left. So religious cargo cults sprang up, so war uniforms, making effigies of airplanes and towers, did what air traffic guys did, to try to draw new cargo.

In social media, good e.g. is that after Flickr, Zooomr tried to do the same thing, nicked a lot of copy, and decided the lack of an E was the big thing. Just copying without understanding why. May get the right things but may not know why, or ever understand what bring success.

Don’t break email: Lots of email notifications, but the problem is when it’s used as a one-way medium, e.g. if you have noreply@facebookmail.com, and you may not even get a bounce message back. Trying to make people go back to the website to look at an ad, but it’s still not good to break email. Basecamp let you reply, above the line, and it’s added as a comment to the thread. You don’t have to break email. Build on existing infrastructure – work with it not against it.Don’t break users’ existing habits.

Password anti-pattern: Asking for people’s email and password so you can spam their mailbox, or even just help you get your friends list out of the email contacts list into the new social graph. But it encourages risky behaviour as you shouldn’t be giving your password away

Ex-boyfriend bug: Dodgeball discovered this, when “The ‘people you should know’ list on Facebook is actually a list of people you hate.” – Rex Sorgatz. Algorithms show people you should connect with, even though there’s a reason you may not. Algorithm doesn’t need to know who is your ex, but needs to allow you to block someone and say ‘never show me this person or tell them about me’.

Potemkin Village. Settlements in Russia, Potemkin told Catherine that settlements in Crimea were going really well, but it wasn’t, so when she insisted on visiting, he created a series of facades and shipped peasants town to town to create the lie. Don’t create forums and discussion areas and map them out. In first early days of alpha, there’s no one there, and so if there’s a lot of fora, you won’t find people so creates a barrier early on. Cure: start with very limited number of fora, even just one or two. Put everyone in the same room. Odds are your initial community is small, and they will tell you when they want more space.

[There was a short Q&A afterwards. I didn’t capture it, but Jeff Van Campen’s notes did.]

Playful 09

I’m at Playful ’09 today. I’m not going to be taking verbatim notes, as is my usual habit, but instead just jotting down a few random notes.

Roo Reynolds
Films based on games, often not very good. Minesweeper film trailer (from College Trailer). The only good film from a game is Tron.

Leila Johnston
Wrote Enemy of Chaos, adventure book written for the aging nerd market, not many books for that demographic. Character believes “Obsessive regulation might stave off decay” [sounds like our government].

Kareem Ettouney
How do large teams collaborate? Given bands, with four people in, struggle to get along. It’s actually quite hard to encourage collaboration. His company started with five people, everyone “had the moans”, critical of past employers. As soon as you start hiring talented people, how do you minimise the moans? People are using 2% of their talent and feel unfulfilled, want to do more. How do you increase their input, get a level of ownership that doesn’t create a mishmash. Traditional pyramid structure with specialists to produce work does function ok, old school model. But when you start working with exceptional people, you remember how you used to feel when no one was listening to your ideas.

So started to talk about ownership. Get people to own – means that there’s a responsibility and accountability, that’s the price. Share the problem, let people have ideas, but the hard part is to give your idea time, investigate it, present it. Email thread is not enough, if you want to own your area, earn it. People love the responsibility. Preconception was that the important bit was the ideas, but that leads to incoherence.

But when you share pragmatic aspects, e.g. deadlines, selling to clients, that allows people to rise to the job. No more old-school artistic direction any more, doesn’t work. Shift artistic director role from mastermind to matchmaker, trying to match skills. Share the journey. Harder than the pyramid style. Important too to have personal projects – makes you less precious. Downside of creativity is becoming precious and losing objectivity, because it hurts. Healthy to have your own avenue. If something doesn’t come out at work, it has to come out somewhere else and better it comes out in your own project, if it doesn’t it clouds your thinking. Companies who say, “Everything you do we own” are shooting themselves in their foot, because their staff are jaded.

Daniel Soltis
Tinker-it. Important to get people to feel that they can take something, like a radio, apart and do stuff with it, and change the way that they relate to it. Made a weekend-long immersive street-game. There are tech problems with games – keeping track of players, game state etc. Then iPhone came out, which changes everything. But walking around starting at an iPhone screen is not really all that great. No tactile pleasures as with game pieces. Cross-over between traditional tactile items and tech, e.g. GPS puzzle box that only opened when in the right place, was made as a wedding present.

Lucy Wurstlin
“Play is nature’s training for life. No community can infringe that right without doing deep and enduring harm to the minds and bodies of its citizens” – David Lloyd George.

Play or Die. 4iP. Education via games and technology.

Robin Burkinshaw with Matt Locke
Robin create two Simms characters, Alice and Kev. These are homeless characters: Kev is a drunken looser, Alice is his daughter. Set personality traits in Simms to negative traits, like quick to anger, says inappropriate things. Gave Kev the goal to try and date 10 other characters – impossible given character traits. Game turned into a moving storyline around homelessness.

James Bridle
Awesomeness more important than innovation. Awesome should be proper, God-fearing awe, in a “Space is big” way. Chap who did an illustration for every page of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Another chap, Tom Phillips, who found a Victorian novel and is drawing on every page, pulling out a hidden possible narrative. Heath Robinson, “I really have a secret satisfaction in being considered rather mad”. Heath Robinson was also name of the precursor to the Colossus computer that helped break the Enigma code.

Babbage, first great weird machine builder. Although he never build his Difference Engine. Wasn’t capable to build it, wasn’t sure it would work, never got funding, but did build bits to demonstrate his theory of miracles: He believed that miracles were just very very unlikely events. Would get his guests to crank the handle of his device at dinner parties to try and demonstrate unlikely events. Calculated odds of the Resurrection – said it wasn’t a miracle just very unlikely. Wrote to Tennyson about The Vision of Sin to correct his poem about birth and death rates. Started designing a Naughts and Crosses engine, analysed the game, and thought he could do it – maybe he could finance the Different Engine if he built a Naughts and Crosses machine.

People have build a Naughts and Crosses engine – MENACE. Was done by one of the Bletchley Park code breakers. Built a computer out of match boxes. Machine could learn – it had beads inside that correspond to each possible move, and you take beads out of failed moves and put them into successful boxes. James built it… lots of matchboxes and beads (well, beans, as ran out of beads).

Go. Simple rules, but very complex to play. Very hard to model on a computer. Tried to calculate how many matchboxes needed to model Go. 304 needed for OX, with 10 beads. Go would need 3.4 x 10^15 matchboxes, each with 3610 beads in each matchbox, each being 18m^2. If you built it, it would be slightly larger than the Crab Nebula.

Katy Lindemann
Would love to talk about robots, but is going to talk about behaviour change. (And robots.)

There was a game where little robots, which needed to cross New York but could not get there without help from humans. For months, none of them got lost because New Yorkers took care of the robots.

Japanese have a tradition of play and robots, very hopeful, love tech and excited about the future of technology.

But these weren’t designed to change behaviour. Play is fundamental to culture and society. Playing is how we learn and grow up. How can we use playful design and experience to actively encourage behaviour change. Games are a gateway drug to learning. But not necessarily best way to change behaviour. How can we game real life and make the every day, mundane things through play. High Scores. Integration about high scores, interesting way to get people to change behaviour.

E.g. housework. Japanese are building a house robot to do the cleaning, but meantime we’ll have to find something else to motivate. ChoreWars – get experience points the more housework you do.

Encourage more efficient driving. Turn it into a game. Fiat EcoDrive: USB stick in car monitors driving behaviour and then analyse on computer. Gives tips. Can set targets, can better own scores, can share scores with others. Collectively shows CO2 emissions.

Getting diabetics to regularly check blood sugar is tough. Digit, glucose monitor that attaches to Nintendo DS. Rewards good behaviour.

But it’s not all about scores. Sometimes it’s just making it fun. Fun makes it easier to rewire the brain. A lot of democracy stuff is not fun – petitions, writing to MP. How do you give kids a voice? Making it ‘cool’ doesn’t give you the sense that you’re being listened to. No pay off.

Writing robot, in Houses of Parliament, could let people write stuff, and Twitter it, and it’d be written out at HoP.

How to get people to exercise more? We know what we should be doing, but don’t do it. Make it fun. Dance Dance Revolution. Schools in US include DDR in their PE lessons. Wii Fit approved by Dept of Health.

But also make everyday stuff fun. About taking the stairs. [Reminds me of the “racing up the stairs to the 11th floor” wiki page we had at DrKW, as was]. This project turns a staircase into a piano. 66% more people chose to use the stairs than normal.

Recycling. Firstly, make it easier, change the infrastructure. But not enough. Pay for recycling? If you stop paying, will people stop recycling. Bottle Bank Arcade – was used 100 times, where nearby conventional bottle bank was used twice.

Tassos Stevens
The Ashes. It’s all about the question, “What happens next?” If you see someone throw a ball to someone else, can you turn away before you see if they’ve caught it?

Sport generally have simple dynamics. Cricket a bit more complex. Ashes decided over two months, no one can watch it all, gives you permission to miss stuff. Punctuated play, and gaps lets you talk about things. Cricket is unclear even who is winning until the end. Lets people tell each other stories, as the potential imagined outcome shifts. Result can be determined by Acts of God – the weather. Strong tribalism too.

Russell Davies
Two types of model railways: ones that try to replicate the world, and ones that put the railway in their garden where you can’t try to replicate anything, building a bubble of suspense. Bubble building vs. world building.

Barely games: collecting, negotiation, pretending, inattention. Most important is pretending. Never hear enough about pretending.

Mornington Crescent, is pretending to be a game, but because it seems like a game it’s almost better than a game.

Collecting: Pokemon. Game you’re supposed to be playing is way too complex, so make up your own, like Top Trumps. Noticing game. About negotiation.

Collecting things is great for pretending. Works when you’re a kid, but good for adults too. We do pretend, all the time.

Luxury items are pretending items, can’t get the case with the machine gun in parts… but you can get a barbeque set.

Pretending metaphor breaks down if it’s too obvious. Computer desk top is… like a desk. 3D Mailbox trying to make email fun, “Every message is a jumbo jet”. Why aren’t we using it? Because it’s tone deaf. Not subtle.

Need to bury the pretending detail, so it’s not in your face.

Lots of games are quite demanding, want us to pay attention and touch the screen. Want to pay attention to the world.

What would a barely game app involved:

– Walking around, i.e. not looking at the screen
– Uncertain or socially decided rules
– Things that either can be useful or stupid
– High pretending value

SAP – Situated audio platform, audio stuff that’s related to geolocation.

Molly Range
Two ways of telling a story: One tells and others listen and react; or everyone co-creates. Scandinavian story telling tends towards co-creation. Opens up to experimental productions. Scandinavians go “beyond fun” to use play for political protest or learning. Engage people, bring new perspectives, create change. But lack standardised way to prove the value of play to people outside of gaming.

Duncan Gough
Kes – film about a boy called Billy Casper, filmed in ’69 by Ken Loach. Bit of a feral kid who finds a kestrel, finds the nest and steals a baby kestrel. Firm roots in theatre and radio plays.

Storytelling has developed, e.g. The Wire. Episode, seasons, story arcs and box sets with developments on all scales.

Language of games.

Stand-alone vs ongoing story
Serial and serial quests in MMOs
What would it be like to play Friends, or The Wire?

Fictive worlds – like virtual worlds or MMOs, but more story based. Sense of player vs environment, bringing a story like Kes to life. Adventure games, if you stand still nothing happens in the world, but you want the world to carry on without you. Want the world to be active, living.

Branching narratives aren’t scalable. But decisions must have consequences.

Prior art? 80s was a classic era for children’s TV drama. BBC was concerned that kids would leave TV for games and the web. Kids TV, e.g. Press Gang about a school newspaper, and Running Scared, about a girl on the run from gangsters. No archives of them though – no way to go and watch them again.

Sad, but a good opportunity for a golden age of gaming to happen. Looking for

– web-based fictive world
– simple, directed story
– interactive, allegorical

Alfie Dennen & Paula le Dieu
Bus Top – city-wide network of programmable LED panels on the top of bus stops, one at least in every London Borough, open API.

Want to let the public actually take part in public art as usually they don’t get the chance.

Routes and pebbles — routes might have 5 or 6 installations, and the pebbles are individual panels. Creates a giant canvas. What stories can be told? What sort of visual narrative?

Will be able to use things like Flickr, Twitter, their API and an online tool to interact with the panels. Very lo-fi, pixelate experience. Canvas will be live for 12 months leading up to and through Olympics.

Rex Crowle
Likes wonky drawing, doodling. People get hung up on drawing and expressing themselves and worry that what they are creating is somehow wrong.
Now works for Little Big Planet – game that’s not finished until people are playing it and making stuff. Customise the character, the world, the soundtrack. Internet makes it much more flexible, and you can fix flaws after launch.

Simon Oliver
Makes games for the iPhone.

How do you design fun? Top-down game design is hard. Prototyping works – find the fun.

Simplicity. Games controllers got more and more complex, and that scares people off if they aren’t familiar. iPhone interface is much simpler and instinctive. If it’s too complex or not fun, chuck it.

Tim Wright
Life’s ambition: To play golf on the Moon with David Bowie.

Read Kidnapped by Robert Louise Stephenson, which features a shipwreck and a walk from Mull to Edinburgh. Book says shipwreck happened on June 29th, and arrived in Edinburgh on August 24th.

Is it possible to walk the same walk as the book in that time?

Kidmapped – recreating the walk, podcasting and mapping the way. Put the whole book up on a wiki, chunked by day and could then comment on it. Read the book out in the locations it was setting. Other people came out to read too. Became not just about the book, but also about the landscape.

Also ended up being sent poetry, art, and ended up playing golf up the mountain.

Writers create maps and date travels through them all the time, so why not, as readers, recreate those journeys?

Chris O’Shea
Interaction design.

We work too much and lose our sense of play.

What if you could see through walls? Installation that uses infrared torch and a projector to mimic seeing through walls.

“Flap to Freedom” remote controlled chickens that people thought they were controlling by flapping their arms. Forget about looking silly and have fun.

Mirror installation where the mirrors will self-arrange to reflect your face back to you, and move as you move. Similar one with police car beacons that turn to face you as you walk amongst them.

Social experiences. Let people play together.

@DW Global Media Forum: Blogging, citizen journalism and politics

Deutsche Welle BOBs 2008 winners

Deutsche Welle Best of the Blogs 2008 winners

Bloggers were well represented at Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum, in part because it was the first time that they awarded their BOBs – Best of the Blogs – to the winning bloggers in person. The forum was a stark reminder of internet theorist Clay Shirky’s observation that technology that is often used to pass time in the West can be an essential tool for expression and democracy in repressive countries. Blogging has become a powerful means of expression, reporting and organisation in countries around the world.

Blogging and citizen journalism

During a panel on blogging and citizen journalism, Israel Yoroba Guebo from the Ivory Coast said that in his country, “We hope that our journalists don’t end up in prison.” There is only one television channel and opposition political parties have no way to communicate their positions. He used to work for a newspaper, but he wanted an outlet to tell about the everyday life of people in his country.

Ivory Coast was divided by conflict in 2002 as rebels held part of the country. The political conflict didn’t just divide the country but also its people. He wrote on his blog Le Blog de Yoro about life in all parts of the country and tried to show that people shared the same way of life in an effort to bring about reconciliation.

He was asked whether blogging could have prevented the conflict. He said:

“In Ivory Coast, we didn’t see a way to prevent crisis, but if we had the blog, maybe we could have prevented some of the massacres.”

Another person asked him who was the target audience of the blog. Was it Africans, many of whom don’t have access to the internet, or was it audiences in Europe and the US?

He said that it was important to let people in other countries know what was happening in the Ivory Coast, but maybe his blog would also encourage others to take up bloggin. “The more bloggers that we have, the greater opportunity we have to talk freely,” he said.

The problem is that blogging there is difficult and expensive. They don’t have broadband and have to go to internet cafes to post. However, he said:

“You can at least give the world the possibility to express themselves. Something that would never be accepted on the television.”

Iranians do not have to be encouraged to blog. It is often said that Persian is the fourth most common language for blogs. Four years ago, women in Iran gathered outside of parliament to protest a law that prevented women from becoming president, but it was one of many laws unfair to women. The women decided to protest every day of the year against one of these laws, said Nazli Farokhi.

“We realised that 365 days was not enough,” she said, so they started the blog 4equality. It gives a chance for women who support the campaign to write about their experiences. She was asked about the security of the bloggers. Police have arrested 50 of their members, and four remain in prison.

During the BOBs award ceremony, she played the group’s anthem which describes the discrimination that women in Iran face and the hope that one day women and men can be equal there.

Threats to bloggers

A climate of fear due to threats of violence, intimidation or arrest face bloggers in repressive countries. Bloggers from China and Cuba were not allowed to travel to accept their awards, but instead had to record video messages for the BOBs ceremony.

Cuban Yoani Sanchez’s GeneraciĆ³n Y won the award for best blog 2008. Appearing via video message, she said that having a blog in Cuba “can drive one to madness”: There are no internet connections in people’s homes, and bloggers are forced to go internet cafes or hotels that cater to tourists. The cost of using the internet for one hour is equal to a third of the average Cuban’s salary.

Zeng Jinyan won the Reporters without Borders best blog award. She’s the wife of imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia, and she began blogging after being put under house arrest. She writes about life under constant surveillance by the Chinese authorities. She couldn’t travel to accept the reward, but was able to get a video to the BOB organisers. In the video message, she said:

“Blogging has brought new hope to my life.”

Ahmad Abdalla won the award for best blog in Arabic. When he started writing the blog, he said that he was only writing “about small things” and didn’t think that anyone would care about it. But, he added:

“But these small things are affecting my generation, these small things that we’re missing.”

Blogging in Russia

Eugene Gorny said that two or three years ago, he wouldn’t have predicted that he would be interested in the link between politics and blogs in Russia, but now people who were not previously interested are getting involved in the political discussion.

Most popular media channels or national newspapers in Russia are controlled by the government. They have no chance to report about opposition political leaders, protests or anything that the government doesn’t want known or discussed.

Andrei Illarionov, the former chief economic advisor to Vladimir Putin, says of Russia, “People enjoy a tangible level of personal freedoms, but political rights are almost absent, civil liberties are severely restricted and there are significant limits on personal security.”

The regime is afraid of any political activity of the citizens, and brutally oppresses them, Gorny said.

Russians first started blogging seven or eight years ago, but it was mostly for fun and for the self-expression of the internet elite. As the Russian government has seized control of the media, blogs have become an important alternative to the state media for people to discuss issues that are important to them.

A 2009 report by Russian search engine Yandex found 7.4m blogs in Russian, of which about 1m are active. There are 1m posts in the Russian language every day. Russian bloggers are journalists, opposition politicians or “anyone who has a story or an opinion to share”, he said. Journalists blogging are able to write about issues more freely than in the traditional media. But it doesn’t matter whether a blogger is a journalist or not, Gorny said. Rather, bloggers were judged by their peers about their ability to write about significant topics.

Many blogs have a huge readership and reach in Russia. Free magazine F5 reviews the hottest topics in the Russian blogosphere, coming mostly from popular blogging service LiveJournal. The magazine boasts a circulation of 100,000.

Bloggers write reports on what they see, publish documents such as Amnesty International reports, commentary on current events, coverage of protests and quotes and links to other posts.

Their favourite topics are writing about:

  1. The “iIllegitimate, corrupted, aggressive and unjust regime”.
  2. The constant search for internal and external enemies.
  3. Human rights violation in Russia, Chechyna, Ingushetia,
  4. Police mayhem, extreme violence and the “outrageous breach of all limits”.
  5. Strategies of resistance.

The last has become important as the authorities criminalise new forms of resistance. Russian authorities have clamped down on flash mobs and, earlier this year, they even arrested members of a silent protest for using foul language. The protestors had tape over their mouths. As more protesters are jailed, blogs from prison are part of a growing trend in Russia.

Blogs are a significant and growing part of the media in Russian, and Gorny predicted that if the political situation gets worse, then that the role of blogs will only increase.

Blogs and democracy in the West

Of course, even in the West, blogs can still be used for democratic purposes. US transparency through technology group, the Sunlight Foundation, won the 2008 Best Blog in English for their Party Time blog. The blog aims to collect information on the lobbyists, corporations and other donors who pay for parties for US politicians.

Nancy Watzman said that anonymous sources, some even in the lobbying groups themselves, offer the group tickets to the parties. The tickets come from sources they trust. They post the information on the Party Time blog, helping to shed light on one of the poorly reported aspects of the game of money, access and influence in US politics. During the political conventions in 2008 ahead of the presidential elections, they went to many of the parties, taking videos and posting them to the blog.

They would like to take the project further and are looking for partners, including the Huffington Post.

Markus Beckedahl started blogging at Netzpolitik to discuss issues of digital rights, copyright and censorship on the internet, pulling together stories in German and from around the world on the subject. He does a lot of thinking about how to change politics. He said:

“Politicians do bills about internet and they don’t really know what they are talking about.”

About 70,000 people in Germany use Twitter, and Markus has found that it’s a good way to quickly oganise and mobilise people. Netzpolitik has its own YouTube channel and video podcasting channel, and this has led to reports in traditional media about their efforts and issues.

He discussed some of their political campaigns. In 2005, the German government began discussing whether to switch from Microsoft’s Windows XP to Linux. The software giant threw a party to lobby the government to stick with Windows, Beckedahl said. Netzpolitik crashed the party in penguin costumes, the penguin being the mascot of Linux. Some of the penguins even managed to send pictures from the party via MMS.

In recent months, Deutsche Bahn, the German rail giant, has been in a “spy scandal with their workers”, Beckedahl said. Someone sent him internal DB documents, which he posted on the internet. Their lawyers sent him a cease-and-desist letter. He posted the letter on the site, asking for advice. Soon, the letter and documents were spread across the internet, making it difficult for DB to get them removed.

Their most recent campaign is against a proposed law aimed at child pornography. Instead of seeking to shut down the sites, the German government is looking to use filtering software, but internet activists fear that government filtering efforts could be used by other industries such as the music industry against file-sharing sites or by the Hessen government to filter gambling sites. Activists would rather the government seek limited action to shut down sites operating outside of the law.

The German government has an online petition system. A successful petition has to get 50,000 signatures. Using Twitter and hundreds of blogs, Netzpolitik managed to get the necessary signatures in record time, getting 110,000 in all.

Final Thoughts on the Global Media Forum

I thought one of the best quotes of the forum came from Laura Pintos, who writes at the blog 233grados.com. (233 degrees being the temperature at which paper ignites.) She was asked during the BOBs awards ceremony what she saw as the future of journalism. She answered:

“It is the wrong question. it is the present. We are living in a digital moment. It is our present.”

It was nice to see that point of view represented at the conference, even if it probably represented a minority view amongst the speakers and attendees. While a lot of people are wringing their hands over what the future of journalism is, there are people Pintos and many of the bloggers and podcasters at the conference who aren’t worrying about the future of journalism and rather simply creating it.

Community Conference 2009: Jake McKee, How to build a community that’s crazy about your product

Jake McKee begins by talking about ‘success by a thousand paper cuts’, which is thinking about the smallest thing possible you can do without approval to get you closer to your goals. He also said that we’ve talked a lot about community, but what we’re really talking about is ‘social engagement’. Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

Rather than talking about building a community that’s crazy about you or your product, he talks about how to throw a great party. We already build relationships with people in our lives. Parties connect, excite and engage. He lists ingredients to create a great party:

  1. Your party needs a reason to be. What is this thing? Is your party a 12-year-old’s birthday party or a cocktail party with friends.
  2. What’s the higher calling? What are we here to connect about? What is the need we are addressing? What problem are we trying to solve?
  3. Your party needs good planning. Every good social effort starts with good strategy. Prep for scale. Make it simple and flexible so you can constantly evolve. Keep in mind the 1-9-90 principle.
  4. Your party needs a host. We need leaders in social groups. It gives direction to where we’re going in this social group. It gives accountability and direction, and it builds the culture.
  5. Your party needs a few introductions. It doesn’t happen often enough. In the early days of Flickr, every new user was introduced by one of the staff. Every single person who signed up and posted a picture was introduced to others with similar interests. That might not be possible when you’ve got 200 sign-ups an hour, but Flickr had established the culture.
    Not enough communities have mentors, volunteers who welcome people and help them find their way around.
  6. Your party needs an invitation. The site needs functionality and tools that make it easy for members to invite other people. Make it portable such as the share this buttons for Facebook or Twitter. Be explicit with the invitation.
  7. You need social norms. Guidelines and rule are important. Guidelines are guiding principles. How do we translate guidelines into something that people will pay attention to? He points to Flickr’s community guidelines: “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.”
    It is about building culture, not blocking content.
    It creates collaborative ownership. It’s clear and fun. In online environments
  8. Your party needs a bouncer. “Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
  9. Power in n00bs and nerds. It’s so easy in a social group to get caught up in the history and the legacy.
  10. You need your attendees to pitch in. People want to be heard, but they also need a something to do.
  11. Your party needs you. These things don’t get outsourced.
  12. Everybody goes home happy. This is what it all boils down to.

He was asked what it takes to be a good community manager. He says it’s all down communication skills.

Community Conference 2009: Tommy Sollen, social media manager Visit Sweden

As I said, the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen is a mix of business, media,

Tommy Sollen talked about how he set up a community for Visit Sweden. While he did this, he set up a WordPress blog to talk about the development of the community and the site. He was working in the open. Tourism organisations across Europe and in Canada, which helped in the development. They developed Community of Sweden.com. It focuses photos and stories. The main goal is to help the members of community to inspire each other. It’s built on the EPiServer content management system.

They have tags on all the content including geo-tags and activities. One of the things I liked is that they also have a tag for the seasons. He talked about how they encourage people to tag photos because the titles provided too little information to properly index. Photo sharing has surpassed their expectations, and they now have more than 12,000 photos (the site was launched in late 2007). He highlighted some of the photos and said that they could easily create an online magazine just with user-generated photos. If they use a photo in their print magazine, they give full photo credits to who uploaded the photos and offer to buy the photo.

One of the users, from Italy, had taken a photo that their print magazine editor thought was perfect for an article. They contacted him and offered to pay him for the photo, but he refused to accept payment.

They do no marketing for the site, but they now have 6,300 registered members, 12,000 photos and more than a thousand travel stories. They have a community and the development blog, but they wanted to know what came next so they integrated Community of Sweden.com more tightly with the Visit Sweden website.

They have also created Sweden pages on Facebook and a Sweden channel on YouTube. “It’s about placing ourselves in the social media sphere,” he said. They also have created widgets that allow people to add these to their blogs, sites or social networks.

He was asked about the issue of people on Facebook saying that they would come to an event but didn’t. The person asking the question asked if they had tried to offer a coupon to encourage them to turn out. Tommy said that he wanted events but hadn’t got the budget yet for it, but he believes that events would help support the community.

He was asked about how 6000 users was seen as a success. He said that people have spent not just minutes, not just hours but days on the site and had ‘created ambassadors for Sweden’.

Community Conference 2009: Lois Kelly, Communities and business

I’m at the Community Conference 2009 in Copenhagen. The audience is a mix of media, government, NGOs and business folks.

Lois Kelly of Beeline Labs talks about how she got into the field. In 1992, she became involved in the AOL miscarriage community. “This is what the internet is about. It is about creating ways to connect people.”

In 1998, she launched her own consultancy. She found Alan’s Forums, a community for consultants to help each other with tip on how to market each other and build your business. People were all over the world. People helping people.

In 2001, she and her neighbours joined together to save a local landmark, an old bridge. People wouldn’t show up for meetings or sign petitions. People would go online at night and voice what they wanted.

In 2005, Ning makes communities free. It’s so inexpensive and easy to use that almost anyone could start playing comunities, 900,000 communities in February 2009. There are 4000 new communities a day with almost 40% outside of the US.

Tribal behaviour has been here forever. We want to connect with each other. The biggest challenges are how to attract people and get them engaged. Only 40% of the communities set up on Ning are active.

What makes communities successful:

  • Communities need a purpose. They need a clear purpose
  • The community needs deeply felt or widely felt issue
  • Help and get help. Trust.

People do not trust businesses or governments. They do not want to be marketed to. A Nielsen study found Denmark had low levels of trust in advertising, only 28%.

What drives people’s use of communities

  • Ability to help people
  • Ability to connect with like-minded issue
  • Community focused on hot topic issue

The value of communities to businesses and non-profits is for market insights or research. She gave the example of an ’employee community’ that saved $5m a year through insights gained in the community. They were little ideas not huge complicated ones.

The unexpected value of communities from a case study:

  • Insights and Ideas. The case study company said the community had become ‘an unlimited source of R&D’.
  • Sales. They had higher average sales per community member ($1200) compared to a typical customer ($500)
  • Customers are creating their own marketing in the community.
  • They could cut down their PR or even get rid of their PR.

She suggested the people ask 5 simple questions that businesses need to ask before creating a community:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. How will people (not the company) benefit?
  3. Do people care enough?
  4. What do we expect to get? (There needs to be business value, which is tied to the first question.)
  5. How do we measure?

She suggested the businesses creating communities need to be customer-centric versus product-centric. Focus on ‘behavioural tribes versus demographic segments’. She pointed to how a scissors company had created a community not based on scissors but rather based on how people used scissors, in this case scrapbooking. She also said that companies need to foucs on ‘networks versus channels’. IBM created an internal community called beehive. Employees were able to connect with each other. Employees with really good ideas started promoting their projects. Instead of going through usual channels, employees were going through this network to promote their ideas. People also thought they could get ahead faster – ‘climbing’. She had interviewed a 27-year-old employee who said she was able to advance more quickly because she used the intranet to show off her skills. “Before this, she would have been anonymous,” Lois said.

It allows great talent to network and share.

She found that many companies do not have internal networks but will create their own through Facebook (or LinkedIn, I would say).

She said that businesses with communities need to measure against business goals. New product ideas? Earn customer confidence? Reduce customer service costs? Awareness in category? Reduce training, education costs? Change perceptions? Get votes, get sales? That will help drive design.

Communities are a lot of work. If you want a successful community, you have to put the resources in.

She also said that some companies need to be more ‘social’ but don’t necessarily need a community. She showed how Panasonic.com had created customer reviews and recommendations. She compared a number of social strategies – badges, tagging, Twitter and communities. Communities take investment and resources to be successful, but there might be simpler social strategies to achieve your goals rather than creating a community.

There was an interesting question about Facebook. They need to pay for the service but communities are resistant to advertising or marketing messages.

Lois: In the US, a lot of us think that Facebook is over and we’ve all moved to Twitter. We’re nomadic tribes. Last year, it was Facebook. This year is Twitter. I don’t know what it will be next year. Value needs to be there for a payment value. (She talked about some of the features that Twitter is considering as a business model including adding a service for business ala Yammer.) Advertising model still has value.

BeebCamp: Co-creating content with BBC stuff

Session in reaction to the collaboration session earlier which was focused on UGC as something people give to the BBC, and to look at how the BBC can give more content, not just data, back to the audience.

BBC Backstage are trying to do this, creating a new blog that’s creating original content and releasing it all, everything in raw form, out on Archive.org, wherever. Probably be under an CC-attribution licence. Video, put as much metadata as much as possible, so will release scripts. Will be available in a big bundle that people can download if they want, and be released in different cut versions that people can remix as well.

Radio 1 put together a cinema advert, and plan is to get the assets online and let people mash it up, even take the piss out of it then.

What happened to the Creative Archive? [Much laughter.]

Rather than it just being a big central archive, things are being released in different places.

But the rights issue was never solved. For a 3 minute news package, content came from lots of different rights owners, so assessing the rights for an archive is functionality almost impossible. One problem with the Beethoven release as that they discovered at the last moment that there was a freelance conductor and they weren’t sure about the rights.

Creative Archive is looking backwards. The Radio 1 ad is taking marketing assets and releasing it. Backstage is releasing data. But is anyone commissioning an entertainment programme and then releasing it?

It has been tried. one project tried to create a library of material from a variety of sources, but the uptake was small because there was no focus, there was no clear call to action. Made it so open that people didn’t know what to do with it, didn’t think that there was mush point.

Why try to anticipate what people want? Why not see what communities exist and give them the chance to do something. Why are we chasing down Dr Who knitters? That’s disturbing.

JK Rowling doesn’t mind people doing fanfic, so long as it’s not commercial. And so could do that with a lot of things with the BBC, how do you enable that?

Is anyone setting out to do that?

Why are we doing this? Is that the best public value? Talent management – they are unhappy about people saying nasty things about them on BBC sites. Content producers don’t like fans to do stuff with their content. If only one small part of the audience gets something out of it, and the producers dont’ like it, why are we doing it?

Most people here would give most things away, why not? But that’s not the broader mindset, because they don’t see the value of it.

Have to start somewhere, and people aren’t willing to try to start anywhere. Don’t know why no one has tried it, doing a story and letting people just run with it. People’s natural inclination is to subvert it.

It’s a leap of faith. One project was a story for kids, wanted to leave it open to see how they would engage with it, and it’s been great to see what they come up with. The second thing is that, for kids, you have to provide the tools as well. It’s fine to leave assets around, but not everyone has the tech available to them.

Why do we think that more is better? Wouldn’t it be great if it was democratic and let it go, but it does make sense to editorialise in a certain way.

One place that is doing that is Teachers’ TV, and the teacher’s are pushed to take it and use it.

Is the idea that content will naturally be subverted true? Will people really do that as a de facto response? And even if they do, is that a bad thing? In the right context that’s fine.

Dynamic of the culture is challenging. On the one hand you’ve people who want to give things away, and on the other hand you have people who want to control.

Do the lawyers ever talk to marketing before they get on the case of someone who’s doing something, because a lot of this UGC is great publicity.

Big Weekend, mixing up people’s own photos and the professional photos, in a programme, create something completely unique ad that’s small but popular.

Fear that people are going to be horrible if we let something out. So long as the product is good, and it does need to be good, brands are surprised by how positive it can be. Brand managers don’t realise that often people talk positively and will defend the brand, if the brand is good.

Great fear of being criticised in public. Ignoring it doesn’t stop it happening, if there is negative stuff, you have to engage with it.

Letting the audience take the piss a bit endears the brand to the audience.

None of this does not apply to the Middle East, where the state broadcaster is the voice of the state. If they took the BBC’s content then it might seem like endorsement from the BBC. Perception that by putting things online, it’s encouraging people to use it, and that would be seen as the official voice of the UK. [I’m having problems following the logic of this argument.]

What if the BNP uses the footage? Backstage has a “no political usage” clause in its licence.

But need to treat different types of content differently, so children’s content is treated differently to news footage. But we shouldn’t let concerns about certain types of content stop the development of uses of other types.

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BeebCamp: Online Books

Heard a lot about news, but there’s stuff around making TV programmes richer, more interesting. Quite often they want a list of books that are interesting or relevant. Sometimes they have a list, or they want people to contribute to a list. So where should people link to? Amazon is the de facto place to link to? Should the BBC link to Amazon? Probably not. Wikipedia would be nice, but if a book’s not there you could add it, if it was “notable”. There’s also OpenLibrary, which wants one page per book for every book ever made, but it seems early days. WorldCat is interesting, it tells you which library has the book near you, but mainly focused on US. There’s the Library of Congress, which has a lot of data. Then there’s LibraryThing and BookKeeper, which is about “my” collection of books, so people logged in could see which of their friends have also read that book.

On the music site, it’s quite clear, they link to official website or MySpace page. But for books there’s no clear source.

This is not about the text, unless it’s public domain and available, but about the metadata.

Link to the publisher. Author’s websites. Penguin tried to build book groups around their books, so there’s a page for each book and can do a book group about these things. Harper Collins have a network of interest that they’re building around, Authonomy, BookArmy.

Amazon are canonical, whether we like it or not. They have the metadata, synopsis, reviews etc.

Libraries have huge collection, but they don’t necessarily have the synopsis. They just have classification data.

Amazon have an API so could someone not just use that data?

Would it make sense for the BBC to make a page for every book it talks about?

How to you let users share their preferred link. Not sure if the BBC should be making their own library, given how many others are in that space. Should be partnering with another service.

Open Library website talks about how they might work with World Cat, so landscape may change in front of us. Shelfari, owned by Amazon.

Link to a variety of sites?

Every book as an ISBN, so perhaps use that as a gateway to other places that list books by ISBN.

Wikipedia has a page for every ISBN which links to pages that have ISBN built URLs.

Two ISBNs, the US and the Worldwide ones. Two standards. Library of Congress has its own identifiers which are broader than just books.

Do we need a way of marking up book titles, semantic web. Could you RDF8 tag to ISBN number in with the book, then later on you can scrape all those pages.

To make it more complex, ISBN refers to one edition to one book, but sometimes you want the whole work, rather than the edition. Need a way to pull that together.

This is why Amazon number, the ASPN, which shows you an individual book or collection of editions.

BBC policy about linking – what does the audience expect? Is it inline or in the sidebar? what are you saying? Here’s a place to buy it? Here’s a history of the book? Depends on what the audience expects. Technically, it’s easy but editorial problematic. Can’t be seen to be promoting Amazon. Would feel like that was unfairly promoting Amazon, but Amazon is the de facto place to link to for books.

Could link to something like Froogle, a list of places you can buy the book, but you’re pushing people to buy the book and promoting a site.

Amazon and Wikipedia are the main ones from an information point of view. BBC should work with open sources of data.

Think of the archive as a live thing where we add new things, like the list of books, that would be valuable. If the annotated book used by the researcher who put the programme together was made available that would be fascinating.

In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg, lots of notes from researcher but would need sanitising before it could be published because the notes are very detailed. After Our Time, wiki, set up but is a bit dead. If you had the research notes to go with the transcript, that would be great. Very thorough research.

What about other BBC sites, aren’t they doing already? Once you have an identifier per book in the system, you can aggregate content within the BBC site about “these are all the programmes or sites that are talking about this book” .

Something like Dewey Decimal system. BBC already has topics which functions a bit like that, if you have a page about the Cold War it aggregates all the BBC’s info about the Cold War, but should also link to thinks offline and books etc.

Namespace – Emma, the book, film, TV series, which one? Wikipedia deals with that ok.

Tom Coates did a lot of work around radio programme pages, analogous problem. When looking at a page on /programmes, the object is “episode” and it knows the broadcast of that episode. And with books sometimes you’re interested in a particular edition because of, say, the cover, and sometimes you want to talk about the text.

But that seems like an edge case, generally talk about a book, not an edition.

Some of the sites listed earlier are doing good work in aggregating them into works, not editions.

Books in translation with popular titles, e.g. Latin classics in translation, if you’re grouping the book in that how would you deal with versions? Publishing industry is struggling with that anyway – how do you deal with Ladybird version of the Three Musketeers, and the original version?

Should semantically mark things anyway, whatever is done.

What does the user expect? Do they want to go and buy it? Do they want to find out more? Do they already know the book and want supporting information?

Further reading is different to a bibliography. A bibliography would be relatively easy to do, but further reading would be something to let others do. Wiki, audience participation, which then leads on to gaming.

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BeebCamp: Collaboration and prototyping

Another session on collaboration. It’s interesting that there’s so much curiosity about collaboration here. Talking to Charlie Beckett, we wondered if it’s that collaboration is now almost a given, “We ought to collaborate”, but that it’s not entirely clear what it is or how to do it.

One BBC project is to build applications in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen. Project has been running for a year, started off quite vague, has been interesting and educational. A lot of things they’ve learned is that academia has a very different approach to the way that the BBC works. A bit of a clash of culture.

How do we go about prototyping ideas effectively and efficiently. Finding a real variation in the way people react to the project, some are very enthusiastic, others suspicious of the BBC’s motivations for being in that area.

Nottingham games festival, universities doing prototypes for games.

Why are we not doing more stuff like this?

Prototypes, games-based, interactive narrative. How do you take a story to tell and build a game around it?

Knowledge Connect, act as middle man between universities (professors) and companies, help companies get research done. Grants available for SMEs so that the academics get paid to work on it from the grant.

Frustration with indie developers in games market, they don’t know how to get to work with the BBC. May have a great idea, but don’t know where to go to move it forward. Need to make it easier to understand the commissioning process, give developers an idea of future shows they could get involved in.

Commissioning periods of up to 18 months in some part of the BBC, so there’s plenty of development time. IF your period is 2 months, then that’s too short of a schedule to develop.

Should be in the commissioning process. Advertising has the same problem, web site & app development left til last minute. Need to gather assets. Needs to all be thought about at the commissioning process.

Not had space and time to put as much thought into it as would like.

What is the endgame for Prototype – want to learn what is possible for prototyping, is it valuable for students to work with BBC teams? Also to see if any of the ideas are worth putting more time into it.

Collaboration between HP and Bristol University. Someone at Lancashire (?) also doing interesting mobile games. NESTA do a lot of stuff in Bristol, big new media community there.

Running games and competition to find people to collaborate people. Cancer Research did one “Develop an ARG for Cancer Research”.

Try to break “who do we know” and be more “how to we reach out to more people to get as many as possible involved”.

Still pockets of people at the BBC doing interesting things.

First collaboration is to figure out what you’re doing, what your message is.

Is there a need for “Public Service Gaming”? Difficult climate, and BBC is in a unique position.

How does collaboration work within other areas? Is it just gaming? Have done some things with MTV, Radio London, didn’t work brilliantly, was ok.

How do you work innovation into the rest of the BBC. Project Red Stripe existed in a bubble and ended up going somewhere slightly strange.

It’s easy to forget to tell people what you’re doing, and lose the value of what you’ve learned, even just about what it’s like to work with a university.

Useful to write up what you did, what they said, what it might was like working with students, where did you work physically.

Values. Different values, different setting, so would be interesting to know if the students looked at the BBC as a different thing because of their involvement in the project.

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