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 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.

Post haste

14 03 2011

Today’s thought is about encouraging public sector workers in Scotland to blog more, prompted by this excellent post by Lesley. For me there are a number of obstacles to blogging: workload, worry over what is allowed and what isn’t, finding a decent subject to write about, embarrassment…then I look at the potential rewards. These are all a bit more abstract than the pitfalls. Nobody from IT is going to send me an email saying how great it is that I blog, are they?

By blogging about work I am forced to collect my thoughts and set them out in a (semi)-logical manner. It also improves my communication skills and sharpens my mind. It can be seen as a “luxury” activity, i.e. I will only do it when my workload allows, but that doesn’t mean that time spent blogging is wasted; rather, it is spent investigating digital media, keeping up with new developments and discussing these with fellow comms professionals.

If I had to list one major factor that would put me off blogging just now, it would be the current climate for public servant bashing. This, combined with the appetite for cuts, means that anyone who admits to the slightest bit of “down-time” in their working day lays themselves open to accusations of skiving, wasting public money and suchlike.

So I’m going to write a post that lays down some of the arguments against this point of view. To save me spending too much time on it, I’ll put them in a list:

I probably spent a total of 10 minutes writing this, although these minutes have been spread out over the space of a few hours (I do have other things to do after all!). I think it’s been time well spent. Hopefully others do too.

Apostrophic failure

9 03 2011

Coming across this article on how grammar and punctuation have evolved on the web got me thinking. I’ve always been a stickler for correctness, and have to admit to being one of the people Eats, Shoots and Leaves was aimed at (despite the use of the Oxford comma there!).

When I first started a blog back in 1997, I decided to write exclusively in lower case as I found it more aesthetically pleasing. I still observed all other rules of grammar and I don’t think the content was harder to read than if it was written conventionally, but this only worked because it was on the web and broken down into small chunks. Reading a printed novel written like that would be a nightmare! The same goes for fonts: what looks good on the screen (Arial or Verdana) can be harder to read in print, where a serif font is usually more appropriate. The reverse is also true – nothing puts me off a webpage more than Times New Roman!

I welcome the evolution of language on the web. Having struggled unsuccessfully to master the art of programming, I find it ironic that it’s digital media pushing for this evolution when punctuation and syntax are such harsh masters in coding country. A single misplaced semi-colon can render a 500-line program useless! I bet programmers wish their compilers would be so forgiving.

I, robot?

23 02 2011

This article in the Guardian  certainly set alarm bells ringing for me. George Monbiot hits the nail on the head when he describes the Internet as “…a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection.”

For those who haven’t heard of it, astroturfing is the practice of using fake logins to argue the point in favour of a business or government using online comments and forums. PR companies used to have to hire teams of people to login under multiple identities to argue their points; now the software has become sophisticated enough to automatically generate personas with convincing online backstories (including social media profiles with appropriate past behaviours) to do this job for them.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the web, that great democratiser of opinion, was highjacked in such a way. I just hope that the masses find ways to fight this unwelcome trend before it becomes impossible to distinguish genuine debate from a bunch of keywords typed into an algorithm.

Big Brother approach to social media

10 02 2011

Lesley Thomson alerted me to this post regarding the Commonwealth Bank’s rather OTT approach to controlling staff’s social media activity.

Big Brother is watching you

It’s disappointing that, after taking such a long time to acknowledge the existence of soc med, some companies have reacted in such an extreme manner. The CBA policy takes a few simple common sense guidelines (don’t discuss private business on an open forum, don’t do anything to bring the company name into disrepute, etc) and taken these to the illogical conclusion that employees should check what their friends are saying about the company on Facebook et al and report their findings back to management!

The reaction online has so far been almost universally negative and it looks as though the bank are going to be forced to have a rethink, but it’s worth keeping an eye out to see if other big corporations decide to go down a similar route. The Baskers case has made a lot or people out there jumpy, let’s hope that common sense prevails and employees are allowed some semblance of a private life, both on and off-line.

Getting social about media

4 02 2011

I attended an excellent social media conference/workshop on Wednesday, run by Learning Pool‘s Dave Briggs and Breda Docherty. You can find Dave’s write-up of the event on his blog.

Me and Gerry at the SocMed event
Hands up if you love the Internet!

It’s always interesting when you meet fellow webby staff from across different areas and discover how much you have in common. The problems we face in delivering good content to our websites are much the same, I won’t bore you with the details but most of them involve different methods of communication within different sections of an organisation. That 150-page feasibility study might seem like the most important and interesting thing in the world to one branch but…well, you get the picture.

As well as being able to commiserate with my fellow delegates, I also managed to get some inspiration. I was particularly intrigued by the #testittuesday Twitter campaign. Councils and fire departments encouraged their followers to retweet and use their hashtag to promote the message that people needed to test their fire alarms, and it spread like wildfire (oof). This is an example of shaping a message around the media rather than the other way round, so no wonder it worked so well.

I hope to use this and the other examples of good practice to kick our own online presence up a few notches. Watch this space.

The wibbly wobbley web

31 01 2011

Back from my Christmas sabbatical and suitably refreshed, I come across this article in the Guardian alerting us to the fact the BBC has decided to cut its online budget by a quarter.

BBC logo

Barred from the beeb


For an organisation with such an amazing opportunity in terms of staffing and resources, the beeb’s online content has always been a big let-down for me. The only section that I go back to on a regular basis is their online recipe finder and the (admittedly brilliant) iPlayer. Both of these are essentially methods to catch up on content from TV shows, so what does the BBC online service offer us that goes over and above this service?

There is the news, of course, but the neccessities of impartiality and breadth of coverage mean that those looking for a more in-depth form of analysis are seldom catered for. As most of the broadsheets have dramatically raised their games, the BBC service has stood still, indeed many argue that it has gone backwards. These concerns are not new,  but as the budget cuts begin to bite they become ever more relevant.

The design of the BBC’s site is horrible, akin to an explosion in a widget factory. Whatever happened to less is more? When they spend so much time on accessibility of their content, you’d think a bit of design nous would also be applied. They have allowed the branding of their ‘larger’ sections to dominate over site design, so that when you visit the TV, Radio or News sections you have to deal with a completely different information architecture from that on the Sport and Weather sections. No way this can be justified, unless they assume that no one user will want to visit more than one area of the site – in which case, why bundle it all together in the first place?

The fact that pointed to a chemical manufacturer’s website until fairly recently shows that Auntie Beeb were not exactly early adopters of the interworld. Having failed to catch up before their budget cuts, this has to go down as a wasted opportunity.