Don’t panic!

2 08 2011

I’ve been asked to take part in a research project looking into how social media can be used in crisis comms. It’s an interesting subject and one I’m enjoying looking into. Our task is to find innovative and effective ways of sharing information – both privately between internal stakeholders and publicly to inform the general population.

Webmaster's guide to the internet

Webmaster's guide to the internet

To start off with, I’ve been having a look at the various platforms the group could use to share our initial findings. As I looked into the pros and cons of each, I quickly learned that there is no one ideal solution – the platform you choose will depend on your group’s specific needs and goals. I broke these considerations down into separate categories: 

  • Security – is the information safe from unauthorised access?
  • Flexibility – can the platform adapt to changing circumstances?
  • Ease of use – will all participants be comfortable using it?
  • Functionality – does the platform do everything we need it to?
  • Scalability – if the project grows arms and legs, will the platform be able to cope?
  • Reliability/stability of vendor – will the app still be available for the project lifecycle?
  • Affordability – does the pricing fit in with project budgets?

A wiki might be ideal for a fairly open discussion between tech-savvy users, but if privacy is more important and the participants aren’t that comfortable using the web, then something like Sharepoint might be more appropriate. Horses for courses, really.

I’m now trying to find some good examples of social media collaboration between UK government departments. This is harder than it looks, but I have come across several excellent articles in the process…

Have you come across any interesting collaborative projects recently? Anything else to say on the subject? Get your comments in…collaborate!





Double plus good

14 07 2011

The Interworld has a new challenger! For anyone ‘lucky’ enough to get an invite, Google+ allows you to participate in a stripped-down version of Facebook. The big thing on G+ is circles. Rather than having to painstakingly set individual privacy levels for all your friends on FB, G+ forces you to group people into Venn diagram-like sets, so that you can choose for each post whether this should be shared with ‘family’, ‘friends’, etc.

Facebook - the end of the love affair?

Facebook - the end of the love affair?

To be honest, this feels like a chore. Every time someone adds you, you have to add them back and decide which circle they belong to. Every time you share a post, you must define which circles to share it with. Why not just email the link and have done with it? Besides, the sharing functionality means that anyone a post is shared with can then send this on to their own circles, or even to an email address, so there’s no real security benefit there.

I haven’t yet set up my own circles, again this is because involves too much effort. Do I really have to decide which people should go into ‘ex-partners of friends’, ‘folk I work beside but have no real connection with’, ‘people I’d like to get invites from’, ‘guys who think I’ve accepted them but will never get any posts’, etc? This kind of goes against the whole ‘social’ movement on the web and feels a bit mean.

At the moment all G+ consists of is a limited selection of the people I see on Facebook anyway, but instead of shooting the breeze the majority of posts are about Google+ itself. What am I doing here? Ooh, I got plus-oned! I prefer Facebook. Anyone else like the circles thing?

As you might have gathered from previous posts, I’m not always good at judging the merits of new platforms! I’ll give Google the chance to finetune the interface and wait for registration to open up before I decide whether or not it’s for me. Facebook certainly has its problems, so at the very least this development might force Mark Zuckerberg and co to raise their game. Having said that, if G+ goes the same way as Google Buzz and Google Wave, I won’t be all that surprised.





Waze and means

20 06 2011

Channel 4 news alerted me to a new form of social media today. I must be losing my touch…anway, Waze looks like an intriguing prospect. It’s a bit like a live-updated Wikipedia for road networks, whereby drivers use GPS on their mobile devices to build up road networks and add traffic flow, accidents, speed traps and suchlike to the Waze maps as they go along.

Here’s a demo of how the platform works:

http://www.waze.com/guided_tour/international_tour.swf

As someone who works in the transport industry I look forward to the time when Waze has expanded to cover the Glasgow/Scotland area, as it could have a huge impact on how we report transport news and developments. Not to mention the travel time it could save me! Watch this space.





Twitbook/Facer?

14 06 2011

This graphic shows up some interesting differences between the user demographics of today’s 2 main social media juggernaughts:

Digital Surgeon's social media comparison

Facebook vs Twitter

 

The first thing that strikes me about the graph is that 37% of Twitter users update their status using a mobile device, as compared to 30% of Facebook users. With the widely-held view that mobile web usage will overtake desktop-based browsing within the next five years, perhaps this points to Twitter overtaking its rival? The brevity of tweets certainly makes it easier to update using a numerical keypad.

On the other hand, the rising popularity of GPS-based social media is currently being expoited far more by Facebook. Users are able to “check in” to physical locations using their phones, tag friends with them and play location-based games within the Facebook interface. All Twitter users can do at the moment is add a location to their tweets but, as this is based on the location of their ISP’s network gateway, this is often wildly inaccurate.

Whoever wins the battle to get the most mobile users could well end up winning the social media war, so it will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next few years.





Life, the twitterverse and everything

11 05 2011

Today marks 10 years since Douglas Adams died. His writing was always an inspiration to me. This article of his, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet, is almost as relevant today as it was then. The following extract strikes me as especially apt:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

If you listen to the news (and god knows I try not to, but unfortunately it’s a part of my job) you will regularly come across reporters dumbfounded by the use of Twitter or Facebook or online dating as part of some sinister crime or contributing towards the breakdown of society in some way. The emphasis is often not on the story itself, but ends up concentrating on the “newfangled” methods used by the participants.

Are we really still at the stage where web technologies are considered novelty items? These news stories don’t emphasise the roles that cars or phones or photocopiers play, so why keep highlighting the web?

This effect continues when it comes to public service provision. When the question of whether it would be cheaper to move services entirely online is asked, this is often discounted as an option in case citizens are disadvantaged by not having an internet connection. The same consideration is not given to the possibility that they might not have a phone, or a car or even a bank account, any of which would leave them similarly disadvantaged.

The launch of the Alpha.gov project will mean a further move towards digital provision of services by the government and the case for replication of these services under older phoneline-based models grows weaker with each passing year. I hope we can all work together to make web-based tools and services the best option for citizens to use and, in doing so, remove the need for duplication of effort.






Census working overtime

31 03 2011

My census was completed last weekend, as instructed. I didn’t put in “Jedi” as my religion, didn’t tell porkies about the number of people in the house and filled every field out to the best of my knowledge. Apart from being an employee of the people who wrote it, there’s simply no point in trying to be sneaky these days. All of our details are out there, on the web, and anyone who tries hard enough could find out a lot more about me than my ethnicity and how many dependant children I have.

The good people at Google and Facebook already know a great deal about everyone who’s ever used their products, and they use this mostly to try and sell us other people’s products. My Facebook account has personalised adverts at the side asking if I’d like to buy a set of drumsticks signed by Larry Mullen Junior, Gmail wants to know if I’d be interested in cheap Glasgow restaurants and a Google search asks me if I’d like to improve my prospects with Linux training. So why is the government spending a small fortune in this age of austerity asking how many rooms we have?

The official census website provides a somewhat unsatisfactory answer: because we need to count people. James Harkins’ article in the New Statesman is a little more thoughtful on the reasoning, but appears unconvinced by the arguments for having one and points out that the more the government wants to know about us, the more resistant we become to telling them.

Perhaps in ten years’ time when the next census is due, the supermarkets, social media providers, banks and search engines will simply gang up together and sell all of our information. Then statisticians, researchers, government agencies and planners could analyse it as they please. It would still be cheaper than the logistical nightmare of conducting a census and the results would be far more useful. So why not just do that?

I think this is the best answer for why we need a census; to stop the above scenario from every occurring. We need to do everything in our power to stop this, as if we allow our public spending plans to be controlled by private companies then we will be failing to meet the needs of society. I’m glad I filled out my census, it was a bit of a pain (especially as it kept crashing Firefox, grrr) but as least I helped keep my status up as a citizen and not just another customer.