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Social media changes real-life conversations

| connecting, social, web2.0

Memnon Anon sent me a link to Matt Zimmerman’s post “Social media has made me boring“, which got me thinking because I have almost the complete opposite experience.

My parents’ Facebook updates and forum posts provide fodder for weekly chats and let me keep up to date across timezones. I feel much more in touch with my friends who use social media, and we have plenty of things to talk about because I get a better picture of their interests. When we talk, we can jump past the “What did you do?” to “How did you feel about that?” I can find out when they’re having a bad day, what they care about, what they enjoy. And this works for people in the same city, too. Blogs, tweets, and other updates give me deeper insights into people than I could find out in five minutes or even an hour.

Social media lets us take conversational shortcuts. I might start telling a story that I’ve told on my blog, and the person I’m talking to says, “yeah, I’ve read that”–so then I skip past the introduction and go to the parts I hadn’t gotten around to writing down, or that I’m still figuring out. Sometimes I might tell a story in response to a question a friend asks, and then realize that was worth blogging about. There are always too many stories to write down, and conversation and interaction brings out even more.

I still organize get-togethers over tea, dinner, or Skype because I like seeing the interaction between my friends. But social media is what lets me develop good relationships with people I might not otherwise be able to keep in touch with as often, and I really like it.

So here’s what I think the trick is:

Get over that hitch. You know how you might feel disappointed/interrupted when someone says, “I’ve read that on your blog”? Practice your happy-do until your first reaction is “Awww, thanks for reading!” and then go on with asking people what they thought, or jumping to the part you really wanted to talk about. Make your conversations less about “What did you do this summer?” and more about “What did you like about it? What did you learn? How did that change you?” and other deeper questions. Even if you’ve already posted a long, thoughtful reflection on your blog, you’ll learn even more through the conversation, and through connecting it with other people’s experiences.

If you blog, there are a number of mental mind-shifts that are useful. That’s one of them. Another one is to get used to the idea that people may know more about you than you know about them, which is really weird at the beginning. People feel uncomfortable when other people have the edge in terms of knowledge. But you can flip that around, be flattered that someone’s taken the time to learn about you and keep up to date with you, and then use the conversation time to get to know about them.

Social media changes conversations, and I think that’s awesome.

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LifeCampTO social graph

| connecting, social

After LifeCampTO, I asked people to give me the list of people they wanted to talk to (or, well, those people’s primary keys ;) ). I’m still figuring out how to do a great little mail merge that reminds people of the keywords, but along the way, I thought I might I’d learn more about network visualization.

Here’s the resulting graph: (click on it for a larger version)

LifeCampTO social graph

So, what does this graph say?

You can see that most people have quite a lot of follow-up conversations ahead. It wasn’t the kind of event where most people walked away with only two or three conversations, although they might have smaller follow-up conversations with different groups of people. It might be interesting to do some cluster analysis around topics, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how to encode the data in order to make that analysis easier. ;) Based on this, our on-the-fly decision to have three big conversations turned out to have made sense, although it would also be interesting to try having small conversations about both popular and niche topics, and then having people come together at the end (or on a wiki).

Getting to this graph (and to the individualized graphs I’ve just figured out how to produce – it highlights each person’s connections) involved a lot of bubblegum and string.

  1. I typed in the data people had written down, using OpenOffice.org to form the upper triangle of an adjacency matrix. Two people’s sheets were missing, and one person didn’t have any connections incoming or outgoing. =( Thank you, programming competitions, for all those lovely data structures.
  2. I copied the adjacency matrix and pasted it onto itself using OOo’s Paste Special – Transpose, Skip Empty Cells. This gave me a full adjacency matrix.
  3. I used a really long and hairy OOo formula to concatenate the cells into Emacs Lisp code as an associative list, with extra information and an edge list.
  4. I copied that into Emacs and processed the associative list’s edges. I needed to do that anyway in order to be able to e-mail people personalized e-mail with all of their introductions, instead of sending one e-mail per edge. Along the way, I got the idea of visualizing the network diagram, so I spun off some code to output a full edge list in DOT format for visualization with circo.
  5. I used a command like
    circo -Gsplines=true < lifecampto.dot -Tpng > lifecampto.png

    to generate the graph shown.

  6. Then I thought it would be cool to personalize the graphs, too, so I wrote some more Emacs Lisp to generate personalized DOT files that highlighted the recipient in green and the recipient’s requested links/nodes in green, too. I used a Bash for loop to turn all those personalized DOT files into PNG files.

Example of a personalized image:

Tomorrow, I’ll work on the mail merge. =)

A little computer science is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

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When I grow up, I will have friends and strangers over for dinner

Posted: - Modified: | connecting, event, social

Every week for the past 30 years, I’ve hosted a Sunday dinner in my home in Paris. People, including total strangers, call or e-mail to book a spot. I hold the salon in my atelier, which used to be a sculpture studio. The first 50 or 60 people who call may come, and twice that many when the weather is nice and we can overflow into the garden.

People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here, and since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn’t be better. I love the randomness.

Jim Haynes, NPR

Someday, when I am my bestest self, I will host regular lunches or dinners, and I will bring interesting people together for conversation. In preparation for this, I’m learning how to organize events around themes, and I occasionally practice with dinner parties. I’d like to learn how to scale beyond the eight people who can comfortably fit around the dinner table. I’d also like to learn how to host these events without disrupting home too much, respecting the need for privacy and time. I’m still not comfortable holding regular restaurant-based events because restaurants are too noisy and not set up for good conversation, but I haven’t been to enough of these events to figure out how to set up a home for conversation salons. (We don’t have cocktail tables or endless stacks of saucers. ;) )

Someday…

Has anyone figured this out? Can anyone help me learn?

Hat tip to Keith Ferrazzi for the link.

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Unfinished Business: Design and New Media in the Obama campaign

Posted: - Modified: | social, web2.0

Last night’s Unfinished Business lecture was about design and new media in the Obama campaign, with insights from Scott Thomas (a designer) and Rahaf Harfoush (a social media strategist). The event was held in the auditorium of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and roughly 300 people attended.

My key take-away from the talk was that a strong and persistent design team, backed by analytics to support decision-making, can make such a difference in the overall experience.

Scott showed us what the campaign webpage looked like before he came on board. It was not a horribly designed webpage (no blinking text, no marquees), but there were numerous typefaces and colors, and every department in the campaign office seemed to want a presence on the first screen of the page.

With some strong-arming, they settled on one palette and focused on the user experience, streamlining it to make it easier for people to get to where they want to go. That meant moving links down or into the site. It wasn’t easy for people to accept the necessary changes. Many groups were worried that if their advertisement or link wasn’t “above the fold”–visible in the first screen without scrolling–then their content might not get viewed. By testing different versions of the site with randomly-selected users (A/B testing), the design team got the hard numbers they needed to make these changes.

The different themes they used in their campaign were also interesting. Scott showed examples of the campaign theme, the “instant vintage” theme, the timeless theme, and the supporters, and each set had a visually distinguishable character. The campaign theme used a blue gradients extensively, and Scott explained the reasoning behind some of the design choices. The “instant vintage” theme drew inspiration from classic photos and posters in order to give people the feeling of being part of something historical, larger than life. The timeless theme drew from classic typesetting and ornamentation (very elegant!), but was dropped because of the backlash about the official-looking campaign seal. The supporters were very creative in coming up with all sorts of designs for campaign posters, too, giving the campaign a vibrant community feel.

Some of the details Scott shared with us were about specific design decisions made during the campaign. For example, the campaign placards used to read “HOPE”. Scott showed this great photo of a bunch of campaign signs that read “HOPE” with a real rainbow in the background. He told us that hope is an emotive word that you can communicate through images, while change is more abstract and more difficult to show visually. That’s one of the reasons why they changed the campaign signs to read “CHANGE” instead.

I was also fascinated by the evolution of the campaign logo through different typefaces, from mixed-case to small-caps, and from a linear layout to a triangular one. Seeing the different logos together, I found it easier to understand the different reactions I had to each of them, and from there, learn a little bit more about design.

Rahaf Harfoush’s talk was on social media. It was similar to the last talk I’d heard her give. I think she felt nervous about fitting it into a shorter timeslot, and it felt a lot more rushed than last time. She did tell a couple of new stories, though.

One story was about a man who had expressed incredible anger on the forums–because the presidential candidate had been televised walking down stairs with his hands in his pockets, and this man was not about to invest all of those hours in calling people and knocking on doors and attending or organizing events just so that his candidate could fall and hurt himself. What a great example of getting people personally invested.

Another story was about a campaign supporter who wanted to show his support through action instead of words. He and a group of other supporters dressed up in lots of Obama gear and went out to quietly perform civic actions, like helping elderly people cross the street. They didn’t talk about politics; they just acted according to what they believed in. I thought that was pretty cool.

The questions from the audience were also insightful and thought-provoking.

One person asked about whether the speakers could see this kind of energy and change happen in Canadian politics. Rahaf answered that one of the energizing things about the Obama campaign was that the candidate was not someone you’d typically see running for office. She found it difficult to imagine any of the prominent Canadian politicians engaging and exciting people like that, but she was open to the possibility of someone new coming along and surprising people.

Another person asked how the speakers convinced the campaign that they were the right people for the job. Scott shared that he’s never really been good at marketing himself, but that his passion for his work helps people decide whether or not he’s the right fit for the job. He said that people can tell by how wide his eyes get when he talks about his work that he’s really passionate about it. He got applause for that one.

Many people were concerned about the potential nefarious use of what we’ve learned about social media. Scott was of the opinion that the genuine enthusiasm expressed by the campaign supporters couldn’t be manipulated or created. Stephen Perelgut (one of my mentors) told me that he still remained skeptical, though, as many horrible things have been perpetrated by equally enthusiastic people. (Nazi Germany comes to mind.)

I learned a lot during the lecture and in the question-and-answer portion. The next Unfinished Business lecture is on February 11 (same day as Techsoup). From their e-mail notice:

… on 11 Feb we will host Larry Keeley, President of Doblin in Chicago, who will talk about open innovation, platform innovation and what it means to work from a disciplined approach to innovation.

Unfinished Business, Torch Partnership

Good stuff. It’ll probably sell out as quickly as this one did. Thanks to Jeff Muzzerall and Stephen Perelgut for making sure I heard about this!

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My Enterprise 2.0 blogroll

| enterprise2.0, social, web2.0

A few weeks ago, Jeff Widman asked me what I do to learn more about Enterprise 2.0. I told him that there aren’t that many bloggers looking at how companies can use Web 2.0 internally, and that much of what I learn comes from my day-to-day interactions within IBM and the consulting I do for our clients. There are a number of blogs I read, though. Here’s the list from my Google Reader:


To read them on a neatly aggregated page, check out my Enterprise 2.0 page on Google Reader.

I just stumbled across that feature by checking out the Manage Subscriptions page, clicking on Folders and Tabs, and changing the sharing. Interesting…

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One of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Social Media?

Posted: - Modified: | canada, life, passion, reflection, social, web2.0

I’ve been nominated as one of Canada’s Most Influential Women in Social Media in a poll run by Dave Forde, whom I know from the Toronto technology scene. It’s a little odd thinking about that, because I’m nowhere near the likes of Amber MacArthur (popular geek television / videocasting personality), Leesa Barnes (who made it onto a worldwide list of female social media luminaries), and Sandy Kemsley (prolific Enterprise 2.0 blogger well-known for her comprehensive live-blogged conference notes). Me? I’m a recent hire figuring things out and posting notes along the way. =)

I’ve stumbled across influence by being in the right place at the right time, maybe. My story is now woven into IBM’s story about social media, and we’re helping other large companies figure things out as well. I’ve given numerous presentations helping people figure out what Web 2.0 means for them and for their company, facilitated workshops for generating, developing and prioritizing initiatives, and done a fair bit of hand-holding to get people over their concerns. All of that is pretty cool, come to think of it, but what I’d like to do is make it possible for other people to do even cooler things.

Thinking about this poll on Canada’s most influential women in social media, I realized that I didn’t consider myself any way equal to all these role models I have here and around the world. =) I also realized that I had a pretty good idea of a future me that would feel perhaps at home in that list. So here’s what I think “influential” looks like for me:

  • I would organize regular events that brought together interesting people and helped people connect. These events would include workshops on social networking, storytelling and presentations, quarter-life crises, lifehacking and productivity, happiness, geek growth, personal finance, and other topics I’m interested in or passionate about.
  • I would also build a bit of infrastructure that would help transform the networking aspects of these events: sign-up pages with more details, aggregators to bring together people’s blog posts, business card prints and other in-person networking aids, active matchmaking both online and offline, and so on.
  • I would be one of those people that people mention their projects and ideas to in the off chance that I could recommend people to talk to, books to read, and sites to check out–because I would. =) In order to do this, I’d find ways to more effectively capture information to support a somewhat fuzzy associative memory. (It’s _so_ frustrating to know that you’ve seen something before that people will like, but not be able to find it again!)
  • I would help lots of people to figure out what their passion is, deepen their skills, and share the results with lots of people through presentations, new and existing businesses, and other good things. I’d do that by asking people, helping them connect and make things happen, and helping them find a forum or opportunity where they can talk to other people.
  • I would have a big archive of things I’ve thought about and shared with others so that I can pull useful resources out and give them to people.
  • I would build systems to make it possible for other people to do this kind of awesomeness as well. =)

So that’s what “influential” looks like to me. I’m not there yet, but I think I can get there. =) I can learn how to hold external events, and gradually get into the swing of it. I can keep blogging and summarizing interesting resources, gradually refining my collection of resources. I can keep tweaking my addressbook, and someday I’ll build systems to help other people try this out. =)

Stay tuned.

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Notes from conversations: Ushnish Sengupta, consulting

Posted: - Modified: | braindump, connecting, social

Ushnish Sengupta was interested in exploring social media consulting. He picked my brains over hot chocolate at the Bluestar Cafe. Here are some rough notes from that conversation:

  • The first tip I gave him was to blog. I think it’s a good idea for consultants to keep a blog because it’s an easy and nearly-free way to help establish credibility and build connections. The blog can contain success stories, articles, lessons learned, announcements of upcoming events, tips, tidbits, and other pieces of information that can help both potential and existing clients. Besides, it’s awfully hard to do social media consulting if you’re not immersed in the space and you don’t have a presence.
  • Business cards: I told him about putting pictures and interesting conversation hooks on business cards, showing him mine as an example.
  • Ushnish was interested in potentially getting a PhD looking at consulting services and similar areas. I recommended that he check out services science. A recent conference we both attended (CASCON) had a number of sessions about the topic, so I suggested reviewing the proceedings to find people and topics of potential interest. I also recommended that he get in touch with people like Kelly Lyons – she’s currently doing research in this field.
  • Twitter backchannel: He asked me how the City of Toronto’s Web 2.0 Summit went. I told him about the interesting conversations that happened in real life and on the Twitter backchannel, and suggested that the next time he’s at an event, he should find the tag that people are using and tune in to search.twitter.com for some lively conversation.
  • Professional networking: He asked me which professional social networks I’m on. I told him that I’m active on LinkedIn and I use it to connect with people so that I can find out about changes in e-mail addresses and positions. He asked me if I was on Plaxo. I told him that I never got into Plaxo because it started off with a bad value-proposition for people who entered their data and that it had been fairly spammy. I haven’t looked into Plaxo Pulse in detail, but LinkedIn and my personal addressbook handles most of my needs.
  • Multiple networks: He asked me about being on multiple networks and how networks become popular and then fade away. The key things I shared with him were that ideas and skills tend to be transferrable between networks, and that an external profile such as a personal site or blog is important because it ties all the networks together. I also told him about something I picked up from Rahaf Harfoush’s talk on the Obama campaign: produce a piece of content and then distribute it through different channels.
  • Partnership: Ushnish asked me if I preferred to work with people I know well or if I preferred to work alone. I told him that I definitely prefer to work with other people because I learn much more in the process. I also told him that I actually enjoy working with people I don’t know that well yet, because it gives me an opportunity to develop a new relationship and spread the skills. If I’m asked to give a presentation, I often look for ways to enable other people to give the presentation, perhaps with a little coaching from me. I want other people to develop wonderful skills, too.
  • Teaching as I learn: The point on partnership segued into a discussion of how useful, fulfilling, and effective it is to try to teach everything I know how to do. I recapped some of the points from “If you can, teach; If you can’t teach, do“.
  • Event management: I told him that I’m interested in learning more about hosting external events in 2009. Alex Sirota does a lot of events for the New Path Network (which Ushnish belongs to), so I might see if I can use some of those events as models.
  • Address book: Ushnish was curious about how I manage my network. I told him about my wonderful addressbook setup (automatically tracks who I send mail to, automatically inserts notes into my mail), and the visualization improvements I’d like to make. I also told him of my plans to try porting some of these ideas to Drupal so that other people can experiment with them.
  • Social media and change management: I told him about the spectrum of social media consulting, and that organizational change plays a large part in it.
  • Rough notes: We ended the conversation with a homework assignment: he’s supposed to blog the lecture he was also going to that day, and perhaps the notes from the conversation as well. I reassured him that rough notes are fine, and that he’ll make things clearer and clearer as he writes about them again and again.

What did I learn?

  • I seem to have learned something about social media consulting after all. =) Hooray! I need to package that into some kind of internal blog post and presentation so that my coworkers can make the most of it.
  • I should find a way to package up these social networking tips into a blog post, a presentation, and maybe an event.
  • In an alternate future, I could probably keep myself very busy building and selling tools for making all of these things easier…
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