Friday, 21 December 2007

A community tale to warm the cockles of your heart

As it's Christmas.

Farmers Weekly has had a thriving online forum for many years.

This year they upgraded their software to provide a faster, more fully featured service (including photo-sharing and community blogs) using the Community Server platform.

The result is a thriving and growing community (the 1,000th new member signed up this week) which has strengthened in the most unexpected ways.

The photograph above shows two of the most active members - kansasfarmer and AllyR and their respective spouses (Mrs kansasfarmer and Mrs AllyR, of course).

In a dramatic transition from online to "IRL", kansasfarmer and Mrs KF visited the UK this year and stayed with various members of the online community (the dollar being what it is, this was probably the only way they could manage it!).

Other highlights included one of the members blogging very personally about the process of adopting a child in China. Meanwhile another farmer blogs from Transylvania. You couldn't make it up.

Farmers are - by the nature of their jobs - quite isolated and the fact that they develop such strong relationships and take the trouble to blog about their lives to the rest of the community is really heart warming.

Moreover - from our point of view - it has quite dramatically changed the way that news decisions are made. Journalists are able to see what the hot topics are as they emerge on the forums and get feedback, information and try out ideas.

This is a fundamental shift in journalists' attitudes and - indeed - to the way that we go about communicating.

When the dreaded Foot and Mouth Disease reared its ugly head again this year, the forums proved the fastest, most effective way of getting bullets of news out to the community (especially overnight).

Moreover, it gave the community a way of feeding back what exactly they wanted the journalists to research - everything from "Can I move my cows from here to here?" to "If this outbreak has come from a government lab, can we sue the government?".

It's brought the Farmers Weekly brand, magazine, website and journalists much closer to the people they are serving.

And - dare I say it - puts the farmers very much in the editorial driving seat. Fantastic.

Gets you right there, doesn't it?

My Christmas list

So much to choose from. But here goes.

I don't - as a rule - wear t-shirts, but even I could go for these:

A Worst. Keynote. Ever. t-shirt

Or a Wi-Fi Detector t-shirt ("The glowing bars on the front of the shirt dynamically change as the surrounding wi-fi signal strength fluctuates").


... for sad days - you could get me this social media shirt which features a list of the 79 most popular social networking sites. "Wearers can use a marker pen to tick off all the sites they belong to, then display all to all and sundry when out"

Bloggers entitled to protect their sources

Thanks to colleague Andrew Doyle for spotting that a US court has ruled that bloggers are as entitled as journalists to protect their sources.

The BBC reports that computer firm Apple brought a lawsuit to make fan site Think Secret reveal who had leaked details about the cut-down computer.

Apple is notoriously secretive about forthcoming products and it sued Think Secret claiming that bloggers should not enjoy the same rights to protect sources granted to mainstream journalists.

A California court initially sided with Apple but the hi-tech firm lost the case on appeal. The outcome of that said bloggers should be considered as journalists and subject to the same protections.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) aided Think Secret in its legal fight to stop Apple forcing it to reveal its sources.

But it reports that the end result of the case is that Think Secret will be closed down.

Think Secret issued this press release:

Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret's publisher, said "I'm pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits."

which is presumably the blogging equivalent of "spending more time with his family" in UK politics.

But a good judgement, nonetheless.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Paper Weight: incentivising online UGC with print

The very impressive, professional-looking image on the front cover of the latest edition of Flight International magazine is User Generated Content.
Flight's community site - has been running a photo competition. The main incentive was that the winner got their photo published on the cover of Flight International - the weekly industry magazine.

It's a neat way of exploiting what is normally an obstacle for us - the perceived greater prestige of print over online. Printed magazines you can hold, carry, show and frame. Online can't hold a candle in this respect.

In this case it's a matter of us saying "OK - press has great prestige so that can be your reward."

Stunning photos, too. Check out the entries in each of the categories:

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

BBC personalised home page and Dr Who

Thanks to my colleague Sophy Ashworth for reminding me to mention the BBC's home page personalisation (beta).

It's a kind of NetVibes, iGoogle kind of thing and it's a brave effort, but not brave enough to let you get rid of the stuff that they want to push at you (the big Christmas pudding in the above shot) so you could probably get more personalised screen real estate by taking what you want from RSS and putting it onto your own personalised iGoogle page or whatever.

Having said that I got distracted by the tantalising Dr Who game and that was the end of my exploration of the home page. So I guess they know what they're doing. Engagement. It's seduction really.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Newsmaps on Reuters

Am loving the news maps on Reuters.

Rather engaging, I feel. Have look here.

Cheap shot, but this might be of particular value to Americans, one feels:

Moderating the Telegraph

Some interesting insights into the issues around moderating user generated content (or "reader intereaction" over at

It's an interview with the deputy community editor Ceri Radford.


Comments on news stories and opinion pieces are screened by the team before they are put live, while retrospective action is taken on blog and My Telegraph comments, which appear automatically after a user has registered.

How do you know you are getting it right?

Says Radford: "We get as many complaints saying we're letting anything through and it's irresponsible, as we do accusing us of censorship and stamping down on people's right to freedom of speech - so as long as we get complaints in both directions we're doing okay."

Read the article here.

Monday, 10 December 2007

How journalists can use social networks to improve beat reporting

If you haven't already seen it, do check out, an experiment to explore combining beat journalism with social networks.

The aim of the project is explained thus:

Are there network effects in beat reporting? Across the US, a dozen reporters (with beats) are going to try to find out—simultaneously. This will improve their odds of succeeding.

This is a simple project testing a single idea: Maybe a beat reporter could do a way better job if there was a “live” social network connected to the beat, made up of people who know the territory the beat covers, and want the reporting on that beat to be better.

That’s the entire idea—so far. Beat reporting with a social network: can we get it to work?. And here is the rest of it.

Check it out on where the journalists are blogging as they go. Fascinating stuff.

Reuters and International Herald Tribune in content deal

Jeff Jarvis observes:

The Reuters deal to provide business content to the International Herald Tribune online and in print — and share revenue with associated advertising — could, I think, be a model for other news organizationst to take care of commodity news.

As an idea, it's certainly not new. How many newspapers compile their own TV listings, crosswords and so on? It's a ridiculous idea.

On the other hand, when we think about these kinds of deals online all kinds of other issues come into play.

Will this material appear in a Google Search of the IHT?
If so, will it be penalised for duplicate content?
If not, what's it worth?

On the plus side, with unlimited space available on your website, why not squeeze in every bit of content you can get your hands on? Especially if your only cost is giving away some of the additional ad revenue (assuming you can't meet the demands for advertising).

On the other hand, how will it be branded? if it's branded Reuters rather than IHT, is that a good thing or not?

I once worked on a (paper)magazine where we looked at outsourcing a section very akin to a business section to an online specialist title we also owned.

On paper it looked irresistible. Their specialisation meant they could do a far better job than we ever could, but on balance we decided against it on the basis that it looked like something of an admission of defeat on our part.

Were we right? I don't know.

Blog readability scam - an inspiration

Charles Arthur has blogged a great post on The Guardian about a cunning scam which gets bloggers to unwitting link to a commercial site offering loans to boost its Googlejuice.

But I believe that 20% 0f every idea is good and to be nurtured.

Exposed: another fiendish way to make money on the web relates how a number of prominent websites have been conned into linking to a company by publishing a "blog readability" score on their website.

It's interesting because it fits in with a number of conversations we've been having here, lately:

1. Finding ideas for compelling widgets for other people to put on their sites and blogs.

2. My "Seven Deadly Sins" theory of human behavioural motivation. Sounds grand, doesn't it? It's not. It was one throwaway slide at a recent conference.

Anyway, I'm stretching it because I don't think vanity is strictly speaking one of the seven although it could come under Pride, I suppose. Or Gluttony.

Anyway, the point is that appealing to the vanity of bloggers ("Hey! My blog has great usability!") is probably a great starting point for devising that killer widget.

Oh, in case you can't name them, the Seven Deadly Sins are:


I shall work my theory up into something publishable at some point...

Hardware hoarders competition on has had a bit of a re-boot (as it were) and I'm impressed with the imagination behind their new competition idea - Hardware Hoarders - the search to find the oldest bit of computer kit still in use.

The competition has the potential to be rather engaging, I think. I'm not much interested in hardware (although I am now regretting getting rid of my Amstrad Wordprocessor. Oh, hang on, no I'm not) but I'm rather drawn to it.

The image at the top of this post was submitted by Senior IT analyst Burak Agca who "sent in this picture of his 1992-vintage Mac SE. Burak has kept hold of the much-loved Apple for many years, with the intention of turning it into a fish bowl, or 'MacQuarium'..."

Entries can be submitted by uploading a pic to the Flickr Group or uploading a video to Brightcove. has never traditionally gone in for user-generated content of any kind. This is an imaginative first step for them.

Things I like about it:

- Very visual
- Multiple media options - photos / videos
- Back-up for the less technoliterate (email entries)
- What makes the entries really compelling are the stories - why have you kept it? what are you going to do with it?

Here Comes Another Bubble - The Richter Scales

The latest amusing Web 2.0 viral video. It's based on a Billy Joel song, but don't let that put you off.

Alert credit: Roo Reynolds.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Millennial Generation

Back to Online Information 2007 and a presentation from Mary Ellen Bates (describing herself with charming self-effacement as the "digital grannie") on the Millennial Generation. Definitions vary, but these people never saw the Berlin Wall and never knew life without the Internet. What is their attitude to information and search?

From electronic games, the millennial generation has learned that:

  • failure doesn't hurt
  • risk is real
  • leaders are irrelevant
  • coaches are unnecessary
They thrive on ambiguity. Millennials have less interest in "authoritative" sources and trust their ability to evaluate the worth of an information source.

I was very conscious of her observation that personal networks are key to the way they search for information. This reassures me that the development of work and industry networks that we are undertaking is exactly the right way forward for tomorrow's workers.

So how should workplaces accommodate millennials?
  • Give them room to explore
  • Offer experiential learning
  • Learning is play, not an investment
Mary Ellen's website is here and her presentation here.


Marie L Radford of Rutgers School of Communications, Information and Library Studies shared some interesting research outcomes on behaviour of Millennials.

They score lower (ie do less often) than adults on:
- thanking
- self-disclosure
- closing rituals

But higher (ie do more often) than adults on:
- Agreeing to suggestions
- using lower case
- greeting rituals
- admitting lack of knowledge
- interjections
- slang

Millennials trust peer reviews twice as much as the average adult.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Virtual Worlds - Roo Reynolds

Here's one of Roo's previous presentations. A great 101 on virtual worlds.

Social media and organisations

I was drooling at the mouth at Online Information 2007 to hear about IBM's intranet.

Rather than merely being a directory, it's like a social networking space where you can tag you colleagues with things that they know about or characterise them. I noticed that Roo Reynolds was tagged with "nice-guys-who-finish-first" but this seems to me to be an intensely practical way of organising the organisation around the individual and enabling them to organise themselves around their internal networks. It's mashed up with maps and has social graphs and stuff. Very cool.

Also, any employee at IBM can have an internal or external blog if they want one. They just have to follow the rules, that's all.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

When worlds collide: Second Life and virtual worlds

By an astonishing co-incidence I had two Virtual World encounters this week, although both were in the real world. On Wednesday I snuck into the back row of the Computer Weekly 500 Club debate "Second Life or First Life" at Claridges. The following morning I was at Online Information 2007 to hear IBM "Metaverse Evangelist" Roo Reynolds, umm, evangelise on the same topic.


The CW event was set up as a debate for its audience of top IT directors: is Second Life a flash in the pan or should businesses be getting in there? Are virtual worlds the new Internet revolution or the new CB radio?

It's off the record so no names, but...

Speaker X spoke against businesses troubling themselves. His points included:

Accessibility: Second Life requires hardware of a specification beyond that of most corporate machines
Reliability: SL is "dramatically unreliable", he said, pointing to stats that reveal that one quarter of all sessions crash before they complete.
Architecture: One square can only hold 40 avatars so it is not scalable.

The track record of corporations going into Second Life has not been good, he said.

Dell went into Second Life but who in their right minds would buy a PC in Second Life, he wondered? American Apparel got a lot of publicity for going in to SL but then gave up.

Speaker Y argued that virtual worlds will meld at some point. A lot of people are exploring virtual worlds and although no killer app or tool has emerged yet, it's too early days. "You have to follow your clients," she said.

Chair Dr John Riley said he felt virtual worlds were on the verge of becoming something really big and exciting and it reminded him of the early days of the Internet when attitudes were much the same. He urged the room to watch China's Virtual Economy District.

Online Information 2007

So one company that is serious about virtual worlds is IBM whose "Metaverse Evangelist" is Roo Reynolds.

The alliterative Roo (who I note is - like me - an Andrew. I may change mine to Roo, too. You couldn't get angry with a boy called Roo, could you?) spends his days extolling the virtues of metaverses within IBM and beyond.

He describes World of Warcraft as "the new golf": a place with many rules and strange clothes where people build relationships. (Incidentally, IBM has published a study regarding leadership and online games.)

Why get involved in virtual worlds? Roo says there is something about "the power of presence" which makes them more engaging than merely, say, watching a video. He cited the example of the CEO of IBM speaking at a conference in Beijing and simultaneously in Second Life (but presumably only to 39 other people unless he was standing on the intersection of four squares).

Second Life is not the only virtual world, of course.

IBM is playing with QWAQ a lot at the moment:

Qwaq's virtual space solutions increase the productivity of distributed teams. Designed for the enterprise, Qwaq Forums is a virtual workspace application that delivers immediate benefits by bringing users and critical resources together in virtual spaces. Easy to set up, highly interactive, persistent, and secure, Qwaq Forums enables users to work, to collaborate with others, and to identify and solve problems in ways that weren’t possible before.

And Forterra's Olive is a virtual training system which can be used to train in situations which are too risky for real life (e.g. medical, road traffic accidents).

Forterra's software and services enable organizations to train, plan, rehearse, and collaborate in ways previously considered impossible or impractical. Using the OLIVE™ (On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment) Platform and industry standard PC hardware, customers can rapidly generate realistic, collaborative, 3D Internet solutions that easily scale from single user applications to large scale simulated environments supporting many thousands of concurrent users.

IBM also has an internal virtual world based on Garage Games' Torque platform.

Roo warned businesses not to treat people in SL as eyeballs. You have to be more engaging. He cited the instance of Starwood hotels which created a prototype of a new hotel in Second Life to get feedback from visitors there. Changes were incorporated as a result of the feedback.

Roo's presentations are available here.

Online Information: Quote of the day

"In the knowledge economy there are no conscripts, only volunteers".
Euan Semple (blog) used to work at the BBC doing knowledge management stuff and he is passionate about wiring up the world of work.
Here are the things he said that I wrote down to think about at some point:
  • Compared with knowledge management and document management systems Web 2 seems messy and disorganised to the corporate world. But giving people access to internal blogs, wikis and forums has great value.
  • They enable collective "pointing to stuff" (which is quicker and easier for people than creating documents)
  • Internal forums are the democratisation of the workspace.
  • They also make good people more visible
  • One person at the BBC put an idea for a programme on the forum and everyone people said he was mad because someone could steal it although - in truth - if someone DID steal it, everyone would know.

What's the most valuable contribution Flickr has made to the quality of corporate life?

Hah! Can you guess?

The correct answer is the volume of free, quality photography available to everyone to brighten up their PowerPoint presentations.

We had some great ones at the conference. I didn't have a good enough camera with me to capture them in their true majesty, but here's a grimy shot of Roo Reynolds from IBM (more on him later) in front of one of his slides.

We haven't even begun to take advantage of the wealth of photography available to us through Creative Commons licences yet. But that's another story.

Jimmy Wales at Online Information

I spent a couple of days this week at the Online Information 2007 conference at Olympia.

The audience seems to be mostly librarians but the issues are the same as we face here: competing for awareness, keeping up with the user experience standards that people are accustomed to these days and engagement.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales opened the conference.

Disappointingly, it was mostly an advert for Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Wikia and a teaser for the Wikia Search Engine product but here are the bits that caught my attention:

Motivations:Why do people put such time and effort into Wikipedia? Well, it is a grand, humanitarian project. It's an inspiring vision. Yes, indeed and I'm sure that's why there are no commercially owned wikis. I wish people would see our corporate intranet wiki as a grand, humanitarian project.

Anyway, the exception is Wikia which -if Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia section - represents all the other things in the library. Wikia IS commercial and yet a group of die hard Muppet fans have created 300 articles in the Muppet Wiki there including one on the Ford Motor Company (in the context of The Muppets):

Ford Motor Company is an American multinational corporation and the world's third largest automaker, based on worldwide vehicle sales. Based in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, the automaker was founded by Henry Ford and incorporated in 1903.

In 2004, the company launched the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world's first gas-electric hybrid SUV. In 2006, Ford launched a campaign starring Kermit the Frog to promote the environmentally friendly vehicle. In a spin on the Muppet's catchphrase, he claimed that it was in fact "easy being green."

That's merely the intro, of course.

Content management systems: Are like a police state, according to Wales. They are designed to restrain rather than empower and he delivered his restaurant analogy again (see here).

Licensing change:
Although Wikipedia has always been Free Access (free to add to, edit, copy, modify, redistribute - even commercially) it hasn't been compatible with Creative Commons because it's based on a software licence called GNU FDL which is actually for documentation. Anyway, apparently this licence is changing and the new version will allow Wikipedia content to be relicensed under Attribution Share Alike (by-sa). Quite why this is important wasn't at all clear, but I pass this on to you, dear reader, in case it should mean something to you.

Wikia Search Engine Project: Wales said that traditional Search Engine algorithms are secret and the aim of Wiki will be to push editorial decisions out into the community, using the social networking trust model to keep the level of spam down.

Sum=Summary: Wales explained that when he talks about the ambition of Wikipedia to be the "sum of all human knowledge" he actually means "summary" not "total" hence the absence of very detailed medical stuff and the like. And no original research.

Wikipedia (which he describes as "the Red Cross for Information") is - according to Alexa (hmmm) - now the 8th most visited website in the world and the 14th most visited in Iran.

The dead canoeist story: now we're all detectives as well as reporters

"The woman who uncovered the picture of missing John Darwin with his wife found it with a simple search on Google."

The Daily Mirror reports:

She typed in the words John, Anne and Panama, clicked on images and up it popped - complete with date.

The single mum, who does not want to be named, said: "I'd like to nominate them for 'World's Dumbest' awards.

"Not only were they photographed but the date was actually on the picture. It was just too good to be true."

The photo of John and Anne was taken in July 2006 for a "Move to Panama" website. It has now been removed.

After finding the picture, the mum said: "I just blinked - and there they were. I rang police in Cleveland. The man on the other end said, 'You're joking'!"

Presumably a better result than Sun journalist Brian Flynn of The Sun got by posting on this bulletin board:

I am a UK national newspaper reporter keen to speak to anyone who knows or knew British ex-pats John and Anne Darwin in Panama. We pay well for information that is used in the paper. You can contact me at

Good stab though.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

What's the deal with blogs? Good video

Just found this What's the Deal with Blogs? video.

What I really like is the way it uses video. Simple animation.

Another social network acquisition by Murdoch

The rumours that NewsCorp was in the process of acquiring LinkedIn seems not to have been true. According to Reuters:

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is not holding takeover discussions with LinkedIn, a fast-growing online social network for professionals, a source familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The source shot down news media reports that the two were discussing a deal worth about $1 billion (484 million pounds). The two companies had been in talks for possible future partnerships, the source added.

News Corp and LinkedIn declined to comment.

But yesterday the media megacorp did announce the acquisition of another social network .

It's a religious social network called BeliefNet and it seems very catholic with a small "c" (as in interdenominational, eclectic).

According to Reuters:

The site targets users holding myriad faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and followers of Falun Gong.

Fox sees Beliefnet as a way to distribute its content, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's faith-based programming to HarperCollins's Zondervan and HarperOne brands.

"Eclectic" doesn't quite cover it:
Santas across Australia have thrown their jolliness by the wayside in protest of a new instruction that they say "ha, ha, ha" instead of the traditional "ho, ho, ho." According to The Daily Telegraph, Santa is "a rebel with a 'claus.'"

Westaff, a Santa training agency that supplies Santas to hundreds of stores across Australia, has told its trainees that "ho, ho, ho" could frighten children and be considered derogatory to women because of the connotation of the word "ho."
Anyway, the point is, as I predicted years ago, social networks are hot targets, especially for content providers looking for markets.